Saturday, 31 March 2007

Lord of democracy II

I think the issue of reform of the House of Lords, mentioned in yesterday's post, deserves a bit of perspective, historical and otherwise. The House of Lords was originally made up of hereditary peers (the Lords Temporal) and bishops, abbots and priors (the Lords Spiritual). In the 1950s, life peers gained the right to sit in the house, and in 1999, the Blair government began reform of the chamber, reducing it to 92 hereditary peers, 26 Church of England (arch)bishops and the life peers.

This was intended to be only the first stage of the reform, which would ultimately remove the hereditary peers altogether. Whether the new house would be appointed or elected or a combination of the two was yet to be decided. In 2003, the only option supported by the Lords was the all-appointed model, while the Commons rejected all models, with most support for an 80% elected house. A move to a wholly elected chamber is seen by some as giving the second house too much legitimacy, threatening the Commons' supremacy.

Since then, the cash for peerages scandal has raised it's head, and in the most recent Commons vote the fully elected model was the preferred option. Proponents of election suggest that it is clearly more democratic. However, many of the Lords who voted in favour of a fully appointed house, suggest that this would be more representative.

Recent posts by Byron on Democracy in action (again) comment on both the failings of democracy and ideas of representation. I tend to think that the event mentioned (the trial of Jesus) has more in common with the original House of Lords than other forms of democracy, but it does illustrate a broader point and put all the possible reforms in perspective. Whatever system of government we have will be imperfect and will ultimately have to submit to the Lord of all.


byron said...

I assume the two kinds of Lords are not both called the Lords Temporal - were the ecclesiastical positions called the Lords Eternal? That would be an odd name theologically, but understandable historically.

Jonathan said...

Oops! I've corrected that mistake now. "Lords Spiritual" was, and still is, the name used, leading to the phrase "Lords Spiritual and Temporal" to refer to the house as a whole.