This week a poll of peers revealed overwhelming opposition to Nick Clegg's proposals to reform the House of Lords. Emine Saner invites two peers, Helena Kennedy and David Steel, to discuss their house's future.
Helena Kennedy: David, you've shifted your position on this. You used to be a reformer like me.
David Steel: I am a reformer, but a practical one. Anyone can say, "Off with their heads," and get loud applause. But if we're going to have an elected second chamber it's going to be in competition with what I think should be the primacy of the House of Commons. The Cunningham committee, the report approved by both houses, said that if there is an elected upper chamber, the conventions between the houses must be rewritten, and yet the government's white paper says no, the powers will remain the same. I don't see how they can. Once you have an elected upper chamber, they will demand more powers.
HK: It has to be part of a wider context. There should be a written constitution which would set down the powers. The first question you ask about the House of Lords is: what is its purpose?
DS: I'm with you on that. What is it for now? It scrutinises legislation very effectively, it occasionally sends things back to the Commons to say think again. It has no financial powers. If that's all it's going to do, who is going to stand for a chamber that has limited power?
HK: I think people will, because it still involves you in the legislature. You or I wouldn't be here if we didn't think it had a purpose. When I chaired the power inquiry, the general view of the public was that the second chamber should be elected. However, they added that they want expertise, and independent-minded people. That's the difficulty.
DS: How would you guarantee they would get elected? The way the people in the Lords are trying to square that circle is, say, let's have 20% appointed. But what happens if the votes of the 20% unelected actually decide a key issue? If we're going to have an elected chamber, it has to be wholly elected.
HK: If you have 20% who are there by an independent appointment committee – which chooses Nobel prize winners in science, former judges, people from the health service, teachers and so on – it will act as a guiding principle for the electoral process for the rest. It could be a useful way of reforming.
DS: This is a cop-out. If you believe the House of Lords has a level of expertise you want to keep, the answer is to reform the existing house but keep it on the basis that people are appointed for their expertise, and not all ex-politicians.
HK: There are too many of them …
DS: People from the academic world, trade unions, professions – the level of expertise in the House of Lords now would not be there under an elected system. The logic is you either have all-elected and you forget about expertise, or you keep the expertise. Another issue is what this will cost. These people, according to the government, will be 300 full-time paid, almost on the same level as MPs, not counting secretaries and researchers. It will be much more expensive. Do the public really want that?
HK: You're right they won't be terribly happy about it, but the public are not part of this debate at the moment. Some might say that if you are facing the loss of your job and worries about the cost of education for your children, nobody is putting reform of the House of Lords as a priority. However, I think there is something abhorrent about the idea that we in the House of Lords should be the people who decide to wreck a bill that says we should be reforming. It's a bit like the police deciding whether they are a good force or not.
DS: We don't wreck bills, we amend them.
HK: You know that by being particularly bloody-minded, the House of Lords can stymie legislation. We could have a deliberative poll where you bring together 500 people, selected carefully from the voting register, who represent the demographics of Britain, and then have them hear evidence. You can give evidence why you think there is concern about the potential for deadlock between two elected houses. I've spent my life in front of juries, and when people are given good information they usually reach good decisions. There was something horrible when it came to that business of the people's peers [the more "representative" peers Tony Blair introduced in 2001] where someone said we don't want a crowd of hairdressers. In fact, I'd be quite keen on some hairdressers and bus drivers in the house. I don't want it to be another staging post for professional politicians. I say that respectfully to you, because you are one of those who does enrich the House of Lords. I look around the lords and there are some fantastic people in there.
DS: Leave aside the party politicians, look at the crossbenchers – there are some fantastic people. But can you imagine any of them standing for election?
HK: I think some of them would. As long as there is no ignominy in it, you put forward a statement about what you stand for, what you believe in, what you've done. I suspect the public would say we do want independent-minded people, we don't want people who are part of the political machine.
DS: I appointed people to the House of Lords in my time, and I don't think it's right. And according to the government they're going to be there for 15 years. How accountable will they be if they're going to be there for 15 years? You've never been an MP but I have, and you have a great pride in your constituency. If you have an elected house in future, there could be some senator wandering over my constituency, maybe not of my same party, and I don't think I want a rival in my constituency, and I think that's the general view of most MPs – someone travelling over their territory saying, "I've got a mandate too, and what's more, my mandate lasts 15 years and I'm not accountable to anybody."
HK: It is complex, and often people are quite knee-jerk in saying of course it should be elected. But what I insist upon is that it cannot be the people who are the current beneficiaries of the system who prevent any real reform taking place.
DS: I agree, but it is the House of Commons that will determine what happens. From the reception that the government paper got, my worry is that we will get bogged down over the next few years in endless debates on these proposals.
HK: I think Nick Clegg, because of what happened on AV, is going to want to be seen to deliver something on a constitutional issue. He's pushing for it. Cameron would like it to fall into the long grass. We'll see who wins.
DS: There is a growing body of opinion within my party that we have to save Clegg from having egg on his face and this scheme is not fit to fly. It's so inadequate that the danger is it will run into the long grass and we'll end up with nothing. Which is why the Commons committee on the constitution says whatever the plans for the future, let's get on and improve the existing house.
Assess the arguments in favour of a largely or wholly elected second chamber (25)
My teacher gave me 17/25 for this, I'm wondering what I need to do to get marked higher as I'm not sure what else I can do? Want to get in the 20's.
The House of Lords was last reformed in 1999 in which the number of hereditary peers was reduced to 92. Further reforms have been presented by the coalition government in 2010 such as a completely elected second chamber, partly elected second chamber or a completely appointed second chamber. The arguments in favour of an elected second chamber will be discussed and a conclusion reached.
Firstly, it can be argued that by having an elected second chamber is a more democratic solution as the elected members will have the popular consent of the people and can also claim legitimacy, so they effectively have the democratic right to scrutinise legislation and propose amendments. This can be extended further by electing these individuals using an electoral system on the basis of proportional representation, such as Single Transferable vote. This will allow members who support smaller parties to be represented in the House of Lords, such as the Green Party. However, this could mean extremist parties such as the BNP can be represented who may have views which do not serve the best interests of the people. Also, the House of Lords could be seen as more legitimate than the House of Commons as they have been elected using a fairer voting system, this would then bring into question if the House of Commons should be so dominant.
Secondly, by having an elected second chamber makes the members of the House of Lords accountable to the electorate, as currently they are accountable to nobody as they are wholly appointed. So as things stand, the members of the House of Lords have no democratic right to scrutinise legislation and propose amendments as they are unelected. However, it could be argued by making the members accountable via elections will make the electorate more apathetic towards voting. In 2010 the general election turnout was only 65% and the chances are that an election for members of the House of Lords will be an even lower turnout. An obvious fix to this is to make voting compulsory so the members can gain the popular consent via higher turnout figures, however there are problems to making voting compulsory such as "donkey voting" and the intrusion of freedom of the electorate.
Finally, by having an elected second chamber can mean that the House of Lords can serve as a more effective check of proposed government legislation. This is because the elected members may not represent a government majority so legislation cannot be steamrolled through the House of Lords, which may occur if there was a government majority in the House of Lords so members can display party loyalty and advance their careers. The House of Lords may have more authority, this means the government cannot simply ignore proposed amendments from the HOL as they have gained popular consent from the electorate, so they are more legitimate. Ignoring the HOL could result in protests if the amendments ignored are in the best interests of the people. However, a consequence of this is that the House of Commons may face excessive obstruction when trying to pass every law as the HOL may not have a government majority. This can be very time consuming and can mean that time is wasted debating more important issues. However, the power of the government is protected by the Parliament acts (1911,1949) so financial matter cannot be delayed by the HOL. Also, the Salisbury Convention restricts the HOL, not allowing them to delay any proposals made by the government in their election manifesto.
To conclude, the arguments in favour of an elected second chamber are stronger than the arguments against proposed. To be an effective check on government power the HOL needs democratic consent and legitimacy. A partly elected second chamber is also an option so the HOC will be more legitimate than the HOL so excessive obstruction can be restricted, even though this is supported by the Parliament acts and the Salisbury convention. All these factors considered propose that the HOL requires reform.
Be more consistent with your argument from the start, give the examiner an idea of how you'll conclude before they reach it.
More evidence! Throw as much evidence in as possible, I know it's difficult but towards the end of your essay the evidence was strongly lacking.
A stronger conclusion
Throw some political theory in there.
A few more counter arguments would strengthen this
In your intro explain the basic idea of the question more: what the Lords is, how it's the upper chamber but is subordinate to commons due to limited powers, its composition etc... Also don't say 'The arguments in favour of an elected second chamber will be discussed and a conclusion reached.' you want an intro along the lines of:
'The house of Lords, the upper chamber in the bicameral British legislature that is Parliament, has been subject to heated controversy following the election of Blair's New Labour government in 1997 as a result of promised reform set-out in the party's manifesto of that year. Since this manifesto various reforms have taken place with further reform being suggested (White papers of 2001, 2003, 2007 and 2008), moreover the 2012 House of Lords Reform Act sought to alter the house to be fully elected by 2020, yet this, as well as other proposals after the 1999 House of Lords Act, failed. Despite these reform proposals, the House still remains unelected and the chamber lacks legitimacy as a result of this, leaving the chamber in a state of reform deadlock. However, Blair's reform arguably improved the chamber's scrutiny quality, yet arguments still circulate regarding further reform of the chamber. The nearest alternative is abolition, however the consequences would arguably be worse than those of reform, making reform the better option.'
You've missed a key argument in the event of a wholly elected chamber: It too will share a mandate making it more legitimate which will cause institutional conflict to Commons and in turn, this may lead to gridlock as happens in the American Congress which led to the 2013 and 1992 government shutdowns, thus this could be a huge issue.
Party control would become more prominent if it were elected, thus undermining the Lords' expertise and cross benchers' reputation, possibly leading to more rather than less executive dominance in comparison to the status quo.
try and address the 'shades of grey' of the question that aren't covered. Ie: abolition, debates etc...