The Lords Reform Bill envisages an 80% elected House of Lords – the Church of England bishops will remain, but the remaining 92 hereditary peers will go. There is the option of moving to a 100% elected chamber at some future time.
Piecemeal reform is the sad lot of the Lords, since nobody has ever been able to agree how it might be reformed. For all the many faults of the hereditaries, they did bring to the chamber more women, more people with disabilities, more young people, more communists, more non-lawyers and non-careerists than ever inhabited the Commons. And although the present life-peer system sends far too many superannuated political hacks to the Lords, it also puts in experts with real experience in science, medicine, academe, charities and much else. An elected Lords is very unlikely to attract independent-minded and expert people such as Lord Winston and the Chief Rabbi, though they bring something important to our legislative process.
We don't need a bill to introduce elections for the House of Lords. We need a national debate on how the House of Lords should be elected. It definitely should not be elected on anything like the same grounds as the House of Commons – or it will be packed full of the same party-political, media-driven careerists. For a start, the term of office should be just one stint – of maybe seven years – so that people cannot make a political career out of it. Second, it needs to have a chance of attracting serious experts rather than fame-seeking celebrities or campaigners. Maybe a limit of zero on election expenses could achieve that, perhaps coupled with a ban on using party labels. The Lords should also reflect diverse national interests more than the Commons: perhaps we should have half the seats reserved for women, or a proportion of the seats reserved for people in each different generation. I don't know what will work: I just know that something cooked up by a discredited political establishment between now and a general election won't.
Dr Eamonn Butler is Director of the Adam Smith Institute.