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Two chambers exist to serve two different functions of government. If this
were not the case, half the 659 MPs could be re-housed in the Lords. And all
MPs could take part in one or other of two current debates, taking place in
two chambers, between a managable number of some 300 MPs each. Britain
already has enough national politicians.
(The need to make room for more facilities in the Palace of Westminster is another issue. See end-note.)
Each chamber could check the other's work. But the question would arise, which chamber had the decisive role. Half the MPs moved into the Lords could not be demoted for no good reason. Yet, to start a politically elected second chamber from these, or other party candidates not already MPs, would create inferior MPs just because they were elected to the second chamber. It is a widespread, but thoughtlessly arbitrary, constitutional fix that condemns second chambers to be second-rate.
As a consequence, the Plant report copied the bad example of countries with second chambers having a less democratic voting system ( meaning a party list system ). So, second chamber MPs would have less electoral authority to challenge the first chamber. But any effect they do have is that of a less democratic body, in effect making the Constitution, as a whole, less democratic. List systems are notorious for being party boss systems, with powerful interests behind them.
Moreover, this option is based on a wrong idea about different voting systems having different functions. There is one Scientific Method Of Elections ( as I submitted to the Independent Commission on the Voting System ) that fulfills nearly all, and potentially all, the recognised democratic functions.
Another attempt to pack the nation's second chamber with politicians is to
misrepresent them, contradictorily, as both national representatives and
either local, regional or European representatives. What is the point of
weighting the declining nation state with the other government levels?
All this does is to create another duplication and conflict of function.
Federal constitutions do exist but the second chamber could give no more than a token place to the thousands of local representatives ( who are supposed to be in their localities dealing with local business, anyway ).
The US Congress has only 435 Representatives and 100 Senators, from federal constituencies, well placed as Presidential candidates. To prevent British federal second chamber candidates making bids for the party leadership, they would be elected on list systems, under-mining their personal authority.
Again, the Constitution would be left wide open to oligarchic manipulation from a corporate voting system. As people realised their electoral impoverishment, the second chamber would become discredited. Both chambers must be properly democratic, which creates no conflict of authority, provided the second chamber performs a complementary function to the first.
Modern science is neither a dogmatic rationalism nor a pedantic empiricism but a partnership of empirical rationalism. Theory needs to be checked in practise. Practical work is no longer disdained as the job of lower classes. Physical theorists postulate general laws. Experimentalists check their generalisations, as they need must, in as large a variety of special circumstances as possible.
This is exactly analgous to the work of two-chamber government. People come into politics believing in broad general principles, which they seek to implement thru the parties that stand for them. They are the law-makers of society and are appropriately elected from local communities, that cohere thru generally understood and accepted rules.
( Indeed, communal interests, as a whole, would be better served thru the historic constituencies of 'the Commons', largely shires and boroughs. )
But to know how well political laws will work in practise, on people from all walks of life, requires their systemmatic representation. Politicians, as a body, are not qualified to provide this. ( Occupationally, they are a very unrepresentative sample. But then their purpose is different. )
The vocations themselves, democratically electing their professional leaders from each field of special expertise, are the most qualified to make informed choices of occupational representation.
Party patronage is liable to exclude such as union leaders, perhaps associated with some embarrassing strike. But great characters like steel-workers' leader Bill Sirs or railway workers' leader Sidney Weighell would have been democratically elected.
Professional leadership does not conflict with, nor challenge, political leadership, which is outside its recognised sphere of competance.
The proportional representation of the economy could largely be achieved as part of the electoral procedures of trade unions and professional associations. Vocational constituencies might have to be created for the weakly organised, such as shop-keepers, hoteliers, small businesses, fishermen, inventors. Their voice would have a moderating influence on the rich and powerful lobbies' exclusive access.
I dont suppose there's anyone nowadays who believes an 'economic parliament' would lead to a 'dictatorship of the proletariat' by a workers' soviet. Russian democracy is a two-chamber Duma and Soviet. I dont think it's as systemmatic a political and economic representation, as the names of the two houses would suggest. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his 'Letter to Soviet Leaders', advocated a revival of the soviets, that is genuine workers' councils, instead of the monopolisation of the state by one party.
The term 'economic parliament' to come to terms with the most pressing of modern problems, 'the economic problem', comes from a proposal by Winston Churchill in 1930. This was taken up by Peter Walker (Lord Walker), in 'The Ascent Of Britain', with the idea of democratically extending its economic franchise.
Leo Amery, in 'Thoughts On The Constitution', also advocated a 'House of
Industry' and discussed the more ambitious plans of political opponents, such
as the Webbs, for a 'social parliament'.
One could add G D H Cole's' guild socialism'.
One of the best early formulations, in 1920, is by H G Wells, in 'The Outline Of History':
'...a community may with advantage consider its affairs from two points of view -- through the eyes of a body elected to represent trades, industries, professions, public services, and the like, a body representing function, and through the eyes of a second body elected by localities to represent communities. For the members of the former a man would vote by his calling, for the latter by his district of residence. They point out that the British House of Lords is in effect a body representing function, in which the land, the law, and the church are no doubt disproportionately represented, but in which industrialism, finance, the great public services, art, science, and medicine also find places; and that the British House of Commons is purely geographical in its reference.'
Wells also mentions possible 'labour peers', the first of which were soon after appointed. Vernon Bogdanor is a modern exponent of the quoted viewpoint.
Macmillan's National Economic Development Council brought together the leaders of industry from the CBI and TUC, chaired by the Chancellor. ( The political parliament had its origins in such a great council set-up by William the Conqueror. ) But the big boys already have a platform. And a director of the Council had a rather Neddy-like aversion to a more inclusive economic parliament.
Macmillan also created life peers, in 1959, and likened the Lords to 'a Senate'. Not old age but, again, experience is the factor that points to the second chamber's true function and required personnel.
Moreover, a reformed 'functional' Lords has a history of cross-party support, necessary for a Constitutional reform. The Liberal party conference got as far as to debate an economic parliament, elected by the single transferable vote, tho they didnt pass it.
In 1999, 'interest group affiliates' elected by STV were also a feature of David Sinclair's pamphlet 'Putting Our House In Order', from the Conservatives' Bow Group.
Following Macmillan, Sir Ian Gilmour, in 'Inside Right', argued for a
'public industrial forum'. Then, all those with pay demands would have to
face up to the obvious fact that their truly 'special case' is one among
many. All need their own kinds of consideration, such as to work conditions.
As the first chamber makes the rules of the game, the second chamber could mediate or referee the rewards of society. A game is a competitive co-operation.
Those, who argue the strong always win against the weak, are repeating the defeatist doubts expressed to Solon, creating a new rule of law in ancient Athens.
An economic second chamber should be a powerful force for economy, by detailed scrutiny of government expenditure. The Commons abandoned this in 1896. Andrew Marr, in 'Ruling Britannia', cites that, today, billions are passed on the nod. The peers as economic MPs could help draw the Commons' attention to wasteful or unnecessary spending.
The legislature would still be generally concerned with overall control of budget levels, the basis of its power against royal absolutism.
The second chamber would have a strong incentive to economise to help improve the investment and pay in the professions they were accountable to. With open and reasoned debate for all the nation's interests, savings could also come from a much reduced need for lobbying and counter-lobbying. All those corporate campaign funds splashed about, ultimately, come out of the pockets of ordinary citizens.
The nation needs a representatively informed, forward-looking body in a
high-tech world. Doug Ross, the US Assistant Secretary of Labor, in 1994, at
a global learning conference, estimated only 10% of his country folk would be
manual or blue-collar workers by early in the 21st century.
In 1996, Britain's Campaign for Learning thru-out life was concerned with the need to keep up with changing skills needed in the economy.
Douglas Hurd complained of pressure groups overwhelming MPs' personal
Pressure groups complain of government departments being tools of the corporate giants: non-renewable energy monopolies, the farmers union, the road-builders etc.
Keeping-up current stock exchange ratings may not be in the long term public interest for quality of life. Drug companies, to say nothing of the illegal market, are profit-driven, as well as health-seeking.
Concerning watch-dog agencies, Gordon Rattray Taylor, in 'The Doomsday Book', quotes evidence 'so well documented in the social sciences that...who watches over the custodians of the commons is: the regulated interests that make incursions on the commons.'
Robert Blackburn, in 'The Electoral System In Britain', lists pages of quangos. ( Paid members dont have a political vote, which makes them a democratic anomaly. )
In this endless miscellany of politically appointed monitors, we are 'Missing Our Connections' as Sir Peter Parker would say. Many quango members have to be paid-for by the public but are not accountable to them: taxation without representation. Direct economic democracy, nationally co-ordinated in the second chamber, is needed to yield economic, as well as political, power of consent to the British people.
Politicians, serving the public interest, are in a discrediting conflict of interests ('sleaze') from their power of patronage over, or dependence on sponsorship from, special interests. The British Labour party has had this problem acutely, being created precisely because its special interest was completely excluded from the system.
The Constitution needs to be opened to all the interests, in their own right, in the second chamber, rather than subverted by some of them without it.
Becoming a politician should not be an expensive business but depend on popular support for candidates ( say, 200 signatures, as in Germany ). Election campaign spending rules should level the field for the less well off.
In 1976, I wrote to the local Department of Employment suggesting a scheme
of 'Environment Employment'.
Shortly after, Mr Anthony Steen, then MP for Liverpool, Wavertree, introduced a private members Abolition Of Unemployment Bill (23 June 1976) with the same provision.
BBC Panorama (7 april 1986) reviewed the same policy working in the USA as 'Workfare'. In West Virginia this was supported by the American Mining Union.
'Welfare to Work' was introduced in the first budget of the 1997 Labour
H G Wells clearly stated the principle in 1912 ( in a misleadingly titled essay, 'The Great State' ). Members of society have moderate responsibilities for its upkeep, as well as a right to the generous freedom that co-operation should bring.
For example, bad housing, needing repair, has been reckoned to be the main cause of illness. This is 'only' a 'social cost' but it shows up financially as the main burden of the NHS bill. People also lose by days off work.
Full employment does not have to be full-time employment. This also leaves people more time for learning new skills. France introduced a statutory 35-hour week to reduce high unemployment there and promote workshare.
Workfare, if necessary, so everyone is employed means that all can be represented in vocational constituencies of an economic parliament. The right to work can so be considered as a 'universal suffrage' of employment.
The other Labour government policy, of a minimum wage, is the guarantee that this right is genuine. Like workfare, it is socially and environmentally beneficial. A basic income to the poorest is spent on essentials, rather than extra luxuries. 'There is enough for man's need but not for man's greed.'
Welfare to Work and a minimum wage serve essential individual needs. An economic parliament would have the power of combined action to representatively promote those needs.
By 1930, H G Wells, in 'The Work, Wealth And Happiness Of Mankind', was describing the cramped and out-of-date facilities of the British parliament. A well-known northern food retailer, made a peer, has the ears of Labour advisors for a whole range of constitutional reforms, including a new House of Commons, somewhere in London's old docklands (where the Millenium Dome is now sited).
It is bad policy to have authority all in one spot. Since Scottish and Welsh devolution, only the north of England remains 'unassembled'. With its old industrial associations, I believe this would be the best place for an economic or vocational parliament, either in an existing building or purpose-built ( but not on a green site ).
The north needs a draw away from the over-loaded south-east. With tele-conferencing, a second chamber would be virtually as convenient in northern England, as next door to the Commons, which could have the whole Palace of Westminster to itself.
Evidence to the Labour Cabinet Committee on House of Lords reform, 1998, and to Lord Wakeham, chairman of the Royal Commission on House of Lords reform, 1999.
Statute law needs checking by represented interests. For example, the public has statutory rights as consumers. In particular, the small claims court is supposed to allow complaints to be made cheaply. At present, the judge or arbiter may over-rule those rights in the interests of sellers' rights. The misled consumer can find he has hefty costs to pay some defendant firm's lawyer's and expert's train fares.
To remedy this, a vocational parliament is needed whereby the general public, represented as sellers, qualifies the statute law for that same public considered as consumers. Thus a definitive statute law of consumer-seller relations would be passed by both houses of parliament.
Then, big firms might be less obstinate in challenging consumer rights.
The judge or arbiter would interpret the statute law rather than over-turn
it, in the name of Common Law.
Nothing would be lost to case law by this, in the small claims court, when the judge merely cites some alleged precedent. Presumably, such cases are too minor to take the time and expense of citing actual case precedents for the judge's ruling.
Broadly speaking, the small claims court should be the work of arbiters, who interpret a two-chamber consumer-seller statute law, and the higher courts, the work of judges also trained in Common Law.
A lot of legal disputes concern technical questions judges are not qualified to understand. If you have an occupational parliament representing every field of expertise, the supreme court, whether or not fully integrated in the second chamber, could call on this vital missing ingredient to just resolutions!
In reply to my recommendation ( The Second Chamber of Science: part one of this essay ) to the Labour Cabinet Committee on Lords Reform, I was sent a summary of the government's 'position'. This concerned the Commons 'pre-eminence', as in the subsequent Royal Commission's terms of reference. No-one wants a repeat of the historic struggle for dominance within the Constitution.
But we shouldnt assume there is only one kind of pre-eminence that allows of no other. By analogy, over the past century, the pre-eminent scientist ( or kind of scientist ) is perhaps Einstein. There is a tradition, going back at least as far as ancient Greece, that the contemplative thinker was somehow a class above the practical worker.
One contemporary of Einstein was as great a scientist, tho an inventor. His advances are still not widely or fully known. Who has heard of Nikola Tesla?
Theory and practise are equally necessary to science. One is not, or rather should not be, pre-eminent over the other. They are just different kinds of pre-eminence.
My impression of the government's position, in 1998, was that the Lords
reform debate hadnt moved on from the Wilson government's 'seraglio of
eunuchs', as Michael Foot called it.
Trying to have its cake and eat it, too, the government wanted a Lords that was independent yet subordinate, representative yet appointed ( at least in part ).
If one recognises that the Commons has pre-eminence in the general laws of the commons or communities, including over-all budgetary control, the second chamber may still have pre-eminence in the special application of those rules to all interest groups.
Democracy is not a luxury for either chamber. For social rules to be broadly made, in the first chamber, and for them to be properly tried and tested as they apply to particular occupations, requires systemmatic two-chamber representation of communities and vocations.
Winston Churchill's 'History Of The English-speaking Peoples' characterised the Lords as the chamber of the great vested interests of the nation -- 'even labour' as he put it. But the Labour party had to be formed because it was left out of the system. And this has further confused the distinctive roles of the two chambers.
If Lords reform had not stalled in the twentieth century, it might have
evolved beyond merely appointing life peers, who have achieved career
In this respect, the Irish Senate, as a working model, would be far preferable to the political ghosts most second chambers are.
But the British second chamber wouldnt have to be on as narrow a vocational franchise as in Ireland.
Millions of British people already use the democratic voting method, the single transferable vote, for this purpose of professional leadership. David Sinclair of the Conservatives' Bow Group has proposed STV to elect 'interest group affiliates' to the Lords.
Nor need we have yet another kind of election campaign with likely low turn-outs. STV is flexible enough to combine usual union or professional elections with sending reps to a national body to co-ordinate the economy. Vocational candidates on the ballot paper merely need show whether they are standing for the national economic parliament, and the most prefered of those candidates would be proportionally elected.
After all, the Interests MP ( or IMP! ) would be parliamentary spokesman for a vocation's ruling body as well as a leading representative of that occupation, so such an integrated election could be justified.
The same principle could be extended to the EU, if one of the three European parliaments became a vocational chamber, integrated into union and association elections, when that stage of organisation was reached.
If the generic term for specialised second chambers is Churchill's 'economic parliament', the British economic parliament might be named 'The House of Callings'.
One could make a good case that the twentieth century tragedy stems
largely from failing to realise that both political and economic democracy
are needed for justice and quality of life.
This relates to the Royal Commission terms of reference on the relevance of a reformed second chamber to the Human Rights Act.
One sees a democratic one-sidedness ( or uni-cameralism ) in Britain as far back as 1834, when a Chartist 'House of Trades' was to replace the House of Commons. ( Source: E P Thompson, 'The Making Of The English Working Class'. Ch.16 v.) This can be traced more or less up to G D H Cole's 'Guild Congress' ( quoted in A H Birch, 'Representative And Responsible Government' ).
Karl Marx's attitude, that parliament is 'the executive committee of the bourgeoisie', lingered on in Britain, thru the 1970s, with the supposed Trotskyite infiltration of local Labour parties.
Bernard Shaw's 'Major Barbara' is pure Titoism of political rule by a strong man, scornful of the parliamentary 'talking shop' but with a sincere belief in workers rights and participation in industrial management. But Yugoslavia, after Tito, resembles the Soviet and Nazi genocides.
C S Lewis said he was a democrat because no man is good enough to be another man's master. Did history really need to prove economic justice cannot be secured thru political tyranny?
How long is it going to take to learn the need for an economic parliament to give equality of lobbying the political parliament? For, political democracy is also subverted by corporate capitalism, indeed, the very survival of the planet's ecology is endangered by unrestrained greed and exploitation.
Even financial journalism is alarmed. Melvyn Marckus warns ( in 'The Express', april 4, 1998 ) of 'The Fat Cat Threat To The Economy':
The figure of £66 million does, however, raise the question of just how much loot is required to galvanise the chief executive of a public company?...
Such tales merely strengthen beliefs that, although senior executives responsibilities may be onerous, the rewards, in the shape of lavish salaries, bonus payments, barrowloads of share options and plush pension arrangements are, in a word, unjustifiable. Another word is: obscene.
What the Chancellor and the Governor of the Bank of England should ponder is how ill-equipped so many boardrooms are to argue against employees' demands for inflationary pay settlements.
The democratic rights of small shareholders usually are a sham. For example, nobody votes for fund managers giving themselves an increase in commission ( on poor performance as well ) but surprise, surprise, their grab goes thru by default.
The law sometimes requires companies to seek a vote on changing their financial arrangements. Busy and inexpert shareholders can only decide by what the company tells them. An independent Interests MP might be consulted by the public in such cases.
How hard it is in a usurious and parasitic society to live in decent
poverty. Everyone has to have so much capital in hand to meet the demands of
everyone wanting their cut from everyone else.
Even the basics include various tariffed utilities, expensive insurance covers, public and private pension plans, and the inequitable council tax.
One policy of an economic parliament should be to lower the cost of living (partly thru encouraging domestic or low impact technical innovations) especially for people who prefer simple and independent lives to the credit card or consumer society.
I dont think it would be helpful, at this stage, to attempt to answer every detailed question of the Consultation Paper on Lords Reform, issued by the Royal Commission. Many of the answers would be determined by the broadest principles of reform. But what, if any, franchise the second chamber is to have, hasnt been decided yet.
Political appointees or second chamber second-rate political elections would pack the Lords with party careerists, irrelevant to the nation's vital needs.
The last quarter of the twentieth century has shown how electoral reform has resulted in a mess of half a dozen or more ( if you count important differences of detail ) undemocratic voting methods on the British mainland, because most committees ( as high ranking as the Lords Royal Commission ) were more concerned to secure the positions of various parties, more or less, in the electoral procedure, than to find out what the voters really want.
Party organisations should not be an oligarchy. They are only one of the country's professions, only one constituency, in all of the occupational constituencies, for the purposes of a proportionally represented special interests second chamber.
Some hotch potch composition, recommended for the second chamber, will
only mean the Royal Commission cant make its mind up about the principles
The feeble muddle of an electoral 'system', introduced by the Independent Commission on Voting Methods, was not well received.
That the life peers must stay on ( and might have been elected ) is evident. But their best service would be to point the way for systemmatic representation of unions, professions and all vocations.
( Further evidence to the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of
June 1999. )