Open letter to the joint committee on Lords reform.

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Dear Chairman Dr Jack Cunningham, Peers and MPs.

Links to sections of this letter:

Opposing half-truths are mutually rejected.

In february 2003, Parliament, on House of Lords reform, voted against an appointed second chamber and against an elected second chamber. And they rejected compromise by being more against a 60% elected chamber than an 80% elected chamber.
Nor did MPs decide to abolish the other place, the 'retirement home' for so many of them.

As the Press documented this 'farcical' indecision, the february 2003 votes on Lords reform were a renewed instance of a country failing to act as a community of interest.
The triumph for machine politics was deplored, with its 'sneers' against 'constitutional obsessives', namely those concerned with the rules of the game, if the cheated are not to kick the game over. A symptom of such discontent may be seen in the public's exhausted patience with politics.
A Labor whip admitted a huge operation to scupper an elected upper chamber and was reported as saying about the prime minister: The machine saw Tony thru.
Whipping tactics played a ritual war, with force of numbers, that made no sense.

Merriment was observed among the Tories, in the lobbies, whose mischievous spirit, it was believed, helped add to the hopelessly confused voting for Labor's various Lords reforms.
But, as Tory MP Andrew Tyrie said: 'We will not be taken seriously if we reject democratic options for reform.'

Lords reform is not proving a transition from a feudal society, but a continuation of the feudal system, with machine politicians as party tenants, paying homage to their bosses.
In fact, the only new profession that the Wakeham report would add, to the medieval line-up of bishops and lawyers, was a quota for party politicians.

No wonder, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine tutored Tony Blair in an appointed second chamber. Their profession is already abundantly provided-for, not only in that respect. Their message is: Never mind about every one else's equal right to be represented in their working lives!

The prime minister, who once admitted he would rather be called a dictator than weak, made sure the Lords would be too weak to oppose his authority with any of its own.
Simon Jenkins followed the constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor, who proclaimed that the second chamber must be weak, to prevent dead-lock with the first chamber of government, as happened in the past.

Bogdanor has talked about a 'paradox' of democracy producing a party oligarchy. But his own thinking is akin to that which actually produced the historical conflict between upper and lower house. Because, the upper orders believed the lower orders should be kept weak, by depriving them of education, decent working conditions and franchise rights. This was the upper ranks' idea of how to keep the order of things to which they were accustomed. Instead, weakening the lower orders promoted the long and bitter class struggle, and constitutional crises.

Saying one needs a weak second chamber is like saying one needs a disability. It is because of perceived weaknesses in single chamber government that the value of a second chamber is recognised. One does not strengthen one chamber of government with a weakling of a second chamber.

That would be like the sentimental falsehood of saying a man needs a woman's weakness. Women may not have the immediate physical strength of men but they have more endurance, as their life-spans testify. The man used to be regarded as lord and master and the woman as 'the weaker vessel', and 'no better than she should be.'

Nowadays, the democratic demand of equal rights require that men and women respect each others strengths, and use them to mutual advantage in partnership.

Another partnership analogy with two-chamber government is the relation between theorists and experimentalists in science. Even science has been tainted with a prejudice that practical work is for work-men and pure science for the gentleman of leisure, like that distinguished amateur scientist, Lord Salisbury.

But it's fair to say that theorists dont demand of experimentalists that they make their tests 'weak' so that they dont challenge the pre-eminence of theorists as the proper scientists.
This is a perfectly fair comparison with bi-cameral government, because making the second chamber 'weak' prevents it from doing properly its job of informative representation or representative information. ( This constitutional fiasco is itself a lesson in the folly of rigid or dogmatic conflicts, between a governing few, ignoring informed participation. )

When governments build weaknesses into their working arrangements, they are asking for break-downs, and at the most inconvenient times, whenever the system is stretched by emergencies. The leadership may make the first chamber relatively strong but they do not make it stronger, only, perhaps, more head-strong, head-long into disaster.

The logic of Bogdanor and Jenkins' case for Lords' weakness would be to maximise the relative strength of the Commons by abolishing the second chamber. Their fear of rivals is of the mentality that 'Carthage must be destroyed.' But a wise Roman senator retorted: 'Carthage must be re-built.'

Suppose, however, the second chamber is cobbled together by 'Breakages Ltd'. Simon Jenkins' suggested weaknesses are typical of the constitutional sabotage proposed. Half the peers are indirectly elected from councils and regions. Jenkins began his Times article with the emptiness of elections by single member constituencies or party lists, because they put politicians more in the power of their parties than the public. That witty first column, especially, was worth quoting.

By the second half of his article, Jenkins has managed to argue himself into further alienating the public. He would have local and regional councillors, who, on his own admission, voters were granted little or no chance to elect personally, transported completely without regard to the voters' wishes, to another level of government altogether, irrelevant to the responsibilities for which they were elected. This subordinates local and regional elections to national appointments.

Simon Jenkins would have the other half of the Lords 'nominated from the leaders of specific interest groups and professions, however the commission chose.' In that last phrase speaks the dilettante. 'Dont trouble me with the details,' it says. How often principle has foundered in practise on that attitude.

Jenkins' chosen opponent Robin Cook is so perfect an example, of that caution, that he constitutes a paradox in himself. Here is a man to be reckoned with, who now faces a reckoning. Defying his leader, he risked dismissal for such differences of opinion as are necessary to the search for truth. The executive imposes loyalty on its party vassals to prevent the legislature doing its job of independent investigation.

But the leader of the legislature took a stand on democratic principle, about which he says some fine things: The appointment process was 'tested to destruction. Indeed, it was such a major public relations disaster that two years later we've not dared ever repeat it.'

I do not think we can make the second chamber accountable by privatising the process of appointment to any number of independent bodies.

If we exclude the public from the process of elections we should not be surprised that the public is then cynical about those who oppose the people's peers. Trust is a reciprocal quality. If we want the public to trust politicians then we must trust the public to elect the right people.

Yet in practise, as Simon Jenkins explained, Robin Cook's constitutional program, however fashionable among reformers, would be deadening to democracy. Such naive reformers propose, firstly, safe seats to parliament with the single member system. Secondly, should a politician be so unlucky to lose his safe seat, they propose a back-up system of safe seats on party lists, whereby he can still be elected as an 'additional member', without any interference of personal choice by the voters.

If even that can't keep the career politician in parliament, never mind, with a second chamber of just such party-rigged 'elections', he has the same doubly safe seat system all over again to give him a job for life.

Peter Mandelson objected to proportional representation. He believed if the Lords used PR, the Commons would have to follow suit:

How long do you think it would take for it to become perfectly clear to everyone that to have two separate electoral systems for the two chambers would be absolutely untenable?

Mandelson was implying that one of two systems would be deemed more democratic and therefore confer more legitimacy on that chamber. This also implies the Labor party is wrong to use different systems for different assemblies, as advocated by its Plant report, instead of the democratic electoral system ( the single transferable vote ).

Politicians, such as Leader of the Commons, Robin Cook, thought they were rebeling in the cause of democratic legitimacy, in seeking an elected political second chamber. But others, such as Gerald Kaufman, stated the obvious, that those elections entrench 'party hacks' and people can't be bothered to vote ( at least with the party-controled electoral systems politicians favor ).
Lords reform showed politicians to be atavistic even in their notion of progress.

A policy war is based on the false reasoning that two chambers must both be political if they are to be elected and therefore an elected second chamber would conflict with the first.

Expertise and democratic legitimacy in the second chamber.

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May the joint committee on Lords reform realise the Wakeham Report was wrong to rule out the election of experienced vocational representatives to the second chamber.

The report, that so gratified the prime minister if hardly any one else, left Parliament a dead-lock between two half-truths: the right composition of the second chamber and its democratic legitimacy.
There must be other interest groups than parties, in the second chamber, to check the parties' law-making in the first chamber. If all the main interests of modern society were represented, then the second chamber would have democratic legitimacy, that appointed experts cannot give.

The House of Lords already contains experts, respected by their professions and the public. The fact that they were appointed was superfluous and detracts from the legitimate authority theyve already earned thru recognition in their lines of work.

Politicians and academics of all persuasions have spoken for vocational representation. In general, its case can be supported by looking to the past and to the future ( if the country has a future ). From ancient times, the second chamber has been a senate, in which not old age but its experience is valued.

The House of Lords is historicaly the chamber which represents the vested interests seeking to prevent the laws going too much against them. There is nothing wrong in that, provided that all interests are fairly represented, to that end. Of course, that never happened. The Lords stuck in the middle ages, until, as Tony Benn said, Tony Blair modernised the House of Lords into the fourteenth century.

The argument from the future, for vocational representation is the same as the case from the past, but made clearer by the success of science as a procedure. In science, generalisations are amended, as necessary, by experience. It is this partnership of rational laws, checked by those with the expertise to know whether the laws will work properly, for which two chambers of government have stood, and should stand.
The historical and yet scientific argument is the strongest case for a vocational second chamber.
The Commons, for the general community, and the Peers, in specialist work, could complement each other in a two-chamber political economy. This would be much as science works in a partnership of theory and practise.

The Wakeham report's objections to vocational representation.

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But systematic occupational representation is required for the country's practical knowledge to be brought fully to bear on the problems of government. This need not require a new round of elections, only that peers be chosen as part of the routine of professional or union elections. So, the dire warning of low turn-outs for Lords elections is irrelevant. New rounds of elections are not needed, only a modification of existing occupational elections.

In this and other objections, the Wakeham report's devil's advocacy against vocational representation was weak. For instance, the report objected to 'unacceptable intrusion' in occupational bodies' affairs to ensure they met proper standards of representation in the second chamber.

But back in the nineteen fifties, was it unacceptable intrusion to ensure that the Communists didnt take over the electricians union by ballot rigging?
Likewise, the government requires that societies meet proper accounting standards to prevent financial fraud. Minister, Patricia Hewitt is considering a more frequent turn-over of accountants, as a feeble 'safeguard' against corporate corruption, on the scale of Enron and WorldCom, which has stung even the Americans into a more credible reaction.

The British government's proposal, to shuffle round accountants between firms, would excuse them, as knowing even less ( if that were humanly possible ) about fraud in firms they were supposed to be supervising.

Given that electoral or financial fraud, of economic executives against their members, is unacceptable, anyway, where does that leave the Wakeham report's excuse against requiring standards of vocational representation in the second chamber?

Indeed, financial accountability should be one of the specialised tasks of the second chamber, where accountants and financiers should have their share, and no more than their share, of occupational representation. Andrew Marr pointed out that, in the Commons, billions go thru on the nod.

The Wakeham report had the laughable assurance that a Lord's committee was a sufficient legislative over-sight for developments in science and technology. Here is this huge intellectual force revolutionising the world for good and ill. No hand-full of individuals, however eminent, can hope to represent the vast fields of research continually developing.

MPs' back-grounds show the Commons to be almost completely out of touch with science and technology. These require independent thought, which party politics regards as the peculiar enemy to its self-assertion. The moral of this, for a country, may be likened to the true story of the captain, who hung a sailor for mutiny, because he advised that they were heading for the rocks. The entire crew drowned.

The nation's second chamber is needed for a representative knowledge of its entire work and the freedom to assess its implications, given by elective authority of colleagues.

( I give a fuller refutation of the Wakeham report's objections to occupational representation, in part one of my web-page on second chamber reform. )

In a letter to The Times, Lord Alexander thought the joint comittee on Lords reform should be joined by people outside parliament 'healthily lacking in complacency'. Parliament, containing the only profession that has total autonomy over its membership, has proved hopelessly incapable of reforming itself. He reminded us that Bernard Shaw called professions conspiracies against the laity.

Adam Smith said the same, but he believed in free competition instead of government monopolies, today exemplified in electoral systems made for party oligarchy, and its hold over parliament.

February 2003, open letter to the joint committee on Lords reform.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Lung.

P.S. If any one still needs converting to an elected second chamber ( on a vocational franchise ), as well as effective elections to the first chamber ( on the political franchise ), I can recommend a visit to the official Westminster web-site, when you want to make its in-mates answerable to you. I found a list of names of the peers. I found e-mails for the MPs. But they were nothing more than forms, plainly wanting nothing to do with anyone outside their little electoral districts.

The web-site, to the Lords reform joint committee, also defeated my attempts to contact it.
Apparently only one member of the committee had his own web-site. 'Politician' is a maligned term, not least by me, but at least Paul Tyler MP's web-site was canvassing the public on actual policies of the day ( namely not going to war before all the lawful avenues of a peaceful solution have been properly explored ).

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