Reform of the Lords
Submission to Royal Commission
The need for a second chamber implies that a single representative chamber, using the best available electoral system and supported by a transparent and robust committee system cannot deliver adequate democracy. Logically, I cannot see how an additional elected or appointed chamber can rectify this deficiency. The structure of the Scottish Parliament suggests that for a small country at least that this argument has been accepted.
The way forward lies in that word ‘representative’. Any system which relies on anything other than random selection must inevitably skew representation one way or another. Any political system tends to serve the interests of politicians over others at the margin.
A randomly-selected second chamber should allow people – as far as possible – to carry on their usual lives and should maximise participation by the use of limited single terms. The most effective way of achieving this might be to use Information and Communication Technology to create a Virtual Chamber which members could access from their own homes.
We have long accepted the use of randomly selected juries in the Courts, to make decisions that drastically affect the future of individuals. So-called ‘Citizen’s Juries’ have shown that people from all walks of life can come together and make high-quality consensual decisions when given access to the relevant information. Members of a Virtual House of Lords should receive support and training similar to that given to ‘Citizens’ Juries’. This training would in itself have considerable value, even after members have finished their terms.
One concern expressed with the idea of a randomly selected chamber is that it could be argued that it had greater legitimacy than the House of Commons. The response to this is surely that the Commons is ultimately accountable to the whole population through the mechanism of elections. When it is carrying out actions which have been supported at elections, then the supremacy of the Commons should be unchallenged. The second chamber’s role would be to guide the Commons in areas uncovered by manifestos, and in situations where changing circumstances or new information rendered election commitments less relevant. I would suggest that at least initially the role of the new second chamber would be mainly advisory, leaving the elected chamber with the clear right to pass legislation, but as a more truly ‘representative’ body its opinions would carry considerable moral weight and persuasive power.
If he hasn’t already submitted it to you I suggest you read Martin Wainwright’s (of the Guardian) paper on Random Selection. It was on the Web – I’m not sure if it still is.
Dr Diarmid Weir
26th April 1999