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In The House Of Lords Essay

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On the political spectrum, I find myself to be a liberal and a social democrat. I'm an atheist, I advocate Proportional Representation; I wish to see a written constitution and the abolition of the monarchy. And so my natural position, and the position which I have held for so long, is that the Upper House of Parliament, the House of Lords, should be abolished or reformed to such an extent that it is an entirely elected Senate; not an undemocratic body of questionable political appointments and hereditary peers (who are often too conservative to claim to represent the views of the country). And yet, as the idea of a "Wholly elected upper house, elected by proportional representation," has become government policy and looks like it could be a reality, I've become suspicious and cold towards this political reform which every bone in my body tells me I should support. I never, ever thought I would defend a system in which unelected persons have a role in government, and yet... here I go.


The United Kingdom doesn't have a written constitution, and Parliament has evolved through gradual changes over hundreds of years. The country has evolved from an absolute monarchy to a democracy, with no absolute step from one to the other. Certainly, one must argue that we were a democracy once we'd been through our brutal and bloody civil war, but with constituencies representing grossly different numbers of people, it was not true democracy. Significant reforms over the years have occurred, almost always with huge public support or political consensus. Constitutional change cannot and should not be a bargaining tool for a senior coalition partner to throw as a bone to their junior partner. But, alas, this is not the problem.

In 1911, the battle between the elected lower house and the unelected upper house (a battle which is still relevant now, 99 years later) turned massively towards the Commons (the elected lower house). The Parliament Act 1911 allowed the House of Commons, in certain circumstances, to pass bills against the will of the House of Lords. In the late 1940s, fearing that the Lords would hold up or halt the post-war government's nationalisation programme, the Labour government used the Parliament Act 1911's powers to override the House of Lords to amend the Parliament Act 1911, giving them more power to circumvent the House of Lords in passing bills. These two blows to the House of Lords turned the upper house into more of an advisory body than a house of the legislature. A government which had just been elected (when arguably their mandate is strongest) could basically pass anything, because they had four or five years to pass bills, in which time they could easily use the Parliament Acts (often the threat of the Acts was enough). As their term passed, the Lords' ability to hold up, but not stop, legislation required the government to amend and compromise when the House of Lords objected to their plans.

This leaves us with a very different political system to the one we had at the turn of the 20th century. A government, upon being elected, can begin their entire legislative agenda. If the House of Lords dislike it, they can suggest amendments. The government can compromise, refining their legislation, or they can use threaten to use the Parliament Acts. The bill will be significantly slowed down. Surely, this is a positive system. Upon being elected with a majority, the government knows it CAN pass its agenda. However, the bills which receive objection will either have to be negotiated on, compromised on and beaten into a better bill - or it'll be held up. Meanwhile, as a government approaches their later years, when they arguably have less of a mandate, they may find that they have less chance of passing the bill without the support of the Lords, and compromise becomes more important. Again, surely a system in which a government has sweeping legislative power when freshly elected and yet has less such power three or four years after their election is a positive thing.

Now, we must look at what the House of Lords have tried to stop happening since the passage of the Parliament Act. Their objections have never, it seems, been to economic or financial matters (Note that 'money bills' are far easier to pass without the support of the Lords under the Parliament Acts). Their objections are either from a socially conservative point of view, a "bad legislation/overly authoritarian legislation" point of view or being against political reform. As a liberal, I struggle to justify their social conservatism being forced upon us. And yet, as a believer in proportional representation, I must believe in coalitions, public mandates and political consensus - not in governments acting on a whim because they have a majority. As such, I can accept the bitter taste of this social conservatism in the knowledge that parties who believe in these sweeping changes will probably begin to make the changes upon being elected; they won't wait a few years. The House of Lords tried to stop, for example, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 which lowered the age of consent for homosexual. I do not, for one second, defend this body's anti-gay rights action or social conservatism; but I think it doesn't matter at all; as governments can cope without their support.

I believe the Lords, as a conservative (small 'c') body, with both hereditary peers and appointed politicians, performs a very important role in slowing down and speaking out against authoritarian measures and bad political reform. Their constant complaining about and attempts to amend, the anti-terrorism legislation which we saw in Blair's later days and Brown's premiership were essential services.

And so, we end up in the situation that we face in 2010. We have a strange and emasculated upper-house with very limited power, and a strange mix of appointed seats and inherited seats. In simple terms, they cannot stop a government from passing its legislative agenda. They can, however, seriously hold up bills which are problematic. And from here, we reach the fallacy which blind adherence to liberal policies will bring us to. The Parliament of the United Kingdom is effectively a unicameral (one-house) system, with a second body able to slow down and potentially amend legislation - and only sometimes meaningfully.

The liberal position must, surely, be - "This house should be elected, not appointed, not inherited! That is democracy!" But, here's the problem: As long as living memory goes back, the House of Commons has been the centre of British politics. There is very little will to have any more power given to the upper house. We don't want to rebalance ourselves to a true bicameral system. And yet, our liberal ideology demands that the House of Lords be replaced with an elected Senate. But once we have an elected Senate, the next step of this ideological creep will be, "But surely, if both houses are elected, they must both play a central role in British politics."

Committee functions, legislative functions, oversight functions - these will all be transferred to the Upper House. We must question the logic of this. There is no serious body of people in the United Kingdom who want to take power from the Lower House and give it to an Upper House; but this is the consequence of an elected Upper House. If we dislike a political body, to replace it with a different political body seems reasonable. But to give this new body more power, simply because we disliked the old one, is simply hubris.

I advocate proportional representation, the abolition of the monarchy, a written constitution and ultimately, a step away from the current format of the House of Lords. But, like many others, I am happy with the balance between the Upper and Lower houses. I would like to see the assignment of seats in the Upper House modified significantly with less of a focus on Prime Ministerial appointment and inheritance. I would even be happy with a system which sees political parties appoint new members to the House of Lords based on the share of the vote which they receive. But, alas, I cannot support this massive overreaction; I cannot support a new elected body in Parliament when there is no need, no requirement for one.

All things staying the same, I would vote against a proportionally-represented wholly-elected Senate in a referendum. In a political system without a written constitution, constitutional reform must be a slow process with deep consultation and consensus. Change for the sake of change is not progress; when the goal is democracy and accountability but the outcome is an unintended rebalancing of the political system, I will not support it. I will not and cannot accept the addition of a new body without a clear answer to the purpose of that body; especially when I think the current body fulfils that role so well.

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...

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