Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Roger Gale MP (LR 31)

  Thank you for your letter of 21 November concerning the PASC enquiry into Lords Reform. I am sorry I haven't written before this.

  I said at the time of the original "Reform" bill that if you were seeking to create from scratch an Upper House then you would not invent that strange mixture of hereditary peerages passed down from medieval landowners to their successors, life peers, bishops and senior judges that was the House of Lords. It was a peculiarly eccentric and superficially ramshackle form of legislature. It also did its revising job, put the brakes on over powerful Governments of all political persuasions and it worked.

  With the determination to mend things that are not broken this Government set about "Reform" with puritan Zeal. It kicked out all but a handful of the hereditary peers, many of whom had done the real work of the second chamber. It created, instead, "peoples peerages" that bore all the hallmarks of traditional life peers and it stuffed the rest of the benches with those enjoying modern instead of medieval patronage.

  Now, in ignoring the considered advise of a thoughtful commission, political wisdom and many of it's own backbenchers, the Government proposes to remove the remaining hereditary peers and replace them with a hundred or so elected "Lords". That seems to me to be a democratic nonsense.

  There is surely one and only one intellectually acceptable alternative to that with which we started and that is a wholly elected Upper House of Senate.

  I know that the argument against this is that "the Commons would never hand over power to such a body" but I think that the question also then has to be asked "what powers"?

  The Commons has already been reduced to something a little more than a cipher designed to rubber-stamp executive decisions and debate is curtailed not only on the floor of the House but now also in standing committee.

  Much of the remaining power of the Commons has been devolved to a Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland and Welsh assemblies leaving a rump that permits the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh to come to Westminster and vote on English issues while English members may no longer determine many of the same issues as they relate to "the countries".

  The prime duty of Government used to be macro-taxation (as is seen from council tax) defence and foreign policy. My personal view that it would be much, much better, instead of tinkering with "Reform" to cede those responsibilities to an elected Upper House representing the whole of the United Kingdom on a two member per United Kingdom county basis irrespective of size, and leave an English Parliament along with the other national legislature to deal with wholly parochial matters. That way we might both gain real benefits from National Government while maintaining the union of the United Kingdom.

December 2001

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