The House of Lords recently voted against Government plans for the Brexit deal, forcing the House of Commons to take another look at the proposed policy, with amendments added by the Lords. Obviously, this has been a divisive move. This has provoked outrage at the unelected blocking the so-called “will of the people.”
This criticism is as flawed today as it has always been. It rests on the mistaken belief that democracy is the end goal of civilization, and that we want as much of it as possible. But in reality, democracy is a tool, which we attempt to use in the best way we can to create the best possible nation state.
The House of Lords is hardly the only part of our political system that is unelected. Our head of State – the Queen, – our judges, our Generals, even the Prime Minister and their Cabinet are not elected to their positions. We understand that technical skill and understanding of the law is a far better qualification than personal appeal and campaigning ability.
If you want to see how too much democracy can be a bad thing, you need only look to the US who do have elected judges, who understandably pass down harsher sentences in election years. The US imprisons more people than any other country on Earth.
The House of Lords may not be perfectly representative of the British public, but it still has more women and ethnic minorities than the elected House of Commons.
As for this specific instance of the House of Lords activity, it is hardly an obstruction of the will of the people. It is simply the usual process of Government, with bills being amended and sent back between the Houses of Parliament for scrutiny and deliberation, the Government is merely making it seem like a big deal because they fear defeats on these amendments in the Commons, as there are several Conservatives who might rebel on a vote. In the previous reading in the Commons the Government managed to rush through the highly important bill with relatively little debate.
The Lords amendments and returning of the bill to the Commons is perfectly acceptable, in no way are the Lords preventing the Commons form passing this bill once, and this is the important part, it has been properly debated. The House of Lords can delay bills, but not totally prevent them, specifically so they cannot block the will of the people. All the Lords do is provide scrutiny and encourage deliberation, which is surely something we want in government. When the Government has a large majority in the Commons, as Blair had, or when the opposition is divided, as it is with Corbyn, then the Government can push through laws with little examination, and the Lords are the only ones who can block them. The independent cross-bench peers are a vital part of our political system, preventing any party from having a majority in the Lords.
They defended civil liberties under Tony Blair, and prevented some of the worst cuts under Cameron, and now they protect us from a slap-dash Brexit plan.
I am not claiming that there are no problems with the Lords, but there are equally problems with the Commons, and they cannot be easily resolved while maintaining all of the Lords’ unique benefits.