The House of Lords is the upper chamber of the British legislature. The Lords, as it is called, has three main roles: it makes laws, it considers public policy and most importantly, it holds government to account. I think we all agree it has a very important role in our society. However the Lords has been controversial for many years because it is made up of unelected life members. In Britain, the Lords is literally made up of well, Lords - Aristocrats appointed for life and even hereditary nobles, as well as Christian Bishops from the Church of England. To date, all proposals to make the Lords fully or partly elected have failed.
Special criticism is aimed at inherited peerages because whilst life peerages tend to come by merit - recommendation due to achievements in fields such as medicine, law, sports, education and the armed forces - inherited peers are there through birthright. They are seen to not deserve their peerage since many believe being born to a peer should not be an automatic right to entry to such an important organisation.
The proportion of hereditary peers in the Lords has greatly reduced since the House of Lords Act 1999, now down to only 92 out of several hundred total members. But are hereditary peers such a bad thing? And is having an elected House such a good thing?
In this ever increasing world of democratisation, hereditary peerages are seen as archaic and not politically correct. Accountability is the order of the day and hereditary peers are not seen as answerable. Those members who are appointed have done important work in their fields or in some other way, to be put forward for the honour of membership. Hereditary peers are born into it.
We can understand the cynicism towards hereditary peers, but it can also be argued that they keep the government and other political parties in check. They are not elected so they do not have the agenda of wanting to be reelected and are therefore free to do as they wish with their vote. The same can be said of other members since no one is elected but are not those that are put forward by political parties accountable to those parties?
Take for example a doctor who is put forward by the Conservatives and is appointed to the House of Lords. He may be a conservative himself but even if not, the next time legislation needs passing that is proposed by the Conservatives, what line do you think the doctor is likely to take? A hereditary peer, on the other hand, even one that takes a party whip, does not have any favours to repay. They can afford not to be dragged into public and political trends and they have the experience of their forefathers to tap into. They can often see the bigger picture for society.
Should the Lords become an elected chamber? Partly-elected perhaps but fully elected and we could end up with the same political game-playing and circus entertainment we often get with the House of Commons? Is that democracy? The public seem very discontent with politicians so why are we calling for more by having the Lords electable?