The House of Lords plays a key role in Britain’s legislative process, but without piecemeal reform its reputation risks being eroded, the outgoing House of Lords Speaker Baroness D’Souza told a meeting of the Young Diplomatic in London.
“If the House of Lords did not exist, then it would probably have to be invented,” said the Lord Speaker, who explained to diplomats the value of having a second chamber of experts to scrutinise and revise huge volumes of legislation from the House of Commons before it got on to the statute books.
The Lords Select Committees give wider scope to this scrutinising function. Of particular interest to diplomats was the EU Select Committee which analyses EU directives. This Committee will become increasingly important with the introduction of a ‘red card’ system for blocking EU legislation.
Although the 825 members of the 700-year-old chamber are appointed – raising questions over the democratic legitimacy of the Lords – the diverse expertise of peers was an asset when revising legislation, explained Baroness D’Souza: “It’s always good to have experts in your midst because governments tend to respect someone with current expertise rather than someone who stands up in order to argue a party political point.”
However the Lord Speaker said there was room for improvement, and “bite-sized” reforms, if agreed, could start to be implemented as soon as the next parliamentary session. Addressing the size of the House is one area in which effective action could quickly be taken. However, radical reforms – such as an elected second chamber or the phasing out of hereditary peers would take a lot longer.