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Don’t make the best the enemy of the good

September 12, 2012

Time and again in reform of the House of Lords the best has become the enemy of the good.    While the overwhelming majority of members of the Lords have been keen to see improvements in the way we operate, and have indeed voted for it on a number of occasions, the Government plans for ‘big bang’ reform have actually blocked some of the important standards issues being agreed with the Commons, as is necessary for the legislation to pass.  Despite the acceptance by the Government that there will now be no major reform act during this mandate there still seems to be a hesitation in Government to allow more modest but useful reforms to proceed in the interim.

 A number of ‘best practice’ standards boxes have been ticked – the Lords has a code of conduct and a Lords Commissioner for Standards – and there has not been the sort of widespread expenses scandal that afflicted the House of Commons – but it’s not yet the model the Upper House wants for itself.

 The background, values and personal integrity of individual peers as well as the ‘culture’ of the House affects how they perceive and deal with the inevitable dilemmas and conflicts that arise in relation to their roles as peers. The part–time, unpaid nature of the role is potentially a complex standards issue, but there is no prospect of a proper salaried arrangement like that enjoyed by MPs, so we have to work with what is possible.

 Strong ethical behaviour needs encouragement and leadership within the Lords.  It is not helped by the fact that we lack the ultimate sanction – the House can’t expel a peer who has behaved badly or even been convicted of a criminal offence (though it can and has suspended a number of members over the years, which is the most the law allows).   Expulsion is one of the measures in the bill promoted by Lord Steel of Aikwood as well as a facility to devise a voluntary retirement scheme and to remove non-attenders (72 in the last session).    David’s previous attempts also included proposals to put the House of Lords Appointments Commission on a statutory basis – another eminently sensible proposal.

 Now that the Deputy Prime Minister has announced that major reform is on the back burner for the present because of the lack of inter-party consensus, surely it is worth reviewing whether in the short-term those things which we do agree upon could be put into place promptly.  It is hardly fair to block the Lords implementing sensible improvements to their standards and then criticise them for not having the improved standards structures that would benefit parliamentary practice.

Lord Alderdice

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One Response to “Don’t make the best the enemy of the good”

  1. yes it’s too bad that governments unkindness in the way of itself and the good, the people
    it sounds like you have a good handle the situation and think to see somebody blogging, commenting on this information is great.

    keep up the good work Lord Alderdice

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