Restore all the hereditary peers
The traditionalist Conservative position that I take on Constitutional matters is well outside the 'modern' debate about House of Lords reform.
I argue that we need to refill the chamber of the Hereditary Peers, expel all political appointments, allow the Law Lords to sit in the House once again, and reserve spaces for a number of life peers. We should pride ourselves on our past constitutional stability, traditions and evolution that is still envied by the rest of the world.
Before I argue my point, I want to attack one argument and it is from the democratic lobby. To them, what is so bad about the House of Lords is that it is not democratic and is not elected by the people. Democracy is fundamental to a modern society and we won't live in one until we get rid of this elitist backward institution. It is a better system as well, as it is creates accountable politicians and better legislators.
My first response to this argument is democracy has major issues and the first is the tyranny of the majority; politicians act on the will of the public without thinking about the consequences. Accountability is not necessarily a good thing as it makes you a slave to the electorate even if they are there for 15 years (according to the draft bill) that leads to not well thought out actions.
Second, most elected politicians vote on legislation because of the strong whipping system (see Public Choice Theory). Whilst looking like they act in the public interest, a lot of them are pursuing their own agenda, that is to climb the greasy pole (Skip to 2:56).
Having elections will exaggerate the issue of more power-seeking individuals, which will inevitably lead to complete politicisation of the chamber and worse; the selection process through the PR list system will be abused by the central parties, instead of the selection of independent individuals. If this is false (which is rather unlikely), local parties will select partisan hacks, as they want their agendas pursued. So modernisers are faced with a dilemma.
If this is the case, will more democracy lead necessarily to good governance? We should be debating whether the House of Lords does its job well in revising legislation and providing checks on the lower House. If those who believe election will do so, they need to strongly show that this is the case and respond to the above challenges, rather than the blinkered democratic absolutists who solely debate the point on 'legitimacy' and 'representation'.
The evidence from other mature democracies shows, democracy does not necessarily and automatically entail good governance as people seem blindly to believe. Our superior pre-1999 constitution with a strong aristocratic element provided stability, independence and wisdom, as I will argue.
These are the reasons why I support Hereditary peers:
They are totally independent, as they are selected through birth and entitlement;
They have something that most people do not have so they are less self-interested and less careerist;
When they are elevated to the Chamber at an older age, they have experience of the world outside of politics;
Where they are there for life, they are not shortsighted;
Where there is a lot of them, no one interest can dominate;
There is continuity in the family line so they are inclined to duty;
Fits within the British tradition of evolution and continuity in the Constitutional framework
The whole idea is to oversee the function of government through the careful deconstruction of motives, actions and oversight of elected MPs. They take a lot of the burden of the lower house, who would not have time otherwise in their programme to look at legislation properly.
What places an effective check and balance on the power of government is independence that has only been developed through time, acceptance, evolution and prescription. Our judiciary is independent because it has evolved slowly through time, and our Upper House developed political independence through the hereditary principle until it abruptly became a politicized chamber in 1999.
Compare this to the US of politicized crackpots of State and local judiciaries, local police forces as well as the Federal and State Congresses. Democratisation and hence politically motivated pandering has not led to adequate checks and balances required to curb the size of the state and executive directly because unaccountable, genuinely independent and wise individuals are void in the process because of election and politicisation.
The peers voted down government legislation if they believed it was a 'lousy clause', not because of natural conservative hereditary dominance (and as a matter of fact, there was a strong Crossbench presence). Look at the awful things that have happened because of throwing out the last effective check on government: hasty wars without proper debate, the curtailing of civil liberties in the name of 'counter terrorism' and the general misuse of government power.
Election will water down independence as it invites even greater politicisation to the chamber; abolishing the Lords will lead to a purely elective dictatorship and a politicised appointment process is not fit for purpose as it is open to abuse by political parties (Skip to 1:20) as we can see currently.
Having an aristocracy may seem unfair because it is by chance of birth, but there is one other possibility that can achieve what I have been arguing; the random selection of the population by sortation to the House. As Tim Worstall highlights however, it is impractical and so we are left with with what we had for the last 1000 years.
An independent chamber that is separate from elected government control provides pragmatic solutions to the above critiques of democracy; it is a constraint on the power of the Commons, a constraint that the Commons wishes to remove by electing the Lords. We want checks and balances by the wise, the independent and the unmotivated, something that an aristocracy had provided.
Burkean Conservatism warns us of false prophets (ie, Clegg). Be careful for what we wish for as if we elect the Lords, we could unleash things we haven't even thought of.