• Author:Ben Jones
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The Lords; a constitutional crisis? No. A national embarrassment.

In the real world, nobody cares about Britain’s so-called constitutional crisis.

People care about their friends and family being able to pay their household bills, afford their childcare and keep their jobs. They care about what the government is planning to do on tax credits and many will be pleased the Lords took the action it did last night.

It is right that the timetable for making the dramatic cuts in tax credits is being looked at again. It is also right that we reach the destination the Chancellor has set. Overall, we got the right policy outcome last night but it was an unnecessary mess, with the government mishandling the whole process. We only have four weeks to wait until the mess is hopefully properly sorted out. In the meantime, we have another mess to address.

This mess is centuries old. It goes to the heart of Britain’s democracy. Its sense of fair play. Its sense of itself. Whether the general public care or not, it is important. It is the House of Lords.

Britain’s second chamber is an embarrassment. A national embarassment. It is not fit for purpose. Not remotely fit for purpose.

Too big. Too unrepresentative. Too crony (and criminal) filled. Too party politics dominated. Too disconnected from the country it is meant to be serving.  Too costly. When it works, it works because it contains some committed public servants who do a good job in scrutinising legislation and improving the laws of the land – but that is the exception not the rule. If it was a real house (not a royal palace) it would be condemned and a new building erected in its place.

It is time to get out the bulldozer and the fresh bricks and mortar.

Britain does needs a second chamber but a much smaller body – 100 or so strong – the US manages with 100 Senators. Part elected – on a maximum of two 10/12 year terms – with all candidates independents not party representatives. Part appointed by an independent panel on same terms (staggering appointments to ensure continuity but not complacency) – against a clear job description – which ensures the right mix of experience and skills is included, with people from academia, business and civic life. A set number from each category and nominations made by anyone in the country or any organisation if they think they know someone who fits the bill. No more political party patronage. No more Bishops there because they are Bishops. No more great and the good. No more hereditary principle. No more jobs for life.  A second chamber that is fit for purpose with people who are there on merit – chosen by the public or the appointments panel because they are the right people for the job not because they will do what they are told by their political leaders or have a sense of entitlement they get from their family or because they wear a mitre.

It is time for the government to be bold – really bold – and sort out this embarrassing mess in the constitution of Britain. This is meant to be ‘the mother of all parliaments’. It is time to give 21st century Britain a Senate that lives up to that proud boast.