I have a slightly disingenuous attitude towards House of Lords reform. I fully support the proposal to elect the Lords by proportional representation on a regional [territorial] basis precisely because such a system would undermine the House of Commons and therefore the Union, thereby increasing our chances of getting an English parliament in the future. As I've written before, an elected House of Lords raises the 'Upper West Lothian Question' and makes it probable that the reformed 'Lords' will be regarded as the more representative and the more British of Parliament's two chambers.
All well and good if you're an English nationalist. However, if I were a Unionist I would argue that it would be a bad thing to duplicate the problems of the Commons (whips, partisanship, nationalism/WLQ) in the Lords; if I were a Unionist I would be arguing that it would be a good idea to keep the Lords unelected (after all, why have two elected chambers?) but to remove from the Government the power to appoint Lords (after all, it's the system of political patronage that populates the Lords with over 800 brown-nosing party apparatchiks and gravy-trainers).
The Bow Group have made the case for a slimmed-down appointed upper house. It's a very good paper, so expect it to be shouted down. The part that will be of most interest to readers of this blog is copied below:
However, we believe that there are numerous reasons why it is not a good idea to introduce election on any regional or territorial basis in the House of Lords:
a) While Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have devolved governments and legislatures, in England there are no directly elected bodies at national or regional level comparable to an English Parliament or Regional Assemblies. In short, the devolution system is incomplete, which means that one of the four parts of the UK, and the one which contains 85% of the UK’s population, does not match the analogy with a federal state where an intermediate body lies between central government and local government across the entire population. For 85% of the population the element of redundancy identified by Norton would consequently still remain, as none of the main political parties have plans to introduce measures to rectify this such as an English Parliament.
b) Even if England had its own Parliament the system would still be impractical to implement. As Anthony King notes: “Unless England were subdivided into regions, the federation would be hopelessly lopsided, with either England wholly dominant or else Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland assigned an influence that was totally disproportionate to their size. Of course England could be subdivided into regions, but the subdivisions thus created would be largely artificial and...the appetite for regional government in England is virtually non-‐existent.”
c) The issues are also complicated by the fact that the powers of the devolved legislatures are different in relation to different parts of the UK.
d) Even if there was an English Parliament and an English Executive, the UK is still, and would still remain, a unitary state rather than a truly federal state. The devolution of power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is precisely that – devolution. Devolution is not the same as a federal system such as that in the USA, where power is entrenched at federal level. By contrast, Parliament could repeal all the legislation authorising devolution tomorrow and consequently remove all power from the devolved institutions in Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland from functioning. Obviously it will not – there are political constraints which prevent it from doing so. But it has, in theory at least, the legal power to do so, which ensures that it remains a devolved system rather than a federal system. The redundancy point does not thus entirely disappear even in the UK.
e) In a country with significant linguistic, religious, racial or territorial divisions, there may be a case for establishing a second chamber that reflects those divisions and ensures that each major grouping in that society can act as a check on the other group(s). This logic can however be applied to only a limited extent in the United Kingdom. As King rightly notes: “Divisions in a country may dictate the need to create a second chamber based on those divisions, but it would seem perverse to create divisions solely for the purpose of creating a second chamber based upon them. It would be like building a whole house for no other purpose than building a roof over it”
f) Having a directly elected upper house based on territory risks introducing the West Lothian Question into the House of Lords, just as it exists in the Commons. It would, Bogdanor argues, be asked why Scottish elected peers should be able to vote on English laws when English peers could not vote on Scottish laws on domestic matters, since these had been devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Far from holding the United Kingdom together he fears that a territorial upper house could give added momentum to those who wish to pull the Union apart.
g) Even where second chambers do exist, they often do not fulfil their purpose. As Bogdanor notes, “The prime lesson to be drawn from even a cursory glance at second chambers in federal states is that they recognize less the interests of territory than the interests of the political parties which are strong in a particular territory”. In the Australian Senate, for example, Senators generally vote in accordance with the party whip, acting as a party representative rather than a state representative. Russell further noted in her comparative study on second chambers that while the upper house in Canada is nominally territorial, connections between it and the provinces are weak, failing to protect against fragmentation and calls for secession by Quebec.
We are told that the Commission on the West Lothian Question, which may consider the case for an English parliament, has been kicked into the long grass to await the recommendations on Lords reform. Unfortunately, therefore, it would appear that any consideration of the English Question, or solution to the West Lothian Question, will have to be shoe-horned into whatever dunder-headed plans for the Lords Clegg and Harper come up with. And this is despite the fact that the Hansard Audit of Political Engagement showed that the voting privileges of Scottish MPs was a greater source of constitutional concern than Lords reform (or anything else for that matter).
"The constitutional issue that the greatest number of people are dissatisfied with by far is Scottish MPs being able to vote on English issues in the Commons (46%)." By contrast just 21% were dissatisfied with FPTP and 36% were dissatisfied by the way members of the House of Lords were chosen.
As usual Westminster puts its own priorities above those of the people, in particular the people of England.