Monday, July 23, 2007

On second chambers: An introduction

The reform of the House of Lords has dragged on for years, to the point that some temporary provisions have now become a total joke (look for instance at a by-election to replace a deceased Labour hereditary peer!). But reform is pressing - with such a large proportion of members now appointed and that appointments process becoming publicly discredited, the House of Lords presently is "broke" and does need "fixing".

The idea of this little series of posts is to look at some other second chambers around the world from the past and present and see how they were composed, how they performed and whether they might offer guidance for a replacement second chamber in the UK.

To guide the analysis each second chamber looked at will have the following sections:

Composition: As it says on the tin (with a brief history of any changes).

Fairness of representation: What basis is the representation built on? Is it natural? Is it fair?

(I'm deliberately avoiding the use of the term "malapportionment" because there is debate as to exactly what it means - just an "unfair ratio of representatives to voters" or "unfair allocation of representatives to represented"? As you'll see as we go through, it's not always clear precisely who or what is being "represented".)

Powers and conventions: What powers does the second chamber have on paper? And which does it actually exercise?

Conflict resolution: How are clashes between the two houses resolved?

Protector against the tyranny of the majority vs bastion against democracy: How good are the chambers at responding to changes in popular opinion? How good are they are taking a longer term approach?

Anything else?: As it says.

Anything worth copying?: How far might this second chamber model work in the UK?

This will be by no means a complete tour but a search through some. I'll post my thoughts on a potential replacement UK house later on.

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