Tuesday, 30 August 2016
Brexit is an opportunity for meaningful Lords reform
Many people consider trade deals and regulations to be under the hood stuff best left to civil servants. These are ironically the same people who then complain about technocratic rule and the absence of democracy.
This though is an area that will require some further consideration. Leaving the EU does not bring an end to technocracy. All trade deals in future will be centred around ceding powers or replacing our own laws with a global standard. That means every last regulation is a trade deal in its own right right where UK businesses can either be opened up to full competition or closed down entirely.
This happens without any real public scrutiny and if there is one thing our MPs have proved it is that they are not up to the job. So I think that gives us some clue as to what to do with Lords reform.
We have heard plenty of talk about replacing the house of lords with an elected senate. I genuinely don't see the point. Were we to do such a thing we would no doubt follow the current trend of proportional representation. Just think how much that would suck. A supervisory body made up of sub-Farage creatures imposing their moronic world view on things that benefit from less democracy rather than more.
If we want a chamber full of intellectual subnormal cretins then we have the house of commons. Why do we need another one? I've heard it suggested that this would make the process more representative but if it is not the case that the commons is representative then that tends to suggest that the selection process is deeply flawed.
In terms of an upper house what we need is a higher calibre of scrutiny whereby lords have a clue what they're talking about. I think there's a solution.
Increasingly regulations are made at the global level and more often than not by NGOs, corporates and industry lobbyists. It's not as bad as it sounds in most respects but there's a certain element of pay to play about it. What matters is that the voices of British business and other lobby groups are heard. In recent years I would argue that our influence has waned.
Very often the government controls who gets to speak on international forums and not without the EUs consent. We don't even have the right of initiative whereby we can bring industry concerns directly. That changes with Brexit.
But to get the best we need to ensure UK interests are properly represented. Very often UK industry is the very last to know about upcoming regulatory changes. By the time they're making a flap about something it's already too late. It lacks an effective means of surveillance within the lawmaking apparatus.
What we need is a network of trade guilds and and associations. In recent decades we have moved away from such in favour of professional lobbyists. Not so for Germany where membership of trade guilds is compulsory. They carry as much weight as unions and it is a means by which small and medium sized enterprises can shape the regulatory agenda.
We could replicate that but ensure that trade guilds and unions over a certain size have an automatic seat in the Lords. We would want safeguards like term limits but it would ensure a formalised place for business and industry in the process. We could also do the same for NGOs.
There are those who would like to see commercial and charitable concerns excluded from the process but they always seem to find a way. Usually through cronyism. The British though have always had an unusual way of dealing with political corruption. We legalise it, formalise it and bring it into the system so it is at the very least transparent. That brings an honesty of its own where there is a generally accepted level of corruption but it is self-regulating.
Many complain that the Lords suffers from a degree of political appointeeism bordering on cronyism. I would not disagree but if they are appointments on the basis of popular movements then it is up to the members to take corrective action.
In this we would still want a people's contingent which could be made up of civil groups and former elected members. It does need experienced parliamentarians. On that basis we might demand a three commons terms minimum in order to qualify.
The objective would be to ensure that the house of lords is fit for purpose in scrutinising ever more complex and technocratic measures of governance and is able to instruct trade negotiators while having a transparent means of access.
We could go as far as limiting their authority in terms of the types of laws they can vote on and by doing so we can make sure that every trade agreement is put before some kind of vote. That is not always the case. We would then have an entirely different class of upper body geared at a completely different function.
There is no simplifying the complex, nor is there any real merit in full democratisation of trade and regulatory issues. Most people are happy to leave the details to others, but Brexit has shown that business is increasingly dissatisfied with bureaucratic autocracy. This is our chance to design a modern, fit for purpose means of scrutinising rules and regulations in a way that is beyond the capabilities of the commons and is insufficiently interesting for ordinary MPs to engage in.
The house of lords has always been a means by which vested interests have access to the decision making and though centuries of tradition have corrupted the intent we should modernise and formalise that ethos rather than moving away from it. We must move beyond the infantile notion that business involvement in lawmaking is necessarily bad and instead look at ways whereby we can increase consultation and participation in a way that is accountable.
Britain will be making trade a national priority over the coming years and that absolutely depends on seeking opportunities in all of the global multilateral forums and in this we will need UK interests front and centre. We will need effective mechanisms whereby we ensure trade deals are fair and nobody is caught unaware. In order to get the best from trade we will want UK industry shaping our agreements and at present we lack the necessary institutions to ensure that can happen. If we can task the house of lords to that purpose then there is every reason to believe it can be relevant again and may lead to far better decision making.