The Weekend Debate: What’s wrong with making membership of the second chamber a lottery?

by Stephen Tall on May 26, 2012

Here’s your starter for ten in our weekend slot where we throw up an idea or thought for debate…

The debate about what a reformed House of Lords should look like has been defeating legislators for well over a century — and here’s a novel proposal from Sandy Walkington, who stood for the Lib Dems in St Albans at the last election:

Greece is not exactly in fashion at the moment. But we could learn a thing or two from ancient Athens. They chose their office holders by lot from amongst the citizens, who then had to serve for a fixed term as part of their civic duty. We have our own history of a legal system where jurors are chosen by random selection – something started by our Saxon forbears. More recently citizens’ juries have become an accepted option in taking major public decisions.

When the latest attempts to reform the House of Lords run into the sand as they almost certainly will – although only after a huge amount of misspent political capital – perhaps we can look at some variant of this type of random selection as a perfectly sane way to choose members of a reformed second chamber.

It would take politics out of politics. It would guarantee a representative House in terms of age, gender, ethnicity and geography. There would be that sublime element of random which makes the House of Lords at its best so refreshing and un-spun – but it would no longer be the Eton-educated random of whether your ancestor had been Charles II’s mistress or you had left the House of Commons through popular demand. …

At one bound we could end patronage, still leave the House of Commons as clearly the senior because elected Chamber, and yet provide for a genuinely and refreshingly representative membership of a new second Chamber to to hold the Commons to account as well as reviewing and initiating legislation.

I now learn that this idea of mine has an academic name – “sortition.” It just could be the way to sort out the House of Lords conundrum.

You can read Sandy’s full rationale at his blog here.

So, over to you Lib Dem Voice readers. Is the notion of ‘sortition’ for the Lords madcap or genius — or a bit of both? Let us know what you think below…

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.