‘Replace the House of Lords with a citizens’ assembly, chosen by lot’ (again)

I know it’s an old idea (see Barnett & Carthy Athenian Option 1998/2008, ImprintAcademic), but here’s a letter in today’s (London) Times (Sat 21st May)

Citizens’ assembly


Brian Harris (letter, May 19) is right to question whether the best cure for our dysfunctional Lower House is to create a weaker version in the Upper House. As he suggests, the last thing the public wants is more politicians.

A reform that would indeed mean “improvement, not a near duplication” would be to replace the House of Lords with a citizens’ assembly, chosen by lot from all members of the public (excluding political officeholders) willing to serve for a single fixed term, with adjustments to ensure fair representation by gender, age and region.

By virtue of its democratic credentials, such a popular assembly could be given greater powers to challenge the Commons. Even if these powers extended to a right of veto, there would be no conflict of legitimacy of the kind which, as Mr Harris points out, could afflict two elected houses: election and sortition are different but complementary modes of reflecting public opinion. It would thus be quite reasonable to require legislation to secure the approval of both houses.

Nonetheless, one could provide that an enduring deadlock between the two houses be resolved by referendum: that should encourage constructive compromise, as the Commons would no doubt be wary of trying the public’s patience by invoking such a provision too often.