Will Self has written a cogent, pointed, and important piece in the New Statesman which echoes some of the points made by Sir David Edward about the House of Lords and parliamentary sovereignty in his recent lecture at St Andrews. Self takes aim at the House of Lords and argues, following Professor Colin Kidd, that reform of the Lords could adopt the model of Germany’s upper house, the Bundesrat, as a legislative chamber representing the nations and perhaps regions of the United Kingdom.
One key question, picking up on the post-referendum tensions, will be whether a new upper house for the UK should be constituted on a basis which accords equal representation to the four constituent nations of the United Kingdom, or at least provides a veto to each nation on important issues? The immediate political test for whether reform of the upper house might proceed on such terms may occur when the bill for an EU referendum comes before Parliament. The SNP has promised to table an amendment to any EU referendum bill requiring that any decision to leave the EU must be backed by a majority of voters in each of the four nations of the UK. While the reaction from eurosceptic Conservatives and UKIP would be predictably hostile, David Cameron could see such a veto amendment as a political lifeline, allowing him to criticise the EU as much as he wishes, safe in the knowledge that there are unlikely to be majorities in all four nations to leave the EU. Whether, as Will Self implies, there would be the political will among the UK parties to entrench permanent constitutional parity between the four nations in a reformed UK second chamber, perhaps through a veto or super majority provision, remains to be seen.