A breach of purdah?

The Guardian has today carried details of a leaked document proposing a second chamber with two-thirds of the members elected.  The document, according to the story, ‘was drawn up by the government’.  Whoever leaked it, be it a minister or a civil servant, would thus appear to be acting in breach of the rules governing purdah.   Will there be a leak inquiry?

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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32 Responses to A breach of purdah?

  1. The Duke of Waltham says:

    The Guardian? Why am I not surprised…?

  2. Dave H says:

    I would say that it depends on the results on 6th May as to whether there’s an inquiry.

    The idea of voting for the second house at the same time as the Commons manages to combine the worst of all options, because it means that it will see-saw the same way and most likely give the PM an automatic majority in both houses. If there have to be elections then make them for a fixed term and only for a proportion of the seats per year.

    Perhaps that’s the way to deal with the Commons as well, everyone gets to serve a fixed five-year term ending on the first Thursday in May and the Monday after that, the Commons gets to choose the PM for the coming year. With 20% of seats up for grabs each year it should make it far more entertaining, not least because there’s nothing to stop them electing a PM from a minority party and it doesn’t have to be a party leader either.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Dave H: I think most of what is proposed represents the worst of all options. It is something of a dog’s breakfast. The value of the present House is that it can offer something that is qualitatively different to the Commons and as a result add value to the process. It is not clear why this proposal delivers anything that is likely to add value.

  3. Carl.H says:

    The whole intent seems to be to turn the Lords into just a committee which will be the lapdog of the commons.

    It seems too late and the commons considers itself far superior to the Upper chamber.

    Methinks that the leak was intentional, the Net cost of the Lords being broadcast is helpful to those of anti-second chamber persuasion and is not all how it should be looked at.

    Perhaps with the House at stake we may see some of the more educated break Party ranks.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Carl.H: I have little doubt that the leak was intentional. A elected or part-elected second chamber will be in a position to start challenging the primacy of the Commons. The competition will, I suspect, be most marked initially at the local level, constituency MPs facing the senator elected for their area who will claim a wider mandate.

  4. Chris K says:

    A leak inquiry? I should think so. And I’m sure it will be rigorously pursued and 76 Soviet diplomats expelled.

  5. Senex says:

    LN: We shall have to wait until the government White Paper is released before any serious discussion can take place on what is proposed. There is not enough detail in the press release plus it could be a wind-up?

    Although Lord Tyler is a strong advocate of an elected HoL I have always found it curious that the Liberal Democrats have never released anything in detail on just how they would achieve it. Why is this? Will they confirm or deny that they are working on this as a joint project with the government?

    Whatever is proposed, democracy must be relevant to the needs of the house.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Senex: It may be more appropriate to say another White Paper. We have had a number already, each achieving the seemingly impossible task of being worse than the last one.

  6. FinnishCowl says:

    After reading over the leaked document, I agree that it seems to be pulling together the worst options. However, there is another matter, which I think is poorly addressed in the document: maintaining the primacy of the House of Commons.

    This seems to be assumed based on two ideas: that having larger, regional represenation through proportional representation will somehow make it seem less democratically legitimate and that conventions will simply be maintained.

    On the first, I would suggest that some, especially those in favor of electoral reform, might think the new chamber to be MORE legitimate. At the very least, I think it will be hard to argue why these people, who were democratically elected, should be in such an inferior position.

    On the second assumption, I think the Commons places too much faith in its own popularity. It also assumes that current convention will not change and will keep the lords in check. Considering how much the relationship between the two houses has changed in the past 100 years, I would say that this is a foolish assumption and rather short-sighted. There is nothing to stop it slowly (or even quickly) moving to the arrangements which existed before that Parliament Acts, with PMs coming from the Lords or concurrent legislative powers. Again, how do you argue with elected members of the new chamber touting their new democratic mandate? The Commons will no longer be unique and find a hard time maintaining these conventions. This will be especially true if the Government of the day becomes unpopular, while facing a united (and probably majority) opposition in the second chamber.

    I also should note that I was supremely disappointed in the idea that all members of the reformed house are to be “full time parliamentarians.” This means you are going to lose a lot of good people and replace them with “full time politicians” (which again seems to suggest an overinflated opinion of the members of the Commons, despite recent events).

    • Lord Norton says:

      FinnishCowl: I very much agree. The proposals – as they have throughout – appear based on the assumption that the Commons can carry on as it is, with any changes to the second chamber not impacting on what they do. The argument for the Salisbury convention, and indeed the Parliament Act, is that an unelected second chamber should not be allowed to prevent the elected House getting its way. Even if the Parliament Act remains, why should an elected second chamber not exercise its power to vote down Bills at Second Reading?

  7. FinnishCowl says:

    Also, if you check this link, the political editor of the Guardian is specifically stating that these plans come from Jack Straw. While not terribly surprising since he is Lord Chancellor, it does add some more insight into the the decision to leak these I believe.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/wintour-and-watt/2010/apr/20/jackstraw-lordreform

  8. Carl.H says:

    Certainly agree with with FC in the legitimacy stakes.

    If the House of Lords is to be elected there should be no way at all the Government can override any decision taken there. So no more Parliament Act.

    Because the elections would occur at General Election time, presumably with the public voting this could no longer be construed as a Lords election as the voting would be by the commoner. This puts the Parliament Act in a whole different light and a rewriting of the Constitution as it is known would be necessary imho.

    The whole process of Parliament of Government and Government would need renewing as to all intents and purposes Lords would no longer exist in the light of this new elected body.

  9. JH says:

    The estimated cost of the elections appears to have gone up by 20% since the last White Paper!

    I assume the presence of the ‘unrepresentative’ appointed peers (for probably at least 12 years) will render the house with no name less ‘legitimate’ than the Commons at least in its early years.

    A hybrid house has been described by Lord Irvine as a ‘parliamentary disaster’. This hybridity – for 12 years or permanently – would surely change the relationship of the ‘peers’ by introducing a two-tier system. A virtue of some of the radical suggestions in the comments to an earlier post is that there are a number of different methods used rather than a straight division between appointed and elected. Such a two-tier system would surely lead to divisiveness – and close academic scrutiny of who voted for what – rather than the greater understanding and engagement of the public?

    As for purdah, I suppose it’s appropriate for the possible birth of a new more political house to be announced in a piece of arch political manoeuvring.

    • Lord Norton says:

      JH: I very much agree. I see no great value in a hybrid House and have never understood the argument that electing some members will thus make the House as a whole legitimate, as if the electoral legitimacy of elected members will somehow waft over the remaining members. Like you, I very much suspect what will happen is that, in any vote, the media will analyse the division list to see if it was the unelected members who made a difference to the outcome.

  10. ladytizzy says:

    The aim is for a fully elected second chamber (ESC); if the gvt want only two-thirds elected it should say so now. This is not a trivial point and the public who apparently want – and would expect – a fully elected chamber will not forgive parliament in 10 years time for yet another blatant hoodwinking.

    The first clue is how it deals with the awkward consitutional problem of the Lords Spiritual and, amongst a lot of blather, creates the Spiritual Dozen. The attempt to dissuade us that these are appointed seats because, for example, Archbishop Williamson will retire loses complete sight of the fact that the seat is reserved for the Archbishop of Canterbury. Presumably, these 12 appointed seats will be part of the proposed full complement of 300.

    The arrangements for filling a vacancy also sanctions non-elected representatives. If the seat becomes vacated by a party member, that party should nominate the next highest – and willing – candidate from their list until none remain “…then the party would nominate a replacement”. Worse, an independent candidate can simply nominate up to six of their mate’s.

    I’m trying to figure out what would happen in Year 1 if one party instructed all its candidates to resign upon being ‘elected’.

    • FinnishCowl says:

      ladytizzy: You are right about the mess that things document clearly is. I would point out that the new “Spiritual Dozen” as you put it will only be allowed to vote on church matters. Although, it makes no such restrictions on the other religious leaders they intend to include.

  11. ladytizzy says:

    On costs:

    Many politicians, including a few senior ones, claim that abolishing the Lord’s will save £100m without revealing how much a partial or fully elected second house will cost.

    The extra cost of the elections is reported as £51m though doubling that figure to include election mailings would be more accurate, giving an annual cost of £20-25m over a four or five year election period.

    The 300 salaries, expenses, and pensions will be determined by IPSA and are intended to be in line with MPs. Although the salary of an ordinary MP is £66K, a large number receive considerably more (committee chairmen £80K, Ministers and Speaker £145K) and so the average is likely to be in the region of £80K per ESC member. Add 25% for pensions which brings the the annual cost to £100,000 per member, plus a minimum of 10% for National Insurance puts the total to £110,000.

    Expenses are more difficult to estimate and will be at least as controversial. An ESC member is expected to be a full-time employee and the report says: “These [expenses] may include for example, accommodation costs of those representing regions which are geographically remote from Parliament.” This immediately harks back to the original problem of an ESC – if an MP already represents me, exactly what would a second representative do? The suggestion is that their full-time role would be in Westminster and so should not attract the second home allowance and all the baggage and subsequent expenses this brings. However, taking them at their word, at least another £100K per member must be added.

    The final annual cost would be a minimum of £88m (£63m for members, plus £25m for elections), compared to the 2008/09 figure of £104m for HoL

    • Carl.H says:

      The £104 million is noted as a net figure, at no point do they state how this figure is made up – and it jolly well maybe.

      And no one has yet spoken about the costs of reconfiguring the system and how it will work.

      The eventuality is that we`ll then have nearly 1000 elected professional representatives in Westminster and the whole object of this second chamber will become no more than a civil service used for checking Bills. This process is obviously designed so Government can put through legislation at a faster rate, meaning we`ll have more of it.

      With just 300 full time professionals we`ll lose all the educated people who at present run their other tasks alongside the work in Westminster. The result will just be more politicians whose experience and knowledge are less, imho. Because of the accountability and elections they WILL BE more accountable to party so therefore more likely to follow the whip.

      This 300 are unlikely to be as honourable or as brave as the original Spartans. Where`s Lord Cardigan when you need someone to lead ?

      • The Duke of Waltham says:

        The Greek Parliament has 300 members and, believe me, the comparisons with the Spartans are never positive.

        I don’t like resorting to dramatic phrases, but the whole thing, as it has been described so far, just cries out for the characterisation “constitutional coup”. Now that I have finally found time to read the document, I am not really sure I want to.

    • Croft says:

      The 2007/8 figures are 121.5M net costs broken down (43% buildings depreciation and capital charges, 15% staff, 15% members expenses, 9% property costs & 8% security. Since none of the fixed costs will change they won’t go down and may go up. The costs of members and staff (elected members will have to have a proper staff) and both will be paid with pensions this can only go up significantly. Since the average cost per MPs is ~£600,000 and per peer 170k (’07/08) it is hard to see how even if peers only doubled in cost after election (they certainly won’t be paid so low) they would massively increase the budget. Indeed pay alone for 300 elected peers would be ~75% of the present costs!

      • Lord Norton says:

        Croft: Exactly. There is little I can add. In 2008-09, the cost of maintaining the heritage and inregrity of the House’s building and collections was £33.5 million.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Croft: Actually, there is something I can add in that fixed costs would go up, given that members are likely to require not only support staff but space to house the support staff. If members were permitted to hire a secretary and a researcher, then halving the current membership will not create anywhere near enough space, even if talking solely in terms of cramped desk space. The acquisition of the whole of 2 Millbank will not be sufficient. There will therefore need to be the purchase/build of additional space (though where is another matter). There will thus be a significant capital cost as well as additional running costs.

  12. Senex says:

    The leaked extract says a lot about Democracy and how popular politicians are abusing its integrity. Democracy MUST be relevant to the needs of those it serves.

    Lets go back 700 years or so, to the infancy of English democracy. Simon de Montfort fed up with the inequalities in ‘France’ adopts England as his home and sets out a rebel democratic agenda for a Parliamentum with elected members.

    The King executes de Montfort but acknowledges the wisdom of suffrage and it persists in all our future Parliaments. These early Parliaments represented the interests of the nobility and that of merchants; all with a view to moderating the demands from the King for taxes and creating a framework that lubricated the wheels of commerce.

    The nobility of the time with their agrarian based industry were the big employers, the plc companies of their day whilst the merchants were the SME’s doing exactly what they do now which is feed back into the larger enterprises as part of a cycle.

    Now roll forward to today and the sophisticated democracy we enjoy and that which so confounds us. Where are the merchants in the Commons? Where is the plc representation in the HoL? Instead what we have is a destructive all consuming political bureaucracy that serves no purpose other than to ensure that its own agenda and needs are fulfilled at the expense of those it purportedly serves.

    People lead parochial lives in the pursuit of their happiness; they have no real interest in the grand affairs of state. All they want is for politics to go back to being boring in the certain knowledge that Parliament serves their aspirations and dignity so that they can get on with their lives.

    They need jobs and this requires employers and those employers need representation in Parliament to ensure that both employer and employee can benefit from appropriate and relevant democracy.

  13. Lord Norton says:

    Senex: ‘Where is the plc representation in the HoL?’ I would say it is well represented, along with some of the merchant class. Some people have argued for a House that is essentially a functional chamber, not realising that in a way that is what we have got, but with the advantage of flexibility rather than some rigid quota syatem.

  14. maldencapell says:

    I wish there was some way we could get some TV airtime to draw people’s attention to this!

  15. Senex says:

    LN: The prospectus on ‘Lords of the Blog’ for an elected house acknowledges the existence of powerful groups within society that work towards the cohesion and prosperity of themselves and society. Even the Trade Unions are big businesses.

    Lets take Lord Myners for example. He openly acknowledges to the house that some of his closest friends are bankers. If his constituency were a financial group that included banks his statement would not draw any undue attention at all. In fact it would be accepted that one of his roles would be to ensure that legislation did not unduly penalise his constituents.

    However, as it stands he is an island unto himself and his political adversaries might throw the accusation that his friends unduly influence him when he has no mandate to represent them. Now off course they influence him, but in a positive way, they are his perspective and sanity in matters financial. But why should such a relationship carry that air of discredit, of suspicion, in the public eye.

    I want to bring the honesty of relationships into plain view and not hide them in the way that the Monarchy is obliged to. I also want a method of deflecting or discouraging those with commercial self-interests toward a constituency panel of real people with real perspectives who in their wisdom might bring matters to the attention of their representatives in the house. This is the honest way to do politics.

    Now if the Commons, who at best are institutionalised bureaucrats, cry foul, then so be it. The HoL would not be elected under a popular mandate but one that ensures its independence from government and Monarchy. Its bureaucratic role would be relevant and focused towards those that drive and energise society at the highest level and for the better.

    If popular democracy fails us, the HoL would be there, the steadying hand on the tiller that would be empowered by the use of the power switch. And if steering the country back in the right direction were not popular perhaps the electorate would re-engage with their bureaucratic MP’s with a view to changing the way they perceive peoples needs and thus reinvigorate popular democracy itself.

    The HoL is there to serve the greater good and to care for people regardless – let them do this and in their own way.

  16. Lord Norton says:

    Senex: I would hardly describe Lord Myners as an island. There are others who are also highly experienced in the City. The groupings from which members are drawn is known. The Register of Lords’ Interests lists all relevant interests and so people know what credit or otherwise to give to comments made by a member. Not being a formal representative of a body gives a member much greater independence in expressing a view.

  17. Senex says:

    LN: “Not being a formal representative of a body gives a member much greater independence in expressing a view.” I see, just like Ann Widdecombe then?

    Is this Tory advice for a Treasury Mandarin?

    Enjoy!

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