White Paper and draft Bill

The Government today published its White Paper and House of Lords Reform Draft Bill.  It bears out my previous comments.  It is truly stunning in its apparent ignorance of history, the impact of electoral systems and indeed political reality. 

It envisages a largely or wholly elected House, elected by a system of proportional representation, with its functions remaining as now and with the relationship between the two Houses remaining as now.  Oh dear.  The Parliament Act was passed in order to ensure the supremacy of an elected chamber over an unelected chamber.  With an elected second chamber, the rationale for the Parliament Act disappears.  The draft Bill includes the Single Transferable Vote as the electoral method.  The Government appear unaware of the effect that STV has in Ireland, encouraging excessive localism and keeping TDs away from the Dail.  Election in any event chasnges fundamentally the terms of trade between the parties and indeed between the two chambers.  Why should not an elected second chamber demand more powers than the existing chamber?  Why should a member elected by, say, the people of the county of Essex expect to be subordinate to members of the lower House elected by constituencies in Essex? 

In the Lords, even the Leader of the House, Lord Strathclyde, conceded that the relationship would change over time.  The statement appeared friendless in both Houses.  After it, one Liberal Democrat peer, who I have always regarded as a firm supporter of an elected House, came up and said ‘What a dog’s breakfast’.  Possibly a little unfair on a dog’s breakfast which I presume contains at least some nourishment…

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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5 Responses to White Paper and draft Bill

  1. Jonathan says:

    I agree it’s a terrible draft bill. Hopefully that means it will not get very far.

    It’s as if they kept adding more and more compromises and fiddles, which has just introduced more anomalies, and retained some of the worst features of the current House. For example, allowing appointment of unelected ministers (it seems it’s so important to have elected members, yet ministers can be people who have never been elected or even subject to scrutiny by the Appointments Commission). Also, the Bishops seem to have been retained as an afterthought (if we really must have reform, removing the bishops is one thing I’d like to see) – while other members would be paid, they won’t.

    There is also the very vague and frankly misleading statement about the cost of the new house. It implies that this won’t be too great because the number of members will be reduced to 300. Yet earlier in the documents it tells us that the average attendance is 388. So instead of providing allowances for 388 peers on about half the days of the year, they will have to pay a full-time salary to 300 people, plus allowances and expenses, plus office costs, plus staff costs. So in fact, paragraph 104 should say, “The reformed House will cost significantly more than at present.”

  2. Frank W. Summers III says:

    Lord Norton,

    I think that with the reservation of the Lords Spiritual and twenty percent appointment and staggered elections it is legitimately not the twin of the House of Commons. That is more significant from my point of view than Your Lordship’s. I also think that it has shown some initiative in addressing matters that obviously rankle a number of people groups and constituencies in different ways. I would say those are its strengths.

    In my opinion the bill shows the signs of being the work of four distinct groups of people (as many bills around the world are) who may not be disclosing themselves:
    1.People drafting this bill hoping it will be enacted substanitaly as it is.
    2.People drafting this bill hoping it will stimulate negotiation in which they have ancillary and undisclosed interests not organic to the matter of the bill.
    3.People drafting this bill hoping it will be scrapped entirely and that the result would preserve either the status quo or a reversion to the status quo ante.
    4.People drafting this bill hoping it will be scrapped and lead fairly soon to a more radical set of reforms.

    This sort of legislation is in my opinion what the modern world deserves — for it has carefully built the machinery for making such bills — and clearly this shows the UK part of that world of political cadr gaming with few limits. However, it is sad to me that this element seems so strong on an issue of such magnitude. The HoL is like the Forbidden City, the Declaration of Independence, the College of Cardinals, the University of Paris’s poiltical philosophers or a handful of other things. It is like them in that, while it is and must be real and managed in one society it also belongs to the world as well. Charles Secondat, Marquis de Montesquieu, Simon Bolivar and John Adams all had much to say about it. I do not argue that you all should give foreigners a vote. I do argue that the discussion ought some how to rise above this moder malaise of pure competition among competing expediencies.

    I am sure this view is rather jaundiced, if less colorfully phrased than Your Lordship’s but it seems apt to me. Perhaps your process will eliminate some of this muddiness.

    • Frank W. Summers III says:

      Lord Norton,

      I may perhaps be getting muddy myself, but I refer in general to my comment on “One as Bad as Another” about how much duplication may rather be more of a likelihood than Your Lordship fears rather than less. But truly the following seems naive to me:

      ” The relationship between the two Houses of Parliament is governed by statute and convention. The Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 provide the basic underpinning of that relationship and set out that the House of Lords is, ultimately, subordinate to the House of Commons. They provide that, in certain circumstances, legislation may be passed without the agreement of the House of Lords. The Government does not intend to amend the Parliament Acts or to alter the balance of power between the Houses of Parliament. The Parliament Acts are, however, a long-stop which are rarely resorted to: the relationship between the Houses is governed on a day to day basis by a series of conventions which have grown up over time. These include that the House of Lords should pass the legislative programme of the Government which commands the confidence of the House of Commons; the principle that the Government of the day can continue in office only if it retains the confidence of the House of Commons and the consequence that, whether or not a Bill has been included in a Manifesto, the House of Lords should think very carefully about rejecting a Bill which the Commons has approved; and the principle that the House of Lords will consider Government Bills in reasonable time. ”
      I think that what follows is possible that the power of the purse largely might be preserved by Commons. I also think it is reasonable that a lot of very fine leadership might emerge in the new HoL. But by cutting off the hereditaries (despite their being already doomed and despite it being done without prejudice) and severing the honors from the legislature it really ceases to be the House of Lords nad cuts off that informal network of connections around the world which Parliament currently enjoys. Even in so rural a place as where I live so far from London a title means quite a bit and whule we are not a well-respected region in almost any sense the list of things in which south Louisiana ranks in the top five producers in the world is a very long list. I think this phenomenon is widespread elsewhere. So, an ambitious pol is deprived of this undefinable networking advantage, is forced to win popular support, is well-advised AND WHY will he or she defer in general to the HoC? I am not sure in justice such a house should defer. I am not sure that the current house always does defer. But there is a general idea that it OUGHT to defer. I agree entirely with what I see as YL’s contention that it cannot be expected that the newly devised house will so defer. I also find the name sad. It is like the Italian Senate today. It is not a bad institution but it more suffers from its name than otherwise. If it included a few more truly Patrician tweaks it would deserve the name. In what Americans call social terms ( I am myself beyond social redemption in many ways BUT plow ahead) the Lords without the peerages is in my mind over the border into a social deficit rather than remaining a bastion of prestige. Call it something new “Noble Upper House”, “British Senate” or other thing without pedigree and it will retain a certain splendour of the old thing in social terms. In this last matter I am not referring to popular perceptions….

      • ladytizzy says:

        Why speed-reading is not always a good idea:

        …House of Lords nad cuts…

      • Frank W. Summers III says:

        Lady Tizzy,

        Freudian slips are out of fashion. However, I do not think one could find a paragraph where the general idea of castrating the HoL was more completely matched by the typo you observed. Nor could your remark be more apt of a double entendre as to both my little text and the greater argument. We may have to resurrect Freud here…

        Of course such errors are abundant in my comments. They are not usually pregnant with meaning. But are usually quite sterile in that regard. Thus detecting them adds nothing to the general intercourse in the way that your reaching out and grasping this little prize did seem to do.

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