More heat than light

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and the Minister for Constitutional Affairs, Mark Harper, appeared before the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill last night.  It was something of a marathon meeting – two-and-a-half hours, albeit interrupted by adjournments for two divisions in the Lords.  You can watch the proceedings here.  

I am not sure that much was added by the session.   The Deputy PM did not really go beyond what he had said to the Constitution Committee at the beginning of the month.  Despite the contested nature of the proposition, he continues on the basis that democracy necessarily equates to electing the second chamber, which, as I have variously noted, is not self-evidently true.  The fact that the Deputy PM continues as if it is does not make it so.  

Mark Harper, for some reason, decided to call in aid a survey undertaken by conservativehome, arguing that it showed a majority for an elected chamber.   I checked with him that the survey in question was the one headed ‘Tory members vote overwhelmingly against a House of Lords elected by PR’.

Anyway, comments on the session welcome.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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20 Responses to More heat than light

  1. Edward Brunsdon says:

    I watched some of the session yesterday on the Parliament TV site. I hope that you won’t mind me saying that when the camera panned back during the exchange with Haprer, you looked extremely unimpressed. The idea that the voodoo poll on Conservative Home was in any way supportive of his claim was a bit of an insult to the committee’s intelligence. He was probably hoping no one had checked the details, but clearly they had!

    If I may, a couple of thoughts, firstly the committee is far too large. It seemed that as soon as members such as David Trimble really got going with questioning, the chairman had to move things on due to timing.

    Secondly, on the question of expertise…. I noted that some of the committee members challenged Clegg and Harper, but they didn’t get enough time to really get stuck in. The key point for me is that it is a real orderal for anyone, but especially a non-politician, to get selected and then elected. Candidates for these elections will be expected to do all sorts of campaigning duties, by elections, tele-canvassing well in advance of the election, during which they will have to take weeks off work to campaign. Given it is the ridiculous STV system, they will face internal competition from other candidates of their own party. If they expect us to believe we will get people like Lord Winston, Lord Bragg, Lord Fellowes – then they’d better pull the other one.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Edward Brunsdon: Many thanks for the comments. I agree, I think the minister must have thought that no one else had seen the poll, whereas most of us had copies in front of us. If the camera had panned back to me throughout the session, my look would probably have been the same. The session added little to the sum of human knowledge.

      I agree: a 26-member committee is not conducive to efficiency. Mind you, we have had difficulty on occasion in ensuring enough MPs are present, or remain, in order to maintain a quorum. When most members are present, though, it becomes too much like a public meeting than a committee. I think this also relates to your second point. Because there are so many members, it is difficult to pursue points in detail. I could have spent ages dealing with the points, not to say inaccuracies, raised by the ministers. I agree with you about the nature of candidates under the proposed system. The point to add to your observations is that the election will be dominated by the parties. Independents are hardly likely to get a look in. Elections contested by the parties will change fundamentally the relationship between the parties in the House. The House is able to do what it does do because of the knowledge and expertise of its members AND the fact that they are not elected; the combination makes for a House not marked by high levels of partisanship. It is not clear what value will be added by an elected second chamber.

  2. Dave H says:

    Perhaps an elected Lords needs to be structured in such a way that no one is on the payroll. Government- (and opposition-) appointed representatives can turn up and open/close debates on legislation, but cannot vote in the Lords, and ministers or their delegates attend to answer questions and address the chamber if necessary. That way, there is no pressure on anyone in the Lords to vote other than how their conscience tells them to because there’s no career prospects to damage or enhance.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Dave H: The current House is not exactly marked by members being ambitious for government office! That is one of its virtues. Members have either been there (held ministerial office in the Commons) or do not want to go there – ministerial office representing a step down from what that are presently doing. Why would someone holding a senior post in some major company or other body – respected, secure, well paid – want to become the Under-Secretary of State for Widgets (as a politician not widely lauded, insecure – always at the mercy of the next reshuffle – and not particularly well paid or not paid at all – i was talking earlier to a minister who receives no salary)?

      In the event of being elected to the second chamber, it is clear from the White Paper what ambitions it is expected the members would have – an ambition to get elected to the first chamber. That is why there is a proposed bar of some years before those who have served in the second chamber can stand for election to the Commons.

  3. Pete Jones says:

    Quentin Letts’ take on the session ‘Elderly peers poured in . . . all gums and walking sticks’
    is worth a read…. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2107345/Elderly-peers-poured—-gums-walking-sticks.html

  4. ladytizzy says:

    Streuth. I’m only an hour in and Mr Clegg and his friend are doing my head in. Highlights so far (reasonably in chronological order):

    – efficacy and legitimacy go hand in hand;
    – most importantly, a non-renewable single term is essential because it removes the incentives from the reformed HoL to mimic conventional electoral politics of the HoC;
    – voters will be asked to vote for a revising chamber;
    – an elected HoL will be able to carve out their future for themselves;
    – an elected HoL will be genuinely free to look at long-term strategies such as infrastructure, enabling them to better hold the Government to account and keep lobbyists out;
    – the primacy of the HoC will not be affected;
    – apparently, the Draft Bill is the result of research;
    – people prefer their politicians to be elected over those who arrive through political patronage;
    – the new relationship between the two Houses created by an Act of Parliament should not be determined by judges;
    – the new HoL will have a different electoral system from the HoC though voters will not be represented [despite the White Paper’s liberal sprinkling of the constituency word] ;
    – democratic accountability is a technical term.

    • Lord Norton says:

      ladytizzy: I think you may need quite a lie down before you face watching the rest of it. It doesn’t get any better.

      • Croft says:

        The really frightening thing is I really believe Clegg does simultaneously believe the mutually exclusive statements above .

        Listening to the hearing is enough to drive one to drink!

  5. ladytizzy says:

    Very remiss of me not to mention Mr Clegg’s opening speech in which he stated that the new HoL should not be stuffed with friends and colleagues of political party leaders but be stuffed by the elected representatives of the people.

    Part Deux:
    – 15 years is, or isn’t, a very long time;
    – the relationship between the two Houses has been evolving over a very long time;
    – elections to the HoL is just another evolutionary change, thus why anyone is challenging the Draft Bill is baffling;
    – laws are not made by the HoL;
    – a committee member understands how to use ‘literally’, as in someone who is elected with no accountability is literally irresponsible;
    – a single, non-renewable term will ensure the two Houses are different;
    – STV is a voting system that delivers political patronage;
    – STV allows individuals to develop individuality;
    – 2.5 million voters per electoral district will give the winner a personal mandate;
    – HoL candidates will be like those who stand for the HoC in the knowledge that they will not be held to account;
    – the lack of accountability in the HoL is where we are today;
    – theoretical risks are acceptable, real risks aren’t;
    – the upheaval of the existing system in the name of democracy is the same as dying in a ditch;
    – Wakeham got bits wrong;
    – the primacy of the HoC is due to accountability;
    – a challenge was laid down to the HoL to defend the status quo against democratic impulse;
    – the Parliament Act would be used to force this Bill through;
    – evidence from a 2006 Ipsos MORI survey is out of date;
    – the number of submissions given in evidence and the number that support HoL elections is of no consequence to Mr Clegg, though he welcomes debate;
    – political patronage is OK when gvt appoints ministers to sit in an elected HoL;
    – the public isn’t interested in any of this but that shouldn’t stop these reforms;
    – the 2006 Cunningham report on conventions isn’t out of date;
    – the public will continue not to notice that the Cunningham report advocates an entirely different set of rules for parliamentarians from the laws passed by parliamentarians onto the public;
    – where the reforms will lead to is anybody’s guess but, hey, no probs;
    – reforms to the HoL will change the HoC;
    – this Bill is better than codification;
    – this Bill demonstrates beyond doubt the the primacy of the HoC because its drafters are giving HoL candidates non-renewable terms, and the elections will be in tranches, and because this is different to the HoC;
    – ‘genuine’ uncertainty is expressed on whether Lord Winston would be able to hold down his other jobs if he is elected. Or appointed;
    – more uncertainty on whether appointed members should have a different set of rules and criteria for disqualification from elected members – nobody mentioned the bishops but it was getting late;
    – a recall in a new HoL would not be based on 10% of voter dissatisfaction, as is expected for the HoC, because 10% of 2.5m voters is a big number;
    – the recall should be such that a vote wouldn’t be wasted in support of someone who has been elected for 15 years (it was way past being late at this point);
    – the qualities for a candidate that the public would be voting on included: effectiveness in holding the gvt to account, experience, wisdom, and background;
    – bankers and lawyers who are elected to the HoC don’t suddenly lose their expertise;
    – an HoL candidate who campaigns, and is elected, on reforming Money Bills, will not have a mandate, personal or otherwise;
    – the Parliament Acts may or may not apply to an elected HoL but the Attorney General ain’t getting involved;
    – the calendar is looking a bit full for this Bill, what with the SNP and their referendum(s).

  6. ladytizzy says:

    I think I’ve sussed the 15-years-is-a-very-long-time thing. Mr Clegg was elected MP in 2005, elected-ish leader of a party in 2007, appointed DPM in 2010. Mr Harper was also elected in 2005 and, weirdly, both have been rescued by the police…

  7. Nick Clegg’s ‘arguments’ in the Committee sounds more like how he wishes the elected House would work rather than everybody else’s knowledge of how it WILL work (or not), based on experience.

    He needs a lesson on the ‘is/ought’ problem.

  8. RHM says:

    Dear Lord Norton,

    Mr. Harper was one of the keynote speakers at yesterday’s formal launch of ResPublica’s report on the reform of the House of Lords, which was held in Committee Room 2. Lord Tyler, Lord Low of Dalston, Frank Field MP and Lord Howe were amongst those who spoke. The report offers a radical reform proposal that the Joint Committee might be interested in considering. The report is available for download at this link:
    http://respublica.org.uk/item/Our-House-Reflections-on-Representation-and-Reform-in-the-House-of-Lords

    Executive Summary:
    Prompted by the publication of the Coalition Government’s Draft House of Lords Reform Bill, and the subsequent debate that has ensued in response to the proposals, this essay collection draws together civic and institutional leaders, experts and commentators, including Bishop Tim Stevens, Convenor of the Lords Spiritual; John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce; political philosopher Professor Roger Scruton; former welfare minister Frank Field MP; Sir Stephen Bubb, the Chief Executive of Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations; Lord Adebowale, the Chief Executive of social enterprise Turning Point; and Lord Wei, former Government Adviser on the ‘Big Society’. In doing so, it aims to reflect on the opportunity for a House of Lords that best embodies British society.

    Edited by Caroline Julian, Senior Researcher at ResPublica and with an opening Government statement by the Minister for Constitutional and Political Reform, Mark Harper MP outlining the Coalition’s reforms, the collection of essays is published amidst the on-going debates surrounding the Coalition’s proposals.

    In their concluding chapter, Phillip Blond and Rafal Heydel-Mankoo lay out a series of powerful arguments against the planned reforms and set out a radical alternative, a ‘hybrid house’, with one third of its member’s elected by the people, one third nominated by the political parties and one third appointed by civil society. Whilst agreeing that an elected element should be introduced, they argue that such an election should foster plurality and strengthen of our mixed constitution, rather than extend the writ of a form of democracy that will diminish the plurality of the Upper House.

  9. maude elwes says:

    Doesn’t matter how the squirming keeps you rolling along here, the Lords has no teeth. It cannot create the balance a democracy needed to be just that, a democracy. Clegg is a bad choice of leader for his party, as he is inarticulate and appears not to have the capacity to think with continuity.

    However, there is no poltical or indeed intelligence in keeping a second chamber that is unaccountable for its actions or remotely purposeful in its function. It is a costly, ineffective way to run a country.

    I have to admit, some of those in the Lords are exemplary in their task. Baroness Williams being one of them. Lord Winston another. And of course there are more of them. However, in the main, this is a laughable way to run a modern nation. Office should only be available to those who are willing to put themselves to the test for it. Birth and patronage is not a good enough reason to allow this insult to contue. I am writing on this as a whole. not in reference to individuals. When we are having to discuss, or even contemplate, the futility of criminals remaining in situ in that building so admired, whilst being paid by the hard working tax payer, then you have to know, in the pit of the stomach, something is grossly amiss with the whole system. As long as the parliament is in force, and the Commons can simply steam roll over objections or opinions, as has just happened with welfare reform, et al, then this is as futile as having a group in the living room for a chat.

    Although I do not care for the speaker in this situation, DPM Clegg, it is not the fault of the public he was placed there to speak for us. It is the fault of his selectors. And Cameron welcomed him with iopen arms when he wanted to take up office as PM.

    If the Conservatives now fear they made a big mistake in becoming part of a coalition, then they should have the courage to put their money where their mouth is, and go to the country for a mandate. That way they can rely on their right to govern. And if Clegg was worthy of his position as DPM, he would be calling for an immediate vote of confidence and urging his party to separate from the right wing lunatics who have completely lost the thrust of their manifesto.

    What we see here as an elected government, is the equivalent of ordering a Rolls Royce and being delivered a Mini.

    • ladytizzy says:

      Maude, a few comments in the order you have set out:

      The problem with a truly democratic democracy – if done democratically – is nothing would get done, as demonstrated most recently by Occupy.

      Your second para is more or less what is being argued by those opposed to an elected HoL as set out in the Draft Bill. It has to be read to fully understand this comment and I wish you no ill so please accept my word for it!

      The UK is not a modern nation, and there are plenty of examples where the laws made by the people who have been elected diminish the democratic principle.

      People become criminals only when they break a law. Laws are not created by the HoL.

      Your observation that Mr Clegg was not elected as DPM is one that seems to be forgotten as and when convenient, not least by Mr Clegg. And, yes, Mr Cameron wanted to become PM. he didn’t keep that secret. However, the alternative was Mr Brown…

      I agree that a lot more Conservatives these days are barely hiding their disdain for their Lib Dem partners – and vice versa. Perfectly normal, and nothing wrong so long as open warfare is reserved for the backbenchers. A lot has been written, including here, on how long the coalition would last and under what circumstances a divorce would or could be effected. It’s a good game. Another good game is what would have happened had the votes confirming a win for Mr Huhne had turned up on time. The lunatics within the Lib Dems are substantially to the left of Mr Clegg.

    • Lord Norton says:

      maude elwes: It is a bit difficult to know wheree to start! The Lords fulfils rather important functions which the House of Commons does not have the time or political will to fulfil (you would soon notice it if the Lords did not exist, not least in terms of the laws that affect you), it does so at relatively little cost, and its work is quite compatible with a democratic political system and the accountability at the heart of a democratic system. Indeed, by not being elected (and accepting the supremacy of the elected chamber), the Lords enables the accountability of government for public policy to be maintained. There is no fragmentation of accountability to electors as is entailed in the election of separate chambers. The way the system works is actually quite beneficial, since we get the benefits of a second chamber without the negative consequences that often attach to second chambers.

      • maude elwes says:

        Lord Norton, you are dancing around the fundamental issue of the Lords being there by fluke. Meaning, birth or patronage. Which I raise all the time. This is not a good enough reason to place ones’ trust in the ability of a person to do the job. Especially when you come up with a selction on the basis of diversity and not ability. That is utterly ridiculous. And infers there are not suitable expertise to be found in those who are not the mainstream. In other word, they select on the grounds of race, gender, disability and anything else that is flavour of the month, rather than the ability found in the applicant. What a deranged and insutling way of thinking that is.

        You have to face facts, and the facts are, first of all, too many people hogging those seats. Get rid of the excess. It is an overdose of cronies ,there because of family connections or old boy networks. What the heck are we doing with that crowd of old politicians who are out of step with the country and no longer an asset to us in any plausible way. They may be great for a drink and a game of nostagia, but that’s it.

        Now birth:The fate of being a foundling would not be an acceptable way to choose those those who run our country. It is no different when you select from the other end of the spectrum. I am the first to note there are a few born to the aristocratic class that would, just like anyone else from a different background, be more than adequate for the position, as we see on our screens daily. However, that does not mean ‘all’ are acceptable, or, that a certain amount must be maintained. Privilege is no longer something to glorify. The eccentric and quite frankly, totally mad, are not a preferred option for the people.

        The place needs an overhaul. As the Feng Shui experts advise, you cannot leave room for what is good to enter your life, unless you are prepared to remove the spent.

      • Lord Norton says:

        maude elwes: Selection by appointment is not a fluke, whereas doing it by birth is (and no longer applies). Diversity is not the criterion for appointment but a factor to be taken into account. We benefit from a House of very able people who happen to be drawn increasingly from a range of backgrounds.

  10. Neil M says:

    Interesting article by Martin Wolf on p13 of today’s (2nd March) FT which seems to chime with many of the views expressed in this blog

    • Lord Norton says:

      Neil M: Yes, there have been a number of articles along similar lines recently, including in ‘The Independent’ and ‘The Guardian’ as well as in ‘The Daily Telegraph’ and ‘The Times’.

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