A dog’s dinner of a Bill

The Government’s House of Lords Reform Bill has been published today and is as much, if not more so, of a dog’s dinner of a Bill as the draft Bill.  It is a hotch-potch of provisions, with no clear coherence.  I was interviewed on Sky News earlier and pointed out that it did not derive from first principles.  I was very pleased that the interview then preceded – I thought refreshingly – on the principles and the need to start with functions rather than composition.

The Government published an accompanying projection of costs of the new House.  The only problem is that their projection appears completely disconnected from the Bill.  Under the Bill, IPSA will decide the level of payment, as well as what allowances will be paid and whether there will be a pension. 

The Government keep praying in aid the three party manifestos.  First, the manifestos say different things.  Second, the basis of Government proposals is not supposed to be the manifestos, but rather the Coalition Agreement.  That commits the parties to establishing ‘a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected second chamber on the basis of proportional representation’.   There is nothing that commits the parties beyond that.  The agreement is, in effect, spent.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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24 Responses to A dog’s dinner of a Bill

  1. Dean B says:

    I had a very nice email from “Unlock Democracy” this morning, inviting me to email my MP on this subject. They provided a link to enable me to do just that, and even a template email to send him. It was tremendously helpful of them as it saved me looking up his details myself.
    I did of course change the text from their template.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Dean B: Well done. I hope others will follow suit.

      • Dean B says:

        I have received a reply from my MP which you may or may not be interested in. I reproduce it here, along with my initial email to him. His reply shows that he does indeed understand many (though not all) of the problems with the bill, yet he still intends to vote for it, a position which I find extraordinary.

        My message:

        “Now that the House of Lords Reform Bill has been published, it is very clear that the new Senate being proposed will rival that of the House of Commons, will be less independent and contain less expertise than the current House of Lords.

        The first point is especially important – it means that far from improving democracy, it will diminish it, as voters will no longer be able, every 5 years, to vote out those responsible for running the country. Instead, like in the USA for example, blame will be passed from one body to another.

        I hope that you will consider voting against the proposals, and as a minimum, that you will abide by your manifesto promise and vote for a referendum on them.

        I look forward to receiving your reply.”

        His reply:

        “I am, and always have been, in favour of fundamental reform of the House of Lords so that we have a properly democratic upper chamber.

        Lords reform will be the most significant constitutional change in our recent history so it needs to be right and requires the fullest possible debate. Therefore I will be voting in favour of House of Lords Reform, but I will vote against the Government’s timetable motion for the legislation which I believe doesn’t give enough time for proper consideration of the issues.

        An example of my concerns over the proposals is the lack of accountability of the ‘Senators’ who will make up 80% of the new House of Lords (or Senate). I think that the proposed 15 year non-renewable single term for Senators runs counter to a basic principle of our democracy – that politicians should take decisions in the knowledge that they face re-election. By being elected in the first place, the Senators will claim greater authority than current peers, but will not be held accountable by re-election. I appreciate that we can’t vote out existing peers, but if we are to give the new Senators far greater authority then it should be matched by proper accountability.

        If it is to be given this far greater authority over legislation, then we must be clear about the role of the new House of Lords and ensure that its relationship with the House of Commons is clearly defined in law. The Government’s proposals fail to do this, and so we need time to sort out the issues while the proposals are being debated by Parliament. We mustn’t rush into making changes which we might regret and which would be difficult to resolve subsequently. So we need the time to get it right.

        Let me be clear though that, despite my reservations, I am strongly in favour of Lords reform and will vote for it. Some MPs will aim to kill the legislation by tabling countless amendments and objections. I won’t do this, but I am concerned that we have the fullest possible debate to address all the issues that need resolving.

        Finally, a number of people have asked me specifically about my views on the place of the Bishops in the House of Lords. Whilst I have a great deal of respect for Anglican Bishops, having worked and campaigned with many of them on a range of issues over the years, I don’t think there should be an ex officio role in our democracy for any faith leaders. If there are to be reserved positions for faith leaders, then I would like to see all faiths represented, not just one church. But it’s better to have people of faith represented, like those of no faith, through the ordinary democratic process.

        I’d continue to welcome your views on the issue, as the debate progresses, so do get in touch if you have any further thoughts.”

  2. I’ve only been able to grab a quick glance at this bill and I’m fallible human with the added handicap of a stuffy cold so I may have interpreted it all wrongly, but I see two things that concern me.

    Firstly it appears that all the Lords Spiritual appointments will still be in the hands of the CoE. I feel this is unfair to people of other faiths and non believers too. It also discriminates against women as those positions which automatically go to certain people in the CoE such as particular Bishops are currently forbidden to women. It seems a shame that the opportunity to change this historic imbalance has been missed.

    Secondly I do wonder how this will all work in reality. It is one thing to say on paper that all Members are created equal but the practice could well be different. I wonder if appointed members will end up being viewed as less legitimate then elected ones in practice, either by the media, the general public or by members of the House of Commons. Appointed Members could find themselves hampered in going about their business by this perceived lack of legitimacy.

    While I don’t find the following a particular concern I do wonder if this isn’t all a massive waste of time because there appears to be at first glance no provision for increasing or changing the powers of the House of Lords. I feel it is a bit like changing the handles of blunt scissors rather then sharpening the blades. Depending upon your perception the Members would be more legitimate but what can they actually deliver in terms of increased scrutiny, making changes to unpopular legislation that actually stick and so on?

    • Lord Norton says:

      Ilona Wheldale England: Your points are well made. The Government want to keep relationships as they are, but the Joint Committee were unanimous in rejecting the original Clause 2 and the new Clause 2 merely states that the Parliament Acts continue to apply. The framers of the 1911 Act recognised that if the House was elected, its powers and functions would need to be revisited. This was embodied in the preamble to the Act. This is clearly an embarrassment to the Governmment, so (despite a preamble having no legal force) Clause 2 repeals the preamble!

  3. Tory boy says:

    Please send me a link for the interview. The HOL works as an appointed chamber. I agree the house is to big. There is no reason why the house could not have a membership of 550 to 600, 450 as is proposed is to small. A natural phasing out prcoess should take place. Hereditary Peers should go, members should be in the Lords on their own merit not of that of their ancestors. Elected members will be seen as more legitimate than appointed members thus a two tier chamber. People do not want more elected represenatvies costing the public purse more money. Elected members will want just as much power as MPs in the Commons therefore Commons primacy is not assured hence constitutiional gridlock will take place. I urge all Peers to kick this bill out or insert a refendum clause so the public can kick it out!!

  4. Tory boy says:

    Lords Leader of the House states we cannot afford a referendum but we can afford unecessary elected members of the House of Lords. He is now drinking out of the same looney cup as tin pot Deputy PM Nick Clegg.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Tory boy: Exactly. We could afford a referendum on amending the method of electing members of the first chamber, but cannot afford one on the actual method of electing members of the second.

  5. ladytizzy says:

    Lord Norton, I’ve followed the debate and read the paperwork so far. Would you consider writing here or elsewhere how you, as an individual and as part of the HoL, go about the process of scrutinising a Bill? Where do you start, do parliamentary colleagues vary from how you work, in what ways would you treat a Bill differently from a draft Bill, is it possible to park your personal or party opinions or are they at the heart of your work, do you expect that the nature of this Bill will create permanent problems between you colleagues, will the Lords/Baronesses in Waiting attempt to engage in a bit of whipping for this Bill? Stuff in general, I suppose.

    I an ticked off with politicians waffling on about what the manifestos/coalition agreement do or don’t claim. Weird, really, given the amount of time and sweat they spent on nuancing them.

    • Lord Norton says:

      ladytizzy: I may do a detailed post. A draft Bill is dealt with very differently to a Bill, in that a draft Bill is not considered by the House, but solely by a committee. A Bill goes through several stages in each House. In the Lords, contentious Bills are taken for all their stages (Second Reading, Committee, Report, Third Reading) on the floor of the House; less contentious Bills may have their committee stage (for detailed scrutiny) in Grand Committee (that is, not on the floor of the House). In the Commons, most Bills are sent for committee stage to a Public Bill Committee, though some Bills, including those of major constitutional importance, will be taken in Committee of the Whole House. The House of Lords Reform Bill will have its committee stage on the floor of the House in both chambers.

      In the Lords, I am not expecting the House of Lords Reform Bill to cause serious problems between colleagues, given that most members of the House take the same view on the issue. Government whips may or may not try to engage in whipping, but I suspect it will not be their whipping that matters.

  6. JH says:

    While it is far from perfect (or, indeed, passable), there are some changes to the draft bill worthy of note as being being arguably better than before (as a result of the joint committee): the increase in size (if still as Tory Boy contends on the low side), the recognition of the value of part-time membership (and real world contact), the lessening of the cost (albeit still a multiple of the current cost), the replacement of the ungainly ad hoc minister proposal with ministers being appointed for the term but their numbers limited to eight, etc.

    However, the alternative options in the Impact Assessment omit other possibilities – such as the the Joint Committee’s recommendation that indirect election could be considered in more detail. The chosen electoral method is estimated to cost >£80 million every 5 years. Using an indirect system which combines the benefits of appointment, a sizeable amount of the continued expertise of the House and a democratic pressure valve to keep the size of the House in check and aid ‘legitimacy’ would cost peanuts by comparison (see, e.g., ‘The House of Lords Reform White Paper and Draft Bill 2011 and a Simpler Alternative’ (2011) Amicus Curiae Issue 88 pp.2-4 available at bit.ly/KNuVKl).

    While one may expect more of a Bill than a Draft Bill, the Bill doesn’t look as bad a dog’s breakfast as the draft one, perhaps ‘dog’s elevenses’, but is not yet at the level of a dog’s dinner – https://nortonview.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/going-to-the-dogs/ !

    • Lord Norton says:

      JH: I split my bets by referring to it is a dog’s breakfast on Sky, but as a dog’s dinner here.! You are quite right about the alternatives. The proposed electoral system – regional list – is going to cause particular problems and is not one proposed in the draft Bill or the Joint Committee report. The Government rejected the idea of looking at indirect election on the basis that direct elections had been a feature of previous proposals!

  7. Rich says:

    I’ve been thinking about second chamber reform generally, and House of Lords reform specifically, for a number of years. The principle that I keep coming back to is that a second chamber has to have a purpose. The United States Senate ostensibly has as its purpose representing the states. It’s not clear it ever really was, but it certainly hasn’t been since direct election. One need only compare it with the German Bundesrat to see the difference. At this point, there is no overriding purpose for having two chambers in Congress or any of the 49 bicameral states. Thus, and I say this as an American, there are 50 chambers in sovereign legislatures that should simply be eliminated as completely useless.

    At the moment, the House of Lords is the pre-eminent revising chamber in the world. No other legislative body brings together the level of experience from so many walks of life with the practical experience of having had a career in politics and the self-restraint to ask the responsible house to think again, but not push further.

    What is purpose of a House of Lords 80% of whose members are elected? To represent the Regions? No one has suggested that, and there would be better ways of accomplishing that goal. It seems to me that one can accept the current House of Lords as an institution that came about through a series of historical accidents, reforms, and tweaks, yet does its job very well. If the lack of democratic legitimacy is such a problem, as it is to Liberal Democrats and many people in the other parties, the reasonable course of action is to advocate its abolition unless some new purpose can be found for it. This middle road of introducing elections wastes resources while stripping the chamber’s expertise and hoping that it will retain its high level of output through the elixir of democratic legitimacy.

    I am only mildly cynical, so I don’t believe the Lib Dems support reform merely because they want to entrench themselves as holding the balance of power somewhere in Parliament. I’m sure that, for the most part it is a combination of obsession and a lack of creativity that leads them and advocates in the other parties, major and minor, to hew to this course.

    • ladytizzy says:

      The LibDems have promoted the concept of an elected HoL since its inclusion in their 1979 manifesto (pre-dating the re-badging). After 30 years in the wilderness one might have expected a bit more thought to have gone into a pet project.

      “To represent the Regions?” Representation of a region or the voter has never figured as high as that of their own survival.

      I am entirely cynical.

  8. maldencapell says:

    I despise this idea that the people voted for Lords reform because all three parties offered (very broad concepts) of it. That’s like saying the Russians routinely elected the Communist Party back into power as it was the only candidate on the ballot!

    We are being DENIED the right to choose to oppose Lords reform!

    • Rich says:

      It’s especially, I’ll say it, dishonest to say a referendum is unnecessary because of the manifestos when the Labour manifesto said three times—three!—that they would hold a referendum on Lords reform (once on page 0:5 and twice on 9:3). The Conservative manifesto said, “We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current house of Lords, recognising that an efficient and effective second chamber should play an important role in our democracy and requires both legitimacy and public confidence.” Saying you will “work to build a consensus” isn’t even saying you’ll actually build a consensus, let alone that you’ll deliver the reform, so refusing a reform referendum on the basis of a manifesto that promises a referendum and another that doesn’t actually promise the reform is more than stretching things.

  9. maudie33 says:

    If you want to knock Lords Reform on the head, LN, simply cut away the losers and build a reforming chamber with the winners you tell us you have in there. First doing away with the hereditaries naturally. No man or woman should be taking up space simply because they were born into a certain family. That is too ridiculous to contemplate. Most of them, one way or the other, are inbred and show it. Those born to their class have so many other perks they can get by on they don’t need this benefit from the tax payer. Next, thin out the old politicians that were useless in the first place and now present an embarrassment. Lastly, empty the place of politically correct appointments and, voila, you have a sleek working revising chamber.

    This then would free you up from discussing it further for another 15 years. .

    Personally, I do believe the second chamber should have more power than it does. The Commons is filled with so many dimwits we are easily open to greasy individuals who can and do pull the wool over their eyes, it leaves us wide open.

    And as a footnote, Parliament should be emptied of US advisers. There are far too many of them in every nook and cranny and it is unhealthy.

    • Rich says:

      Passing the Lord Steel’s bill (the fuller version, not the bit that is making its way through Parliament right now) would go a long way toward accomplishing what you want. As for the US advisers, do you actually have any evidence that there are “far too many of them” or that somehow it is “unhealthy”, or is this just thoughtless anti-Americanism?

      • maudie33 says:

        And do you have evidence there are not far too many US advisers, or, that such an imposition is not unhealthy?

        And from my point of view, there isn’t enough thinking anti Americanism in our Parliament.

        However, I note the White House keeps British advisers far from their front seats, as most US citizens feel the British are more unhealthy to have around than Russians. These ‘loony toon’ Brits support a health service that’s free at the point of usage. Wouldn’t do to have too many communist thinkers like that filling the minds of the President with such crack pot ideas, would it?

        Maybe there’s no need to worry though, as 26% of Americans don’t know who they
        declared independence from on the 4th of JUly.

        http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2011/07/01/259417/americans-dont-know-independence-from-great-britain/?mobile=nc

        And this should help if you want to take the time to look up advisers to the British Parliament.

        http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/briefings/snpc-03813.pdf

      • Rich says:

        Maude, everything you said in response is borderline insane. Let’s start at the end: The briefing note you linked to is about Special Advisers to ministers, and has nothing to do with the United States, its citizens, or anyone (American or not) who might be advising Parliament. Your 26% survey is meaningless claptrap. All that is proof of is that people lie when asked stupid questions. Your choice to take the most right-wing position in the US and assign it to all Americans is as idiotic as assuming that all Brits are like BNP nutters. Your assertion that the White House “keeps British advisers far from their front seats” is yet another factless bit of drivel emanating from your general direction. Your asking me to prove that there are not too many US advisers and that it is not an “unhealthy imposition” is fatuous. I would say it is unworthy of you, but having dealt with you before I know that would be untrue. Finally, I never accused you of “thinking anti Americanism”. The fact is that you are a bigot who is thoughtlessly anti-American and enjoys throwing out hateful invective and making wild, brainless claims about America, its people and its institutions. Frankly, you can make no other kind because you are too lazy to bother actually learning about other people or to listen to sources of information that don’t already support your warped world view. In fact, when I despair about my country and my countrymen, I just think of you and feel better.

  10. maudie33 says:

    Lord Norton,

    My posts are missing again. Two of them on different threads, They were up but had a comment across the top saying waiting for moderation. I put them up in the usual way.

    Has this web changed its way of posting for us all?

    • Lord Norton says:

      maudie33: Posts that include links usually go automatically to the ‘pending’ box. I have just found yours. The good news is that these were not in the Spam box!

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