Problems with the Bill

I have already drawn attention to some of the problems with the House of Lords Reform Bill.  It is fundamentally flawed.  Supporters keep claiming that it has taken 100 years to bring forward a Bill.  One would have thought that in that time it would have been possible to draft a coherent and logical measure.  Apparently not.  There are some basic problems with the Bill:

1. It doesn’t deal with the functions of the second chamber.

2. It doesn’t deal adequately with the relationship between the two chambers.

3. It introduces the regional list system of election which places power in the hands of the parties.

4. It does not provide for the accountability of the members.  We are told we are not accountable.  Well, neither will be the members of the elected chamber.  (Indeed, I could develop an argument that they will be less accountable.)

5. Members having been elected are not expected to undertake constituency casework.  Electors having chosen members of the second chamber are apparently expected to get short shrift if they have the temerity to approach them to ask for help in dealing with a particular problem.

6. Despite attempts by Government to claim otherwise (in a costings document that is basically a disgrace), it will cost more than the existing House.

One can see how the Bill has been expertly drafted to restore trust in politics….

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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9 Responses to Problems with the Bill

  1. Dave H says:

    I thought of an answer to (3), whereby the parties could provide a list of candidates and those who were popular enough in their own right would get elected, with the list order of the remaining candidates being determined by their individual vote count. That would at least mean that a candidate popular with the party but unpopular with the voters could be rejected.

    I’d also like to float the idea that all independent candidates were considered a party, so that as a group they could also benefit from the system. There are flaws in the concept, but it might generate some proposals from others.

    It was also good to see the back benches exercising a bit of restraint on the executive, forcing them to cancel the vote for fear of losing (although I think that if they announce a debate/vote they should be forced to follow it through even if the vote is lost).

    Once elected to the Lords, a person should be barred from holding an official government or opposition position, or subsequently standing as an MP in the Commons. Make them subject to proper recall votes determined by the electorate and not a Westminster committee. That might go some way to helping with 4 and 5.

    As for 2, if the Lords is elected then it has equal standing to the Commons and any attempt by the Commons to retain primacy is trying to have their cake and eat it.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Dave H: On your last point, try getting the Government to accept that. The whole point of the Parliament Act was to ensure the supremacy of an elected chamber over an unelected chamber. Once you elect the second chamber, the rationale for its existence disappears.

  2. macarthursmutterings says:

    It looks like there will be some more time to ‘consider’ it all now

  3. Tim Hicks says:

    My first visit here, but I wonder if you like my suggestion for a mixture of election and ‘experts’ that was posted at the Oxford/Cambridge ‘Politics in Spires’ blog http://politicsinspires.org/2012/06/getting-the-house-in-order-brainstorming-a-novel-approach-to-lords-reform/.

    It may assist with concerns 1 and 2 of yours, and is agnostic on 3 (although aren’t parties essentially in total control under the current arrangements?).

    Separate from that, concern 4 (on accountability) may be true, but isn’t a move to have entry into the second chamber elected rather than appointed a fairly clear improvement on the broad democratic connection between the chamber and its citizens?

    I’m also not sure I see the significance of concern 5 (on casework). At least, I’d be interested to see the point elaborated.

    Tim

    • Lord Norton says:

      Tim Hicks: I don’t think a mixture of election and appointment will deal with any of the points, not least since the Government seem to think that is what they are proposing in the Bill. As for point 3, this relates to the initial choice of Government for STV, now replaced by the regional list system. On point 4, no it is not obvious why election or part election as such will be an ‘improvement’ on what exists at the moment. Why have election for election’s sake if it is going to be value-detracting in terms of what the House does? This would be sacrificing output legitimacy for a highly questionable input legitimacy. I suspect it would over time undermine legitimacy if people felt that they were electing people who then did not have any responsibility for pursuing their concerns when they wrote to them and who were not subject to any form of accountability. At least not being elected keeps the House of Lords modest and it is in effect accountable through the House of Commons which has the last word and to which it defers. It members were elected, there is no reason why they would defer to the Commons.

      On the last point, I have in effect already touched upon it. Members would have an extremely large electorate. Electors are likely to write to their Senators when they have a problem: they try anyone they think can assist. If the Government have their way, the elected members will not be given the resources to reply and in any event do not expect them to pursue constituency casework. Either receiving no response or one that says ‘Thanks, but I can’t do anything for you’ is not likely to do much to restore trust in politics. Given that peers do not have constituencies, the issue does not arise. When there are constituencies, it will.

      • JH says:

        “I don’t think a mixture of election and appointment will deal with any of the points”

        – but if we set aside this false dichotomy (and the idea of two classes of member) and adopt a proposal whereby the current appointees go through an internal election process every x years so that the parties’ numbers better reflect electoral support (rather than using the current post-change of government mass appointments system which is causing the House to grow to unsustainable levels) then all the points are dealt with:

        1. The functions remain the same – this would be a ‘democratic’ evolution not radical reform
        2. The relationship would be broadly the same (the presence of the cross-benchers and the indirect means of election would keep the Commons the primary elected/representative House)
        3. The power of the parties would be little different from present and unlike the party list and some other forms of indirect election the peers not the party chiefs would have the say on who stayed (as was the case with the Weatherill hereditaries)
        4. The numbers of peers per party would depend on e.g. general electoral success which provides some accountability; and peers who weren’t playing their part would be prone to being voted out by their peers (those who can best judge their contribution)
        5. No constituencies, therefore no problem re casework
        6. Costs would be nowhere near the cost of the Government’s proposed House and if membership was reset to 500 or so every election, the House may even cost less than the current and the Steel Bill Houses

        The benefits remain, the problem of size dealt with and the Lib Dems demand for PR (of sorts) in effect satisfied. I may have mentioned this before but, now in free-to-view published format, more detail available at http://journals.sas.ac.uk/amicus/issue/view/292/showToc

      • Lord Norton says:

        JH: The post addressed the problems with the Bill. What you propose is far better than the Government’s proposals and something along these lines has variously been floated and is one of the ideas that is presently being discussed by a number of members. It may well have traction. A variation on the theme is to keep the present number of peers but weight the votes they cast in a division proportionate to party strength at the last election, but your proposal has the advantage that each vote would be equal.

      • JH says:

        Lord Norton: Many thanks for your response. I fear the Government, while seeking consensus, are still wedded to direct elections (even if it’s the peculiar sounding Osborne idea) but I remain hopeful.

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