Electors’ freedom of choice

lordnortonThe Wales Bill, presently completing its passage through the Lords, prohibits anyone from serving as both an MP and as a member of the National Assembly for Wales.  The provision (clause 3) was agreed between the parties and was about to go through without debate.  I put down an amendment to remove the clause.  I am against outlawing dual mandates on the grounds that they infringe the freedom of electors to choose who they want to represent them.  If they are happy to have the same person represent them in more than one assembly, that is a matter for them.  It may be difficult to carry out both roles – the practical argument (advanced by assertion) used to justify the clause – but that is a matter between electors and elected, not something to be forbidden by law.

You can read my speech hereAs you will see, no one really engaged with the issue of principle, other than in one case trying to translate the difficulties of the jobs into a matter of principle.  I knew I would not get anywhere – the responses were pretty much what I indicated would be the case – but I hope my intervention gives pause for thought.  At least afterwards some peers did recognise what I was getting at and also appreciated that there is a value in having members who can keep one legislature aware of what is happening in another.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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10 Responses to Electors’ freedom of choice

  1. Croft says:

    I agree with what you said but I do at times dislike the Lords practice of withdrawing amendments – at least make members be forced to stand up for their foolishness.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Croft: I agree with that. The last time I moved an amendment, I pushed it to a vote. There were others who supported it in debate, so I knew I had a body of supporters. On this occasion, I suspect I would have lost on the voices – I would be a lonely voice calling ‘Content’ – and as a result no division would have taken place.

      • Croft says:

        I appreciate that – but depressing in such a large house more members could not be bothered to defend the principle. Not sure you entirely helped your own argument with the MP/Minister comparison as it provoked the obvious response. Most MPs and indeed peers have private work interests; barristers, family firms, directorships, teaching at cold wet northern establishments…

      • Lord Norton says:

        Croft: Lord Crickhowell was seeking to intervene to support my point, given his experience as a Secretary of State for Wales. I should have argued the point that some people do carry out two full-time jobs.

  2. Princeps Senatus says:

    Many members of your Lordship’s House have an elected mandate of one form or another, be it as a councilor (such as Lord Hanningfield) or as member of the Northern Ireland Assembly or the Scottish Parliament.
    Indeed, I believe that the Lords Alderdice and Steel of Aikwood were Speakers of the two legislatures mentioned above, while concurrently being members of the Lords. I recall that both the peers mentioned spoke (in the Speaker’s Lectures, all of which you have attended) of the usefulness of being able to communicate with each other in the Lords while developing the institutions that they headed.
    Do you believe that the presence of elected mandate holders in the Lords is beneficial to the House and to the other elected chambers that such dual mandate holders are a part of? Or is their presence perceived in a negative light? And could lessons not be drawn from such presence to the topic of this blog post?

    • Lord Norton says:

      Princeps Senatus: When the devolved legislatures were established, the presiding officer of each was indeed a member of the House of Lords. The value of having all three in the Lords was something we emphasised in our Constitution Committee report on ‘Devolution: Inter-Institutional Relations in the UK’. After the debate, I spoke to various peers who conceded the importance of cross-fertilisation. Banning a dual mandate encourages a silo mentality, members of the NAW sticking to the National Assembly, MSPs staying in Holyrood and MPs staying in Westminster, and none being in a strong position to understand what is happening in other legislatures. I think in the Lords we have benefited from members who sit in other legislatures. We have peers who sit or have sat in the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales, and the Northern Irish Assembly, and of course the European Parliament (though now disbarred for the period they are in the EP). I think we benefit enormously from their presence.

  3. Lord Norton,
    I see both sides of your issue. In the modern era it was the United States of America which limited multiple office holding. The same impulse which inspired that choice has gone much too far here. It was a problematic choice then but it did help to develop a certain breadth of support for the young republic. But I am also interested in the exceptions to the trend which Princeps Senatus points out in the House of Lords. It seems to me that this suits the broader global and civilizational concepts that define the function and nature of an institution such as the House of Lords whatever else may be said of the British situation.

  4. tizres says:

    Assuming that two or more elections are held around the same date, and that there are no special restrictions on spending limits, is there any evidence of bias given that a candidate may have twice the budget of others?

    • Lord Norton says:

      tizres: The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 has provisions to prevent elections to the House of Commons being held at the same time as elections to devolved legislatures.

      • tizres says:

        Apologies for not being more specific since I had in mind a clash of HoC and local council elections, though I do appreciate the extra info.

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