Wednesday, July 01, 2015

House of Lords Reform

The House of Lords has become a ridiculous and unsustainable mess. There are nearly 800 members, all but 92 of them appointed. Since there is no real mechanism for reducing numbers (short of voluntary retirement) new Governments have a choice of either increasing these numbers still further or accepting that a majority Government in the House of Commons is offset by a minority in the House of Lords.

Anomalies now abound: the Liberal Democrats have 8 MPs but 101 members of the House of Lords. UKIP won 4 million votes in the 2015 election but have only 3. The whole thing is absurd and needs reform. Luckily, I have a plan...

The big objection to an elected House of Lords is the fact that as a revising chamber it is secondary to the House of Commons, something hard to justify if the two Houses have an equal electoral mandate. However, I think there's a way around this. My plan works as follows:

The House of Lords will become an elected House, with its numbers based on the proportions each party won in the General Election. However, to recognise the historic importance of cross-benchers, their numbers will be determined by non-voters. In other words, if turnout is 70%, then 30% of the Upper House will be made up of cross-bencher MPs of no party. Each other party will therefore have a proportion of peers determined by the share of the total electorate they received.

The next point is that the 'party list' of peers will be determined not by the political parties directly, but by the Lords themselves - each party in the Lords will determine its own list by ballot (rather like the old Labour shadow cabinet elections). This provides a greater degree of independence from the party, determines who gets to sit as a cross-bencher, and reduces the democratic mandate of the Lords sufficiently not to trample over the Commons. Elections to the 'slate' could take place 6 months before the General Election (so long as fixed term Parliaments still exist).

Tony Blair's half-reforms of the Lords have only lasted as long as this because no party really wants change badly enough. The can's been kicked far enough down the road now that we may as well pick it up...


Anonymous mike fowle said...

The sad thing is the Lords actually used to work quite well. There could be all sorts of objections in principle against it, but in practice, those who had been in office and were not reliant on patronage and were able to take a pragmatic view (even from the extreme edges of their parties) could contribute from their experience. Reform? Aren't things bad enough already?

4:46 pm  
Blogger Tim J said...

Entirely agree - I'm not sure that it still does though. There were a lot of mutterings in the last Parliament that the new lot of Lords were not nearly so good at ignoring the party line, and things were getting unpleasantly partisan...

2:09 pm  

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