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Comments

Ted

I like the lottery - a bit like the lottery of birth that the heritary system delivered to an extent and the strength of the jury system. But unlikely to find favour with politicians. As the mainly heriditary method of appointment is no longer supportable and with the appinted method brought into disrepute a fully elected House of Lords seems sensible.
The most important thing though isn't the process but the purpose. The HoL has developed into a different beast in last hundred years from what it was previously. Reform and Parliamentary Acts were in place to limit its powers because it was un-democratic, once it is democratic what if any limits should apply? The Australian Senate seems a good model - last week fear of rejection for Howard's latest asylum proposal made government withdraw it so it obviously has teeth. It was developed in context of a constitutional monarchy, a Westminster Parliament style and a federal system. I'd suggest the Conservative Party looks at both Australian & Canadian systems to see how the Westminster model has developed.

As regards process the current strengths of the Upper House come from tenure & lack of specific democratic accountability - accountability is to the constitution not the people.The introduction of democratic selection will impact both tenure and non-accountability so we will need to find new ways of creating a process to deliver a House of Lords with equivalent autonomy from HoC but still accountable to electors.
This could be by having staggered elections - so half the peers elected at any general election, the next half at next GE - by having longer fixed terms and so on. IMHO there needs to be a proportionate element to counter-balnce the way FPTP usually delivers one party a majority on less than 45% of votes. This is a strength which delivers strong government but leaves large parts of country unrepresented.
I like the thought that public appointments would need ratification through the HoL. Also cannot see why we change its name - in most places where people are elected to public office with a title the honorific still applies after they leave office. Carter is still referred to as President Carter, ex armed forces senior officers retain their rank. Why not elect a Lord for 10 or 12 years and grant them the title for life anyway?

Denis Cooper

"... the very shape of the House of Commons and Lords with the Opposition and Government benches facing each other tends to encourage division - a sort of semi-circular arrangement is probably best ... "

Absolutely not - we need strong government matched by strong opposition.

Opposition within the first chamber, automatically complemented by opposition between the dominant first chamber with its government majority and a second chamber with an opposition majority. Make the government present a proper case for its legislation, and sometimes have to fight hard to get it through, not just ram through all kinds of garbage as during the last nine years, with this result:

http://comment.independent.co.uk/letters/article1220057.ece

Blair's law-making frenzy unmatched in six centuries

Sir: You report on the frenzy of Labour's law making (16 August). Your piece is supported by the following facts. Halsbury's Statutes covers criminal Acts of Parliament in two volumes. The first covers six centuries (1351-1999); the second covers six years (2000-2005). And the second volume is the longer.

JAMES TOWNSEND

BRISTOL

Sir: The news that the Labour government has created 3,023 offences since 1997 will come as little surprise to the rural community ...

Denis Cooper

"... the House of Commons since 1689 has had the power to remove the monarch with a single vote on the Floor of the House and put in a new monarch".

Not true, that would need an Act of Parliament - ie a Bill passed by both Houses and given Royal Assent. That is what happened with Edward VIII - see eg:

http://his-majestys-declaration-of-abdication-act-1936.mindbit.com/

Unless it was a revolution, in which case the revolutionaries might not bother with any niceties like a vote in the House of Commons. But while Parliament controls the funding of the armed forces they actually swear allegiance to the monarch as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief, and they would not allow the monarch to be deposed without observing the correct constitutional procedure.

Yet Another Anon

Opposition within the first chamber, automatically complemented by opposition between the dominant first chamber with its government majority and a second chamber with an opposition majority.
It isn't the function of the system to create opposition where none exists or emphasise opposition, the most important thing is the ability to form a government, there is also no reason why if there were 2 Houses of Parliament that one would have an opposition majority or indeed that any party would have a majority in either - that would all depend on how they were selected and how people voted, any system that guaranteed that a government with a majority were in a minority in the other chamber would be liable to be in constant arguments with both chambers blocking each other, if you have a Hung Chamber and a system that encourages division then in a situation in which enough parties cannot come to an agreement to form a majority coalition and the public is not likely to change it's mind and a minority government seems the only solution then what will happen is chaos as no one is able to form a government, there was potential for this happening in 1910 and 1923.

Robin M

This policy is flawed deeply.

1 - It appears to be built on the rationale "it's not delivering what I want now", rather than "it cannot ever deliver what I want". Hardly a sound basis for fundamental change.

2 - The frustrations now are the product of the same democratic process that this poplicy seeks to use to achieve the "super" Upper House. The logic of this escapes me.

3 - The policy (as has the debate) will be hijacked by PR and other arguments involving angels and pin heads.

4 - What is the attraction to voters of removing a party who are abusing the current system, and replacing them with a party that will honour it... only for them to change it?

I do not support this policy.

David Banks

please say something nice about this policy someone , otherwise poor Damon will be feeling unloved. shall i start the ball rolling ? Damons a deep thinker with a lovely smile. there you go - now build on that.

Denis Cooper

Yet Another Anon, where have you been for the last nine years?

I should have thought it would be self-evident that if a government has a massive Commons majority there isn't enough opposition under the present system.

The result? A flood of defective legislation - much of it so defective that it has to be replaced by new legislation almost as soon as it comes into force. In fact as David Davis pointed out, in the case of criminal justice legislation sometimes it has to be replaced even before all of its provisions have come into force.

I believe in FPTP for the Commons because it gives the best chance of forming a strong and coherent government. But the larger the government majority in the Commons, necessarily the weaker the opposition in that chamber, and therefore the greater the need for strong opposition in the second chamber.

I could give you the names of 646 people now, who positively wanted to be in Parliament (unlike almost all of the people whose names would come up in a lottery), who wanted to participate in framing the laws of this country, and who offered themselves to the electors of a constituency in 2005 but came second - sometimes by a narrow margin. Nevertheless each of them received thousands more votes than any of the present unelected Lords, and would have far greater democratic legitimacy to serve as a legislator in a second chamber.

Of those, 353 would not have stood as a Labour candidate, so if those 656 runners up had been formed into a second chamber after the election Labour would have had a majority in the Commons, but not in the second chamber.

That's the way it would always work: the governing party would always have to properly argue its case to get its legislation through the second chamber against an opposition majority, or constantly resort to the Parliament Acts.

aristeides

"please say something nice about this policy someone"

Well... it seems to have got the creative juices of a couple of people on this thread flowing. Denis is going great guns with his SPTP concept which would appear to be the only system of democracy in the world where the losers of elections obtain by default a majority in the second chamber to obstruct legislation.

On a serious note, a well thought out and credible policy on the House of Lords is essential, preferably before Gordon Brown gets his hands on it. For the reasons that Robin M gives above, this is not the right one, but the effort should be applauded.

Matt Wright

Sorry, don't like this idea. We need a different system of selection to the commons in order to act as a balance. I do not want popularism in a chamber that is meant to be a check on the Exec,

Matt Wright

Neo-Cavalier

A profoundly wrong-headed idea, and fundamentally un-Conservative (but, as many things are going, perhaps that is the point).

As others have pointed out, the efficacy of the House of Lords is entirely contingent on the fact that it is wholly *unelected*, and therefore independent! No worrying about what the voters will think, or how this will effect one's political career, indeed no incentive for intellectual compromise - the Lords can say and think what they like, and vote accordingly, which is exactly the kind of independence we need in our Legislature. Since there is no chance of getting this in the Commons, the Lords are our only line of defence against truly bad, or ethically questionable Government proposals.

Were we to follow this idea and make the House of Lords a democratic senate, all that would happen would one of two loathsome alternatives. Either we would end up with the same gridlock as the American system - with one party controlling the Commons, one party controlling the Senate, and both blocking each others legislative efforts, leading to political stagnation. Or, very possibly, the British people (in their perpetual wisdom) would elect a majority for the same party in both houses, abolishing any real opposition to the ruling party's policies. In other words, a total castration of the oversight of Parliament.

Truly *real* 'reform' would involve making the House of Lords not more political but *LESS* by removing the ability of the Prime Minister to appoint peers, and giving it to an independent Commission, peopled entirely by current members of the Lords, a third of which would be peers, a third Lords Spiritual, and a third Law Lords (the latter two categories surely being unimpeachably objective?) This Commission could appoint Peers in a timely manner, based on those who merited the position - leaders of industry, charities, scientists, thinkers, etc. Not just a bunch of ex-politicians who's turn it was to be 'bumped upstairs', or party hacks.

We shouldn't denigrate, but celebrate the fact that our Constitution, rather than being completely Democratic, has indeed potentially the best aspects of Parliamentary Democracy in the Commons, Aristocracy (in the, older, Greek sense) in the Lords, and Monarchy in the Royal powers. We should be trying to accentuate and build on this great tradition, not bow down to the mindless sentimentalities of the liberal left's democratic totalitarianism.

A good proposal for doing this might be to consider truly instituting a Separation of Powers, and introducing complete Parliamentary Independence in the Commons as well, by in some way separating the election of the Executive (the PM and Cabinet), from that of the Legislature, and banning MPs from serving as Ministers, instead allowing whoever was elected Prime Minster to appoint anyone they thought appropriate to a ministerial post, subject to Parliamentary sanction and approval.

Radical indeed, but certainly rather more worthy of ponderance...?

Neo-Cavalier

Oh, and yes, 'House of Defenders'? Sounds more like a bad Anime cartoon than a British legislative institution. If we *had* to have an elected Second chamber, surely better to give the incumbent politicians the dignity of being called 'Senator', rather than making them feel they should be going to lunch with He-man and the Power Rangers?

Denis Cooper

aristeides @ 11:45 yesterday -

"Denis is going great guns with his SPTP concept which would appear to be the only system of democracy in the world where the losers of elections obtain by default a majority in the second chamber to obstruct legislation."

I thought the Tories prized British inventiveness?

Anyway there are many countries using rotten PR systems where the "losers" of elections - ie those who don't achieve the highest numbers of votes - can often end up as part of a coalition government, and where somebody can be a "loser" but still get elected on a top-up list. At least this form of "bi-cameral PR" wouldn't stop a single party forming a strong coherent government; it simply means that it would always face strong opposition, which is what we need.

Why do we pay a higher salary to the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the Commons, and give the opposition parties Short money to assist them in their task of opposing and if necessary obstructing the government? Because we know that we get better government when there's effective opposition.

There are many other advantages to a FPTP, SPTP system, eg that for the first time it would make a difference who came second in a "safe" seat, but one needs to be prepared to think about it, rather than dismiss it as something new.

Cllr John Gover

This idea enhances democracy. The problem is that most of the things it is suggested an elected upper chamber should do, the H o C should already be doing. The reason why it doesn't is that prime ministerial patronage, or the prospect of it, operates among the majority of MPs. My instinct is to go the whole hog and separate the executive from the legislature. That would of course create the need for an elected office, usually called president, to head up the executive but there is no reason why that office should prejudice the Queens position as Head of State.

Yet Another Anon

That would of course create the need for an elected office, usually called president
Israel has a system of directly electing Prime Ministers that it has had for a few years and has a seperate Head of State (The President).

Yet Another Anon

I should have thought it would be self-evident that if a government has a massive Commons majority there isn't enough opposition under the present system.
They would still have a massive majority and still have the power to push through legislation - Labour has never had an overall majority in the House of Lords, even now it is only the largest grouping in the Lords - rather more your argument would be an argument for capping majorities according to percentage of the vote that the first party had got based on some kind of line graph - if there was a First Chamber with about 200 seats and say one party got 40% of the vote and 150 seats then possibly 80 extra seats might be awarded to the opposition to balance it out, there might then be a lower point at which it was decided that no party had a majority - 35% of the vote perhaps? it could even award supplemental seats to the party with the most votes possibly meaning that what would have been a majority Labour government might end up a majority Conservative government because of supplemental seats, simply delaying legislation probably won't achieve much - even governments with small majorities if they are really determined can get unpopular measures through.

Denis Cooper

This is what can happen with a single chamber elected by PR.

"Redressing the balance of power in Holyrood requires bold innovation"

http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/letters.cfm?id=1232092006

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