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Comments

aristeides

This is a genuinely innovative solution to a long term problem. It is also one of the first proposals regarding the House of Lords that addresses the democratic deficit problem whilst avoiding creating a mirror or stunted version of the House of Commons. I would certainly like to see it discussed at the next stage.

Chris Palmer

No changes are needed to the House of Lords, so therefore I do not agree with the proposals set out and I therefore vote against it.

NigelC

Worthy of further discussion

but when the author says most of us already get a vote at regional level I am unclear what he means - the regional assemblies in England are unelected. Was this a reference to Welsh and Scottish Assemblies?

aristeides

"No changes are needed to the House of Lords, so therefore I do not agree with the proposals set out and I therefore vote against it."

That's fine but have you thought that Gordon Brown might have other ideas when he enters 10 Downing Street? Unless Conservatives have valid proposals for the House of Lords, it will be very hard to fight whatever Labour next come up with, and come up with something they surely will...

James

Mark, this is the best solution I have heard. The problem with reforming the Lords is that the most idealistic solutions (like full elections) would require a complete overhaul of how Parliament works and would turn the Lords into just another Commons, and the most workable solutions (like full appointment in line with seats in the commons or votes received) make it an extension of the government or a block to a manifesto. This is sensible and democratic. A couple of questions though:
Are current peers the only candidates? If you can only be nominated if a peer, doesn't it still leave lots of patronage power? If not, what do we call the new upper house members?
Conflicts between councils and peers: we won Bexley on a landslide in May. Does that mean we sack the Labour peers and replace them all with Tories?

How will conflicts between the Houses be resolved? A US-style conference?

Mark Wallace

If we agree that HoL reform is needed, then it's a question of what source is appropriate for the members. Local Government does not seem very appropriate to me.

We know that people vote differently at different election levels- people may vote for a Lib Dem for council because they feel they are good locally, vote Tory for Parliament due to their national outlook and then vote UKIP for MEP because they want to leave the EU. Giving LAs power in choosing part of the legislature is going to make these judgements really weird. Are we willing to base our upper house on the footing of which party are best at getting the bins emptied?

Mark Wadsworth

Nigel C at 10.37.

Exactly, there is a right old mish-mash of regional stuff, for example Scotland, Wales, GLC and so on, only some areas are covered.

Jason O'Mahony

The Irish Senate is elected directly by county councillors, and it is awful. The Senate Elections are practically invisible, corrupt and completely policy free. It's so ridiculous that in 1992 the free market Progressive Democrats and the then Marxist Workers Party had a voting pact to ensure they'd both win seats!
Politicians electing other politicians is a lousy idea.

Denis Cooper

A better idea for a reformed second chamber than some which have been floated.

Eg, the Demos proposal that its members should be chosen by a national lottery may be initially attractive but would be unworkable in practice. At least using this method its members would only be there if they both actively wanted to be there, and had been through a process of democratic election to get there, and many of them would already be experienced in the complexities of legislation.

However, I'm not keen on indirect elections. I know we have that when councillors choose one or more of their number to sit on eg a local police authority, but here we would be indirectly electing people who would not just be helping to manage the police, but would be voting on every law which the police would be enforcing.

Nor am I keen on the idea that every candidate must get prior approval from the establishment through the conferment of a peerage. Ideally the system of election should be such that any citizen, with or without a peerage, can present himself to his fellow citizens and ask them to choose him as their representative.

disillusioned activist

WS Gilbert in 'Iolanthe' had the answer...competetive examination

Londoner

I agree with the poster that no change is needed - I like the present position of around 90 hereditaries remaining, and have no problem with the rest being life peers and Bishops. But I also accept that political expediency means the Party has to come up with something.

Therefore I would have no great issue if, say, 20% of the House of Lords were nominated by local authorities. I think a smaller proportion of MEPs would also be helpful. I would combine this with entrenching the 90 hereditaries with their election (by the House itself) on a rolling basis rather than just replacing those who die as at present.

Finally, I would have 20 members determined by lottery from anyone who put in - 2 places a year for terms of 10 years. To ensure people have experience of life, but are not too ancient, you'd have to be over 45 and under 70 on election. Your place would be recyled if you did not attend a reasonable proportion of the time. Anyone who had previously been a member of either House would be ineligible.

I therefore cannot support this "mono" proposal - we need a polyglot House.

TaxCutter

The method of selecting members is better than the current method which gives the PM too much power. However, the EU Commission is nominated by directly elected governments, and that's hardly a model of either probity or competence.

"Nominations will not always be along party lines" - are you serious?

Nothing beats giving the voters a direct say on who governs them.

Simon Chapman

Any credible reform of the second chamber must involve increasing direct democratic accountability. This fails that simple test. As far as I can see, this proposal would turn the House of Lords into a larger version of the regional assemblies that the party is pledged to abolish.

Mark has come up with some ingenious thinking, and is to be congratulated. But we mustn't let this into a serious policy review.

Peter Coe

I agree with the broad thrust of Mark's proposal, but would make some slight changes: I prefer an idea based more on the US Senate, but one which enshrines the (seemingly forgotten) fact that Britain is a country of shires, not regions.

Hence, my variation would be that all shires regardless of size elect two or three representatives, one elected every two years.

I do believe that local government should have a louder voice at a national level; maybe a criterion for being elected to the upper house would be a period of service as a councillor?

But I'd like to see a serious debate on whether we actually need an upper house; wouldn't it be better to separate the executive from the House and give the House a far, far more aggressive scrutiny/legislative role.

Mark Wadsworth

If I may respond to the comments so far:

Some of the opponents say that the reform is not radical enough, that they would prefer direct elections. This idea has already been proposed, I get the impression that MPs oppose it, as they would then have to share power with HoL. Further, this does nothing to strengthen local authorities; my suggestion was as much about devolving more power as it was HL reform.

Some say that it is too radical, perhaps Londoner is right and only 20% of HL members should be local authority nominees.

It was all a question of an incremental reform that deals with what I perceive to be a huge democratic deficit and concetration of power in the Cabinet. This as intended as "A small step for the constitution, a giant leap for democracy!"

James 10.38 and Mark Wallace 10.40, for the time being, existing life and hereditary peers would be the only candidates, we can then let the system bed in and review this again in a few decades. Of course there will still be patronage, but not concentrated in the PM's hands.

As to Bexley, I suggest that after each council election a new set of nominees is chosen. If Bexley is 100% Tory, then the new councillors can indeed sack all peers appointed by the previous council and start again.

James O'Mahoney 11.22, there are now calls for the Irish Senate to be elected directly, fine. But moving HL appointments straight to this system is too radical. Maybe in time, the system will be changed so that when you vote at your local election you can choose from a list of peers as well; maybe in time, ANYBODY, not just life or hereditary peers will be able to add themselves to the local list (Denis Coooper 11.37); but surely such non-peers can always stand as an MP if they so wish?

Simon Chapman 1.31, Regional assemblies would be completely superfluous of course (except like the GLC where there was a referendum in favour). The question of whether we need an upper chamber at all is beyond the scope of this suggestion!

Denis Cooper

I believe the choice is between:

a) A Parliament with a single chamber elected by proportional representation; or

b) A Parliament with a first chamber elected by first past the post, and a second chamber to act as some kind of a check on the "elected dictatorship" which will normally result from that electoral system.

I don't believe that a single chamber elected by first past the post is acceptable as the supreme legislative body of a democratic sovereign state.

However this is not my preferred way to constitute the second chamber.

Opinicus

I agree that it is a bad idea to have a second house nominated by other politicians. Local government is shady enough already without this further carrot for people to sell their souls.
Why do we need a second house at all. If politicians in the Commons did their job properly the first time it should not be necessary to do it twice. However it is constructed, the fundamental problem of a second chamber remains. In practice, either a second chamber has the same political majority as the first in which case it is irrelevant or it has the opposite majority in which case it is a recipe for sordid backstairs politicking and pork barrelling whilst any decent, important but contentious legislation never gets enacted.

Abolish the House of Lords, turn the Commons into the English Parliament and have a UK Parliament (with seconded representatives from the four national parliaments) meet in the Lords chamber two days a week to discuss UK legislation.

Savings - all the peers expenses, all the salaries of the current celtic MPs, most of the admin costs of the Lords, halving the time and expense of producing UK legislation.

Mark Wadsworth

Jonathan - there is already a huge amount of pork barrelling, because central government funds pet projects in the areas controlled by the of government. Allowing local councils to divvy up the Formula Grant between themselves is more likely to lead to a fairer allocation.

Yes, there will be shady deals - but under the present system, you can buy a life peerage off Tony Blair for a million quid and then not bother turning up to the HL. If party X controls one council and sells off its HL places to the highest bidders (as will no doubt happen in some cases), then at the next local election Party Y will be able to use this in its own manifesto, telling local voters what Party X's peers attendance and voting record is. At least that way people will be able to get rid of Party X's candidates and so on. Under the present system we are stuck with whomever Tony Blair appoints.

Either way, it's got to be better than the current system. The idea of scrapping the whole thing and having a single chamber elected by PR is hugely appealing, but I don't think it's a realistic prospect in the medium term.

Look at it this way, if HL were appointed in the way I suggest, would anybody suggest going back to a system based on patronage and party donations alone? I think not. If, in a few decades time people say (as in Ireland) that there should be a popular vote, then fine. And if a few decades later people day, what's the point in having two chambers, let's just have one, well that's fine by me as well.

Mark Wadsworth

Jonathan - there is already a huge amount of pork barrelling, because central government funds pet projects in the areas controlled by the of government. Allowing local councils to divvy up the Formula Grant between themselves is more likely to lead to a fairer allocation.

Yes, there will be shady deals - but under the present system, you can buy a life peerage off Tony Blair for a million quid and then not bother turning up to the HL. If party X controls one council and sells off its HL places to the highest bidders (as will no doubt happen in some cases), then at the next local election Party Y will be able to use this in its own manifesto, telling local voters what Party X's peers attendance and voting record is. At least that way people will be able to get rid of Party X's candidates and so on. Under the present system we are stuck with whomever Tony Blair appoints.

Either way, it's got to be better than the current system. The idea of scrapping the whole thing and having a single chamber elected by PR is hugely appealing, but I don't think it's a realistic prospect in the medium term.

Look at it this way, if HL were appointed in the way I suggest, would anybody suggest going back to a system based on patronage and party donations alone? I think not. If, in a few decades time people say (as in Ireland) that there should be a popular vote, then fine. And if a few decades later people day, what's the point in having two chambers, let's just have one, well that's fine by me as well.

Matt Wright

Sorry, I think this is another mish-mash driven by the false "democratic deficit" urge. The second chamber should be different from the primary chamber so as to provide a proper check and balance. This should mean it is not elected at all. I would prefer a system whereby a list of wise men and women (those that have proven themselves in various walks of life) is compiled subject to the agreement of those individuals to be on the list. Then the members of the HoL would be chosen at random from that list. Their term of office should be at least twice that of Parlaiment so as to preclude short termism,

Matt

TomTom

Super ! My local council is not representative of anyone yet has membership on EU Regional Committees and all sorts of quangoes and RDAs and now should be able to create Super Alderman for The House of Lords..................

I would much rather keep it away from political parties altogether and repeal the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 and use the EU constituencies to elect multi-member Senators

Denis Cooper

There's no reason why we should elect members of the second chamber on the basis of regional constituencies set up for the convenience of the EU. But if we did, we would probably end up with members who were as disconnected from their constituents as the present MEPs.

I would prefer to:

a) Retain the same balance of formal powers between the first and second chambers as now. Or perhaps revert to the 1911 Act to enable the second chamber to delay legislation for longer, but not to completely veto it.

b) Elect the first chamber by first past the post in single member, relatively small geographical constituencies, as now. So keeping the local connection between the electors and their representative in the dominant chamber of the legislature.

c) Constitute the second chamber by giving a seat to each candidate who came second in their constituency in the parliamentary elections, each elector still having only one vote to cast, so creating the same local connection between a member of the second chamber and his constituents.

The result would be:

a) A fully, democratically and directly elected second chamber which would always have a majority of its members who did not belong to the party with a majority in the first chamber - either they would belong to other parties, or they would have been elected as independents. The government would therefore have to argue the case for its legislation, rather than ramming it through using a whipped majority in both chambers.

b) The political composition of the second chamber would tend to be more diverse, as a candidate would only have to come second in a constituency to gain a seat thus making it easier for small and/or new parties and independents to get a foot in the door of the legislature. Peers of the realm would be eligible to stand for election, and if they chose could stand in constituencies where they were very unlikely to come first but had a good chance of coming second.

c) Taking the two chambers together, the number of elected representatives belonging to each party would broadly reflect the total number of votes received by candidates standing for that party across the country - a new "bi-cameral" form of proportional representation without the various disadvantages inherent in the conventional systems of proportional representation.

d) In every constituency the member elected to the first chamber - the MP - would potentially face constant local opposition and competition from the member elected to the second chamber - the Second Member of Parliament, or SMP - who would normally aspire to take his place in the dominant chamber. There would no longer be towns where the MP and almost all of the local councillors were from the same party, and by supporting each other were able to insulate themselves from effective criticism, because that town would now also have an SMP of a different party on the scene.

e) Both members would become experienced in the complexities of legislation. If there was a major change in political climate followed by a 1997-style change of government at the next election, many of the new MPs would have already gained considerable parliamentary and/or shadow ministerial experience as SMPs. In the same way, many of the new SMPs would have just been "demoted" from being MPs, and would have the experience to form an effective opposition in the second chamber.

f) The two members for a constituency could share the burden of constituency "social work", and if one let down a constituent there would be the other one to turn to. By taking better care of their constituents some SMPs would work their way up to becoming the MP at the next election, even if there was no general political swing across the country.

g) There would be an increased interest in elections, because it would matter who came second. This would be especially important in "safe" seats where the result is now taken for granted.

Geoff

An ideal solution would be a second chamber selected entirely by random with no overall party domination and with many members not taking a Whip. Lack of a predefined career path would mean the role would be done out of social responsibilty and a feeling of moral obligation rather than a salary.

We could just pay them expenses and an attendance allowance to eliminate any perceived financial gain and undue influence.

The best way to get a truly random selection could be by quirk of birth and we could pass the job on automatically from parent to child to ensure complete independence from Government pressure.

Ah.

Abolish Life Peers. Get all of the hereditaries back. Not politically sellable? Of course it't not. But neither is cutting a single Civil Service job or new nuclear power stations, it seems.

It doesn't stop both of those things being good ideas.

The hangup we have nowadays is still wanting to hang on to the title of the HoL as an institution and the prediliction of failed politicians dreaming of one day wearing the ermine. (Lord Prescott of BarStewardLand? Kinnock? Urgh!). If we must reform in a touchy-feely direction then abolish the whole lot and create a Senate or something.

It needs to be a radical 100% break with the past if a break is needed at all. Pussyfooting around the issue like this just delays progress.

aristeides

I see it's time for Dennis to roll out his House of Losers plan again! The House of Parliament that guarantees the Neil Hamiltons and Dave Nellists of the world permanent seats in the legislature.

ToMTom

In the absence of legislation to ban political parties - it would be good to keep them out of the Upper House.

As for EU Regions - they are smaller than most US states each of which only get 2 Senators...............but remember the US Constitution did not design The Senate to be representing voters - it was not elected until 1913.

It should be a criminal offence for local councillors to belong to any political party

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