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Robert Halfon MP: Proportional representation for the Lords would simply replace one form of patronage with another

Robert Halfon is the MP for Harlow.

I am open-minded about an elected House of Lords - though I think that the Second Chamber must be either wholly elected or wholly appointed.  Halfway houses never work, and a part-elected house will create a two tier class of Peer:  those who electioneer and have constituents to consider, and those who don't. Elected Peers will have a much greater increased workload to unelected and will ultimately have more legitimacy.

At present, Lords is primarily based on patronage and the scene of as an arms race by successive Governments.  When Tony Blair was elected, it was flooded with Labour Peers.  In order to redress the balance, the Prime Minister has appointed a significant number of Conservative MPs - although there is still a majority against the Tories, and even against the Coalition Government.  The Labour Party also has more Peers than the Conservatives.

Those who oppose an elected Lords cite the problem of two elected Chambers battling it out for supremacy. But this may not need be the case.  In the United States, the Senate and House of Representatives have to have a two-thirds majority to overturn the will of the President.  Moreover, there could be a new constitutional settlement, in which the powers of the Lords (as advisory) were clearly set out, guaranteeing the primacy of the House of Commons.  Existing elements of the Parliament Act could be used especially if a Bill starts in the Commons.

A wholly elected House of Lords seems to be a proper response to the more diffuse, open and democratic society which we have become.  But it would be completely wrong to elect the Lords on a proportional based electoral system.   The country has just voted overwhelmingly to retain our election system of First Past the Post  not just because of the rejection of AV, but of a common-sense view that FPTP is fair.

A partially elected Lords, elected by a variant or PR, would simply replace one form of political patronage with another, since party bosses would have an even greater say as to which party member would be on the List.  If there has to be a change in the election system - and as yet there has been no justification given - why not move to the Second Ballot System, in which FPTP is retained, but there is a second ballot a few days later for those areas in which a candidate did not get over 50%.

The second ballot would just have the top two candidates from the first.  This system is used successfully for the French Senate and in many other countries across Europe.  It is only a little more expensive than FPTP. It keeps the principles of FPTP, yet is more representative. In addition, representatives to the Lords should be based on the County system and big City districts, which would provide a better form of representation than our current huge and unwieldy MEP structure, based on vast regions.


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