Reformers demand no more appointments to Lords

There is precious time left before Parliament is dissolved to debate these plans. We are now in a situation where all parties are agreed on the need for reform.

Guy Aitchison is editor of the Power2010 website and blogger at openDemocracy

In an interview with the Guardian on Monday justice secretary Jack Straw went some of the way to answering the three questions I posed in a post for Left Foot Forward on Labour’s plans for an elected senate of 300 members to replace the Lords.

The full proposals are yet to be released as apparently there’s an internal battle within the Cabinet between those who favour a fully-elected chamber and want to unveil the government’s proposals now and a brigade of “80%ers” and status quo supporters led by Lord Mandelson who want to delay.

But we learn from Mr Straw that Labour is considering:

• An open-list form of PR where voters choose which candidates they want to support rather than parties ranking the candidates;

Terms of three parliaments alongside a recall system so members don’t “just go off to some island and draw the money”; and

• Elections to the new chamber to be staggered over three parliaments so that potentially a decision on whether or not to go for a fully-elected chamber can be delayed until after two elections have been held.

There is precious time left before Parliament is dissolved to debate these plans but they are likely to feature in the Labour manifesto. We are now in a situation where all parties are agreed on the need for an elected chamber. The Conservatives are committed to a predominantly elected one (though David Cameron has privately declared it a “third-term issue”) and the Liberal Democrats favour one that is wholly elected.

I think there are two tacks reformers should take:

1. Push to make sure parties don’t control a reformed second chamber

In any discussion of reform of the Lords one thing that always comes up is that people do not want to see another chamber of professional politicians and party hacks. The vast majority want the chamber to be elected and accountable but they also want it to retain as much as possible the independence and diversity of the Lords and avoid replicating the craven and party-dominated House of Commons.

The parties, of course, will take a different view and will seek to extend their influence. We should therefore think hard about how to stop this from happening. It is encouraging to see that Open List PR is being considered for elections, but this should go further still. As Stuart Weir, founder of Charter 88, commented on my post:

“Surely STV should be a serious option as well as Open List PR; secondly, the system for allocating seats ought not to be D’Hondt, which favours big parties (and Straw chose this system for the Euro-elections) but the more pluralist Sainte-Lague; and thirdly, there are significant differences in Open List PR which could make the elections more or less voter-friendly.

We need to advocate strong right of recall and the appropriate voting system to ensure members are accountable to us and not party managers.

2. Call an immediate halt to all new appointments to the Lords

This is the demand of Power2010’s “No more Lords” campaign launched today. Campaign director Pam Giddy sets out why we are making this demand over at Comment is Free – and Alex Smith has a great post on it over at LabourList. Really, this should be the test of sincerity for party leaders. They all like to talk about “cleaning up politics”, but how credible is that when at the same time they draw up lists of pals and party flunkies to stuff in the Lords who will expect to live out their retirements in the chamber or receive “compensation” whilst blocking any kind of reform?

Mr Cameron, you can be sure, has a list of those who will be joining his tax-dodging deputy chairman Lord Aschcroft; and although Stephen “cab for hire” Byers and fellow former ministers Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt won’t now be ennobled following lobbygate, the bar has already been set pretty low for Labour MPs given Michael Martin’s peerage. Even the Lib Dems aren’t exempt with their ermine-clad legislators outnumbering their elected ones.

That is why Power2010 is sending an open letter to Messieurs Brown, Cameron and Clegg asking them to commit to No more Lords! You can co-sign it here:

It is time for party leaders to show they are serious about cleaning up politics; they should start by halting this corrupt practice.

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