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: //www.power2010.org.uk/page/s/secondchamber?source=third1

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

15 Responses to “Reformers demand no more appointments to Lords”

  1. GuyAitchison

    Post by me on Lords reform >> RT @leftfootfwd: Reformers demand no more appointments to Lords: //bit.ly/cR8Rdk

  2. Scott A J Reynolds

    RT @leftfootfwd: Reformers demand no more appointments to Lords: //bit.ly/cR8Rdk

  3. alexsmith1982

    Good to see @GuyAitcheson's post on No More Lords on @LeftFootFwd too //bit.ly/8ZI8S5

  4. Power2010

    RT @leftfootfwd: Reformers demand no more appointments to Lords: //bit.ly/cR8Rdk

  5. cim

    “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”

    These two aren’t really compatible, since D’Hondt List and STV give the same party-level results if all voters only express preferences for a single party’s candidates in the STV vote. So either Sainte-Lague List for smaller party advantage, or STV for greater voter flexibility, but you can’t really have both at once.

  6. Confused of Croydon

    I don’t know why we need a second chamber at all. Scotland seems to get by perfectly well without one.

  7. Jem Cope

    RT @leftfootfwd: Reformers demand no more appointments to Lords: //bit.ly/cR8Rdk

  8. George Gabriel

    RT @leftfootfwd: Reformers demand no more appointments to Lords: //bit.ly/cR8Rdk

  9. George Gabriel

    RT @leftfootfwd: Reformers demand no more appointments to Lords //bit.ly/cR8Rdk

  10. right foot

    I don’t think it makes any difference what any of the Labour party thinks anymore. You should have asked the Conservatives and Lib Dems!

  11. Mr. Sensible

    “ers should take:

    1. Push to make sure parties don’t control”

    Sorry Guy, but that is just not possible.

    If you bring in an elected second chamber, the upper house’s role is changed considerably from being a ‘revising Chamber’ to another Commons, effectively.

    This is why, although I see myself as a progressive I think we should retain the current system with the exception of removing the 92 remaining harreditaries.

    So, I do not agree with this idea, nor with replacing FPTP for Commons elections.

  12. Mr. Sensible

    Sorry, that quote should have been:
    “1. Push to make sure parties don’t control a reformed second chamber.”

    Hope the rest of the comment makes sense though!

  13. Richard Mitton

    If Mandelsohn wants a delay, push it forward.

  14. Spidergran

    Very useful start to a longish public debate on the issue. Party politics should absolutely be kept out of this chamber. Look how this structural bias shackles democratic progress in the States and the present Lords. There will be lobbying for sure but the set-up can be designed to make it more transparent than the present Gentleman’s Agreement Club. I also like the idea that ordinary voters will debate it, not powerful stakeholders in camera. We should also call an immediate halt to Lords appointments and disrobbing of dubious post-holders of the Ashcroft ilk. And any politican who uses whatever ruse to avoid working towards a decision soonest should be pilloried. The biggest barrier to change is finding a formula for selection/election. I wonder if there could be a combination: selecting candidates on the basis not of party membership but specialisms that include community activism/experience. Selections can be put to the people along with job description and candidate CV. Electioneering can be mostly conducted online but also draw on local library facilities and newsprint. Only problem is deciding who sits on the selection panel.

  15. John77

    Of course a ban on any new appointments would leave the balance frozen in the pro-New Labour mould that has been created to suit Blair and Brown, elected with 35% of the votes. So who thinks this promotes Democracy?
    If anyone on this “evidence-based” blog is interested in evidence, they should look at the record of the hereditary (either including or excluding the part-hereditary one prior to New Labour’s “reforms”) House of Lords which despite the *assumed* bias to the Conservatives rejected significantly more bills passed in the Commons by a Conservative government than by a Labour government (even on a per annum analysis).

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