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Posts tagged with: House of Lords

Whatever your thoughts on House of Lords reform, ‘the economy is more important’ is a lousy excuse

There are all kinds of legitimate positions about reform of the House of Lords. All elected, all appointed, some combination of both, even the abolishment of the house altogether.

But saying that the issue is not important is not a legitimate position.

The composition and format of one of the two chambers of a national legislature is an issue of major, long term importance, even if elections are not won or lost on the basis of it. A non-elected chamber would be considered abhorrent in almost any developed country and it’s high time the issue was examined.

The man on the street, to use David Davis’s line cited here, might rightly want the government to focus on job creation, but if the UK had a sensible and mature political culture there should be no problem working on both this and constitutional reform. Parliament should be capable of debating matters of constitutional importance and passing bills to sort out the economy. Further, it’s not as if there is a whole line of growth-generating bills just ready to be debated that are being blocked by Lords Reform – the government already has the austerity it wants.

Instead people like Davis and Bernard Jenkin, with the press complicit in their game, are happy to tie the issues together. Rather than opposing reform of the House of Lords on its merits, they instead aim to to kick the issue off the agenda by claiming something else is more important. It’s a disingenuous tactic.

6 days is all it takes to tear up an unwritten constitution

So we have a Tory-Lib Dem coalition. Masses has been written about all the pros and cons of this, and I may return to some more themes in a later post. But for the moment I want to focus on the constitutional reform issues that have been thrown up over these last 6 days.

Yesterday night it looked like all the coalition deal would entail would be a referendum on AV to replace First Past the Post. AV is not proportional (see this for an explanation), so I shrugged and groaned, and feared the Lib Dems had sold out. Then this morning on The Guardian’s live blog:

9.57am: The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg says that the Conservatives have given the Lib Dems proportional representation … in the House of Lords.

There will be an elected second chamber, voted in using proportional representation, according to Kuenssberg. If correct, that’s another Tory compromise that might not go down well with a number of backbenchers.

This news however does not feature on the BBC’s list of constitutional changes in the coalition deal.

PR in the House of Lords makes things very interesting and – above and beyond the voting system – would fundamentally change the balance of power between the House of Lords and House of Commons. The Parliament Act would cease to work as it does currently as an elected Lords would have gained considerably in terms of legitimacy. An AV-elected Commons and a PR elected Lords would almost certainly create some kind of perennial power sharing arrangement, and a complicated (although welcome) new balance of power between the two chambers.

This sort of issue is at the very heart of any country’s constitutional arrangements and yet, it seems, a deal has been struck on this in a matter of 6 short days. Remarkable (if, of course, it proves to be true).

[UPDATE at 1828]
This is the text of the coalition deal:

We agree to establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with draft motions by December 2010. It is likely that this bill will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely there will be a grandfathering system for current peers. In the interim, lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.

The long non-renewable terms part is interesting, hence electing 1/3 of the Lords each time, and for 15 year terms or something like that. Could be interesting.

Mandelson cannot resign a life peerage (even if Prentis and Dizzy want him to)

MandelsonA post at Dizzy Thinks caught my eye. Gordon Prentice MP, never one to beat about the bush – has said stated this in a Commons motion:

That this House believes that individuals who are given peerages to enable them to serve as Ministers in the House of Lords should relinquish the peerage on leaving the Government.

Sorry Dizzy and Gordon but while your point could perhaps be correct from an ethical point of view, it’s not right from a legal point of view, for it’s only possible to resign a hereditary peerage – as pioneered by Tony Benn.

Baroness Sarah Ludford, a Lib Dem life peer, is also a member of the European Parliament. From 2009 onwards the EP has a rule that its members cannot also sit simulataneously in national parliaments. So Ludford wanted to leave the House of Lords, but could not resign a life peerage. Hence the The European Parliament (House of Lords Disqualification) Regulations 2008 to withdraw the peerage. Now I’m not sure that’s quite what Prentice was advocating… This issue was also highlighted when I raised the issue of whether Baroness Ashton’s peerage was compatible with the job as a member of the European Commission.

Anyway, what’s the main issue behind all of these technicalities? Essentially Prime Ministers need the opportunity to bring people into government from outside the House of Commons. The way to do this has been to make them life peers in the House of Lords. Wouldn’t it just be easier to appoint people to government, and allow them to be questioned by either house, but not have to make them Parliamentarians? Most other European countries organise their government that way – I would be happy to see that happen, and hence Prentice’s question would cease to be an issue.