Tuesday, July 22, 2008

House of Lords reform: a non-baron writes

Oh no, I'm not bitter about the fact that, had the positions been reversed, Ros would have become a Lady.

Actually, I'm not. It does seem a bit quirky, but signing off letters from HM Revenue & Customs, "Yours faithfully, Baron Valladares of Needham Market", might, I fear, give people the wrong impression about our new and dynamic UK tax administration.

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On the other hand, I do have a view about the Ministry of Justice's new publication, "The Governance of Britain - An Elected Second Chamber: Further reform of the House of Lords", one of the most vacuous documents ever published, even by the standards of this government. Eleven years in power, a clear mandate for reform, and you sense that any radicalism that might have been left is now utterly dissipated.

So, let's see what their conclusions are...

3.6 The reformed second chamber should take account of the prevailing political view amongst the electorate, but also provide opportunities for independent and minority views to be represented.

Hmm... if we rewrite it in the negative... The reformed second chamber need not reflect the view of voters... alright, entirely motherhood and apple pie so far...

4.30 The Government would welcome views on the size of the second chamber.

Pardon me? Isn't this a White Paper? What do you mean, you don't know? For God's sake, you're the government, you've got a majority. So use it!

4.41 There was strong consensus in the Cross-Party Group for, and the Government proposes that there should be, direct elections to the second chamber.

Hallelujah, at least most of the hereditaries didn't die in vain...

4.80 The Government believes that further consideration should be given to the following voting systems options for elections to the second chamber:
  • a First Past the Post system;

  • an Alternative Vote system;

  • a Single Transferable Vote system; or

  • an open or semi-open list system.
As opposed to naked arm-wrestling, synchronised bungy-jumping or a silly walk competition. Actually, I know, we could do it as a political version of Jeux San Frontieres, where candidates could dress up as penguins and try and fill buckets with water coming from a tap eight feet off of the ground whilst standing on a greased turntable. It would certainly keep costs down...

4.87 The Government believes that there should be a process to fill vacancies and would welcome views on what those arrangements should be.

Bless, isn't it wonderful that they believe that voters shouldn't go without representation...

From there on in, the document is a morass of entirely reasonable, if mechanistic, set of proposals, most of which are unlikely to offend particularly.

The question of what happens to those Life Peers already elevated to the second chamber is addressed by means of a series of options. There is a moral dimension to this, in that these individuals have been sent there for life. You could argue that a contract has been entered into but, given that the average age of members of the House of Lords is sixty-eight, the actuarial bottom line is that death will take care of the problem in comparatively short order. That, and a modestly generous redundancy package, would probably satisfy the contractual obligation, and ensure that a reformed second chamber would be mostly elected by 2020.

For psephology geeks out there, Annex 2 considers what the make up of a reformed second chamber might be based on the results of the 2005 General Election. Putting aside the fact that, if current opinion polls are correct, the tables serve no useful purpose whatsoever, they do indicate that any proposal that calls for first past the post or alternative vote should be actively opposed by anyone other than Conservative or Labour supporters.

The Annex also indicates how the reformed second chamber would have looked after each election since 1974, and shows how we have advanced as a party since then.

And so, what are the prospects for House of Lords reform? Labour consider this to be an issue for their next term. The Conservatives view - something for a third term. On that basis, I expect to be married to a member of the House of Lords for some time to come...


Richard Gadsden said...

I thought you were the Hon. Mark Scott now, if you wanted to be?

Jennie Rigg said...

BLARGH! No to a directly elected House of Lords. What's the point in having two directly elected chambers?

By all means tweak the appointment system, but the whole value of the House of Lords is that they are not terrified of the electorate.


More Liberal than Democrat, me.

Unknown said...

I agree with jennie

Anonymous said...

I also agree with Jennie.

The problem with the House of Lords is that the only thing anyone (whose not that interested in politics) knows, is that its unelected.

Currently the House of Lords acts as the perfect opposite for the House of Commons, doing the work that the Commons doesnt want or does similar work, but in such a way that it complimients the elected chamber rather than take away from what the elected chamber (and i use this word loosely) 'achieves'

keeping the house of lords as it is now is the better option - believe me i know, having studies this for my dissertation, ive seen the alternatives and they're nothing to shout about!