Friday, July 15, 2011

House of Lords Reform: I'm only a little conflicted...

There are moments when your interests are contradictory. "I'm hungry," one might muse, "but I'm on a diet.", for example. In my case, it is, "I believe in reform of the House of Lords, but my wife is a baroness.".

That in itself is bad enough. However, I am a member of the Management Board of 'Unlock Democracy', an organisation which leads the campaign for Lords reform. And I have a secret - I'm not entirely convinced by the draft Bill. Set aside my personal interest for a moment though, as I take you through three of my concerns.

One fifteen year term 

In reality, combined with a disqualification period in which a former member of a revised House of Lords cannot run for a seat in the House of Commons, one fifteen year term rules out the elderly (would you vote to select someone unlikely to see out their term?), and anyone in their thirties (would you effectively put your career on hold to do it?). For the young, there is still time to go on and do something else, and for those in their late-forties onwards, a fifteen year term would see you pretty much through to your pension.

The Lords Spiritual

Why keep them? Their voting record is generally poor (the Bishop of Leicester, for example, who has been a Lord Spiritual since December 2003, has voted in just 0.67% of all divisions). They are less and less representative of the country's faith communities (what, no Roman Catholic?), and their continued membership distorts the stated aim of improving the balance between men and women in Parliament.

Timing of Elections

The intention of holding elections to the House of Lords at the same time as for the House of Commons means that the elections for the former, intended to be more reflective and analytical, will be overshadowed by the one with the power. Why not hold them at different times, perhaps elected new Lords two years after a General Election?

But why not read the draft Bill yourself, and see what you think?...

1 comment:

Caracatus said...

Absolutely agree Mark.
The problem is these proposals are based on the idea of ensuring the Lords are not more legitimate or representative than the House of Commons. Tuff though that is ! as the Commons is not very legitimate or representative.
You can see the problem straight away - a Lord elected every 5 years by STV with 500 members - who because of STV include many independent voices disagrees with the commons - a majority Govt. elected with 35% of the vote on a lower turnout. Which is more legitimate?
Having 80 or so people elected by STV in huge euro-sized constituencies makes it both cumbersome and less representative and less diverse.
Often the argument for an unelected element is that these marvellous people wouldn't put themselves forward for election and instead they would be replaced by party hacks. Let me leap first to the defence of some party hacks, who aren't all bad ! But also say, if these marvellous people stand for election, be they bishops, experts, ex-generals etc, all the people who want an unelected element of the Lords can vote for them, and under STV for a 500 (or even 300) seat Lords, many of them would get elected