Lords Reform

Thanks to Sarah, who has usefully extracted some choice remarks from the Government’s new white paper on House of Lords “reform” and appended some italicised observations:

“Just as the limited role, powers and functions of the House of Lords do not require its members to be elected to confer legitimacy on it, so also a second chamber constituted on the same elected basis as the first chamber would be superfluous and dangerous.”

“… the representation of the political parties should reflect the votes cast in the preceding General Election…”

“First, the overall size of our proposed House is somewhat larger than that envisaged by the Royal Commission (600 members rather than the Commission’s 550) and it is proposed to be significantly larger still (around 750 members) at the beginning of the transitional period.”

“The Government proposes that the regional members should be identified through elections in multi-member constituencies, identical to those for the European Parliament. The electoral method will be one of regional lists.” Go on, copy the European Parliament. A surefire way to popularity. And a considerable choice with predetermined lists.

“The Government fully supports the Royal Commission’s belief in the value that non-politically aligned members of the Lords can bring to the Parliamentary process. They bring a different perspective and expertise from that of members with party political affiliations, which is particularly valuable to a second chamber with the revising, scrutinising and deliberative role of the Lords.” Hmm, is he saying party affiliation and technical expertise are incompatible?

“Leaders of other denominations and faiths have a significant contribution to make to the second chamber”. I have no doubt Tony would love to let ‘leaders of other faiths’ make their grievances felt in parliament right now!

“Any Government’s ability to manipulate the membership of the House will be eliminated.” Don’t quite see how this follows from having the Lords reflect the composition of the Commons and and therefore be suggested for appointment by the Government of the day. Will this be an Appointments Commission like the one that let through Jeffrey Archer?

I like the way that the only image in the web version of the White Paper is the photograph of Tony Blair, which accompanies his learned thoughts in the Foreword. One hundred and fifty MPs have now signed the early day motion in support of the “democratic principle that any revised Second Chamber of Parliament should be wholly or substantially elected.” Does anyone, by the way, think that Robin Cook, who has been talking up these reforms in the Commons, think they are a good idea? Or is he a long time past caring?

Stephen writes [8.11.2001]: Disgusted with the Government’s White Paper on Lords Reform? Sign up to Charter 88’s constitutional reform agenda. Like me, you may not agree with all of the specific proposals – but it’s a decent package from a fairly influential lobby group.

Chris replies [8.11.2001]: I’ve never signed Charter 88. I agree with almost all of their demands — except the one for a written constitution, about which I feel extremely ambivalent, but which seems to be the Charter’s most important element. It’s also strange to have a constitutional reform agenda which professes to be agnostic about the question of the monarchy. I know Charter 88 have always maintained a prudent policy of not having a policy, but it’s a very striking silence for a group that poses as a radical, democratic constitutional reform campaign. (And yes, I do think we can get rid of the monarchy without having to write a new constitution: we did it in 1649; we can do it again now.)

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