Wednesday, 18 May 2011

A closer look at the draft House of Lords Reform Bill

Since I blogged earlier about the draft House of Lord Reform Bill I've decided to look further into it.

First of all is what was said in the programme for government:

"We will 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 a draft motion by December 2010. It is likely that this will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers."

The committee met 7 times from June to December, reached agreement on a large number of issues, but differences in opinion remain on the size of the elected element and the type of electoral system.

So it is those two differences which may seem minor but are quite major as far as laying out primary legislation goes. The draft Bill is laying out that 80% of the second chamber be elected (this is in line with Conservative thinking) but leaves open the scrutiny of an 100% elected chamber in line with the coalition agreement (and indeed the Liberal Democrat manifesto). The system used for elected that system is laid out as Single Transferable Vote (in line with Lib Dem manifesto) but allows for scrutiny of other electoral systems such as a open list system (which the Conservatives and indeed Labour may well prefer).

The electoral system dilemma

 Looking at the electoral system first. STV electing multiple members in a constituency allows the people to choose on their preferences by their own preferences. Bearing in mind that some of the people who prefer the open list system said that they thought AV was a complex system, clearly don't understand how much more complex the open list is.

AV has one quota, 50% of the valid votes in whichever round you are in. There are two quotas in the open list. The first is the quota for acquiring a seat in that constituency. This will determine how many quotas and therefore seats are gained by each party.

The second is the quota within the list, this is first ranked by the party, but then there is a quota for the number of first preferences within that list. Any candidate who personally gains that number of preferences will be elected. If the number of seats are not filled then the empty seats will be filled by order on the list.

Let's say that this party secures 5,000 votes, the quota is 1,000 vote so therefore they secure 5 seats. Say the requirement for being elected off the list is 25% of a quota or else 25 votes.

  • Candidate #1 3,500
  • Candidate #2 65
  • Candidate #3 75
  • Candidate #4 450
  • Candidate #5 175
  • Candidate #6 200
  • Candidate #7 350
  • Candidate #8 35
Candidates 1,4 and 7 are elected from the list. Candidates 6 and 5 have the next highest first preferences but because they FAILED to  reach the quota it is back to the ordering of the list. Therefore candidates 2 and 3 fill up the remaining seats.

Therefore if the open list system is adopted at the behest of the people who told you AV would let losers into Westminster via a too complex system you will see just what hypocrites they are. STV is the system that like AV leaves the real, indeed only power, in the hands of the voters. Even bigger losers could get elected under an open list system, someone might actually hypothetically get no votes on the open list yet because of their placing by the party still get elected.

The size of the elected element

The number is set at 300 members (plus instead of 26 just 12 ex officio Lords Spiritual). However, whether that 300 is fully elected of just 240 of them are is an important issue. If the latter there are 20 seats that are up for appointment by the Prime Minister at the time of each election (bear in mind both the election to the 'Lords' and the Commons will be occuring at the same time). It may not sound like much until you think if one party wins each of the three elections that make up the terms. They would have, persumably a majority of the elected 2nd chamber and then have the appointments as well. It could well give the push over the 50% majority of seats in the second chamber, those extra 60 seats, that would be harder to achieve under a purely proportional system without any remaining appointments.

It is clear therefore that both the systems preferred by the Conservatives are actually the parties trying once again to grasp and retain as much power as they think they can get away with. Appearing to be progressive at one hand but giving themselves just enough retention of control to get who they want into the 2nd chamber.

Complementing the House of Commons

There is a section in the draft bill that talk about the second chamber complimenting the House of Commons, still deemed to be the primary chamber that the second chamber.

It says:

  • A long term for members of three normal Parliaments;
  • A single non-renewable term;
  • An appointed element (in an 80% elected House of Lords)
  • A different voting system for elections to the reformed House of Lords from that used for elections to the House of Commons.
Whoa!! I've just spotted something. That final phrase in a bill that comes to life after the AV referendum for the House of Commons. Remember the No 2 AV team tried to persuade some people, like the Unionist Parties here or some PR supporters that if they vote no to AV they are saying yes to PR. This Bill would seem to rule out the same sort of PR at any point in the future for the two houses.

This means that if we get STV for the second chamber you can wave that goodbye for the Commons. That is not what the Lib Dems, Alliance, SDLP, Sinn Féin or certain Unionist parties stood for in the Westminster elections. Nor is it why those parties supported the AV referendum. Failed though it may have been they have all said they will carry on the fight for reform.

More thoughts to come perhaps

There are 174 pages of the proposed Bill, but just are just some of my initial thoughts....for now.


  1. Ah... it's a brave man who ventures into draft bills of an evening - haven't you got a life :-p

    I like your points on the Open List system. I have, though, less of an issue with a mainly elected house if the appointees are providing expert and non-party political opinion. My understanding was that the intention was for the appointed element to be crossbenchers - does the bill cover the process of appointment?

    An alternative solution (not without other issues is to make appointed members (and the bishops) non-voting so that their expertese could be contributed but the deomocratic process left to elected members.

    As for the latter point, I see your concern but surely any future move to STV for the Commons would be able to repeal this section - even if it would provide opponents of such a move with an arguement against.

  2. The draft Bill does say that the appointees to be 'non-party political' (page 18) having been scrutinised by an appointments committee.

    The HOLAC will make recommendations on merit and against set criteria which include personal qualities of integrity, independence and the highest standards of public life. The appointed members would bring a non-party political perspective to the work carried out by the reformed House of Lords.

    However, some of these 'neutrals' since 2001 have not been as neutral as they appeared to be.

    As I said the Lord's spiritual do appear to be ex offficio which would imply speaking but no voting rights. But I haven't seen this clearly laid out in a quick overview of the draft Bill itself.

    On the subject of the different electoral systems, this is laid out in the summary and expalanation, on a quick read I do not see a provision for this in the primary legislation as drafted. May give it a more thorough read in the morning.

    As I said above these are just early thoughts and there may be further investigation.