Wednesday, 18 May 2011

It's only taken a century but we're getting to Elect the Lords

For a number of years on 10 August many bloggers, including myself, have remember the 1911 Parliament Act which stated:

"it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation."

Well it hasn't been immediate but  yesterday there was progress in a draft House of Lords Reform Bill which says:

  • a reformed House with 300 members, each eligible for a single term of three parliaments
  • elections using the single transferable vote (STV), electing a third of members each time with elections normally taking place at the same time as General Elections
  • multi-member electoral districts, to be drawn up independently based on national and county boundaries
  • a continuation of the presence of Bishops of the Church of England in the House of Lords, reducing their number from 26 to 12
  • a transition staggered over the course of three electoral cyclesThe White Paper sets out three different options for the transition period and acknowledges that the case can be made for other proportional representation systems including the open list. The draft Bill and White Paper are clear the powers of the reformed House of Lords will remain the same, with it continuing to provide scrutiny and expertise, complementing the work of the Commons.
Apart from the retention of the Lords Spiritual (even at reduced numbers) this would appear to be a fully elected second chamber. The issue of their Lordship Spiritual is that they are not chosen by popularity but would be annointed appointedby some Bishop's Court no doubt, or at lest the 10 lesser places will be as I assume the two Archbishoprics of Canterbury and York would lay claim to two seats.

The Government yesterday stated that

"The draft Bill sets out firm proposals, while the White Paper considers alternative options on which the Government remains open-minded.

"The Government is committed to a wholly or mainly elected chamber and both options are reflected in what is published today.

"The draft Bill illustrates how a reformed House of Lords with 80 per cent of elected members could look, with the remaining 20 per cent appointed independently to sit as cross-benchers. Alongside this, the White Paper sets out the case for a 100 per cent elected chamber."

The 80 per cent figure mentioned is a pandering to the Conservatives who unlike Labour or the Lib Dems only promised a "mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords". I'm hoping that the other two main parties with otther of the smaller parties will join forces to ensure that the 100% figure is succcessful.

The three term limit, and the election largely at the same time with the genreal elections means that there will be a 15 year limit on their Lordships, or whatever they may be called, sitting in the Upper Chamber. Electing in thirds by STV will ensure that this chamber should always manage to be a chamber with no overall control and therefor maintain its legislative reforming role that it currently does without hyperinflation of the number of members.

It may have taken a hundred years, hopefully it won't be another hundred years before this substitution is madee. It should be complete within 14 years time. The will of this government must now be to get this change through both Houses so that the reform we have long be waiting for will come about.

The one downside is that here we will have Tories saying that is ok to elect one third of the members of the Houses of Parliament by a proportional system, one which isn't first past the post, just shortly after they were saying that the Alternative Vote was an unBritish way to do things.

If a Lord were to pass away, how would they be replaced, would there be a by-election in that constituency? If there were an STV seat by-election for a single position that is actually an Alternative Vote election, much like we currently have for by-elections for the 'hereditary' positions in the Lords.

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