Nick Clegg has now outlined his proposals for reforming the Upper Chamber and has met the expected objections from all sides.
The crux of his ideas are that from 2015 the number of peers would be slashed from their current number of 792 down to 300, 80% of those remaining would be elected for 15 year terms and those elected would be chosen using the PR voting system of the single transferable vote (STV). A third of the Upper Chamber would be voted for at every general election, so smoothing out the process. Bishops will continue to sit.
All members of the Lords would continue to be deemed resident, ordinarily resident and domiciled (ROD) for tax purposes.
The problem for many is that with the large geographical areas that each peer would cover it would arguably give the elected peers more democratic legitimacy than MPs.
Then there is the length of time an elected peer would be in office. This is designed one presumes to allow some parliamentarians to take the long view as opposed to short term sound-bite politics. But it could lead to some peers holding far more power as they could obstruct and wait for a more favourable government.
Expertise in the Lords would also be jeopardised if voters were just offered a party based peer, as is almost sure to happen. They would just vote for a peer from the same party as their chosen MP. At present peers are appointed as experts in a field (or more likely as a thank you or a placeman).
But as Labour MP Frank Dobson asked, would it not be better to decide what we want the House of Lords to be and do before we start wholesale changes of this nature.
The Lords has evolved over time and is seen my many as a ‘revising’ chamber. But it has far more power than this and can start a bill as this parliament explanation shows. In fact the Commons would have to use the Parliament Act to force their wishes through if the Lords blocked them.
If what we want is a true revising chamber then first we need to define it as such and possibly remove its power to start a bill. That would reduce their legislative powers.
Second we need to ensure we get properly qualified experts into the Lords who can then make the law as decided by the Commons, but who are chosen by the people for their expertise, not their party politics.
The first can be easily achieved but the second is more problematic but still achievable.
At the moment democracy in the UK is still grounded in pure geography. That is to say you elect an MP, MEP, councillor and possibly soon a peer to cover an area of the country. Simple and sound up to a point.
But why this fixation with purely geographical constituencies? Why not have constituencies of expertise?
To prevent every voter being presented with the task of choosing a candidate for all 300 seats we could make this work to start with along the following lines.
All candidates to present themselves to the electorate as experts in their fields, not on party political grounds.
The country is split into 60 constituencies for peers by geography, with five peer’s posts up for grabs in each, with each post having a different responsibility. No-one can apply for more than one post. Bishops to also apply if they wish and be voted in.
Like this (areas of expertise for demonstration purposes only):
You could even rank them for PR voting purposes.
All candidates have to apply to an independent body, which then assesses their claims of expertise and, if acceptable, the candidate will be allowed to stand and also receive a set amount of centrally provided funds to fight their campaign, no political party to be allowed to fund or openly support a potential peer.
The 15 year term and one third elected every general election to apply, with all peers having the power to vote in all matters in their chamber but only ever serve one term.
Some may say that this is too complex for the average voter (like they said AV was), but you can’t ask people to involve themselves in politics then just give them one cross on a piece of paper every 5 years or so. Give them a chance to choose more people as a start.
There you have it, a revising chamber that takes the long view, has expert people that the electorate has chosen but who cannot challenge the democratic legitimacy of the Commons.
Should the UK now have a fully elected House of Lords? VOTE HERE!
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