Friday, 29 June 2012

The House of Lords Reform Bill

The House of Lords Reform Bill 2012-13 has now been published, together with the explanatory notes.

The first thing to note is that the Government has pulled back from any idea of using the Single Transferable Vote- outside of Northern Ireland- and we are stuck with the d'Hondt system that we know and love from European Parliament elections.

Also, the districts, as they are now called, are (with one minor exception) identical to the electoral regions we use for the European Parliament. South West England will not include Gibraltar for House of Lords elections.

If we project the May 2010 general election result onto the new House of Lords districts (assuming everyone votes the same way), we are left with:

  • Conservatives- 47
  • Labour- 41
  • Liberal Democrats- 27
  • Scottish National Party- 2
  • Sinn Fein- 1
  • Democratic Unionist Party- 1
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party- 1
  • Note those who don't make it- Plaid Cymru just fails to get Wales' sixth and final seat. The Greens and UK Independence Party don't get enough support to win any seats. And the d'Hondt system favours larger parties.

    If the Sainte-Lague system were used instead, there would be little difference- UKIP would gain a seat from the Conservatives in South East England, the Conservatives would gain a seat from Labour in Scotland, and Plaid Cymru would gain a seat from Labour in Wales. UKIP would also have near-misses in Eastern England and North West England, while the British National Party would come close to winning Yorkshire & Humberside's final seat.

    Of course, as the House of Lords doesn't support a Government in the strict sense (i.e. only a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons, with the exact wording outlined in the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 can actually bring down a sitting Government. Defeat in the House of Lords is just annoying). This could mean that as voters see the House of Lords more as a revising chamber, and as they see how the use of d'Hondt has given minor parties representation in the European Parliament, then voters could choose to vote differently for the House of Commons and House of Lords elections.

    As the House of Lords will be elected in thirds, if the proposed system were in force today, then there would still be members of the House of Lords elected in June 2001 and May 2005. The 2001 batch would be:

  • Labour- 53
  • Conservatives- 39
  • Liberal Democrats- 22
  • Scottish National Party- 2
  • Plaid Cymru- 1
  • Sinn Fein- 1
  • Democratic Unionist Party- 1
  • Ulster Unionist Party- 1
  • And from 2005:

  • Labour- 47
  • Conservatives- 42
  • Liberal Democrats- 25
  • Scottish National Party- 2
  • Plaid Cymru- 1
  • Sinn Fein- 1
  • Democratic Unionist Party- 1
  • Ulster Unionist Party- 1
  • The 2005 results show something interesting. At that election, the Conservatives won more votes in England than Labour did, but Labour had more English MPs. If there had been elections to the House of Lords, then in England, Labour would have won 1 more seat than the Conservatives despite having fewer votes. It is unreasonable for England to be a single district electing 101 members of the House of Lords, and once you start splitting a nation up into districts, then this introduces disproportionalities into the result.

    The total elected element would therefore be:

  • Labour- 141
  • Conservatives- 128
  • Liberal Democrats- 74
  • Scottish National Parry- 6
  • Sinn Fein- 3
  • Democratic Unionist Party- 3
  • Plaid Cymru- 2
  • Ulster Unionist Party- 2
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party- 1
  • That is 360 elected members of the House of Lords, out of what would be a total membership of up to 470. So, the Government would only have 202 members- an overall majority of the elected members, but only 43% of the total membership (assuming the House of Lords were at full capacity).

    To get an overall majority in the House of Lords, a Government would be looking at getting around two-thirds of the vote at three successive general elections.

    There is one interesting consequence of the longer terms that members of the House of Lords would serve- parties rise and fall, and we could be left with relics of dead, or nearly-dead, parties rattling around the red benches. Take the 2 UUP members of the House of Lords- well the UUP has been in decline for a decade or so, and elected 1 MP in 2005 and none in 2010. Would those UUP members of the House of Lords stay with the UUP, or switch to another party like the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, the DUP or the Northern Ireland Conservative Party, or just become an Independent?

    Maybe May 1997 would have seen a few Referendum Party members of the House of Lords elected, able to serve until 2010 (and being there when the then-Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, backtracked from his promise to hold a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon).

    June 1987 would have seen about 25 to 30 members elected under the Liberal/Social Democrat Alliance banner, before the bulk of the 2 parties merged to form the Liberal Democrats. So, it is possible that as the 21st century opened there would be elected Liberals and/or elected Social Democrats in the Palace of Westminster, refusing to touch the Liberal Democrats with a barge pole.

    There are other things to note about the elected members. Firstly, the list system is a semi-open one rather than the closed system used for the European Parliament (or to elect the additional members for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly or Greater London Assembly). In a closed list system, the party simply selects the order that candidates appear. So, if 2 members from a party are elected, then the top 2 on the list were those taking up the roles.

    The semi-open list gives you the option of casting a vote for an individual candidate within a party- but bear in mind this can simply go towards seeing the election of someone you don't like from that party. The Bill introduces the concept of a qualifying candidate from a party. If a party's candidate gets a personal vote of over 5% of the vote for that party (which includes the votes given for the party list and the personal votes for individual candidates within that party) then they are a qualifying candidate.

    If a party is entitled to seats in a district then they are first allocated to the qualifying candidates (if any) in order of personal vote. Then, if there are any seats to be filled for that party, the order of filling them is simply the remaining candidates in the order they were on the list the party drew up.

    Tbis could be used by smaller parties who choose to link lists. Consider parties A and B, neither of which has enough support to win a seat. If they were to form a joint list, then there would be endless arguments over which party had the top candidate. Under the semi-open system it would be simple- both the leading candidates from party A and B could call for personal votes for themselves, and it is likely that both be qualifying candidates. Then the first seat goes to whichever one of them got the most personal votes.

    The second thing to note is the long terms- 3 parliamentary terms. The Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 does set the time between general elections to the House of Commons as normally 5 years (there can be exceptions), so I will assume that the first elections to the House of Lords are May 2015 and then every 5 years from then on.

    Let's not beat around the bush. Not everyone elected in 2015 is going to still be around in 2030. Some may die, some may resign, some may be expelled for dodgy expenses claims. But there will be vacancies to be filled.

    And vacancies will be filled- unless there is less than 6 months to go to the next election and the person who died/resigned/was expelled was coming to the end of their 15 years.

    There are two types of replacement. The first is the temporary replacement who is the next person on the party list- if there is anyone left. If the list is finished, or the person who ceased to be a member was elected as an Independent, then it is worked out which party or Independent would have won the next seat and the post goes to them, e.g. in 2010 South East England would have elected 9 Conservatives, 4 Liberal Democrats and 3 Labour. If there had been a 17th seat, it would have gone to the Liberal Democrats. Hence, if a Conservative member died and there were still unelected candidates left on the Conservative list, then whoever was next would be the temporary replacement. If, however, there was no-one left, then the highest unelected candidate on the Liberal Democrat list would become the temporary replacement.

    The next is the replacement. Suppse that two of the members elected for South East England in 2015 don't even make it to 2020, let alone 2030. Then in 2020, we would elect 18 members, rather than the usual 16. The first 16 would serve till 2035, while the 17th and 18th serve till 2030. By the middle of the 21st century we would be in the situation of most being elected for 15 years, but some for 10 and 5 years as well.

    The third thing to note is that you cannot stand for the House of Commons and the House of Lords at the same election. It would be tempting for sitting MPs, seeing their party face electoral problems, and having a marginal seat, to take out the insurance policy of standing for the House of Lords and if re-elected as an MP choosing not to take the Lords seat. That option won't exist. We might see retiring MPs who have read the situation correctly standing for the House of Lords, but the days of MPs being kicked out by the voters and then popping up in ermine will be gone. Some speculation that the reform of the House of Lords will be tied in to the Parliamentary Voting System & Constituencies Act 2011 in that the new boundaries, reducing the House of Commons to 600 MPs have to be approved by the House of Commons before they can take effect, and with these boundary changes hitting the Liberal Democrats hard, it would be easy for them to vote with Labour to keep the current boundaries if the Conservatives don't help them get House of Lords reform through. Although I am sceptical- if the House of Lords remains like it is, then defeated Liberal Democrat MPs could end up as "working peers" in the House of Lords. Under the reform plans, sitting Liberal Democrat MPs have to decide whether to try to remain in the House of Commons or seek election to the House of Lords, with the best-of-both-worlds situation we have now being abolished.

    That's thr 360 elected ones. What about the others?

    The main bunch will be 90 Crossbenchers- the House of Lords Appointments Commission is put on a statutory footing and after each election will recommend 30 members of the House of Lords to serve 15 year terms.

    The next lot are the Church of England bishops. By the 1840s the Church of England (which included Wales) had 26 diocesan bishops (apart from the Bishop of Sodor & Man and the Bishop of Gibraltar) who sat in the House of Lords. The Bishopric of Manchester Act 1847, at the start of the increase in the number of dioceses, limited the number to 26, and the Bishoprics Act 1878 created the system whereby the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester- the bishops who hold a named office for the Bill's purposes- together with the 21 longest-serving diocesan bishops (from when they became diocesan bishops, not when they were consecrated) sit in the House of Lords. The Bill reduces this to the Archbishops, the named bishops and 7 other diocesan bishops.

    The Archbishops and the bishops who hold a named office would serve until leaving office. The other 7 would be chosen, somehow, by the Church of England, with the Secretary-General of the General Synod confirming who has been chosen.

    However, the other 7 may be chosen by the Church of England. The Church could, if it so wished, decide that only the Archbishops and the 3 Bishops holding named offices would serve in the House of Lords. Nothing to stop the other bishops approaching a political party and asking to go on its list of candidates for the House of Lords.

    The final set are up to 8 appointed members who serve for 10 to 15 years (e.g. one appointed between 2015 and 2020 would serve till 2030) and are chosen by the Prime Minister to be ministers. Tony Blair- despite portraying himself as a moderniser- was quite traditional when it came to ministers in the House of Lords. Ignoring the Leader of the House of Lords (who rarely holds a ministerial job, although Margaret Jay, who was Leader from July 1998 to June 2001, was Minister for Women at the time- the first Leader in a third of a century to hold a ministerial post) and the Lord Chancellor (who until June 2007 was a member of the House of Lords), Blair appointed the following members of the Lords as Cabinet ministers:

  • George Robertson (Aug- Oct 1999). This is a very unusual case- Robertson had been Defence Secretary since May 1997, but resigned as MP for Hamilton South in Aug 1999 to take up the post of NATO Secretary-General, and became a member of the House of Lords and remained in his Cabinet post for a few weeks.
  • Valerie Amos (May- Oct 2003)
  • Brown continued the pattern with:

  • Peter Mandelson (Oct 2008- May 2010)
  • Andrew Adonis (June 2009- May 2010).
  • In addition, the post of Attorney_General, normally just outside the Cabinet but attending Cabinet, often went to members of the House of Lords in the Blair/Brown years:

  • Gareth Williams (July 1999- June 2001)
  • Peter Goldsmith (June 2001- June 2007)
  • Patricia Scotland (June 2007- May 2010)
  • Even allowing for only these, consider the position Brown would have been in when he became Prime Minister. He would have inherited 6 ministerial members from the Blair era- Jay, Robertson, Amos, Goldsmith and the two previous Lord Chancellors (Derry Irvine and Charles Falconer)- and would only be allowed to appoint 2 more. And that's not including former Leaders of the House of Lords and people Blair appointed to the House of Lords as working peers to serve as Ministers of State and Under-Secretaries of State. Of course, it is possible that under the new system, people Blair appointed would have stood for the House of Lords in 1997 (with him using his influence to get them at the top of Labour party lists in their districts). But a Prime Minister can be sneaky and appoint enough ministerial members that after a fresh election and change of Government, there are no vacancies (if Blair chose not to appoint any between 1997 and 2005, he could have, in his last months in office, carried out a reshuffle and appointed 8 ministerial members to serve in his Cabinet, all of whom would remain in the House of Lords until 2020).

    I think this is the area where there will be changes. Take the Seanad Eireann which has 49 elected members (43 indirectly-elected and 6 elected by graduates) and 11 appointed by the Taoiseach until just after the next election, to help the Government get its business through.

    One principle in the House of Lords is that it is a revising chamber, and ultimately the Government should get its business through- however badly mangled it is at the end of the process, it should still be recongisable. The Irish 11:49 ratio of appointed to elected would turn into an 81:360 ratio when you take the elected members of the House of Lords. That neatly turns into 3 lots of 27.

    I guess this is where there will be movement as it goes through the legislative process. A larger number of ministerial members allowed to be appointed but only until the next election (renewable of course if they remain in the Government) to help the Government get its business through? Or follow the Canadian Senate system where the Prime Minister appoints members to serve till they are 75, with provincial balance restored each time (so, for example, an appointed Labour member for North East England retires and is replaced by an appointed Conservative or Liberal Democrat from North East England).

    The Bill makes progress towards a more democratic system, but needs some tweaks...