Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘House of Lords reform’

Simon Hughes on House of Lords Reform

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 7th November, 2011

It’s a hundred years since the last serious attempt to reform Britain’s anachronistc Second Chamber was made, by the then Liberal government. And some of us who believe passionately in constitutional reform sometimes wonder if it will be another hundred before a further major step forward is made. This is despite the fact that all three main parties at the last general election pledged in their manifestos to transform the Lords by making it a wholly or mainly elected institution — and one with fewer members than at present. The Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader, Simon Hughes MP, shared his optimism with the Gladstone Club at the National Liberal Club this vening by saying we might expect the Coalition government to put forward concrete proposals in 2013 or 2014. The matter of course falls within the brief of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, which is maybe unfortunate given the AV referendum failure and lingering public anger about tuition fees. It is essential, as Simon said tonight, that NGOs, pressure groups and even the media take ownership of this overdue reform. He is personally not enamoured of the idea of a list system PR election, though I think that might be the best way forward for electing the 80% of Senators that is widely being touted — an open list system, of course, in which voters, not just the party, would state their preference among candidates on the list. It also makes sense that the Senators should be elected from the recognised European regions in the UK, of which London would be one. Simon spoke of 15-year terms, with one third of the Senators being elected at the same time as elections to the House of Commons. I would actually prefer 12-year terms, with elections that would not therefore usually coincide with a general election but which could of course be held on the same day in May as local or other elections.

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The End of the Peer Show

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 11th August, 2011

It’s a hundred years since the British government last tried seriously to overhaul radically the House of Lords, the Upper House of the UK Parliament. And the 2011 White Paper put forward by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government would indeed be a radical overhaul: reducing the number of members to 300, 80% or even 100% of whom would be elected by a method of proportional representation (preferably STV), for a single term of 15 years, there being elections in thirds every five years, presumably at the same time as general elections for the House of Commons, asuming the government’s policy of fixed-term parliaments sticks. All very clear, then. Or not. As a timely, slim but perplexing new publication from the Constitution Centre and (the Liberal thinktank) Centre Forum, The End of the Peer Show (ed. Alexandra Fitzpatrick, £10), makes clear, there are 101 different ways of viewing the government’s Lords Reforms proposals. There is by no means a consensus in either House of Parliament, let alone amongst the bemused public (for whom constitutional reform is anyway not a high priority). Graham Allen MP makes a brave attempt to justify the new proposals, but most of the other contributors to the book pick giant holes in them, whether it is criticising the suggestion that 12 Anglican bishops should retain their seats, all the way to the Crossbench Convenor, Frances D’Douza, who thinks we should stick with what we have got, i.e. 100% non-elected. I fear that that is what indeed will happen, at least for the foreseeable future, as the likelihood of the Government getting sufficient support to push its reform package through before 2015 is, I fear, close to nil.

Links: www.consoc.org.uk and www.centreforum.org

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Bob Worcester on the Royal Wedding and Yes2AV

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 28th April, 2011

Over the past four decades Sir Robert Worcester has established himself as the doyen of opinion pollsters in the United Kingdom. Though Kansas-born he took on British citizenship and lives happily in Kent, of whose University he is Chancellor. This lunchtime he was the guest speaker at the Kettner’s Lunch at the National Liberal Club, regaling us with the latest poll findings around the royal wedding. Only just over half of the UK population said they were very interested or fairly interested in the subject, yet fewer than 20 percent would like to see an end to the monarchy. Of much more concern to the NLC audience, however, was Bob’s take on the AV referendum. He strongly criticised the weak literature put out by the Yes campaign and said that current polls point to a victory for the No2AV. However, there is still a week to go and much may depend on the turnout in areas such as London and Scotland, where there seems to be more support for Yes2AV. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, he believes that there will be an almighty battle ahead when the government tries to reform the House of Lords, not only introducing STV as an election method but also slashing the total number of peers to around 300, who would be eligible for a single 15-year-term only. In the meantime, Bob has another book coming out shortly, co-authored with Roger Mortimore, Paul Baines and Mark Gill called Explaining Cameron’s Coalition — an analysis of the May 2010 general election and how the Lib-Con Coalition came about. The volume will be published by Biteback on 11 May — the first anniversary of the Coalition’s formation.

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Moving towards an Elected House of Lords

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th August, 2009

Jack StrawThe Guardian hosted a seminar yesterday, co-sponsored by Unlock Democracy, on Moving towards an Elected House of Lords, at which the star performer was the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, interviewed by Guardian journalist Jonathan Friedland. Although there was inevitably quite a bit of discussion about the Government’s 2008 white paper on the issue, the Secretary of State was remarkably candid in his comments and responses to questions. There was an audible gasp from the room when he confessed that he went into the ‘no’ lobby on the last vote over a largely or wholly elected Upper House having not really thought about the issue; instead, he just followed the suggestion of a colleague who was voting at the time. He says he has now had time to think about the matter and has changed his mind. Well, that’s a relief, then.

Polly Toynbee, who was one of three Grand Inquisitors who got the chance to make statements, rather than just put a short question, really tore into him, basically saying that the Labour government had been a huge disappointment on electoral reform (and much else). Jack Straw spluttered that actually they had done rather a lot (from Scottish devolution onwards and indeed the eviction of most herditary peers from the Lords), but Polly got a loud round of applause. She knows how to play to the gallery.

I asked the Minister the following question: ‘Given the scepticism among proponents of electoral reform about the degree of commitment of the current government to the matter and its awareness of the urgency, and given the fact that you have said you would favour an open or semi-open* regional list for elections by some form of proportional representation for the Lords, would it not be a quick an easy way for the government to demonstrate its good faith by bringing in legisation to change the elections for the European Parliament to an open or semi-open list system?’

I rather expected an evasive or even negative response, but on the contrary he said that as there have now been three direct elections to the European Parliament under the regional list system, perhaps it is time to review that system. This is something that I (and I hope others) will pursue.

(NB An open list system means that voters can put their cross by the name of their preferred candidate, rather than by the name of their preferred party, as is the case under the current ‘closed’ list system. A semi-open list system means that they can put their cross either by the party or by an individual candidate.)

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The End of the Peer Show?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th January, 2009

house-of-lords    Liberal Democrat parliamentarians in both Houses have been performing well in the rumpus over the latest allegations of political sleaze. Willie Goodhart, in the Lords, gave a ringing call for tougher sanctions against those who bring Parliament into disrepute, as the four Labour peers accused of making themselves available for hire for asking questions and what is effectively lobbying work in the Chamber certainly appear to have done. Nick Clegg in the Commons has also emphasized the need for probity, including the possibility to expel peers who abuse their position. Unbelievably, even being sent to jail for a felony is currently not a bar to continuing membership of the Upper House. That has to be wrong. Of course, a system in which members of the increasingly important revising chamber are not paid salaries is likely to lead to situations in which people are tempted to top up their allowances with ‘consultancy’ work, some of it more legitimate than the rest. We need to have comprehensive House of Lords reform, which will see at least a majority of peers elected, rather than appointed by the Prime Minister, and properly remunerated for the important task that they fulfil.

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Ros Scott Woos Hammersmith

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 20th June, 2008

Nominations for the presidency of the Liberal Democrats aren’t due until the autumn, but already two likely contenders, Lembit Opik MP and Baroness (Ros) Scott, have been criss-crossing the country on the rubber chicken circuit. Not that many local parties offer such unpalatable fare at their social and fundraising functions these days. The BBQ put on by the Hammersmith and Fulham party last night was much more upmarket. Ros Scott was the guest of honour there and spoke about her work in the House of Lords, whose latest task had been to ratify the Lisbon Treaty ahead of the European Summit. Like many of her LibDem colleagues, Ros believes the Upper House ought to be elected, but given the system we are lumbered with, we have to go along with it until reforms take place. As reforms have been talked about since 1906, goodness knows when that might happen.

It will be interesting to see how the presidential contest goes, once the candidates are able formally to announce their status. Though Lembit has by far the higher public profile, that may not necessarily work in his favour, given the nature of some of his celebrity limelight. Certainly, within his own, largely non-conformist Montgomery constituency, there are those who think he would be better advised to spend more time and energy making sure he holds on to his parliamentary seat.

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