Author Archives: Paul Tyler

Lord Paul Tyler writes…Progress in Magna Carta’s Birthday year

Magna Carta by EteeIn a week when the big news is about changed faces in government, there is also much manoeuvring in the political undergrowth about the rules which govern government:  our constitution.

The House of Commons Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform (P&CR) has launched a debate on a written constitution for the United Kingdom.  This has been a Liberal and Liberal Democrat objective for all my time in politics, but the question has always been how such a document would be drawn up, agreed and entrenched beyond the usual …

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Lord Paul Tyler writes…A fairer way of redrawing constituency boundaries

Boundary - Some rights reserved by ank0kuIn those heady 5 Days in May back in 2010, our negotiators agreed with the Conservative Party that there should be “fewer, more equal” constituencies returning MPs to the House of Commons.  It formed part of a package, coupled with the referendum on Alternative Vote, and placed alongside fixed-term Parliaments (delivered), greater localism (partially delivered), and House of Lords reform (not delivered).

Whatever your views on whether there should be fewer MPs, more, or just the same as now, the principle that parliamentary constituencies should contain …

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Paul Tyler writes…What Acts do we need to reconsider?

Parliament ActsYesterday, I spoke in the House of Lords debate on the Queen’s Speech.  There has been much made of how ‘light’ the legislative programme is, even if it still contains more than one bill a month for the coming session and carries over five (including the gargantuan HS2 Bill) from the last session.

However, I challenged colleagues to consider – if we really are so short of work to do – which Bills from early in this Parliament we might usefully subject to “post-legislative scrutiny”:

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Lord (Paul) Tyler writes… Transparency Bill – Government concessions

Yesterday Lords amendments came to the Commons for consideration. The Government has accepted the principle of my amendment on including Special Advisers (SpAds) in the regime of transparency about who lobbyists get to meet in government. However, the Conservative Party refuses to ‘switch on’ this provision at this stage, and probably for the duration of this Parliament.

The Government therefore brought forward an amendment which will allow Ministers to bring those who meet SpAds into the register of lobbyists, but they will remain out for now. David Cameron says ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant’. Since two of the big lobbying scandals …

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Lord Paul Tyler writes: An update on the Lobbying bill

The Government’s Transparency Bill is nearly complete.  It is a very different Bill from that introduced to the House of Commons in the autumn.  Full marks to Tom Brake who, while robustly rebuffing the more hysterical accusations about the Bill, has listened, and worked hard inside government to secure a sensible package of improvements.  The first was in the House of Commons, where MPs voted to ensure the definition of non-party campaigning remained the same as for the last thirteen years.  If this were a ‘gagging law’, then so too was Labour’s PPERA of 2000.

In the Lords, we have concentrated …

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Paul Tyler writes… Transparency not gagging

I have spent much of the last week meeting with NGOs to discuss the Transparency Bill, in advance of the first debate on it in the Lords today.  It’s striking that only the most strident can now use the term “gagging bill” with a straight face, and I think even they now realise that the Bill is nothing of the sort.

Readers of Lib Dem Voice, more than most, are well used to accounting for spending in elections.  For the parties, it is clear that their purpose in life is to influence election outcomes.  Candidates and agents have accepted the need …

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Buying votes – Lord Tyler on the Lobbying Bill

Big Ben £Concerted non-party campaigns now weave more citizens together than the parties can dream of, and raise a lot of money in the process. They do so not with intensely political ‘values’, but with a chance to pit ‘the people’ against ‘the politicians’ on a given issue. For better or worse, this has a broader appeal than the starkly partisan campaigning we are used to.

The challenge Parliament has to deal with is what all this means for elections, in which non-party groups may increasingly express a preference for one party, or even a group of parties, over the others. Whether it is a group of farmers and rural residents coming together in an association, or a trade union, or a big email list of broadly left-wing people, it is only right and natural that together such organisations should be able to say whom they most support to defend their views and interests. The question is whether the wealthier organisations – or even maverick millionaires – should be able to drown out the poorer ones. I strongly believe they should not.

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Lord Paul Tyler writes…Lobbying bill is a major and unexpected advance

Today, the Government published its Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration BillIt marks a major and rather unexpected advance on the position only a couple of months ago.

As the Bill goes through Parliament, we will be arguing that the new information it brings into the public domain must be coupled with much better access to the information which the Coalition has already published.  This Government is the first to proactively publish information on who ministers meet.  Yet at the moment the information is too difficult to find, and not much use when you find …

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Lord Paul Tyler writes…Never on a Sunday?

Some little Englander MPs, as we know, are incredibly jumpy about anything they think might have come from Europe.  The latest in the line of Brussels bogeymen is the worrying advent of public activity at the weekend, which could – they say – cause all kinds of terrible problems.

The British Social Attitudes survey (not the dangerous ‘Eurobarometer’) has found that 45.7% of the public regard themselves as belonging to ‘no religion’.  Of those who do profess some faith, 57.5% say they ‘never or practically never’ attend meetings or services connected to their religion.  A further 20% say they do …

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Paul Tyler writes….There can be no party funding consensus without compromise

This week’s revelations about MPs and Peers profiting from their seats in Parliament has been a catalyst to get the political reform agenda going again, though Alexander Ehmann is quite right to say that these stories were not a “lobbying” scandal as such.  No lobbyist worth their salt (or their fee) would seriously approach a parliamentarian offering ready cash.  Only journalists would do that, exposing their targets as greedy and stupid in equal measure.  The parliamentarians concerned – it would appear – have broken the rules which already exist.  And if they have sinned, it looks like a case …

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Lord (Paul) Tyler writes: Political reform has been lost along the way by the Coalition

Houses of ParliamentI first spoke in a Queen’s Speech debate in March 1974. I recall being mystified by that vital penultimate sentence heard again in this year’s speech: “other measures will be laid before you”. It is these innocent, innocuous words which turn out to be quite important. And they give hope that there will be other vital measures excluded at present from the text of the Speech itself.

There are two commitments in the party manifestos and the Coalition Agreement that seem to have been lost along the …

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Paul Tyler writes: What would Keynes do?

Amidst all the sound and fury (from the Conservative benches), about the delay in implementing boundary changes, agreed by a substantial majority in the Lords last Monday evening, one important argument seems to have got lost.

When Labour left office in May 2010, we were given to understand that the electoral register was some 92% complete.  Parliament decided in the discussions on the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill that this was a sufficiently robust basis for the redrawing of constituencies along strict arithmetic lines.

Subsequently, research by the Electoral Commission established that it was nothing like as complete.  Nationally, the figure …

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Paul Tyler writes: Progress postponed

There was no talk this year of banning champagne at the Conservative Party Conference. Perhaps there was no danger of exuberance among delegates. As recalcitrant Tories sought one-in-the-eye against Nick Clegg by erasing Lords Reform from the Coalition Agreement, their party’s treasured redrawing of the UK electoral map was duly jettisoned too. Without a stronger second chamber to challenge the executive, it would have been wrong to reduce the size of the House of Commons, thereby increasing the proportionate dominance of the government’s ‘payroll’ within it.

Clearly, the failure of the most comprehensive attempt to reform the composition of the Lords …

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Paul Tyler writes… Conservative crisis, Labour leaderless

It’s a good job I’m not a betting man, having said here in July “my bets are strongly against the Government giving up at this point”.  But now we know:  David Cameron’s authority within the Conservative Party is so weak that he cannot even persuade his MPs to support an agreed manifesto commitment, and a Bill unanimously supported by his Cabinet.  Cameron and Osborne voted for the 80% elected component as long ago as 2003, yet this summer their right-wing backbenchers simply would not accept elections at all.

Unsurprisingly, concern for future of their own constituencies – as boundary changes …

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Paul Tyler writes: A victory for democracy?

Doubtless some peers now believe that they can go off for the long summer recess, secure in the knowledge that the status quo in the House of Lords is preserved.  The thought of a shake-up is so uncomfortable for some inhabitants that they have resorted to calling the Coalition’s House of Lords Reform Bill ‘rushed’, despite its genesis in over a decade of cross-party discussion, and a hundred years of gestation.  Yet after subjecting the legislation to a painstaking Joint Committee, which met thirty times to take evidence from almost everyone who has ever thought about the subject, my bets …

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Lord Tyler writes… Only the Government’s Bill can take the hereditary principle out of Parliament

There has for some years been a conceit in the House of Lords that the place could gain stature and authority simply by doing a bit of tidying up at the edges, and by ending the hereditary principle. There has been a further conceit that this work can be done without controversy or delay.

Our own David Steel has been a doughty proponent of this approach, as a logical precursor to more comprehensive reform. Last Friday, he gave Peers their best opportunity ever to prove that it could work.

Yet the Lords showed itself resistant even to the modest changes on offer. …

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Paul Tyler writes… Second chamber must have more members than the government proposes

Happy New Year. As all the political ‘look back at 2011’ newspaper supplements make their way to the recycling bin, I am risking a bold prediction that their ‘look back at 2012’ successors will report the first serious attempt by any Government to introduce elections to the House of Lords.

When David Cameron and Nick Clegg published their draft Bill back in May last year, the reaction was predictable. Snorts of derision from the refuseniks, cavilling about detail, accusations of plain stupidity. You know when people are losing an argument if they claim that those who disagree simply …

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Paul Tyler writes… A manual for Coalition?

Dr Andrew Blick, a Senior Research Fellow at Democratic Audit, and Lord (Peter) Hennessy have co-authored a new report called The Hidden Wiring Emerges. (It provides the best and most comprehensive analysis yet of the Coalition’s draft Cabinet Manual, published in December 2010.

The whole document – and the whole report on it – should attract anyone concerned with the health of our democracy. However, one point of dispute may interest Liberal Democrats in particular.

The authors highlight an idea described in the Manual that, following the resignation of a Prime Minister after a General Election, the person ‘seemingly most likely …

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Lord Tyler writes: Don’t listen to the doomsayers

Since the publication of the Government’s White Paper and Draft Bill on House of Lords reform, the old guard have lined up to cavil about its detail, to deride its democratic principles and to defend – in the last ditch – the status quo.

This has augmented the popular media’s predisposition towards arch cynicism and trenchant pessimism. Yet there is firm evidence to contradict their lazy assumptions. Just because Labour engaged in over a decade of dither and delay does not mean that a determined government, with the resolve of the House of Commons behind it, cannot succeed.

The …

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Lord Tyler writes: the mischief continues

The BBC’s excellent Westminster correspondent, Mark D’Arcy has got the measure of what’s going on in the House of Lords at the moment, and his update is as good as any.

I only question the credit he gives to Lord Falconer, who is far too obviously partisan to attract serious support from the Crossbenchers. It is former Labour Minister – and shrewd operator – Lord (Jeff) Rooker who has twice achieved victory over the Government by bringing a healthy chunk of them along with him. He does it by saying his amendments are meant to be helpful, …

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Paul Tyler writes… Radicals and reactionaries on the red benches

Julian Glover, writing on the Guardian website, has called the situation in the House of Lords well today. “This is a ceasefire not an armistice,” he says.

As of midday today (Wednesday), Lord “Charlie” Falconer appears to have retreated from the undertakings he was giving earlier in the week to expedite the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies (PVSC) Bill. Labour Peers are apparently determined both delay and elongate the Report Stage, so making it impossible for the AV referendum to take place on May 5th. As Julian Glover says, “the behaviour of a gang of timeserving Labour …

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Paul Tyler writes… Party funding: dilemmas and delays

Since so many of us have fought elections against extremely well-funded opposition candidates, Liberal Democrats are naturally and rightly exercised by the matter of campaign finance. Though Labour made some modest progress with its Political Parties, Elections and Referendums (PPERA) Act, back in 2000, the Act’s focus was transparency, rather than regulation.

When I chaired the party’s policy group on Better Governance in 2007, we set out an objective that no donor should be able to buy influence in the political process, and no party should be able to buy elections. This was the approach we took in the cross-party talks …

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Opinion: Change needed

As Lynne Featherstone’s article on this site suggested, the Wednesday half hour of Prime Minister’s Questions is simply a mock medieval jousting tournament, appropriate for a mock medieval palace. As an MP, I only had to stand in for the Leader once, but I was a horrified observer for too many years.

For serious scrutiny, and real accountability, the half yearly interrogation of the PM by the Liaison Committee is potentially more valuable, and can still make good television. There the PM has to take questions – without the assistance of Ministerial colleagues or civil servants – for two whole hours, and he doesn’t get the last word. If squirming is your sport, the Liaison Committee is a good place to be a spectator.

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