Tag Archives: parliamentary reform

Registers and recall: I support them both. But they’re not going to clean up our democracy

The weekend’s revelations that two Labour peers and an Ulster Unionist were filmed offering to lobby ministers for cash, following hot on the heels of Tory MP Patrick Mercer’s resignation of the Tory whip over similar allegations, has re-ignited the question of how to clean up Parliament.

Two proposals are being pushed, both of them originally pledged in the Coalition Agreement.

Register of lobbyists

First, there’s a register of lobbyists, intended to bring greater transparency to the way in which professional lobbyists seek to influence government decisions. This is one of Unlock Democracy’s top campaigns:

If we don’t know

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Constituency boundary changes are dead.* Unlike the House of Lords.*

House of Lords. Photo: Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of ParliamentThe House of Lords has today voted to block a reduction in the number of MPs from 650 to 600 as part of the review of constituencies that might have seen the Conservatives gain up to 20 seats. The BBC reports:

The House of Lords voted by 300 to 231 to delay until 2018 a boundary review necessary to make the change. … Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced that his party

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Dear Conservative MPs, Re House of Lords reform here’s what your manifesto & the Coalition Agreement say

It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Conservative MPs — it appears some of them have only just read their own party’s manifesto and the Coalition Agreement they signed up to. That can be the only explanation for the sudden fit of vapours which have apparently afflicted three of their number over the issue of House of Lords reform.

So as a reminder to them, and as a service to their Tory colleagues, here’s a reminder of the Conservative Party’s promise to the people back in 2010 in its manifesto:

We will work to build a consensus for a

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LibLink | Paul Tyler: Lords’ Question Time is a “farcical free-for-all”

Lord Tyler writes over at e-Politix today about the way Question Time is conducted in the Lords:

As the House’s membership has increased in recent months, Question Time has become an ever more farcical free-for-all. There are a large number of Members who wish to contribute at any one time. Newcomers are rightly mystified by the absurd way in which one has to jockey for the opportunity to speak. You have to pop up and start bellowing, ‘My Lords’, in the hope that your bellow will be more thundersome than those of competing Members, or that some Lordly recognition

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Electoral reform news: peers don’t like democracy, but Labour candidate who lost on vote transfers backs AV

From The Independent:

Clegg: peers are holding Government hostage…

In acrimonious clashes, they warned the Deputy Prime Minister that they would fight his proposals every step of the way…

The show-down – described by one participant as “Daniel in the lion’s den” – came at a meeting between Clegg and members of a cross-party group campaigning against the plans. More than 50 peers from all major parties were present, including the former Liberal leader Lord Steel of Aikwood.

Shock news there, that peers who are against elections are against plans to introduce elections – though the presence of David Steel is disappointing.

Meanwhile, the …

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The Liberal Democrat challenges for 2011: making progress on core LibDem beliefs

Over the festive season we’re running a series of posts on the main Liberal Democrat challenges for 2011. You can find all the posts as they appear here.

Getting economic policy right may be at the heart of the government’s long-term fate, and crucial for the country, but even if everything goes right the benefits are long-term ones – so to keep the coalition working well over the next year will require a steady supply of other good news and much work on internal communications.

Ask Liberal Democrat activists why they are active in politics and why for the Liberal Democrats …

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Lord Rennard writes… Lord Blackadder, Baldrick, by-elections and reform of the Lords

The House of Lords debated (again) this week the second reading of David Steel’s Bill to make some very modest and minor reforms to the House of Lords.

I compared the process of by-elections to elect hereditary peers to the campaign run by Lord Blackadder to elect Baldrick in the rotten borough of Dunny on the Wold. David Steel’s Bill would end these by-elections and allow peers to retire voluntarily. A much more fundamental draft Bill for Lords reform is expected early next year.

But this debate showed again how hard it will be to achieve fundamental reform of the House of Lords.

The …

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“Appalled and embarrassed” – Paul Tyler on attitudes in the House of Lords

“Appalled and embarrassed” – that is how Liberal Democrat peer and Constitutional Affairs Spokesperson Paul Tyler described his reaction to the attitude and behaviour of some members of the House of Lords:

I have been appalled and embarrassed by the number of Peers, even including a few former Cabinet Ministers, who use the place as a convenient private club, with good parking and subsidised catering.  They never speak or even ask a question, let alone contribute to a debate.

His comments were made when discussing the publication of the Consultation on Members Leaving the House, which looked as the views of peers as part of a review to identify options for allowing people to leave the House of Lords other than through death or misconduct.

As Paul pointed out, with the use of block capitals, underlining and an exclamation mark, there are 79 peers who did not turn up (let alone speak or vote) even once in the 2009-2010 Parliamentary session. There are some very rare cases where long-term non-attendance in justifiable, and in the past some peers have spoken out over the lack of an option to retire if their health is no longer up to attending. Yet the overall picture, especially when you extend the figures to include peers who almost never turn up or who turn up but do not participate, is of large numbers who do not carry out the role of being a Parliamentarian in even the most minimally reasonable way.

There are also practical problems about the sheer size of the Lords, as Paul also commented,

The case for reducing the number of Peers is compelling:  increasing costs, not enough room for all to get into the Chamber or have desks, excessive size compared with the Commons and (most persuasively) “damage to the credibility of the House occasioned by the large number of members who take no active part in proceedings.”

Lovely dining club – with a Parliament attached

So with Lords reform in the air and promised in the Coalition agreement, you might expect peers to be thinking sensibly about how to leave behind the idea that the upper house is a lovely dining club, great car park and a mark of social distinction – with a Parliament attached.

Alas, not everyone – for the suggestions made by some of Paul’s fellow peers show how out of touch many of them are with the idea that Parliament is a place to work on holding the government to account and governing the country:

In the circumstances I cannot take seriously some of the suggested remedies to this serial non-attendance.  Giving retiring Peers “dining rights”, let alone offering the opportunity to speak but not vote, seems totally inappropriate.  As for the idea that they should be awarded an honour “on the lines of the armed services’ Long Service, Good Conduct medal”, or that their “life peerage might be converted into a hereditary peerage”, I can only suppose that somebody was taking the mickey.

Yes really: there was the suggestion that the ‘reward’ for not turning up and doing a job in the Lords should be to be given a medal. The Order of the Free Car Park perhaps?

Paul TylerPaul’s pugnacious attitude towards the views of other members of the Lords is very welcome, especially as there is a very strong rearguard action being fought by many members of the Lords against having democracy in the Lords. Or if there really must be democracy having it in as weak and diluted a form as possible – and certainly not moving any time soon to the idea that all members of the Lords should have to do a job of work there.

The political debate within Parliament and within the coalition on this is finely balanced at the moment. It may yet tip either way, as the report last week in the The Times illustrated when it talked of how:

A 300-strong mini Senate would replace the House of Lords under plans being drawn up by Nick Clegg. However, the Deputy Prime Minister is facing setbacks as he tries to deliver constitutional reform. He is having to surrender the Liberal Democrat ambition of a wholly elected Upper House amid stiff resistance from peers in all parties and will struggle to ensure that a reformed second chamber will be mainly elected.

Superficially that sounds a bad news story (and contrasts with the tone of The Times in August – “Absent peers face sack … The least active and least effective peers could be ejected at the end of each Parliament”). However a much smaller house would also up the pressure to only have minimal ‘grandfathering’ – that is letting existing members of the Lords continue in place without having to face elections – as otherwise it’d be a house dominated by the unelected.

As on so many other issues in the Coalition, it is not a simple case of Lib Dems versus Conservatives, because Cameron has no great love of many of the ranks of the Tory peers. In this case it is more a case of MPs versus peers, with honourable exceptions on the peers front including many Lib Dems such as Paul Tyler.

People such as Paul deserve our full support in those debates.

Consultation on Members Leaving the House

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Lords reform: 100 years in the making, another 50 to go?

One of the major achievements in the Coalition Agreement is the commitment of the Conservatives to support not merely a “wholly or mainly” elected Upper House but also one elected by proportional representation no less.

The timetable has started to slip, from the original agreement’s decision to “come forward with a draft motions by December 2010″ to talk about draft legislation in January and then, slipped in near the end of Nick Clegg’s conference speech, the intention that the first elections will not be held until the latest possible moment while still keeping the commitment to act in this Parliament – …

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Good news for minor parties, unelected politicians and those who dislike election expense controls

Slipped in near the end of Nick Clegg’s keynote speech to Liberal Democrat conference was the news that the first democratic elections to the House of Lords are pencilled in for 2015.

Party sources have confirmed that the reference to Liberal Democrat candidates at the next general election fighting alongside candidates for a reformed Upper House means the draft Lords reform legislation due to be published early in 2011 is being planned on the basis of elections in 2015.

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Musings from the Front Bench…

I have supported the Liberal Party and its successors since the General Election of 1950, although I did not follow a political career. Instead, I was involved in the railway and bus industries before moving into academia at the Universities of Salford and Oxford.

My entry to the House of Lords was a complete surprise. It took place over a two year period, and the process began with an interview with John Harris and Bill Rodgers, the then Chief Whip and Leader in the House respectively. Having been sworn to secrecy, I was asked firstly whether, if appointed, I would promise …

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Alright, assuming we get an elected second chamber, what can we do before the election that follows?

The good news: the Liberal Democrat have secured a commitment to introduce elections by PR for the Upper House. The bad news: the Liberal Democrat record at fighting PR records is decidedly mixed. So what should we do?

There plenty of campaigning still to be done to ensure that an elected Upper House happens, but that needn’t stop thinking about the elections too.

As with the AV referendum, one of the most important acts of preparation is upping the number of local election candidates we stand because of the impact that has on the public’s perception of whether or not we are a party that can win things. As I wrote about the AV referendum, if people go to vote in a local election but find no Lib Dem on the ballot paper:

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Nick Clegg’s statement on political and constitutional reform

Nick Clegg has just made a statement in the House of Commons outlining the Government’s proposals for political and constitutional reform, including plans for a referendum on the use of the Alternative Vote system in the UK.

The statement included the announcement of two important dates: the date for the AV Referendum (in the Bill to be introduced before the Summer recess) is intended for 5 May 2011 and the next General Election on 7 May 2015.

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3 ways the Labservatives blocked the Lib Dems cleaning up politics

Labour and Conservatives, Conservatives and Labour: same difference, as the Lib Dems’ rather fabulous Labservative website points out. Here are just three examples from the past 12 months of ways in which the Labservatives have blocked Lib Dem attempts to reform our broken political system …

The public’s right to sack MPs

The Liberal Democrats tabled an amendment in June 2009 to place a responsibility on the Secretary of State to review and report on procedures for constituencies to recall their MPs if they have been found guilty of misconduct.

Labour voted against these measures and the Tories refused to back them.

Cap on party donations

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Digital Economy Bill latest – two cheers for the LibDem team

As Liberal Democrat Voice has reported in depth over recent weeks, there was a surge of debate around the party’s response to the Digital Economy Bill, leading to our open letter from PPCs, and the emergency motion passed at conference. Great joy.

Then it all went quiet.

There has of course been a little matter of the Budget. MPs and candidates have been, quite rightly, out on the hustings and the doorsteps. But if our Parliamentary party were otherwise engaged, the blogosphere was not. The dedicated campaigning of the Open Rights Group was joined by the 38 Degrees lobby. They have objected not only to the content of bits of the Digital Economy Bill, but also the obvious concerns about its process.

If nothing else, this Bill has highlighted to a new generation of voters the urgent need for Parliamentary reform. The unelected second chamber; ridiculous rush, horsetrading and lack of debate of the washup; the way a Government elected with a minority of the vote can railroad through legislation – all of this must change.

The Open Rights Group anti-disconnection rally took the issue from the screen to the streets, and I was delighted to be invited to speak on behalf of our party. As I told the crowds, we started campaigning for Freedom of Information against a Tory government; now we are campaigning for free exchange of information under Labour. When you deal with a death, there is a cycle of emotion from grief through anger to acceptance. When it comes to the death of our freedoms under Labour, as Liberal Democrats we may be aggrieved, we are angry, but we will not accept it.

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David Howarth on Parliamentary Reform

In case you missed it, David Howarth MP gave a speech last week, as part of the Hansard Society’s Parliamentary Reform Lecture Series.

The speech includes a discussion of the various systems that need reform: the government, the judiciary, political parties and the media.

David Howarth also covers Lords reform, electoral reform and the loss of trust in our political institutions. He emphasises the need to restore power to local government. He cautions that the General Election will not be enough to end this crisis, which has partly been brought about by MPs’ misuse of expenses.

He ends by saying:

These reforms would not

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Hear David Howarth give lecture on Parliamentary reform

As party of the Parliamentary Reform Lecture Series organised by the Hansard Society, David Howarth MP (Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Shadow Solicitor General) will give a talk examining the Liberal Democrat’s priorities for reform of Parliament.

It’s at 6pm on March 15th. It’s being held at the Houses of Parliament and is open to the public. Please email [email protected] to register.

The talk is one of a series the Hansard Society is running (one each from each of the main parties) to draw attention to the fact that there is still much progress to be made in the area …

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Nick’s challenge to Labour/Tories: sign up to to restore public faith in politics

Nick Clegg’s metaphors are on fire. At the weekend we filletted some of the great quotes from his Telegraph interview – and yesterday he came up with another … Speaking of Gordon Brown and David Cameron’s joint refusal to sign up to real political reform, Nick commented:

Listening to the two of them anyone would think they were powerless backbenchers rather than the leaders of the two parties in Parliament which have proved to be the real roadblocks to reform. It’s like a couple of cowboy builders coming back to your house to tell you how bad their workmanship is.”

The …

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Three reasons Nick Clegg was right to call for the ‘cancellation’ of the Queen’s Speech

When I woke up yesterday morning to news reports that Nick Clegg had called for the Queen’s Speech to be cancelled – because with limited time before the general election it would be far better to use the time focusing on reforming Parliament ready for the new batch of MPs – I was impressed.

First, because it was one of the leading news items, and for a Lib Dem leader to be that high up the running order in peace-time is no mean achievement. Secondly, because he was focusing public and media attention once again on a key liberal …

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Clegg: expenses reform is being “swept under the carpet” #mpsexpenses

Nick Clegg has today penned an article for The Daily Telegraph urging the Labour and Tory parties to take action to reform Parliament in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal. Here’s an excerpt:

The new political season is beginning. Spring and early summer were defined by the expenses scandal, but what will the autumn be like? Will demand for change continue or will the political establishment succeed in sweeping it under the carpet? …

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Opinion: How can the Lib Dems use mass media to re-connect Parliament and public?

It has been documented extensively via many different platforms that Parliament and the public are more disconnected in the 21st century than at any time in history – although Parliamentarians have never been hugely popular with those who elect them.

Part of the problem has stemmed from the reduction of parliamentary coverage by mass media outlets. This can be traced back many years to the gradual reduction in the reporting of speeches in broadsheet newspapers. Speeches are now hardly ever published, and parliamentary sketch writers usually focus on specific moments during proceedings – sometimes only the trivial.

However, in order to open up Parliament to the mass media, and therefore the electorate, radical reforms to proceedings need to take place. The problem lies with the fact that many people who care about ensuring that Parliament is a more trusted institution are relatively conservative in nature – even if they are radical in other ways. In an institution where clapping is seen as unprecedented behaviour, you know you have a long way to go.

It is clear that media coverage of politics has moved on far more than Parliamentary reform. Here are two suggestions that could be implemented to bring Parliament in to line with 24 hour media output:

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Bercow: deputy speakers should be elected

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, today told the House that his new deputy speakers should be elected by MPs.

From the BBC:

In a statement, he told MPs he wanted two deputy speakers from the government side and one from the opposition side.

He is believed to be concerned that following his own election by secret ballot last month the three deputies should also be elected.

Mr Bercow indicated he had consulted party whips, who normally appoint the deputy speakers, about the plan.

It is thought that Mr Bercow is looking to implement the changes – or

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The Independent View: Restore trust to reform democracy

The crisis over MPs’ expenses has shattered trust in politicians. Trust in Parliament has never been particularly high – it has now plummeted to new depths. Our long-standing scepticism as to the motives of politicians has turned into a strongly held conviction that ‘they’re all at it’.

The silver lining is that the crisis may have opened the way for much needed constitutional reform. The Lib Dems in particular have proposed a raft of constitutional reforms as a solution to the crisis. But are we really at a constitutional turning point? And is institutional reform …

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Interesting use of YouTube

A current Lords parliamentary inquiry is allowing YouTube submissions from members of the public.  The inquiry is on the topic of how people engage with the work of the House of Lords and Parliament more generally.

One such member of the public who has shared her views is, erm, Jo Swinson, in an excellent short video that addresses many of their questions.

You can see the video for yourself here on the Parliamentary YouTube channel, along with many other interesting shorts, including information about the clock that chimes Big Ben.

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CommentIsLinked@LDV: Nick Clegg – We need to clean up our act … now!

Over at the Mirror’s website, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has an article (submitted, the Voice assumes, before his paternity leave started!) calling on politicians from all parties ‘to get together and give politics a proper Spring-clean.’ Here’s an excerpt:

Politicians are the least trusted people in the country, and restoring people’s faith will be a big task. So we can’t do it like a succession of governments have always wanted – bit by bit, issue by issue, crisis by crisis. We need to think big on the way politics works.

If we have flimsy rules for expenses, people will always

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CommentIsLinked@LDV: Norman Baker – It might be legal, but it’s not right

Over at the Mirror, crusading Lib Dem MP Norman Baker writes (briefly) about the damage that the ‘drip, drip, drip of stories about MPs’ expenses’ is doing to Parliament. Here’s an excerpt (actually, it’s pretty much the whole piece):

We can’t continue to have revelations that the public find so shocking. Jacqui Smith’s homes are a prime example. It’s not acceptable that she can claim her main home is her sister’s spare room. Saying it is within the rules is not good enough. House of Commons officials must be able to veto MPs’ declarations. They need to ask questions like where

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Why are we still waiting for details on how MPs spent their Communications Allowance?

The Communications Allowance is a fund for each MP of £10,000 a year of taxpayers money to spend on ensuring their re-election communicating with their constituents. That is a pretty massive sum. At current prices as a sitting MP I could have a full colour A3 delivered to every house in a constituency four times a year. By anyone’s standards its a massive boost to local campaigning

So I’m awaiting details as to how MPs have spent this windfall with interest. And it will be declared by the Parliamentary authorities.

Eventually at least.

According to www.parliament.uk, “Costs will …

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Opinion: Why not try democracy for a change?

It has become a truism to say that interest in politics has hit an all-time low among “ordinary” voters. All parties have come up with proposed remedies, but none of these shows any sign of working. At the same time, we have recently seen in the US an example of how exciting politics can be. Why, in a country which boasts of being one of the world’s oldest democracies, should things have come to this pass?

Part of the answer is that our present political model is totally inappropriate to the contemporary scene. We have a system which in every respect, from our voting system through to the arrangement of MPs’ seating in the House of Commons, assumes confrontation between two parties opposed to each other on every issue. Yet we currently have not two but three major parties, which seem to crowd onto the centre ground, with ever fewer obvious differences of principle between them.

Nonetheless, despite the lack of obvious differences, the parties behave as if they were still driven by diametrically opposed principles. What one party proposes is, with few exceptions, immediately rubbished by the others.

The result is that most people feel a profound disillusionment with political activity, and an alienation from the posturing, as they see it, of politicians who seem to them to be driven by personal ambition rather than political principles.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that, increasingly politics is seen as a career choice. It is by no means uncommon now for talented young graduates to serve for a few years as researchers or assistants to an MP, then move straight on to a safe seat. This means not only that they have no real experience of anything other than politics, but also that the skills they acquire from the start are those of the politician – the skills of presentation, of turning the question asked into the one for which one has a good answer, and all the other skills which collectively are know these days as “spin”. Is it any wonder that when such highly skilled and talented men and women talk to “ordinary” voters they all too often fail to convince people either that they are speaking from experience (they are usually not) or that they are sincere?

Add to all this the fact that, since the days of Mrs Thatcher governments have stripped away many of the powers of local government – and increasingly rely on non-elected or indirectly elected quangos to run the things that matter to people – and we are left with a situation where only at the highest level, that of Parliament, is there anything which can reasonably be described as “democratic”, in the sense that MPs are elected, and are accountable for what they do in office. (By contrast, councillors are elected, but then have their actions circumscribed by central control of their spending, meaning they are not meaningfully accountable).

How, one might ask, can there be meaningful parliamentary democracy when at all lower levels democratic structures scarcely exist?

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