A plan for electing members to a second Chamber (Senate)

Given that Labour is proposing to replace the House of Lords with an elected 2nd Chamber but, as yet, have no plan at to what form that 2nd Chamber will take.  Here is my plan.

1. The election of Senators will be by the Nations and Regions of the UK as used for European Elections.

2. Each Nation or Region will initially elect three times their MEPs in 2019 to the Senate. That is:

  • East Midlands 15
  • East of England 21
  • London 24
  • NE England 9
  • NW England 24
  • SE England 30
  • SW England 18
  • West Midlands 21
  • Scotland 18
  • Wales 12
  • Northern Ireland 9

Total    219

These numbers will be reviewed every 10 years by the Boundary Commission and adjusted as needed to match population changes.

3. Members will be elected in thirds except in the initial election with elections every two years. No other election may take place in the same day.

4. In the initial election, 1/3 of those elected will serve 2 years, 1/3 will serve 4 years, 1/3 will serve the full six years.

5. Senators may not have any other paid employment whilst serving in the Senate.

6. The Term of Office will be 6 years and a Senator who has been in office for more than 9 years cannot be re-elected.

7. Election will be by the Single Transferable Vote System.

8. If a Senator dies or resigns between elections, a by-election to fill the vacancy must be held with 40 working days.

9. The Government may appoint Ministers who are not MPs to be Honorary, non-voting, Senators so they can address, be questioned by, and contribute to debates in the Senate.

 

This would allow the Senate to act as a reforming and advisory body as the House of Lords does currently, be more representative of the population, and allows Senators a degree of independence from the Whips of their political party.

I am sure others will have views, but we must have a plan ready to put forward as Labour don’t.

* Leon Duveen is Chair of Liberal Democrats for Peace in the Middle East, a new group of Lib Dems working to support those trying to a solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict and to providing information about these peacemakers.

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22 Comments

  • David Langshaw 9th Dec '22 - 4:09pm

    Happy to support most of there ideas in general, but is it really necessary to re-name the institution? What’s wrong with calling it the The House of Lords?

  • Lib Dems do indeed have a detailed plan for a democratic Senate to contrast with Starmer’s vague promise – and it is very close to Leon’s ideas.
    To save time we would simply update the cross-party 2012 Lords Reform Bill, the product of two decades of consensus building, and backed by a record 338 majority of MPs. It was only sabotaged by silly party games played by the Labour leadership with reactionary Tories.
    Starmer is now adopting delaying tactics, and trying to divert attention from his failure to endorse electoral reform for the Commons, now backed by his Conference.
    Our plan would minimise time wasting by starting from scratch …… with so many other Parliamentary priorities!

  • Hello from Scotland.

    This proposal just perputates English domination of the HoC.

    So unless it is combined with a need for a supermajority and a majority of the four nation groups voting to change entrenched constitutional provisions it would simply get us back to where we are now: parties elected in England undermining the devolution settlement at will.

  • I agree with Baroness Hayman when she says that an elected HoL could be problematic and what troubles people is the appointment process:

    https://www.channel4.com/news/house-of-lords-election-process-used-and-abused-says-former-lord-speaker

  • Steve Trevethan 9th Dec '22 - 6:03pm

    Might there be anything about the financing of candidates’ election activities and any perks and incentives?
    Ditto second jobs etc?

  • Richard Coe 9th Dec '22 - 6:30pm

    For the upper chamber to have less authority than the commons it needs to be elected on an inferior franchise to the commons. Given that FPTP is the worst elector system going, an elected second chamber cannot be sensibly be contemplated without electoral reform and a proportional electoral system for the commons.

    Once the commons is elected in multi-member constituencies with weer constituency ties, then I would advocate for a relatively large second chamber, elected by AV that takes on the local constituency role. As this would be a revising chamber and secondary to the proportionally elected chamber, less emphasis could be placed on very strict equalisation of electorates and consequent frequent boundary changes. Instead the chamber would emphasise the constituency link that is said to be the strength of FPTP currently.

    This would mean a large second chamber, perhaps 20% smaller than the current commons? Any change should emphasise good decision making and broad representativeness over cost. Bad decisions cost far more that MPs.

  • Richard Coe 9th Dec '22 - 6:33pm

    Reforming the Lords has been our policy since the 19th century. There isn’t a place for anything short of a mostly elected chamber in the Lib Dems.

  • David Le Grice 10th Dec '22 - 12:15am

    A few major issues here:

    Trying to elect such large numbers in the first election would be incredibly unwieldy under STV anyone who’s attempted to vote in federal board and FPC elections can attest to this. Even when only a third are up for election regions with more than 6 or 7 seats would need to be split up. Either that or use an open list.

    Electing only three people at a time to represent the north east and northern Ireland could cause grossly disproportionate results with labour potentially winning two thirds of seats in the north east with a minority of the vote (as long as they have at least double the vote share of the third placed party).

    Holding by elections instead of cooption in multi member seats will disrupt the proportionality and will just award an extra seat to the dominant party in that region.

    219 would represent a massive reduction in the size of the second chamber and will inevitably impact on its ability to function, the coalition increased the number in its proposals from 300 to 450 due to concerns that there wouldn’t be enough people suitable to join all the houses committees.

    Finally, but most importantly, I don’t know what the people of Yorkshire did to you but they deserve representation as well!

  • Robert Harrison 10th Dec '22 - 8:35am

    I agree in general with Leon’s proposals – he has however left out an important community – the position of UK citizens living abroad who would be unrepresented in his proposed system. France, for example, has senators who represent the interests of their citizens living outside the country. Olivier Cadic, for example, lives/lived in Ashford and as a member of the centrist UC group has also been active in ALDE.

  • Martin Gray 10th Dec '22 - 8:53am

    It will go the same way as the PCC vote , local elections , & for that matter the past European elections ..
    Nobody is that really interested in all honesty …

  • Yorkshire would be entitled to 15 Senators. Unless Leon has included them in his 219 that would mean 234 total.
    Hireton is confusing the principle of electing a 2nd chamber with the idea of a written constitution. Population will always mean there are more English representatives than others. The EU resolves this by a qualified majority where decisions require a majority of votes (population) and a majority of countries to pass certain legislation.
    Martin Gray. People don’t vote because they think they can’t make a difference. The proposal here is for STV which gives voters real choice and a reason to vote.
    AV is NOT a proportional system and should be shunned. By-elections are unnecessary as the ballots can be recounted with the votes of the resigned Senator redistributed

  • Nobody asked for Brown’s contrived reform and the HoL would never be the priority. We need STV for the Commons.

    Voters around the country are represented in Westminster already, in the commons, but distortedly so.

    If we are having devolution, it needs to be elected bodies in the regions themselves with borrowing and taxing powers and not patchy inconsistent mayors.

  • George Thomas 10th Dec '22 - 12:04pm

    “These numbers will be reviewed every 10 years by the Boundary Commission and adjusted as needed to match population changes.”

    I’m not suggesting there is an easy answer, but my concern with regards to proposed system is that historical investment in London + SE England has seen infrastructure, jobs and therefore greater pull of migration from rest of UK to these areas and that is continuing now.

    54 of the 219 from these two regions of England and if it follows system within House of Commons then projects like Northern Rail, HS2 linking to Scotland will be first to be cut at sign of financial difficulty which, when recognising private sector more likely to get on board with investment into London/near London, so that number will grow every 10 years and inequality will grow as well.

    Creating a Senate which deepens north/south divide surely isn’t the best system? House of Commons already based on population so does upper chamber need that as well?

  • The party that will benefit most from the change will be The Greens.

  • @micktaylor

    “Hireton is confusing the principle of electing a 2nd chamber with the idea of a written constitution. Population will always mean there are more English representatives than others. The EU resolves this by a qualified majority where decisions require a majority of votes (population) and a majority of countries to pass certain legislation.”

    I’m not confusing them, I’m saying that you can’t consider one without another if the intention is to entrench certain constitutional laws including protection of devolution. If this is not addressed, it will simply be like the three card trick which was pulled over embedding the Sewel Convention in law in 2016,

    Prof McHarg of Durham University has written a good piece on this identifying two ways in which the proposals will offer little protection to the developed nations:

    https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/2022/12/08/aileen-mcharg-the-future-of-the-territorial-constitution-under-labour-the-report-of-the-commission-on-the-uks-future/

  • Trevor Andrews 11th Dec '22 - 9:51am

    Why do we always have to make it so complicated. Why not have 100 vacancies and select them on the basis of the results of Election. If Libdems get 15% of the electoral vote they get 15 seats.

    I expect any more elections and the turn out will be poor. Also the electorate will probably not vote for a particular candidate.

  • graham garvie 11th Dec '22 - 5:41pm

    With a House of Commons with over 600 members (elected in STV multi member constituencies as part of the overall constitutional reforms) is a second Chamber really necessary?
    New Zealand, for example, seems to manage fine without one.
    Instead, specialist non-party political professional advisory committees could be brokered into the parliamentary legislative process. The composition of these one of groups would be according to the nature of the proposed legislation and selected by an independent Standing Speaker`s Commission taking advice from the relevant professional bodies

  • Leon Duveen 11th Dec '22 - 7:37pm

    There are many great comments here. I have tried to respond to some here and will respond to the others in another post.

    Paul Tyler, thanks for reminding me of this bill (see https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2012-2013/0052/13052.pdf). It does make a good starting point but certainly can be improved. I don’t think holding the elections to the reformed Chamber on the same day as a General Election is a good idea as it will simply duplicate the results from the Commons and not give the new Chamber a separate identity.

    Hireton, real devolution must definitely be part of any new constitutional arrangement and the new body must take that into account. There will be areas where such a super majority should be applied. My suggestions are a starting point for discussion, not the final proposals.

    Russell, there is no reason that any second chamber would be problematical. If its role and remit are clearly laid down (like legislation on revenue & budget areas being out of bounds) then such problems would be avoided.

    Steve Trevethan, my suggestion includes banning second jobs. This could be extended to areas like ad-hoc consultancy or writing paid columns. As for expenses, similar rules to Commons elections could be used.

    Richard Coe, totally agree. My suggestion would be for a chamber less than half the size of the Commons elected on a regional basis which would make it separate from the way we elect MPs.

    David Le Grice, firstly, apologies for forgetting about Yorkshire. It was a simple oversight. As I live just a few miles from Yorkshire, this is very embarrassing. My plan would mean 18 seats for God’s own County. Your points around elections by STV are, of course correct. Having just completed our own Internal elections, we know that better than many. I am sure we could come up with a solution though, however electing by STV is important as it weakens the Party link (they cannot order their chosen candidates) and gives the electorate more control over choosing their representatives. As for the size of the new Chamber, I doubt there are many more than 200/250 active Peers currently so it wouldn’t be such a big change as you suggest.

  • This reads like a proposal you would expect from the LibDems. Both significant change (with no assurance it is good) but very “inside the box” thinking. One that is theoretically justified on its own merits but without addressing how it would fit in within the whole system of governance of the country, so would perform badly and undermine the intention.

    The use of the term “senate” is silly as it again looks like it is aping the US approach. As Blair’s “Supreme Court” was seen a aping the US. No consideration of how one directly elected chamber would interact with the other directly elected chamber, how different focuses could be established and achieved or it could be seen as the weaker but more calming and technically focused chamber.

    Labour will not go for real reform of the Lords after the next election as it will become mired in other matters and they will quickly see how a badly designed second chamber would just cause them chaos.

    This reads like they design you would get from asking an A Level Student to design a system.

  • Hireton is dead right. Any form of elected upper body which bases representation on population simply is just going to perpetuate the problems of recognition which Westminster already has, and disrupt even further the supposed “partnership of equals” which we regard the UK to be. In addition, there will be little need for upper house members to have the constituency responsibility of MPs, particularly if we then form regional parliaments to sit alongside those in Scotland, Wales and NI.

    So here’s my idea. 100 members of the upper house – 25 from each of the UK nations. Assuming a fixed term parliament in the Commons, elected alongside the Commons but with seats allocated proportionally in each nation based on the votes cast.

    Based on the 2019 results, it would look like this:

    Scotland:
    SNP – 11
    Con – 6
    Lab – 5
    LD – 3

    Wales:
    Lab – 10
    Con – 9
    PC – 3
    LD – 2
    Brexit – 1

    England:
    Con – 12
    Lab – 8
    LD – 3
    Green – 1
    Brexit – 1

    NI:
    DUP – 8
    SF – 6
    SDLP – 4
    Alliance 4
    UUP – 3

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