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 way, and which I still hope will be seen in this Session as “other measures”.

Lobbying

First, the coalition agreement boldly stated:

“We will regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and ensuring greater transparency”.

It was indeed the Prime Minister who, as Leader of the Opposition in the run-up to the 2010 election, rightly said that unregulated lobbying was “the next big scandal waiting to happen”.

Solid and sensible proposals have apparently been considered in government, but it is not clear why they have been delayed.

Party funding

Then we come to the vexed issue of money and politics. Following firm commitments in party manifestos in 2010, the coalition agreement promised:

“We will also pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to remove big money from politics”.

Those inter-party discussions have taken place, but apparently without any outcome.

There are yawning gaps in the present monitoring, reporting and control regime when it comes to the funding of political campaigning activity which falls outside the normal definitions of party and candidate support. An enterprising Russian oligarch bored with football clubs, or some other maverick multi-millionaire, could completely distort the campaigns in 2014 and 2015.

Buying political influence through third-party campaigning organisations with vast sums of money, from outside the well established rules for the parties, could take us along the discredited road that politics has experienced in the USA.

To draw attention to this, and to emphasise that this is certainly unfinished business, I and a number of other Parliamentarians from across parties have been contributing to the preparation of a draft Bill. This will be published for consultation on Thursday, at a seminar to be chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly, newly retired as chairman of Committee on Standards in Public Life. Its proposals are largely based on the report of that committee. In the absence of proposals from the Government or from those official discussions, we can but hope that this draft Bill could still stimulate yet another “other” measure for this Session.

Lords Reform

Meanwhile, Labour’s Leader in the Lords, Baroness Royall, crowed last week about the absence from the Queen’s Speech of any reference to reforming the House of Lords. The cheek, after their appalling opportunism over the Bill presented this time last year!

We could hardly have expected the resurrection of the Government’s 2012 Bill after that foul-play. However, it is salutary to remember that, far from being defeated in the House of Commons, as some MPs and Peers now like to claim, the Bill received a record majority last July of 338 votes at Second Reading. Indeed, a majority of MPs in all three major parties supported it. 193 votes to 89 in the Conservative Party, 202 votes to 26 in the Labour Party and 53 votes to nil in the Liberal Democrats.

This issue will surely re-emerge after the general election, and I hope then that a new cabinet will avoid reinventing the wheel, by simply re-introducing the 2012 Bill, which had such strong ‘in principle’ support.

Meanwhile, to avoid any possible perception or accusation of personal interest, party leaders should make it clear that any MP who voted to retain the fully appointed House should not expect to be nominated to the Lords. It would do nothing for the reputation of either House of Parliament, or of politics generally, for them to be seen to be rewarded for putting self-interest ahead of their manifesto promises to the electorate.

Paul Tyler is Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Policy Committee on Constitutional Affairs

* Lord Tyler is the Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Political and Constitutional Reform.

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4 Comments

  • mike cobley 13th May '13 - 7:22pm

    “Political reform has been lost along the way by the Coalition.” Erm, are you being serious? Because from where I’m sitting, benefits have been reformed, disabled eligibility to benefit support has been reformed, legal aid has been reformed, the relationship between schools and local authorities has been reformed, and of course the NHS also has been reformed. And as I’m sure you’ll agree, these are all deeply political matters.

    Mind you, when I say reform I’m using the word in the same way as saying that when a side of beef is dropped into a mincing machine and converted into a heap of groundup meat it is re-formed. I hope that’s clear.

  • @mike cobley: Thanks for pointing out that the word “political” has two distinct and largely unrelated senses. Obviously Tyler meant the other one.

  • Martin Pierce 14th May '13 - 8:06am

    You just knew that when Nick Clegg gave a speech saying this would be the most (politically) reforming government since 1832, BEFORE anything was actually achieved, it risked being shown subsequently to be gross naivity and over-reach. In the cold light of day ask yourselves – did we achieve more political reform out of govt through Cook-Maclennan (Scottish and Welsh devolution, GLA, PR for those elections as well as Euros) or in govt since 2010 (er….)?

  • MICHAEL COLE 14th May '13 - 11:15am

    “This issue will surely re-emerge after the general election.” This issue should be repeated time and time again BEFORE the next general election.

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