New Liberal Democrat Peers: Has Nick got it right?

I will start by getting it out there that I just hate having to write this post. The very idea that the power of patronage exercised by 3 men, with a tiny fig leaf of scrutiny by a committee can choose people who make the laws I have to obey almost brings me out in hives. I can forgive Nick Clegg, because at least he tried to do something about it before he was defeated by the combined forces of Britain’s two conservative parties. While we’re stuck with an appointed second Chamber, it would be foolish for us to decide not to have a Liberal Democrat presence within it.

So, how did Nick Clegg do in picking our new peers? There’s no doubt that he has selected a bunch of decent people, so this isn’t personal. There are concerns, over diversity and democracy, though.


He provided the most gender balanced list, 5 men and 5 women. Of the 14 Conservative peers, only 4 are women, compared with 2 out of 5 Labour peers.

There is an argument, though, that he could have gone further. Our gender balance in Commons and Lords is appalling. There would have been no problem with him submitting a list with a significant majority of women.

Geographically, I wonder if it’s too London-centric. I’m claiming Alison Suttie as a Scottish peer, but that still leaves 4.5 out of 10 coming from London. The 0.5 is Ian Wrigglesworth who has bases in London and Northumberland. Other than that we have one from Scotland, one from the South West, one from Yorkshire and one from Wales.

And there’s no sign of anyone from a disadvantaged background. If we’re serious about social mobility, we need to address this.

It’s also quite Westminster Bubble/Paty establishment centric. Alison and Olly have been recent insiders, Brian is a former candidate, Ian is a party office bearer, Jeremy a former MSP. None of these are likely to give the Whips much trouble. It’s good to see local government experience in there from Cathy Bakewell, though.

So, if I was marking this like an old school essay, I’d probably have to go for a C+. Could do better.


There’s the small matter of the Interim Peers Panel. This is the body, first established in 1999, from which the leader is expected to choose the majority of  his nominations to the House of Lords. And when I say majority, that’s all but one. From the 1999 Conference motion:

 In addition, the Leader is invited to nominate one candidate of their choice from outside the list at each round of nominations if they so wish. The first such election ideally to take place in conjunction with the autumn 1999 Federal Committee elections, but by the end of 1999 at the latest. These provisions to be valid only until the Upper House has been fully reformed.

So, how many of our 10 are on the Panel? That’d be you, Mr (or Lord) Paddick. Olly Grender was on it for a time, too.

In 2004, Conference again debated the Interim Peers Panel and decided to continue with it after a review:

 Conference instructs the Federal Executive to review in time for implementation this year the election rules (but not the principle and policy) of the election, including:

 1.         The number of people to be elected to the panel, and

 2.         Arrangements for publicising the opportunity for nomination amongst all members of the party.

 Conference requests the Party Leader to return to the protocol agreed in 1999 for the appointment of working peers in the future.

 Conference believes the Leader should appoint on the basis of equality of opportunity and wherever practicable seek to ensure the Lords group reflects wider society in terms of, but not exclusively: national and regional identity, gender, race, belief, sexuality, age, and disability status.

Let’s be clear, the 2004 motion shows that Nick Clegg is not the first leader to give the Panel a wide berth. I have been aware, though, of some disquiet amongst members that he has again ignored the wishes of Conference. There is something you can do to make your views known, though. The Federal Executive set up a Democratic Reform Group, chaired by former Guildford MP and FE member Sue Doughty,  earlier this year which is looking, among other things, at our process for nominating people to the Lords.  They have, correctly, I think, decided to consult members. So, keep 8pm on Saturday 14th September free. They are very keen to hear your views on how things should be done, so stay out of the bar for an hour and tell them.

So, while some will see this as a sign of Nick Clegg’s continuing disregard of party activists, he’s not any better or worse than previous leaders on this. Nor is this by any way his worst example of ignoring a conference decision. Secret courts, anyone?

One final point. If we are going to have to put up with Lords being chosen by the three party leaders, surely Liberal Democrats within the Government could inject a bit of transparency into the system? Let’s see how the House of Lords Appointments Committee does its job. Let the names be publicly announced before they’re scrutinised? I don’t know what the answer is.  We may never need to find out, of course, if we end up in 2015 with a Government who is finally willing to sort the Lords out. I’m not going to hold my breath, though.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • nuclear cockroach 1st Aug '13 - 7:30pm

    I looked through the list of sitting Lib Dem peers, but failed to find Lord Bonkers. Did Blair kick him out?

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 1st Aug '13 - 8:10pm

    @Caron Lindsay

    ” I can forgive Nick Clegg, because at least he tried to do something about it before he was defeated by the combined forces of Britain’s two conservative parties.”

    There’s only one conservative party and it is being shored up by the Lib Dems. We in Labour want a democratically elected chamber every four or five years. Clegg’s suggested reforms were a joke and would have allowed the existing peers to remain in the House of Lords for a generation. That’s why we’re still stuck with big donors to all the political parties buying their way into our legislature. Outrageous.

  • LOL @ Mack. Sorry mate. The Labour Party doesn’t get to lecture ANYONE on the Lords since they voted against a timetable for the legislation to make it democratic. You may not like it, but that’s the way it is. No one takes you seriously on Lords reform now.

  • Simon Shaw

    Forgive me, but didn’t Labour support the 2nd reading?

  • David Evans 1st Aug '13 - 8:37pm


    I don’t think any of us elected Nick to be a dictator, able to ignore the decisions of the party’s constitutional democratic structures at will. But then again, perhaps you did vote for that. In contrast, I believe in a diverse, dispersed democracy where the power of patronage is minimized, whereas you seem to like all power in one person. Even for a Lib Dem, that is a bit odd.

  • Mboy

    I remember the LD ceaselessly moaning about Governments cutting the timetable when in Opposition.

  • Simon Shaw

    Where does he say that?

    He says the reforms were not very good, which they weren’t (that is a subjective view however).

    Labour supported the second reading and there was no vote on the programme motion. The problem was that the Tories could not deliver their promise.

    Clegg’s obdurate approach to Labour does not help when he needs the support of the Opposition to get through his reforms, especially when they were not that well thought through.

    The ‘What’ is one thing the ‘How’ though is equally important. I don’t think the ‘How’ of HoL reform has found a consensus yet.

    Labour are also playing politics as well but so do the LD when it suits them – linking AV to the boundary changes for example

  • @Mack

    ” We in Labour want a democratically elected chamber every four or five years.”

    I have no reason to doubt your personal sincerity, but yet your party has done nothing to make it happen.

    ““As Clegg brings forward proposals to reform the House of Lords, he will yet again find that the biggest roadblock to constitutional change is David Cameron.” – Sadiq Khan , May 2011. Turns out that Cameron voted for it but Sadiq and Labour backed away from the Bill.

    I remember Sadiq crowing during the debate about how the last Labour government had improved the HoL and that the LDs has abstained during the last reform of the HoL when hereditarys were kicked out . Yes, and we were right to. The current, Labour created system is appalling and undemocratic. To have voted for another undemocratic chamber would have been a farce. Moving the creation of peers from the bedroom to a party leader’s office is nothing of which to be proud.

    Labour had the chance then to make it elected and they didn’t .Last year they had a chance to bring democracy to the Upper Chamber and once again they did nothing. Let’s just hope that the current commitment doesn’t become a hat-trick of inaction when Labour are next in power.

  • George Potter

    Directly because of the actions of the Tory Party and Cameron not being able to deliver the Coalition Agreement.

    I find this idea that because someone has a HoL Reform Bill then it has to be supported. The bill itself was very poor in my eyes without 100% elected, bishops still hanging about and these silly 15 year terms. On that basis I would not support it myself, although I support reform.

    Politics is always important in these things as well – are you saying LD have never gone into the lobbies with the hope of making things difficult for the Government. Also, this is where the rhetoric and approach of Clegg using quotes straight from CCHQ comes back to haunt him. I come back to the linking of the AV and boundary change bill which was done specifically to challenge Labour.

    At the end there is no AV, no HoL reform and no boundary changes – not done that well has he?

  • The whole idea of “Lords Reform” is contradictory, since it is the institution itself that is the problem. As long as the talk is of “reform” the solutions will always be insufficient. I have nothing against the concept of a revising chamber in principle, but it cannot succeed if it is to have any institutional continuity with the current HoL. What’s needed is not “reform” but root-and-branch abolition of the house. Once that is accomplished, or as it is being accomplished, we can talk about a new “other house” which would be utterly distinct from the Lords in every particular.

  • ATF

    The issue was, for Labour, and as is always the case that it is difficult to find a proposal that people agree on. There was a bigger majority for 100% elected in the HoC but it would be virtually impossible to get that through the HoL.

    Blaming Labour for this is just a get-out when the forces against change have been, and probably always will be the Tories. labour fall down on being able to define one policy and follow through with it – instead in the last Government they kept too many options on the table for too long.

    Are you happy with 80% elected, the Lords Spiritual staying and 15 year terms and the lack of detail on how to ensure HoC primacy? Are you also ready to make such a significant constitutional change without a referendum – it is more significant than AV

  • Simon Shaw

    It was a poor set of proposals and I would have had to think strongly about wether to support it. At the end though I probably would have just to get the ball rolling but there were so many gaps in the detail that I would have been worried what we ended up with.

    The problem with HoL reform is that is has to get past the Lords themselves!

    I don’t think it is silly at all to be opposed to something you don’t support! I suppose the LD view is that it is silly as your MPs seems happy to support things they don’t support!

  • Nick Barlow

    Government’s have been trying since 1911 – the problem is that, as Dave says, to reform within the current constitutional framework is difficult.

    The 1999 Act removed the fast majority of hereditaries so that was a step forward but since then it has foundered on the ‘How to reform’

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 1st Aug '13 - 11:01pm

    @Nick Barlow
    “Labour want an elected Lords? Wow, if only they’d had thirteen years of majority government to do something about it.”

    Come on. Give us some credit for getting rid of most of the hereditaries. We didn’t do enough I agree, but we did more than that party that the Lib Dems are currently shoring up would ever have done no matter how large their majority.

    I agree mostly with your analysis of Clegg’s dogs breakfast of a bill. Single, non-renewable terms of 15 years were just
    not acceptable to labour. Neither were a hybrid house of 80% elected and 20% appointed plus unelected Church of England bishops. This was a major constitutional reform and the Lib Dem /Tory government would not provide the appropriate time for it to be debated or amended. That’s why Labour voted against the programme motion. All of those people who are blaming Labour for the collapse of the bill seem to forget the huge opposition from the Tories not to just the bill but to the principle of the democratisation of the House of Lords itself.. Labour wanted more scrutiny of the bill which is why it voted against the programme motion. At the vote on a second reading 91 Conservative MPs voted against a three line whip and 19 abstained. That’s why Clegg claimed that the Tories had broken the coalition agreement. Cameron refuted this saying that the agreement contained no promise to reform the House of Lords. It was the machinations of the backbench Tories that destroyed the Coalition’s H o L Reform bill and the refusal of the coalition to give proper time for it to be debated. Labour remain intent on a fully elected House of Lords. Our 2010 manifesto promised to let the British people decide in referenda on reform of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. But what Clegg proposed was a cop out.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 1st Aug '13 - 11:08pm

    @Simon Shaw
    “It’s just that Mack(Not a Lib Dem), a self-confessed Labour supporter,”

    Self-confessed eh? I thought that this was Lib-Dem Voice, not a Stalinist Show Trial!

  • Simon Shaw

    15 years terms – too long and one term only
    Hybrid house – prefer 100% but could cope with 20% unelected if there were strict guarantees on who
    Bishops – religion has no right to place at the heart of our democratic process

    Just because it is better than now doesn’t mean that we should support it – we will only get one chance so we shold do it right. It is the same problem – how to democratise the Lords without affecting the primacy of the Commons. Tried whenever Labour in power but they cannot square this circle.

    I don’t think anyone blames the LD or Clegg for this – the blame should go to the Tories – it was in the Coalition agreement wasn’t it? That does not fit your agenda though does it

  • David Allen 2nd Aug '13 - 12:04am

    So – Labour think the Lib Dems are a bunch of wasters, Lib Dems think Labour are a bunch of wasters.

    Meanwhile the BBC points out that all three parties are packing the Lords with their big donors. So, in truth we’re all a bunch of discredited wasters these days, aren’t we?

  • Richard Shaw 2nd Aug '13 - 8:27am

    Nick Clegg didn’t come up with the proposals – the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform did and the proposals were based around what had been proposed and gained most support in Parliament on previous occasions, such as the 80% elected/20% appointed ratio. If it looks like a fudge it’s because it is, because getting Parliament to legislate on itself requires a high degree of compromise.

    For reference, here’s how the committee was made up:
    12 Labour
    7 Conservatives
    3 Liberal Democrats
    2 Cross Benchers

  • The Shaws

    I am not saying we should oppose it, it is just that the reason why neither Clegg not previous Governments have delivered on this is because there is no agreement on what we want – this links to a previous comment on trying to work within a framework that is broken. The difficulty to maintain primacy of the Commons is always a block

    I have nowhere blamed Clegg for this as it is hard to do but it may need a ‘burning bridge’ to encourage change. The voters do not put this high on their priority list so there is no political value-add which is sad but the truth.

    The problem is the apportioning of blame for the failure of Clegg’s proposals. Firstly I think, as I have said, they are not great proposals, secondly Labour played politics but that is to be expected (it is linked to the FPTP system where the Opposition can only rarely flex their muscles and upset the Government) and the Government did the same with AV/boundaries which I know left the Labour activists absolutely fizzing. Finally, the Tories did not support their Coalition Agreement (or the spirit of).

    I sympathise with Clegg and hope he and the other leaders are in discussion on how to get this through during the next Parliament

    PS On another topic – listening to Mary Robinson on the radio – what an example of how to be a President, no need for the monarchy when there must be someone in the 60 million British who have the same capabilities as her

  • lloyd harris 2nd Aug '13 - 9:20am

    Don’t forget the proposals for HoL reform were written by a all-party group of MPs & Peers – it was their idea to have 15 year terms & no re-election I believe in an attempt to reduce the whips powers and increase independence of mind. Likewise the 80/20 was to probably a way of keeping non-party political people in there.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 2nd Aug '13 - 10:49am

    @Simon Shaw
    ““Single, non-renewable terms of 15 years were just not acceptable to labour.” WHY NOT?”
    Undemocratic. Simply legitimizes what is wrong with the present system through the ballot box. Would you really accept single, non-renewable terms of 15 years for the House of Commons?

    ““Neither were a hybrid house of 80% elected and 20% appointed” WHY NOT?”
    You can’t have partial democracy. This would retain the power of patronage and it is patronage that corrupts our political system.

    ““Neither were … unelected Church of England bishops.” WHY NOT?”

    Britain is not Iran. In the 21st Century we should not be living in a theocracy.

    By the way, you don’t seem to realize that I was making a joke about “self-confessed”

    @Lloyd Harris
    “”Likewise the 80/20 was to probably a way of keeping non-party political people in there.”

    There’s no such animal as a non-party political person. You are postulating a person who has no values whatsoever and when someone’s values become involved in the process of legislating they become, by definition, political.

    Even though the 2012 bill was a consequence of an all party group it was unacceptable to 91 Tory MPs and 19 Tory abstainers as well as many of the grass roots of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. Furthermore, any possibility for compromise was destroyed by the unacceptable programme motion which is why Labour voted it down. The programme motion was Clegg’s other big mistake. He played right into the hands of Cameron’s reactionary back benchers.

  • Mack, the whole point of having an upper house is that its mandate significantly differs from the lower house so it can act as a check and balance rather than as a destabilising second government. Of course nobody would accept 15 year single terms for a Commons MP, that’s the whole point.

    And any praise I could give Labour for its ‘reforms’ to the Upper House would inevitably be tinged with sarcasm and contempt. You took a system of hereditary rule and replaced it with party political patronage, with unelected cronies being placed in power by the political elite to serve their various agendas. That’s not progress, that’s just one elite ousting another.

    Of course, even then you only mostly replaced the previous system. You can’t have partial reform, unless its a red team proposal in which case its fine. Progress to a halfway state is unacceptable, unless its the red team doing it, in which case why even go half way? 15 year terms are too long, so why not stick with the lifetime membership – it must be better, the red team did it.

  • @Mack(Not a Lib Dem) oh how your comment has brightened my day with it’s clear failure to appreciate how Labour spent 13 years not to mention this year frustrating an elected upper house. People like former Justice Secretary Jack Straw are pretty clear that they are perfectly happy with a House of Patronage.

  • nuclear cockroach 2nd Aug '13 - 12:00pm


    Sorry, Mack, perhaps you believe your latest piece of Labour Party hagiography, but I sincerely doubt that any independent observer would. The truth is that, for reasons of internal party coherence and to embarrass the Liberal Democrat leadership, it suited the PLP to bring down any proposals to reform the Lords. So it did.

    “There’s no such animal as a non-party political person. ”

    Clearly you don’t get out much!

    “Would you really accept single, non-renewable terms of 15 years for the House of Commons?”

    Clearly not, but the whole point is that the Senate would be a revising chamber, with an altogether different task than the Commons. And has been pointed out, ad nauseum, the proposals weren’t Clegg’s proposals, but those of a Lords’ group, of which Labour peers were half. Several reasons were given for 15 year single terms. Single non-renewable terms specifically to guarantee independence from the Whip. 15 years to allow grandfathering. There was nothing undemocratic about the proposals at all..

  • I don’t agree with Mack on all his comments but this ranting at the Labour Party is not going to help much!

    Remember who is in Government and HoL reform was in the Coalition Agreement. The Coalition has a majority so why is it not being introduced, Labour should not be able to stop it? Oh yes, the party that always opposes reform to the electoral system is stopping you despite all the sacrifices made of LD principles on the altar of Coalition.

    I am tired of hearing that it is Labour’s fault on AV and Labour’s fault on HoL reform – yes they have played politics amd that is unseemly but your party has also been guilty of that too. It is the nature of Opposition and the LD leadership have not been particularly polite about Labour so should not be surprised that cooperation is not particularly forthcoming

    The only way we will get reform in this country if the LD and Labour do it together with the support of the smaller parties when the numbers allow. Labour should’ve done that in 97 but we all know that Blair was actually more interested in keeping Murdoch onside than proper reform. Miliband will be different I think

  • Someone very clever (Clegg, Cable, Laws, Huhne, Alexander or another Lib Dem?) made sure that the coalition agreement contained the slow fuse time bomb , ensuring that the House of Lords would be unsustainable without reform. (By the way it is cleverly far-sighted to appoint young HoL members!)

    Piecemeal changes (David Steel: it is time to return to your home to prepare for retirement) can only obstruct reform, so all credit to Nick Clegg for standing firmly against this.

    When reform does take place, I would really like to know which Liberal Democrat to thank for this.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 2nd Aug '13 - 1:36pm

    @Simon Shaw

    “In opposing single, non-renewable terms of 15 years and a hybrid house of 80% elected and 20% appointed, you clearly imply that you want a 100% elected house, fully re-elected every 5 years. Does it never occur to you that an “upper” house, elected under some form of PR would have a far better mandate than the House of Commons?”

    I said that was what was definitely wanted in my initial post and I see nothing wrong with it. Those who exercise power over us should always be held accountable every four or five years. If workers can’t expect jobs for life I don’t see why members of the House of Lords should expect to do so. As for your point about the H of L having a better mandate than the House of Commons surely that does not invalidate the proposition of a fully elected H of L every four or five years, it predicates reform of the House of Commons. Something, of course that Labour stands for. In any case the primacy of the House of Commons could always be always be maintained by further amendments to the Parliament Act in event of full democratisation of the second chamber.

  • Ben Jephcott 2nd Aug '13 - 8:16pm

    No Liz Lynne, clearly excluded at the last minute as most of the names were on the leaked list. Why in heaven’s name not? More fundamentally, why must the East and Midlands still not have a Lib Dem peer? Do we exist? Do votes here for the Liberal Democrats count for less than they do in London, especially the borough of Richmond?

    Collectively, this list is an absolute travesty of what constitutes the Liberal interest and the duty of the Leader in the absence of democratic reform to represent the party across the country.

    It is indefensible.

  • In 2010 we elected 15 people to the Interim Peers list they were:
    Jon Ball
    Sue Baring
    Kay Barnard
    Chris Bones
    David Boyle
    Sal Brinton (already appointed)
    Alan Butt-Philip
    Richard Church
    Val Cox
    Antony Hook
    Liz Leffman
    Mark Pack
    Flick Rea
    Mike Tuffrey
    Chris Wiggan
    I believe that those elected in 2008 are technically still on the list:
    Robert Adamson
    Qassim Afzal
    Jeremy Ambache
    Catherine Bearder
    Viv Bingham
    Duncan Brack
    Ruth Coleman
    Ramesh Dewan
    Jonathan Fryer
    Jock Gallagher
    Bernard Greaves
    Josephine Hayes
    James Kempton
    Bill le Breton
    Gordon Lishman
    Jonathan Marks
    Justine McGuinness
    Fiyaz Mughal
    Brian Paddick (Selected this time)
    Monroe Palmer (already appointed)
    Jackie Pearcey
    Peter Price
    Alan Sherwell
    Julie Smith
    Jane Smithard
    John Steves
    Ben Stoneham
    Tony Vickers
    Chris White
    David Williams
    (I don’t understand why we elected 30 one year and 15 two years later.)

    As Caron Lindsay wrote only one of the peers chosen this time is from the Interim Peers list.

    @ Richard Morris

    Makes a valid point that there is no sanction against our Leaders when they ignore the decisions of Conference regarding the Interim Peers list. Maybe we need to amend the constitution so that Conference can remove the leader we could add it in article 10.2 after no confidence motion of the House of Commons Parliamentary Party. Therefore like any motion to conference it call be submitted by those named in 5.6 as per article 6.8.

    @ Simon Shaw

    “So this Interim Peers Panel is a policy agreed by a small group of (largely self-selected) Party members, and the Panel membership is elected by a small group of (largely self-selected) Party members.”

    The Interim Peers list is a policy agreed by the “sovereign representative body of the Party” (Article 6.7) and elected by those elected by the membership in various ways. While I accept that some people are elected unopposed this does not normally negate the idea that they were democratically elected.

    @ Mack (Not a Lib Dem)

    We in Labour want a democratically elected chamber every four or five years. Clegg’s suggested reforms were a joke and would have allowed the existing peers to remain in the House of Lords for a generation.

    I didn’t understand why the House of Lords Reform Bill was proposing non-renewable terms of 15 years but it makes sense with five year House of Commons elections and elections by thirds as party policy was a fully elected chamber with 12 year terms and I assume assumed 4 year House of Commons elections. It then makes sense to remove the existing members of the House of Lords by thirds I believed based on activity and so leaving in 2025 the 263 most active current members of the Lords. I couldn’t find the Policy Paper 83 For the People, By the People on the internet but it should be in there somewhere. I am not convinced that is the right policy. I was thinking maybe it would be better to elect them every two years for six years and they could stand for re-election. I expect that the 20% appointed was to try a compromise. However considering that the House of Lords in 2007 would only accept 100% appointed it may have been a waste of time and effort.

    @ Simon Shaw

    “No, like 95%+ of Lib Dem members I didn’t get to vote for the Interim Peers Panel.”

    That is representative governance.

    @ bcrombie

    we will only get one chance so we sho(u)ld do it right.

    A Labour government or a Labour-Lib Dem coalition could make new proposals to reform the reform.

  • Is it just me or is the argument that we have to keep the HoL extremely undemocratic to ensure the primacy of the HoC a little absurd.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 3rd Aug '13 - 11:12am

    “I was thinking maybe it would be better to elect them every two years for six years and they could stand for re-election.”

    An ingenious compromise proposal that may have found a good deal of support had the programme motion not truncated debate.

  • David Evans 8th Aug '13 - 10:01pm

    @Simon Shaw

    “The way to have a “diverse, dispersed democracy” is to have elections where all UK citizens get to vote. That’s what Nick proposed, isn’t it.”

    Perhaps it is what Nick proposed, but the party has not adopted it. What the party adopted was the list – adopted it through its agreed constitutional arrangements. Now Nick doesn’t seem to like it, and apparently, neither do you, but that doesn’t give either of you the right to impose your own personal preference on the party as a whole.

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