Party Reform: The Interim Peers List, is it fit for purpose?

House of Lords. Photo: Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of ParliamentTim Farron, our Party President has long championed concerns about how democratic  the Lib Dems really are and how can we do better.  Federal Executive has now set up the Democratic Reform Group which I chair.  Our first task has been to take a hard look at the Interim Peers List and we have published a consultation paper on this together with organising a meeting at Glasgow to consult members about improvements to the process.  The Interim Peers list is an group of people elected by Conference Representatives from which the Party Leader can make nominations to the House of Lords.

We still want to see a democratically elected second chamber but need support from the other main parties to change things.  Peers tend to be older than MPs although this delivers experience, we have not been successful in bringing in a retirement system that works.  Indeed, only the leader can nominate Lib Dem members under the current system and even then we never know how many places are coming.  We can’t change this.

What Lib Dems can do is to look at how the Interim Peers List works and if we can improve it in terms of transparency and democracy.  Should votes to the list be by Conference Representatives only or should all members have a vote? How can we improve regional representation? Former Parliamentarians (English, Euro, Scots and Welsh) are all automatically members of the list but former council and group leaders are not although in recent years Nick has taken care to recruit from the latter highly experienced sector especially outside the South East.  Should there be an upper or lower age limit to be on the list? And of course, how far the leader should ensure that Lib Dems in the Lords are more representative of other underrepresented groups.

We want Lib Dem members to read our paper which explains more on the background to the list, and to the basis of nomination to the Lords.  We are asking your views on a number of questions and need your feedback by 4th October.  We can then come back with a motion to Spring Conference.

Improving democracy within the party doesn’t just stop there.  If you think that there are other areas of internal party management which need fixing we want to hear from you.

Our fringe meeting “Is the Peers List fit for Purpose” will be on Saturday 14 September at 20.15 in the main conference centre.  Our paper is at here. Feedback to [email protected]

* Sue Doughty chairs the FE Working Group on Democratic Reform. She was formerly the MP for Guildford

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14 Comments

  • Surely it’s not worth expending effort on improving this list unless the leader can be induced to take some notice of it when nominating peers?

  • Geoffrey Payne 27th Aug '13 - 1:19pm

    I have to admit that when I voted as a conference representative for the interim peers list, I actually thought I had the power to vote for lib dem members who would go on to become peers. So much better I thought than the leader placing yes men and anonymous party donors into the chamber. Then I found out that the leader could ignore that and put in whoever he wants regardless. What a strange system we have, good to see it is being fixed. But how did we get the system that we currently have in the first place? I can’t imagine the party ever voted for that.

  • Richard Shaw 27th Aug '13 - 1:22pm

    @ Chris

    Surely it’s not worth a leader taking notice of the list until it’s worth using?

    In other words, given that we cannot mandate use of the list and that, to my knowledge, it has been largely ignored by all Lib Dem leaders since its introduction then the onus is on reforming the list so that its use is always clearly in the best interest of the wider Party, so that it can’t easily be sidelined as being either unworkable, undemocratic or generally irrelevant.

    I personally would like a model based on the selection of our Euro list candidates, with each region having a list of would-be Peers and with each region getting a share of the number of new peers based on regional membership numbers. Importantly, like the Euro list, this list would be chosen by the whole membership and not just those lucky few at Conference, and therefore a lot more credible and harder for Leaders to sidestep.

  • David Evans 27th Aug '13 - 2:06pm

    @ Richard & @Sue

    It’s the leader that is the problem (and past leaders are all as bad as each other), not the process.

    But until we get a party that is less deferential to its leader and has the courage to stand up for its values within the party as much as it is prepared to stand up for its values outside the party, things will not change. Ultimately it will need a party that is prepared to insist leaders do as they are told on occasions, rather than just let them do as they like and then let them off when they bluff it out.

    However, after three years of watching our party and its principles being cut to pieces by its leader and seeing long serving members leave as the only principled thing to do, I fear it will never happen.

  • David Evans 27th Aug '13 - 3:45pm

    Actually Sue, one further query. In your article you say

    “The Interim Peers list is a group of people elected by Conference Representatives from which the Party Leader can make nominations to the House of Lords.”

    When the peers list was first introduced, was it made up on the basis that

    It was a list from which the Party leader can make nominations,

    It was a list from which the party leader should make nominations, or perhaps

    It was a list from which the party leader must make nominations.

  • Tony Greaves 27th Aug '13 - 8:53pm

    “it has been largely ignored by all Lib Dem leaders since its introduction”

    Not so. The first couple of lists of new peers were very much based on the Interim Peers Panel. (I declare an interest in the first of those lists, nominated by Charles!)

    It was on the basis of a request to the Leader (on the grounds that constitutionally and legally the party could not insist) but there was a clear expectation that nominations would come from the list other than (1) one per list who could be chosen by the Leader – known in those days as “Charlie’s Choice” and (2) former MPs. The latter was meant to be only for the Dissolution lists but has been stretched to include former MPs and other parliamentarians (Scotland, Lords, EP) without much complaint; also to apply at any time which is not what was originally intended.

    The simple fact is that Leaders since Kennedy have largely ignored the list and have disregarded the wishes of the party as expressed at Conference. Any reform will need to gain the agreement of the Leader to adhere to what the party requests and requires.

    Tony

  • David Evans 27th Aug '13 - 9:21pm

    I stand corrected re Charlie.

  • Well I can’t think that this was the most urgent thing in need of reform. It would be great to introduce some e-democracy into the party. A website with user names and pass words surely is not too much to ask. Even if results were only consultative it would be a start. Tony Greaves hits the nail on the head, and the leader of the Lib Dems since Kennedy have behaved appallingly.

  • Many thanks for the comments one and all. I do hope you will also write in to us as well as there is some useful background in the paper.
    As you rightly point out, the system relies to an extent on the leader at the time. There is also the issue of people who could not be elected to the list because they needed to be strictly non political such as Tim Gardner but became available around the same time as the we were allocated some places and who have provided splendid expertise.
    @caracatus As a new group we had to start somewhere. We also want to look at One Member One Vote and e-democracy would usefully sit here. We are concerned however that the party does not have a strong list of member’s emails and of those we have, the read rate is really low. The reality is that our members now communicate with the party and with each other through a wide variety of ways – e news, facebook, twitter, phone, face to face and print. We suspect that very few people use all, and certainly Facebook is a marmite issue within the party. All suggestions would be really helpful.

  • David Evans 28th Aug '13 - 1:38pm

    I’m sorry Sue, the system relies “entirely” on the leader at the time.

    Unless and until that is accepted and addressed, you will be wasting your time,

  • Tony Dawson 28th Aug '13 - 5:50pm

    Unfortunately, knowing that the Leaders tend to ignore these lists, a lot of very good people in the party who would make excellent LIBERAL working peers do not even put their names forward. Within the list, though, are still people considerably more suitable than those who have been chosen.

  • It is a shame that the questions do not reflect some of the areas Sue says she wants to consult on. Examples of these are: former council and group leaders, age limits. Also there are no questions regarding restricting the leader’s power and making the leader accountable to whatever Federal Conference decides. There is no discussion of whether former MPs should only be eligible for dissolution honours.

    The paper also reads as if it has already been decided to go for one member, one vote and then ensure that most of those elected to the list are former MPs, former members of the Scottish and Welsh assemblies and the European Parliament.

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