The Liberal Democrat party should be able to recall its own peers

The Independent reports that several Liberal Democrats are due to be made peers in the forthcoming dissolution honours list. Compared to votes cast before and on May 7th, we have a disproportionate amount of peers. This opens up the question: Should we, the Liberal Democrats, voluntarily sack 60 peers to make our Lords contingent proportionate to our last general election share of the vote? That would certainly be a groundbreaking move, a bonfire of ermin has much attractive about it, but I don’t advocate it.

However, there is a serious debate to be had about the recall of peers. At the moment our peers are not subject to any effective disciplinary process. Of course, they should be elected and subject to recall by voters. But until that “glorious day” (ref: Citizen Smith theme song) there needs to be some way of calling them to account.

They theoretically have the whip system. But I believe that the Lords whip system is not an effective disciplinary tool, to say the least. If a peer does something wrong the whip can have a very collegiate talk with the relevant peer and gently tell them not to do it again. It’s a joke. The chances of a peer having the whip taken away from them for bad behaviour are zero. They have to be voted against by their own group, which isn’t going to happen. (Of course, a peer might get bumped (or “resigned”) onto the cross-benches by the party leader for talking honestly about foreign policy, vis Jenny Tonge).

The Liberal Democrat party gives peers what is effectively a job for life. They get a regular high salary just for turning up (although, of course, the overwhelming majority of peers work extremely hard). They have a fantastic job in the most sumptuous surroundings at the centre of the nation’s affairs. They have civil servants responding to their every whim with a “Yes, your lordship/ladyship”. They can legislate over their fellow citizens, and frequently do.

I would like to see all our party peers reviewed annually by a panel of party members looking at their attendance, speaking and voting record and discussing with the peer any complaints against them. In extremis, the party should have the power to sack its peers. I don’t mean withdrawing the whip. I mean ending their peerage. Peers are given their jobs through the generosity of the party. We should have the power to take away that job if they abuse their privilege.

I am particularly thinking about this passage in the House of Lords’ group standing orders:

You must treat others with respect and must not bully, harass or intimidate any Party member, member of Party staff, member of Parliamentary staff, Party volunteer or member of the public. Such behaviour will be considered to be bringing the Party into disrepute.

Any peer who breaches that paragraph should be sacked from their job. We must have zero tolerance of abuse and hectoring of anyone.

That includes such abuse and hectoring by their lords and ladyships.

Comments on this post will be pre-moderated

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Richard Underhill 27th Jun '15 - 2:42pm

    The Independent should check whether the SNP want any peers.
    There is no upper house in the Scottish parliament.
    There are probably some Scottish peers, but do any support the SNP? which SNP wants to leave the UK.

  • Sadie Smith 27th Jun '15 - 2:45pm

    We have a crazy system in Parliament. Having fewer libDems is unlikely to help sort this out.

  • Reviewing the voting record of a peer might end up being disappointing. Just to give an idea: Would Alex Carlile`s voting record on surveillance qualify for (consideration of) the sack here ?

  • paul barker 27th Jun '15 - 2:51pm

    This article should probably not have been written or, once written, published, it is simply nonsense. Peers cannot be removed, in fact they cant even resign. If the Party were to sack any of our Peers they would simply move to the crossbenches or another Party. Thats why we dont sack them except under extreme circumstances. Changing this situation would require new Law which we are not in a position to influence right now.
    Sorry if I sound grumpy but its too hot.

  • John Farrand-Rogers 27th Jun '15 - 3:09pm

    Most of us have always been aware of the benefits and advantages of PR, Sara. Can you explain what you mean, please?

  • There is an obvious flaw in this suggestion. The best thing about Lords is that they are not under the thumb of the party hierarchy. As long as they dont break the law they can do as they please. Of course, it would be nice if the laws of the land were applied to everyone equally, including Lords.

  • Richard Underhill 27th Jun '15 - 4:10pm

    “Peers cannot be removed, in fact they cant even resign.”
    Yes they can. David Steel’s short but powerful bill is now an Act of Parliament.
    Voluntary retirement is among its provisions. This has happened.

  • Richard Underhill 27th Jun '15 - 4:15pm
  • Richard Underhill 27th Jun '15 - 4:21pm

    Please also see David Steel’s interview with the crossbench historian Peter Hennessey on BBC Radio 4.

  • For that matter, peers can also voluntarily refuse to show up.

  • This is a sort of nonsense click bait article. Even if one accepted the premiss, how could there be a guarantee that numbers would be restored if party fortunes improved?

    Peers under threat could very quickly become cross-benchers.

    If the party really felt this is an important issue, it could decide that only a limited number would turn up on a given day. There is no compulsory attendance to the HoL. I do not really understand David Steel’s bill – what real difference does it make other than to allow people to leave on a matter of principle? But actually, all they have to do is not turn up.

  • Roger Roberts 27th Jun '15 - 5:35pm

    Tories and Labour have only themselves to blame !
    At the recent General Election the Conservatives claim a mandate after polling 37% of those who voted, 63% opposed them. 37 to 63 is no mandate at all.
    There can be serious consequences when the majority have to submit to the minority. 37-63.
    Is it not time for us to to campaign even more vigorously for a fair electoral system ?
    I propose inviting all who share my concern to meetings in September. Please respond and indicate your interest or support. 37-63
    The inaugural meeting is Wednesday Sept 10 at 7 pm in Committee Room 3a in the House of Lords

  • Richard Underhill 27th Jun '15 - 7:50pm

    What David Steel did not get was his proposal on hereditary peers. He wanted to abolish the “stone in the shoe” under there are by-elelctions for hereditary peer/s when they die. Please see Hansard or consult Paul Tyler.

  • Well done Paul – an important issue . IMO – Yes to Lib Dem members selecting a candidates listing for Lib Dem Lords – Yes Lib Dem Lords should be accountable to the Party & members . The devil will be in the detail & if the party has the balls to do anything when someone is judged to have ‘crossed the line’. I fear that the Party would only take firm action if the media (usually right wing) puts pressure on – and then possibly come to the wrong conclusion – same examples have been mentioned above.
    The issue of anyone who has only donated a large sum of cash should be barred as a start??????

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 28th Jun '15 - 9:22am

    Paul Barker, you might not agree with the article but to say that it shouldn’t have been published or written is a bit harsh, surely?

    And surely it’s not unreasonable for Lib Dems to seek to have a remedy if Lib Dem peers have not shown the values that we would expect from anyone else in the party?

  • peter tyzack 28th Jun '15 - 10:11am

    any of our Peers who don’t follow Party Policy should have the whip withdrawn, if that means they become ‘crossbenchers’… so?
    Whilst we are talking of rules for Peers.. any Member of the Upper House who disgraces himself, is convicted of something more than a speeding/parking offence, should lose his position automatically. Parliament makes our laws, so members who don’t abide by them are clearly unfit to make them.. – starting with Archer.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Jun '15 - 2:04pm

    Please remember that the Reform Act 1832 abolished votes for women, remedied by a free vote in parliament in 1917, when David Lloyd George was Prime Minister and the suffragette campaign was suspended by Mrs. Pankhurst. because of World War 1.
    Suffragistes, some of whom were prominent in society, experienced justice delayed and thereby denied.
    Suffragettes whose violence turned to arson were lucky that they did not commit any consequential murders.
    Equality came in 1928 for the 1929 general election (which Liberals fought to win).

  • I quite enjoyed the article, didn’t take it too literally but it certainly was food for thought. I don’t think now’s the time for reform (because this is the only effective national representation we’ve got left), but I agree with the ideal.

  • John Tilley 28th Jun '15 - 6:20pm

    paul barker 27th Jun ’15 – 2:51pm
    “…This article should probably not have been written or, once written, published, it is simply nonsense. …. …
    Sorry if I sound grumpy but its too hot.”

    Paul Barker,
    If writing nonsense was a bar to having it appear in LDV you might miss some of my more nonsensical comments (which I am sure you would not want to do).
    Similarly I might miss some of your polling predictions and forecasts of an imminent and fatal split in The Labour Party, which you have been predicting for some years now (rather like a fundamentalist American sect predicting the end of the world).
    Thank you for letting us know that when we read one of your comments we should check the temperature, anything over 20 degrees and we just have to remember that you are in grumpy mode. 🙂

  • Paul Walter

    If passing a new law about the HoL it has to go further than allowing the removal a few peers. It has to be wholesale reform.

  • @Richard Underhill – the SNP have always refused to have peers and continue to do so – it is their party policy.

  • Paul Barker is apparently unfamiliar with the terms of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014, introduced by David Steel, which does in fact provide for removing life peers for the first time, in cases of being convicted of a serious criminal offence – something which was not previously possible.

    This piece of legisslation has had very little press coverage, but is actually quite far-reaching in its implications.

  • The most interesting part of David Steel’s 2014 bill, are the sections about the minimum attendance requirement that must be satisfied, by both appointed and hereditary peers, to remain a member of the HoL. Interestingly, whilst many have commented upon the fact that the bill permits a person to retire from the HoL and return to the Commons, I’ve not found any substantive comment about the new ongoing membership requirement.

    For those who wish to ‘reform’ the HoL, remember David Steel had noted that small focused bills tended to get through the system, whereas major reform bills didn’t. Hence why he didn’t really support Nick Clegg’s attempt at ‘reform’ and (successfully) steered his own private members bill through…

  • Jayne Mansfield 14th Jul '15 - 9:37pm

    All parties are over represented in the Lords. There are too many of them and parties who claim that they are opposed to patronage, should stop doling them out. The situation is disgraceful.

    When I read of people who have turned the offer of a place, they immediately go up in my estimation.

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