South East Lib Dems call for change in party policy on the Lords

South East Liberal Democrats have voted by an overwhelming majority to call for a change in party policy to call for a fully elected body to replace the House of Lords.

The new policy was passed at the Regional Conference in Effingham, Surrey. It goes further than the party’s 2005 manifesto pledge for a “predominantly” elected House of Lords. South East Lib Dems intend to take the motion to Federal Conference next Spring.

The motion was proposed by former Dover PPC Antony Hook and was summated by Regional Chair and Federal Executive member Mike Simpson.

Antony Hook, a barrister, described the motion as principled, unambiguous, and consistent. In his speech he argued liberals must believe that those effected by lawmakers’ decisions should be able to choose their lawmakers and get rid of them when they start taking bad decisions, which he described as the best guarantee of government in the public interest.

He raised the European angle, saying it will be hard to ask new and potential member states to embrace democracy in substance as well as name if we have laws partly made by hereditaries and appointees.

Mr Hook challenged the myth that the Lords are a bastion against party control, pointing out that statistically Lords rebel less often that MPs. It was also pointed out that only a small portion of the Lords can properly be called “experts”. Mr Hook explicitly challenged the idea of the Lords as a national choir of experts. His speech argued that the proper role of experts in a democracy is to advise and educate public and politicians not to supplant accountable decision makers.

Mike Simpson told Conference that the party had told faith groups that any representation they are given in Parliament must be gender balanced and it was naturally pointed out that leading a religious group is an odd qualification to take decisions binding people of every other faith.

Note: This piece was written by Antony Hook and edited by Rob Fenwick. What’s been happening at your regional conference? E-mail [email protected] to share it with more members.

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6 Comments

  • hywelmorgan 12th Nov '06 - 4:11pm

    I’ve always thought though that HoL reform was an opportunity to develop a system of getting representatives from a wider pool than party hacks who’ll run for election.

    The ability to appoint 10-15% of upper house members might allow the ability to draw in a wider pool of knowledge and experience. What does need addressing is who can be appointed, for how long and how.

    What depresses me more however is that virtually the sole focus of HoL reform is on what proportion is elected. Far more important are the powers and role of the second chamber. Parliamentary scrutiny is seriously lacking in our system.

    Just see the Companies act which the BBC reports 800 of its 1500 clauses didn’t get any debate (I’m taking them at their word as I’m not checking this out!) or the Criminal Justice Act 2003 which had a lot of late amendements which were hard to scrutinise properly.

    As far as I can tell the proposals to introduce CORE (the central electoral register) didn’t attract a single question or discussion at committee stage.

    And then we get onto European directives enacted into UK law. Of the MPs jumping up and down about lead organ pipes recently, I wonder how many read the SI which made that change in the law?

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 12th Nov '06 - 4:41pm

    Hywel,

    Your point, which you make well, is that parliament is not effectively scrutinising all the Bills and SIs before it.

    That must be a strong argument for better support fir legislators in terms of research support and/or for more areas of responsibility to be devolved to more local levels.

  • Tony Greaves 12th Nov '06 - 9:04pm

    A good principled position and one I supported in the lobbies last time the options were debated and voted on (and will do so again if it’s tabled). I also supported 80% because it is a practical proposal. 100% is not going to get through, 80% might just do so.

    But it will need some fairly vigorous hedging: no compulsory retirement for existing life peers plus a retirement package for those who are willing to go; phasing in of the reform over probably 12 years; and some more.

    The problem is that you have to get the existing House of Lords to vote for it.
    Indeed you have to get a goodly proportion of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords to vote for it! Party policy on 80% is just about sticking at present without much public dissension (the lobbies will be a different matter). 100% would not.

  • “no compulsory retirement for existing life peers plus a retirement package for those who are willing to go; phasing in of the reform over probably 12 years; and some more.”

    The second is reasonable – though I’d twist the knife by linking it to attendance rates over the previous few years 🙂

    One and three – if that comes from our peers I’m tempted to say ‘balls to them’. Most of our life peers were appointed post 1997 when there was (a) a clear Labour agenda to reform the lords and (b) clear party policy on the matter so they should have known this was only going to be a stop gap measure.

    It would be pretty disgraceful if democratic reform of the Lords was substantially delayed to pander to the interests of those benefiting from the previous system.

    Your nobleness of course being excepted from this criticism 🙂

    As regards 100% – there is a difference I suppose between what we would like to see and what position we take before the horse-trading starts. There is an argument that if you start off at 80% it becomes easier to negotiate you down to 50%!

  • I agree Hywel that the Lords should be a revissing chamber and it would be good to have wider expertise. However surely it should be up to voters to decide if they want religious leaders or any other ‘expert’ to have a say on the laws which govern them. Who is going to appoint the ‘independent appointments commission’ if that was elected I might see there appointments having some legitimacy but this being Britain it is presumably going to be made up of retired civil servants and the other usual suspects.

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