The Independent View: A compromise on Lords reform to unite the parties?

Lords reform looks set to be one of the more contentious issues in the current Parliament. Pressure for progress from the Liberal Democrat leadership looks likely to meet opposition from a combination of elements from the Conservative and Labour parties. This, despite all parties expressing manifesto support for reform of some kind. Given that, a compromise seems desirable, so I humbly offer one here.

In short, I propose that the reformed chamber should be directly elected, but that abstentions should count as ‘votes’ for an Appointments Commission list of candidates.

The Commission would only be charged with producing a list of potential legislators of experience and expertise, not ‘winning’ elections. However, citizens should be able to ‘positively’ vote for such a list, as well – which they may well do if they value this apparent feature of the existence of such peers in the current chamber.

By adopting this approach, I suggest it is possible to achieve a chamber that is:

  • directly elected;
  • broadly representative;
  • a deliberative body in which contributions are made by people of experience, expertise, and specialist knowledge;
  • subordinate to the House of Commons.

The first two are achieved by electing the members of the chamber using a broadly proportional method. The deliberative character of the chamber are achieved by ‘abstention-votes’ ensuring that ‘experts’ are present. Finally, the very fact that there would be members of such a chamber without a direct democratic mandate would provide for the de facto subordination to the Commons that seems to be of such concern to reform opponents.

For a more detailed discussion of the proposal, together with some examples of how vote shares and turnout would map onto seat shares, please see my post here.

* Tim Hicks is an Ussher Assistant Professor of Political Economy at Trinity College, Dublin. He received a DPhil in Politics at Nuffield College, Oxford, in 2009.  You can view his web site here and he can be reached by email at [email protected]

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  • Peter Andrews 7th Jun '12 - 5:00pm

    This is unworkable as abstentions and votes for the Appointments Commission list of candidate will almost certainly out number votes for directly elected members. So we;d end up with a mainly appointed chamber rather than an mainly directly elected one which IMHO is unacceptable.

    I also have no interest in creating an easy way for former MPs to continue using the Lords as a retirement home when they can’t be bothered to try to get re-elected anymore or worse lose their seats and then still end up in parliament anyway despite being rejected by the electorate. If they want in to the upper chamber then they should stand for election to it.

    I do support a 20% appointed element but only if this is made up of genuine experts not former elected politicians (unless they also happen to be experts) with an independent appointments commission selecting appointed members.

  • Sigh. Expertise in one field does not an excellent legislator make…

    What we should be doing is holding every single opponent of reform to account for their opposition given the united party policies on this issue. If appointed experts wish to stand for election they can do so – maybe some of us would even vote for an Ex-Archbishop Rowan, but the wilful misreading of apathy as support for no democracy is a non-starter.

  • Also, whilst I agree with James re muti-member STV, can we stop saying that party lists [hopefully elected by party members] are somehow automatically centralising:

    A known list will only get as many votes as the electorate decide to give it and is still ultimately democratic, whilst encouraging voting for principles rather than personalities [not all bad]. At the same time, party lists encourage membership of political parties and engagement much like open primaries, and identification with a purpose at the heart of politics rather than the ceaseless triangulation of a personality.

  • Tony Dawson 8th Jun '12 - 7:37am

    Woman in pub (swigs pint):

    “I’m voting right now to leave it to the experts.”

    Man in pub:

    “Wouldn’t it be a good idea is we did that for MPs too?” 🙁

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