Tim Farron calls for Lords reform in wake of Sewel

Tim Farron has written to party leaders and cross-bench peers calling for Lords reform in the wake of the Lord Sewel scandal.

Tim argues that this is not just about one bad apple, but rather it is about a system which is rotten to the core and allows unelected, unaccountable people to think they are above the law. It is yet another sorry reflection of an undemocratic system, and more than ever highlights the Liberal Democrat case for reform.

He calls for a wide-ranging constitutional convention including members of the public.

The case for reform of the House of Lords has been brought into sharp focus this week following the resignation of Lord Sewel.

This has been yet another sorry reflection on our undemocratic system, and more than ever highlights the case for a major shake-up of the Second Chamber.

Any system which continues to allow life-time appointments of people unaccountable to the public risks undermining confidence in our law makers. It could also devalues the important scrutiny work that should be performed by an elected second chamber.

It is time for progressive politicians from across the political spectrum to come together and not only campaign for change, but make it happen.

Lib Dem peer Jeremy Purvis has tabled the Constitutional Bill in the House of Lords which sets out ways to reform the chamber.

The Bill also outlines plans for a year-long convention comprised of politicians from all political parties and representatives from wider society.

While it may be difficult for this Bill to become law given the time available to it, the principle behind it must be accepted and agreed.

We urgently need a Constitutional Convention to reform our constitution and restore faith in our political system.

I would therefore ask you to support the Bill and to take a wholesome part in the convention to ensure we see the change our democracy craves.

We cannot continue with piecemeal reform that acts as a sticking plaster over the fundamental issue of the democratic deficit that the Lords embodies. It needs wholesale changes and it needs them quickly.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Farron, Leader of the Liberal Democrats

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37 Comments

  • paul barker 28th Jul '15 - 4:04pm

    With both The Times & Mirror calling for Reform theres a real possiblity of building pressure for a Convention.

  • Jayne Mansfield 28th Jul '15 - 4:50pm

    Even on my northern version of the Clapham omnibus, I never hear people complaining about the voting system or the democratic deficit.

    Wouldn’t people sit up and take more note of the undemocratic nature of our democracy, If for example, Liberal Democrats had taken a stand and said we won’t send people to the House of Lords under a system of patronage?

    In my opinion, there are also too many Lords making too much of a drain on the public purse. When I see photographs of the upper chamber full of people in red cloaks and ermine, it looks like an overstuffed sofa.

    There are times when actions speak louder than words.

  • It is important, but sadly no one cares. And Jayne, it wouldn’t matter if LibDems refused to partisipate they still wouldn’t care.

    It needs to be in teh Tories Interest to care but it isn’t as they expect to win the next elections and don’t want anything that is more effective at controling them.

  • Is the current Chancellor amongst those calling for reform?

  • Tony Dawson 28th Jul '15 - 5:17pm

    We are, of course, here campaigning for a reduction in the numbers of the Lib-Dem-over-represented House which we were hoping to utilise to counter our under-representation in the democratic (sic) House! But this is what Tim is good at. Seizing an aspect of an issue which goes beyond what the media have accepted as a lowest common denomintor – in a way which is unlikely to be followed by others hence creates a distinctive Liberal approach.

  • David Faggiani 28th Jul '15 - 5:34pm

    I thought Cameron hit a new level of ridiculousness today, preparing to massively expand the Lords (without an end in sight) whilst still insisting that the Commons needs to be cut from 650 to 600. It’s beyond ludicrous.

    I’m not in favour of cutting the number of MPs anyway, but, if I could be persuaded, it would only be after the Lords had been collaboratively and agreeably whittled down to 500, max. And then capped there. I’ve had this argument before, but unlike many (most?) Lib Dems, I don’t insist on elections to the Lords, just sanity in numbers and cost. And preferably, proportion of Party representation, but that’s secondary to me.

  • Jayne Mansfield:

    You could try going further north into the SNP heartlands. The SNP boycott the Lords. See if this makes a difference with those on the Scottish version of a Clapham omnibus. Return and let us know your conclusions.

  • It really doesn’t matter what the Daily Mirror or even Tim Farron thinks, the public at large aren’t bothered. We already vote for our MP’s, euro MP’s and local councils, are they any better than the Peers? Also as it’s used by all political parties to reward their donors and retiring MP’s they are not really serious about scrapping it. Jayne Mansfield is right, if the LibDems really want to be taken seriously about reform they should stop nominating people for peerages.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Jul '15 - 5:57pm

    The greens have a peer, former candidate for Mayor of greater London.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Jul '15 - 5:59pm

    The i reports that the police have entered Lord Sewell’s flat, done a fingertip search (hope they wore gloves) and taken away bags of evidence.

  • After the weird proposal put forward by Nick Clegg I am not sure anyone will take us seriously on the reform of the House of Lords until conference discusses it again and rejects that proposal.

    Our Leader and President should be saying it is wasting police time for them to investigate the taking of drugs by someone of pensionable age. Wouldn’t that be inline with our policy of not criminalising those who take drugs but only prosecuting the dealers?

  • Richard Underhill 28th Jul '15 - 6:32pm

    The coalition was in the unusual position of having had Labour, Liberal Democrats and Tories all proposing reform of the Lords in their 2010 manifestoes, but Labour put in a wrecking amendment, which may have meant that they only wanted reform during their periods in government.
    The Prime Minister said he would sack anybody who did not vote for it, which achieved a large vote in favour, coupled with a large rebellion from Tory MPs not on the payroll vote.
    The policy itself was gradualist, building on the work that Labour had done so as to keep them onside, not abolishing all the peers at once, so as to have a chance of passing the House of Lords.
    Once a policy had support in the Commons it would be possible to start thinking about the Parlaiment Act if there was too much delay or opposition in the Lords. The support in the Commons did not happen because the wrecking intentions of Labour prevented a timetable motion. Labour’s prime intention was to wreck the coalition.
    In different times and in in different circumstances, the policy might pass the Commons.
    Labour could start by proposing removing hereditary peers, as they promised in their 1997 mainifesto, or the ridiculous by-elections in the Lords.
    A repetition of Lords voting in party groups to to reduce their own numbers could be considered.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Jul '15 - 6:40pm

    ” Sarah Ludford @SarahLudford
    Cam claims ‘no point’ trying for Lords reform. Well, he sabotaged @LibDems’ attempt in 2012. ”

    Sarah, I watched the Commons debate on TV. Cameron was unable to control a large number of Tory rebel MPs, but he wanted to keep the coalition together. I recall he did sack one junior member of the payroll vote. The real problem was Labour, wanting a referendum (not impossible) and unlimited time in the Commons (wrecking the government programme).

  • Paul Pettinger 28th Jul '15 - 7:25pm

    I thought our job was to join the establishment, not reform it

  • Jayne Mansfield 28th Jul '15 - 7:54pm

    @ Martin,
    I think I’ll save my bus fare if you don’t mind. On a short journey it would be difficult to unravel the reasons why the SNP is currently so popular in Scotland and which issues fed into the decisions to vote for an SNP MP.

    I believe that in their 2015 manifesto the SNP argued for abolition of the House of Lords and replacement with a fully elected second chamber. They did not mince their words when criticising the House of Lords, and there is no dissonance between what they have said and done.

    Those who voted Yes in the Scottish referendum would also have known that there would be a change in constitutional arrangements.

    @ Richard Underhill,
    ‘The Greens have a peer”. Yes. Shame on them.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Jul '15 - 8:33pm

    On Saturday in the Times there was a feature about a new SNP MP, a politics student, aged 20.
    She is in favour of electronic voting, as happens in India and other places.
    She is right that it would be quicker, but, is that what they want?
    If they wanted that might they have done it already?
    It was debated in the USA, but elected members like to use the opportunity to talk to each other, bend the ear of Ministers,

  • If, when I get to age 69, I’m able to handle two hookers and three lines of coke I’d be pretty pleased with myself. I mean, at that age some people are ready for the grave or a nursing home. But this guy can still party like its 1999… Admirable really.

    On a more serious note, as a party that is supposed to believe in privacy, individual freedom and social liberalism, why aren’t the lib dems defending his right to do this if this is what he wishes to do in his private life, in his own time, and condemning the law against drugs and prostitution and questioning how a scummy gutter press rag was allowed to publish a private video shot in some guys house without his consent? Is this not what a liberal party should be doing?

  • nvelope2003 28th Jul '15 - 9:52pm

    If the House of Lords had equal power with the House of Commons as it did before 1911 then of course it would have to be elected but since neither Labour or the Conservatives would agree to proportional representation smaller parties like the Lib Dems would have hardly any members. We are confusing reality with substance. The House of Lords is not the US Senate or even the Italian Senate where it is one of 2 elected chambers with equal rights. Until 1911 both houses of Parliament had to pass the identical bill before it could go for the Royal Assent.

    The modern House of Lords is a revising chamber where bills can be considered by older and hopefully wiser people who often have expertise in various fields. It has only limited delaying powers and no effective veto on legislation. If its members had to be elected many of them would not be there and so unable to make a contribution, but instead the place would be full of the same sort of people who wanted to sit in the House of Commons but could not get in so effectively making the whole thing pointless. We have a unicameral legislature – the House of Commons and a body of people appointed because of their contribution to public life to scrutinise legislation, which for purely historic reasons happens to be called the House of Lords. It is not a true House of Parliament in the traditional and historic sense. Its origins lie in the need for medieval kings to consult with important people as well as the representatives of the commons. The difference now is that those important people can no longer block the will of the people just as the Queen cannot either.

    There is certainly a need for reform of the number of members downwards and the method of appointment. I heard an SNP MP arguing with Lord Jones about it and I can only say I was completely disillusioned about that party. AlI I heard was the usual trite sloganising, on an even lower level than was heard in the famous recent speech of their youngest member. It is very disappointing that political debate seems to be stuck in the past century and virtually no new ideas seem to be considered. No wonder not so many people bother to vote. How many would vote for elections to the House of Lords – less than vote for the Council or the European Parliament I suspect. That is the opposite of democracy. Sorry but this issue needs to be completely rethought.

  • I notice no lib dems MPs have defended his right to use drugs in his private life if that is how he chooses to spend his own time?

    The party must have a reason to exist and other than existing as a liberal voice calling for individual freedoms including the freedom to use drugs if one so wishes to do so I can see no purpose for the lib dems.

    Without a purpose, there is no reason that the remaining 8 MPs can’t all lose their seats in 2020. This might very well be what happens – then what?

  • Peter Hillier-Palmer 28th Jul '15 - 10:58pm

    Lord Sewel may have been a bit silly but do we have to have the customary witch hunt until the guy falls down!! Who cares if he smoked Cannabis!! The law is an ass on drug use! If he was got rid of through being incompetent, fine! But if it is because he smoked with some prostitutes! We as a society need to get a life!!

  • Richard Underhill 28th Jul '15 - 11:19pm

    Peter, Good to hear from you. The point is that this man was in charge of the rules for conduct and behaviour.
    Their Lordships know that their position as unelected parliamentarians is fragile, so they are worried about adverse publicity, but have not put in a rule about bringing the House of Lords into disrepute. A major reform of the Lords is unlikely at the moment, but a series of small measures might be useful and possible.
    How about a rule for non-attendance, as for councillors?
    How about a health check? Some peers have Alzheimers.
    How about abolishing the by-elections for hereditary peers?
    Why should non-attenders use the restaurants or the car park? Are they just lobbying for business?
    Despite their numbers attending for the Queen’s Speech only a small cohort do the ordinary work of checking legislation, some of which was not debated in the Commons at all because of timetable motions (guillotines).

  • This argument makes sense, because elected MPs have never been known to misbehave or do anything morally dubious.

  • John Tilley 29th Jul '15 - 9:12am

    Jayne Mansfield
    To get to my son’s house involves me in a quick train ride to Clapham Junction and then a hop on that very bus. I have to admit that I have never over-heard the words “democratic deficit”. However in the days shortly after the riots of 2011 which spread through London and included Clapham there was quite a lot of talk at the bus stop outside Arding and Hobbs about the government being out of touch, not having a clue and the need for something better.

    Tim Farron encapsulates all that rather well in this initiative and in his general approach to politics.

    I also saw our party president Baroness Sal Brinton on Ch 4 News on the day the story first broke calling for complete reform of the Lords. Good on her for that!
    She made the sensible point that we needed to move on rapidly from the complete dog’s breakfast of limited change to the Lords which had been cooked up under Clegg personal guidance during the Coalition. That major embarrassment of the Coalition years will continue to haunt us unless we can continue to make serious waves about Proper reform cf the Lords.

    The main scandal is not Lord Sewel’s behaviour (although on a personal level I find his behaviour competely reprehensible) the main scandal is the way he was made a member of the legislature in the first place.

  • John Tilley 29th Jul '15 - 9:32am

    Richard Underhill 28th Jul ’15 – 11:19pm
    “…How about a health check? Some peers have Alzheimers.”

    One peer (who like Lord Sewel was a Labour nominee to the Lords) was “diagnosed with Alzheimers” four years ago – yet he continued for months years after this diagnosis to speak and vote in the Lords.
    His diagnosis was the excuse used by the CPS not to take him to court. Yet earlier this year he was able to sign a declaration saying he wished to continue to be a member of the House of Lords. The CPS has done a u-turn on prosecution but as far as I am aware he can still turn up and vote in the Lords any time he likes.

    Liberal Democrat calls for a change are timely and should be repeated and campaigned on until this nationnal embarrassment is cleaned up once and for all.

  • The breach of privacy about the unfortunate behaviour of one peer does not make the present House of Lords unfit for purpose. It does the job required of it (and the peers only wear their robes on ceremonial occasions !). What exactly would an elected upper chamber be able to do which we needed doing and that the present one cannot do ?

    Whatever the law said it would challenge the House of Commons and create endless conflict as the US and Italian Senates do so that it would be very hard and time consuming to pass controversial changes. Almost all Western European democracies have either abolished the second chamber (like Denmark, Sweden etc) or introduced a method of composition that ensures it does not have the same democratic legitimacy as the lower house. The US Senate is elected but its members represent vastly different numbers of electors – 2 for Rhode Island ( population 1 million) and 2 for California (population 39 million). I do not think such a body would be acceptable here even as part of a federal system for the UK.

    If the UK became a Federal State like Germany presumably the House of Commons would become the English Parliament and a small UK Parliament could replace the House of Lords but then we would lose the skills of the useful peers unless their revising powers were transferred to some body such as the Privy Council. With the SNP threatening new referendums every week it does not create fertile ground for useful constitutional reform which would stand any chance of permanency.

  • Richard Underhill 29th Jul '15 - 4:52pm

    David Wallace 29th Jul ’15 – 8:53am
    i am not a cannabis user.
    i do feel empathy for a Liberal Democrat minister who was “parachuted behind enemy lines” and found the job impossible.
    Peter used to be in the same constituency as me. We met most recently at the “Thank You” party in Eastbourne.

  • nvelope2003 29th Jul '15 - 9:39pm

    It seems people just want to change the House of Lords for the sake of it and have no practical proposals for its replacement or even any understanding of what it actually does.

  • “It seems people just want to change the House of Lords for the sake of it and have no practical proposals for its replacement or even any understanding of what it actually does.”

    Nor do they understand the added value of having unelected members that cannot be removed at the whim of members of the HoC nor party whips…

  • Neil Sandison 30th Jul '15 - 11:16am

    Like many others I don’t care what a silly lord did in his bedroom .That the Lords still exist as an unelected chamber with rules that are easily flouted worries me more. If you compare the derisory allowance a councillor gets as an elected member with clear duties and a tough code of conduct. against the £300 a day a peer gets for just showing up .Clearly the establishment values the unelected over the elected. As for Cameron the deal should still remain the same no support for changes to boundaries or reduction of MPs unless Lords reform is on the table .There should be parity in numbers in both chambers. all should be elected I would suggest for a 7 year term to cater for the overlap in the commons as one executive replaces another.

  • nvelope2003 1st Aug '15 - 10:41pm

    Neil Sandison; What exactly would your elected Second Chamber do apart from delaying legislation and costing a lot of money ? Do we need two councils and 2 Scottish Parliaments/Welsh or Northern Irish Assemblies ?

    It seems that a reformed Second Chamber is just to give jobs to those who did not get elected to the House of Commons.

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Aug '15 - 8:25am

    We should, of course, maintain the presumption of innonece in respect of any criminal charges pre-trial, but the reputation of the House of Lords can be damaged by alleged errant behaviour, as with Tory Lord Archer.

    Lord Soley, a former chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, said delays in taking action “magnified” damage done to the reputation of the House. His comments, in a letter to Lord Speaker Baroness D’Souza, come after Lord Sewel resigned from the Lords. He quit after being filmed allegedly taking drugs with prostitutes.
    Lord Soley wrote: “It is my belief that the damage done to the reputation of the House is magnified by any delay in taking action. Delay ensures the story will run continuously in the media. “I know you acted quickly in making a statement about Lord Sewel but I think we need to establish a method for imposing a quick suspension of a member. This is important for the member as well as the House. “The damage done to the reputation of the Lords could have been less if we had been able to suspend Lord Sewel as soon as the story broke. That change can and should be made. It is what any other organisation would have done.” The Labour peer added: “We should also bring in a more general rule of ‘bringing the House into disrepute’. This has been considered and rejected in the past. “I think we should now review that decision.” After the allegations against Lord Sewel surfaced in the Sun on Sunday last week, Baroness D’Souza requested a standards investigation and also referred him to the police. The Metropolitan Police has said it is looking into “allegations of drug-related offences involving a member of the House of Lords”, after searching a property in central London. The former Labour peer had originally requested a leave of absence from the Lords, with sources suggesting at the time he did not plan to quit. But in a letter to the Clerk of Parliaments published on Tuesday, he said he could “best serve the House by leaving it”. Although Lord Sewel has resigned from the House of Lords he keeps the peerage he was given by the then Labour leader Tony Blair in 1996.
    ://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33749931

  • nvelope2003 3rd Aug '15 - 1:09pm

    Is there something inherent in Liberal Democrats that makes them unable to give a straight answer to a straight question? You should have learned something from the 2015 election result but do not seem to have done so.

  • Mick Taylor 3rd Aug '15 - 1:38pm

    @nvelope2003. Here’s your straight answer. We need a second chamber to consider and revise legislation away from the hurly burley of the House of Commons. Most advanced democracies have a second chamber including the USA, Germany, France, Australia to name just a few. The slower pace of the current second chamber enables the government’s proposals to be considered in depth and often the Lords pass amendments that are accepted by the government. It is essential to have a second look at legislation, because it is not uncommon for mistakes to be made or unforeseen consequences to arise.
    You may remember that proposals were brought forward to reform the House of Lords to include a largely elected element – which would largely deal with your comments about jobs for the boys. Election would have been for a much longer period and would have been time limited. Who stopped this? Well largely the Labour Party, though backbench Tories also refused to allow the bill a timetable for debate.
    Now as to your point about councils. They are not legislators, everything they do is in the context of government legislation. Also they have much more regular elections that allow the people to chuck out councillors who don’t perform. The current devolved assemblies are not principally legislative and unlike the UK parliament are elected by PR which ensures that all shades of opinion are represented. So no real need for a second chamber.
    Straight enough for you?!

  • nvelope2003 5th Aug '15 - 3:31pm

    Mick Taylor: Thank you for your reply. I was not asking for the Second Chamber to be abolished as I agree with the need to consider proposed legislation in greater depth. My question was why should a revising chamber be elected when the present House of Lords, composed of those with expertise from various fields, does the job required of it. Some reforms of the method of appointing peers and the total number would be desirable but forcing people out because they are not popular sounds like something out of Stalin’s USSR. The Lords cannot veto any bill except one to extend the life of the House of Commons.

    An elected Second Chamber would result in prolonged conflict with the House of Commons whether it was elected by proportional representation or FPTP. The Italians have been trying to replace their Senate for years because of this. The sort of people who would most probably have most to give would be unlikely to want to seek election and therefore an elected body would most likely be formed from those who were unsuccessful in gaining election to the House of Commons.

    An elected Second Chamber has become a sort of mantra since 1911 without any real thought as to what such a body would do and who it would be composed of. Even in a democracy there is still a need for expert knowledge and advice and an appointed body is much more likely to contain suitable people to give such advice. Of course because of the need to pack the place with party supporters this has been abused but a limit on the membership would help to reduce this.

    There have been proposals for a Second Chamber in Edinburgh as the Scots Parliament does have legislative powers and the former Northern Ireland Parliament did have an elected Senate as well as a House of Commons hence the huge Stormont building. The NI Senate was abolished in the 1970s although the Irish Republic’s voters refused to abolish the Irish Senate in a recent referendum.

    I hope this makes my position clear.

  • I am afraid that I profoundly disagree with the idea of making our second chamber elected.

    I set out my reasons in the article posted on LDV today.

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/a-defence-of-the-house-of-lords-47691.html#comment-379767

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