Tom McNally writes: we must not let the best be the enemy of the good

To get the full flavour of the task facing the Government when contemplating Lords reform can I recommend going to the House of Lords website and calling up the Hansard for 17 May? There you will read an hour of exchanges when Lord Strathclyde (the Leader of the House) repeated the Government statement on House of Lords reform which Nick Clegg had made in the Commons. There was very little support around the House for the Coalition’s vision for reform.

I believe Nick Clegg has done the House of Lords the courtesy of treating the House of Lords like grown-ups. He has put forward a range of options on the composition of the House and methods of election. A joint committee of both Houses will have the opportunity to take evidence and examine proposals in detail. That, too, makes sense. There is no one magic formula for Lords reform so long as the final objectives are clear. One hundred years ago the Liberal Government committed itself to a second chamber “constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis.” A hundred years later it makes even more sense that in a modern democracy those who make the laws should be elected by the people.

The coalition agreement committed the Government to supporting a wholly or mainly elected second chamber. So today’s proposals contain two options: 100% elected, or 80% elected with the remaining 20% appointed independently. Those 60 appointed members would sit as cross-benchers, not as representatives of political parties. Of course our party’s preferred option remains a wholly elected second chamber. That is the most democratic option. But we must not make the best the enemy of the good. That is why Lords reform has stalled so much in the past. 80% is better than 0%; and a lot more than Labour managed in 13 years of governing alone.

In terms of the system by which members are elected, the Government is proposing using the single transferable vote. Again, this is the electoral system that our party prefers for elections in general, as it is the most proportionate system and, as votes are cast for individuals rather than for parties, it will give members of the second chamber more independence from party control. But we recognise that the Labour party favours the list system, and so the White Paper that accompanies the draft bill includes this as an option too.

The government is prepared to listen to these and other debates that will inevitably occur now that our proposals have been published. The proposals are deliberately balanced. Reform will not happen overnight, there will be a transitional phase so that the chamber continues to function effectively and efficiently.

There is much which can be debated in the Government’s proposals. But reforms there must be if the House of Lords is to fit for the 21st century.

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11 Comments

  • I agree with Paul although I hope we keep pushing for 100 elected for as long as it is possible to do so.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th May '11 - 10:13am

    If we had had even the “miserable little compromise” of AV, Nick Clegg’s hand would have been much stronger, since there would be more LibDem MPs and fewer Tory MPs, and a Labour-LibDem coalition would be viable and do held up as the alternative should the Tories not give way on policy. Similarly, if we had an elected Lords, it could legitimately block extreme Conservative policy in a way the current Lords cannot because it does not have the legitimacy of being elected.

    We are already hearing the jeers from Labour at Lords reform, and experiencing the indifference when it isn’t outright opposition, just as we did with AV. They CLAIM to be opposed to the present government and to think Nick Clegg a bad man because he has not had much influence on stopping extreme aspects of Tory policy coming from it. But when it comes to reforms that would stop such a thing happening again, they are not interested. To say, as most of Labour does say “constitutional reform isn’t important, the main issue is the cuts etc coming from this government, which people didn’t vote for” is RIDICULOUS when the very reason the present government is able to get away with what it is doing and Clegg has so little influence in it is the electoral system and constitution that makes it that way. Labour claim to be opposed to the current government, but refuse to give the full and enthusiastic support that is necessary to get the through the constitutional reforms that would render this government illegitimate by removing the distortions and lack of democratic control that it relies on to do what it is doing.

    The reality is that LABOUR SUPPORTS THE CAMERON GOVERNMENT MORE SO THAN THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS. The Liberal Democrats accept their part in it with regret, doing so only because the current constitution, which they oppose, forces them into it. But Labour supports the existence of the current constitution which gives Cameron more power than he deserves from his true electoral support. It is Labour’s opposition to constitutional reform which gives Cameron his legitimacy and enables him to use that legitimacy to inflict on this country his dangerous and damaging extreme right-wing economic policies. Labour’s true position is that they wish to see the Liberal Democrats destroyed is that they can luxuriate in being the principled but only opposition to perpetual Tory government as it runs down and sells off this country.

  • I’d agree with Paul Walter that there are some decent things in here – long, time limited terms in particular.

    But all of this, glancing over the publication, doesn’t really set the pulse racing does it? The House of Lords will have the same powers and the same role – put another way, this is really not a great deal more than rearranging the dust. Sure, it may be very well rearranged, but I am left asking whether this is a case of reform for the sake of it.

    How about a House of Lords that does something distinctive, as well as looks distinctive? The proposal just seems to lack vision.

  • Mostly great stuff. I have a few minor issues but even with them it is better than the status quo.

    Firstly
    “Of course our party’s preferred option remains a wholly elected second chamber. That is the most democratic option. ”

    It is the most democratic but perhaps not the best considering the role of the chamber. I would like to see differnet types of member with only elected members being able to vote. This would allow Judges, religious leader (and I would want more than just CofE), academics etc to add to the debate, to use their experience to help shape legislation but crucially not to be able to alter the final outcome if our elected representatives disagree.

    Secondly
    Not sure about the benefits of STV against Party list or other options. I feel (and have no evidence to suport this) that the turnout may be higher if voters just had to select a party. We don’t have a massive history of independants but I accept this could be an issue.

    Thirdly
    Length of term. Too long inmy opinion. Giving someone a 15 year job (and on the basis of no experience as it is a one term only deal) is just too long. Their will be a chance for all the problemsthe Lib Dems raise with MP’s in safe seats.

  • Matthew Huntbach –

    ‘If we had had even the “miserable little compromise” of AV, Nick Clegg’s hand would have been much stronger, since there would be more LibDem MPs and fewer Tory MPs, and a Labour-LibDem coalition would be viable and do held up as the alternative should the Tories not give way on policy.’

    You have evidence that this would have been the outcome of AV, or is this an article of faith? What else would AV have done, stopped my wife forgetting my birthday? AV could have given the Conservatives even greater power. A bit like PR has done for the SNP.

    ‘Similarly, if we had an elected Lords, it could legitimately block extreme Conservative policy in a way the current Lords cannot because it does not have the legitimacy of being elected.’

    Or the elected Lords could push even further to the right. You are assuming that reform maipulates outcomes. I personally think that STV lends itself brilliantly to the current right of British politics, but I realise that won’t get a lot of traction as an argument on here.

    ‘Labour claim to be opposed to the current government.’

    No – Labour is the opposition, but that does not prevent them from consensus in certain areas. A bit like the Lib Dems when they were in opposition. One would have expected a Lib Dem pluralist not to promote opposition and conflict for the sake of it.

    ‘It is Labour’s opposition to constitutional reform which gives Cameron his legitimacy and enables him to use that legitimacy to inflict on this country his dangerous and damaging extreme right-wing economic policies.’

    Really? Nothing at all do do with the voters?

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    “If we had had even the “miserable little compromise” of AV, Nick Clegg’s hand would have been much stronger”

    Only if the reforms had been delayed until after the first election with AV.

  • Dinti Batstone 18th May '11 - 1:50pm

    Readers of this post may be interested in the discussion on gender balance here: https://www.libdemvoice.org/dinti-batstone-writes-if-not-now-when-24165.html

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th May '11 - 1:22am

    Duncan

    ‘If we had had even the “miserable little compromise” of AV, Nick Clegg’s hand would have been much stronger, since there would be more LibDem MPs and fewer Tory MPs, and a Labour-LibDem coalition would be viable and do held up as the alternative should the Tories not give way on policy.’

    You have evidence that this would have been the outcome of AV, or is this an article of faith?

    It is based on opinion poll figures, I think done either by the Guardian or the BBC. Obviously we cannot be sure, so this is an estimtae based on asking people “if we had AV, what would be your second choice?”.

    ‘Similarly, if we had an elected Lords, it could legitimately block extreme Conservative policy in a way the current Lords cannot because it does not have the legitimacy of being elected.’

    Or the elected Lords could push even further to the right.

    Well, if that were the case, the argument against the coalition that it is doing things against the will of the electorate falls anyway, and I thought that was what we were talking about.

    ‘It is Labour’s opposition to constitutional reform which gives Cameron his legitimacy and enables him to use that legitimacy to inflict on this country his dangerous and damaging extreme right-wing economic policies.’

    Really? Nothing at all do do with the voters

    Yes, that is what I have been banging on about again and again, that has been just my argument – the voters in supporting Labour have supported the current electoral system, and the effects of that electoral system are to strengthenm the biggest party beyond its proportiomal support party and to weaken the third party below its proportional support. That is my main point – it seems to me to be hypocritical to attack the Liberal Democrats for being weak when negotiating with the Tories when you support an electoral system which has just this effect and you say this distortion is a good thing as the opponents of electoral refrom do. I apply this to the Labour Party and anyone who votes Labour, unless they dissent from Labour’s opposition to proportional representation.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th May '11 - 1:24am

    Steve Way

    “If we had had even the “miserable little compromise” of AV, Nick Clegg’s hand would have been much stronger”

    Only if the reforms had been delayed until after the first election with AV.

    I mean if AV was already in place before we got to the point of having the 2010 election e.g. if Labour had actually implemented their manifesto pledge on this.

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