So we finally have our bill – was it worth waiting for?
First, let me say I am very much in favour of reform of the House of Lords. The scrapping of hereditary membership was a big step forward but it is still a woeful example of cronyism and patronage, and is an affront to democracy. The only thing in its favour is that sometimes there is some useful expertise brought to bear in some of the scrutiny of some legislation. This seems to happen despite the system rather than because of it.
So let me list what I would consider to be the broad aims of reform and then look at how the current bill might, or might not, help achieve those aims. I would say those broad aims of reform should be:
- To create some democratic accountability without creating another house of commons
- To retain useful expertise through appointment without falling victim to cronyism and patronage
- To bring in non party-political viewpoints without privileging narrow groups of society
Now let’s look at this bill with these aims in mind.
Elected v Appointed
To accommodate aims 1 & 2 some mixture of election and appointment is inevitable what that split should be is debatable but I don’t really have any quarrel with the bill’s 80/20 split
This is always going to be difficult. The appointments commission must be totally independent of the government and must have broad principles to follow when deciding on whom to appoint. Whatever the system it will, in the end, rely on the wisdom of the members of the committee. I see no reason why, to help with expertise, they should not be able to make short, fixed-term, ad-hoc appointments as well as the long-term 20% of members.
I do not propose so say much about this. Retaining reserved seats for bishops is utterly indefensible. The new house should have as many bishops as it wants. They can be elected or appointed just like anyone else.
Method of election – Oh dear, could they have got it more wrong?
The proposal to have Party Lists and allow voters to vote for a party rather than an individual means that a large proportion of “elected” members will actually simply be selected by the main political parties. Surely, to encourage independent mindedness members should be elected as individuals, not as party lobby fodder. I would go further and not allow parties to have “official” candidates at all. Candidates could of course be members of parties, and parties could choose to endorse candidates, but candidates should be self-selecting and only their names should appear on the ballot papers.
We live in an age where mass communication has never been easier. Candidates can campaign without prohibitive costs. A small mailing to every voter setting out why they think they should get your vote followed by regular newsletters/blogs etc to explain what they are doing once they have been elected. If people are not interested enough to compare individual candidates and make an informed choice, why should they have the easy way out of picking some party hack without even knowing their name
15 year single terms
There appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding here. Democratic accountability does not come from being elected; it comes from having to be re-elected. It is at this point that members are held accountable for their actions. If members have a guaranteed 15year term and cannot seek re-election there is no incentive for them to stick to any promises they may have made to get elected in the first place.
15 years is also ridiculous. It effectively rules out many older people who have exactly the wisdom and experience that would serve the nation well. Someone who has just retired at 65 for example would be expected to serve until they were 80 years old.
I would suggest 6 year terms with re-election and one third of the house to be re-elected every two years.
So, in summary, I don’t really have a problem with the 80/20 split or the appointments system but the retention of reserved seats for bishops and the awful ideas for elected members make me wonder if this bill is fatally flawed. Whatever happens now will be in place for a long time to come, maybe another 100 years. So we really need to get it right. If my fears about the system of elections are borne out we could have a system only marginally better than the current one, with no prospect of changing it.
But whatever happens I’m standing! Vote for T Hinker, your evidence based candidate! (ah well – maybe in another 100 years)