Thursday, 30 December 2010

An elected Lords: 80% or 100%?

The Guardian reports today that Nick Clegg is likely to ask the Tory-LibDem Cabinet to back a mainly elected House of Lords, keeping one-fifth of the upper house by appointment.

Next Left predicted, right back on May 23rd, that Nick Clegg would be happy to hedge on an 80% elected Lords, reading into the LibDem leader's public comments a suggestion that there had already a covert deal between the LibDem and Conservative leaderships to settle the issue left open by the Coalition Agreement, pledged to make progress on "a wholly or mainly elected" upper chamber.

The Agreement says:

"We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010".

2011 is a good year to finally settle the question of an elected second chamber - as it is the centenary of the 1911 Parliament Act. Some Conservatives have good memories as to how they were on the wrong side of history, and the Guardian reports some keenness to retain their traditional obstructionist role too.

"I'm sure we will have a great fanfare of reform on the centenary of the 1911 Parliament Act," one senior figure said. "Thereafter it won't be so much a case of kicking it into the long grass – we'll be looking to park it in grass that is around the height of a giraffe."

So a reasonable gradualist case can be mounted that 80% is a compromise worth taking for those who believe in a fully-elected House. (This might - or might not - help to get a mainly elected Lords through the current unelected House, with the loss of the Bishops of the Established Church being one area of contention).

The House of Commons voted 337 to 224 for 100% elections in 2007 - a majority of 113 - with a narrower majority of 38 in favour of 80% too.

With all three parties at least nominally committed to an elected second chamber, there might still be a majority in the new House of Commons for a 100% elected chamber. More Conservatives would be expected to reduce support for 100% election - but we don't know by how much, and particularly if the large class of 2010 could well in many cases often be more pro-election than those of their predecessors. (Douglas Carswell, on the Tory right and elected in 2005, takes the view that "law-makers should be elected. Full stop - and it is at least possible there is some generational shift in that direction on the right).

If the last government (whose preference was a 50-50 split) was prepared to let MPs vote on the options, it might be strange if a "New Politics" committed to strengthening Parliament decided to impose a decision from Cabinet instead.

I think that Labour leader Ed Miliband should promote at least a free vote on 80% and 100% options as part of the government's Bill. There would be little sense in the government opposing that - especially when the Coalition Agreement acknowledges the merits of a wholly or mainly elected House.

1 comment:

michael2brannigan said...

Elected/unelected: what's the difference? We have an 'elected' government with unelected members. We have an 'unelected' government because the public didn't vote for the policies that are now been foisted upon it. Why do we need a second chamber at all? Surely what we truly need is a representative Parliament. One where the election manifesto is legally binding. Two elected chambers, means more confusion to the electorate and may even increase voter apathy. If the last election is anything to go by, what increased enthusiasm there was, has soon turned to predictable disappointment and the usual reneging on election promises. Personally, I feel that the talk, that rears its head every few years, of an elected House of Lords, is a distraction from the real issue: a representative and accountable Parliament. As is the norm, the left, is off on tangents of irrelevance and distraction. Get back to more important matters such as: How do we make a democracy that represents its populace and keeps its political class accountable and legally bound? Two elected houses that are not bound by what they promise, which is what we will end up with, is no advance in democracy or political accountability.