Saturday, 29 November 2014

HOUSE OF LORDS REFORM

Applying the "TR" Electoral System to the House of Lords

Background
1.  Applying TR as the new electoral system for the House of Lords will  dispense with Hereditary Peers, Life Peers and Appointed Peers – and restores in the process the long-lost link between the Lords and their original links in the country.  

2.  A new Act of Reform would confirm its function and define its status as a secondary revising chamber by reciting within the new Act the 1911 Parliament Acts – as amended in 1949. These Acts limit the Lords’ legislative function to revising and not opposing the will of the House of Commons – thus asserting the primacy of the latter. Limiting any delay in revising legislation would guarantee the supremacy of the Commons. 

3.  The grafting of practising judges into the new, reformed House of Lords is vital. The Montesquieu principle of separation of powers is not meant to render the three arms of the state parallel. The distinctive constitutional arrangement in Parliament is precious. The Executive is enmeshed within the House of Commons and up until now, the House of Lords has had an important judicial component. However, the new Supreme Court  is intended to supplant or preclude the link between these two arms of the state, since its newly-appointed judges (i.e. those who are not already Law Lords) will not be members of the House of Lords. But in my view, a reformed second chamber should include within its ranks some members of the Judiciary with real and current Bench experience, so that the direct and constant link of the sovereign people to all these three arms of the state is preserved. 

4.  The link could, for example, be maintained in the following way: the new Supreme Court would delegate a number of judges from the practising Judiciary to sit ex-officio in the Lords for a certain limited period – say six years. After these six years, they would be rotated and replaced by others. 

5.  Along the same lines, the Queen, the Sovereign, could at her pleasure appoint, say, some religious dignitaries from amongst leaders of the different religions to sit in the new House for periods of six years, after which they would be rotated. This arrangement could neatly solve the problem of how to replace the Bishops and the Law Lords, giving an added gravitas to the  second chamber.  

6. The solution proposed here is essential, given the background in Britain of a steady loss of social cohesion and uniformity, both because of social and ideological trends from within, and as a result of an influx of immigrants from without. The UK is superbly suited – one might say blessed – by a lack of a rigid written constitution and the flexibility of English law – underpinned by the adaptable use of the concepts of equity and precedent. The new Supreme Court should preserve its right to rule against or criticise the EU courts’ judgements, thereby throwing any such rulings back into the melting pot of Parliament to be looked at. 

7.  The process of implementing TR as the solution to the present constitutional limbo  would smooth the path of reform. That leaves the question what to do with the present Life Peers and the remnants of the Hereditary Peers, whose vested interests militate against a speedy solution? There is a simple creative   answer. The political parties who choose, delegate, or appoint their candidates to the newly-created regions to elect the new members of the House of Lords can give priority to those deserving sitting Peers of their different parties. By choosing them to run for election to the new House, they will in fact be given two chances each: to succeed in their regions as Regional Lords, or to accede to the position of Party Lords within the party lists. Even if they fail to capture regional seats, their efforts will be rewarded if they succeed in scoring highly in the regions to propel themselves to the top of their party lists within the rules of TR.. Their chances of acceding to the posts of Party Lords will depend as much on their own canvassing efforts as on the support of their parties.

8.  Some commentators say that we need appointed Lords to ensure the presence of experts. This is a spurious argument. Government and select committees of both Houses can and do always draw on expert advice from outside. Parliaments are there to represent democratically the ordinary citizen, not to create oligarchies and establishments that distance further the representatives from the represented.

Implementation
9. TR is basically a modified form of AV. We start by accepting TR Total Representation as the proffered  electoral system. The new House of Lords will have 300 members. Two hundred members are to be Regional Lords (RL) and 100 Party Lords (PL). Both categories (RLs and PLs) are elected in accordance with the TR system. For this purpose, the country is demarcated in a geographically successive manner, being sliced into 200 regions by the Boundaries Commission without regard to the make-up of the population. The only consideration is to ensure that the number of electors (not inhabitants) in each region is as similar as is possible and practical. 

10.  The ratio of 200 to 100 corresponds to a percentage of 66:33. The reason why we have swung the pendulum downwards, below the ratio of 80/20 recommended for the Commons, is that in this situation a bigger dose of representation (i.e. of PR) is needed to counterbalance the excess rigidity of the House of Commons’ electoral method of first-past-the-post.

11.  Elections take place every six years for half of the House of Lords. Unlike in the House of Commons, this period is fixed and the House of Lords cannot dissolve itself. A by-election for a Regional Lord is initiated and moved by the House Committee within two months of the death or resignation of a Regional Lord. In the event of the death or resignation of a Party Lord, the next in line on the party list of the preceding elections accedes automatically. 

12.  One way of easing the transition from the present House of Lords into a wholly elected chamber is to start by electing just half its members – to be followed in six years’ time by the other half. The next question that springs to mind is: which half to start with? The best solution is to follow the precedent of the reduction of the Hereditary Peers. The present House of Lords can reduce its members to 150 by electing from among themselves the 150 Lords who will stay behind. These can serve their remaining six years to ensure continuity and help to induct their 150 new, elected counterparts into the superb traditions of the House. Those who stay behind are designated as 100 Regional Lords and 50 Party Lords. So although 200 regions have been created, elections take place in only 100 of them, leaving the other 100 to be represented by the remaining ex-appointed Lords. These will terminate their service six years later, when elections take place for their replacements. 

13.  Members of the House of Lords are to observe certain rules of attendance and therefore are to be paid salaries and expenses. These are revised from time to time and fixed by a committee in the House of Commons, presided over by the Clerk of the Parliaments, to ensure neutrality and adequate consultation between the two Houses.

14.  A minimum age requirement – say 40 years – would add gravitas and experience to the House of Lords. The service of a member of the House is limited to the lower of three periods and retirement at 70. This is to avoid inertia and renew its vitality. The modern composition of the House of Commons is made up of young people who look at their membership of Parliament as a career. They have become professional MPs. But membership of Parliament should not be a profession. It is the recent evolution of this practice that has contributed to the chasm between citizens and their representative MPs, who look at their membership as a job for life. It is only the enterprising amongst them who move on and use their positions as launching-pads to go forward into other, more remunerative or more rewarding careers, in business, journalism or academia. To avoid creating a similar situation in the Lords, fixing the minimum age at 40 would attract individuals with experience, a number of whom would have already made their mark or their fortune, and so would be able to devote the mature years of their lives to public service rather than building up their careers.

15.  The biggest problem arising in implementing TR for the Lords is in drawing the boundaries. This task of course will be entrusted to the existing Boundaries Commission or a new commission. Unlike the existing boundaries, the new ones for the Lords need to be drawn in a geographically successive sequence from north to south, ignoring national, ethnic or any other local considerations, to avoid as far as possible the curse of gerrymandering. The danger of the impact of gerrymandering is reduced anyway to a minimum under TR because it is a compensatory system. Moreover, unlike with the boundaries for the House of Commons, where it is important for the local MP to have regular meetings with the electors of his/her community, the strict and continuous contact of the Regional Lord is optional and discretionary. His/her contact with the region is more a matter of gauging the political temperature of that region and using this contact to contribute to the deliberations of the House. He/she is not meant to set up a “surgery” similar to that of an MP. The deliberate differentiation of the ages of members, the timing of elections, and the boundaries between the two Houses of Parliament, will result in them complementing, rather than coinciding with or duplicating, each other. This in itself will add to the value of the Lords as a revising chamber.

16.  Any prediction or simulation of the results of the elections to the House of Lords under such a system is valueless. However, it is safe to assume that it will never mirror the composition of the House of Commons. To start with, TR is a balanced system and its results can never mirror the results of FPTP. Secondly, the timing of elections to the two Houses is very unlikely to coincide. Thirdly, even if the election of one half coincides with the Commons, the other half will not. Moreover, the shapes and sizes of the regions are bigger and cannot overlap with the constituencies of the Commons. Add to all this the age and maturity of the new Lords, which will make them less dependent on their parties and less inclined to be easily led by party whips. All that will give them more independence in their contributions, which will add tremendously to the value of their revising function. The debates in the Lords will command respect and attention by the House of Commons and the public at large.

Aharon Nathan, Wimbledon 2012