Monday, July 09, 2012

Lords reform: grand plans fail, so keep it simple

Given how fiendishly difficult it has proved, year after year, decade after decade, to get House of Lords reforms through the Commons, let alone through the Lords, it strikes me that if you’re going to get anywhere you’ll need to be sneaky.

The government’s proposals, in brief: over the course of three general elections, they would replace the hereditary and life peers with ones elected through a party list system to serve 15-year non-renewable terms. These party peers would make up 80% of the new House, and 20% would be ‘great and the good’-style non-party appointees with expertise in various worthy fields.

As I say, pretty much a complete overhaul. And yet…

Most of what these reforms would achieve could be done much more easily, by making just two changes to the current House of Lords:
  1. Fix the numbers of new appointees to match party vote shares at the last election (with 20% non-party worthies). That gets you the proportionality based on election results.
  2. Change the length of a peerage from life to 15 years. That gets you the regular turnover. (If it’s less of a wrench for them, I’m happy to let former members keep their titles.)
Job done. No endless debate about the merits of election vs appointment or about different electoral systems or about the supremacy of the Commons. The change would be nearly as big as that envisaged by the government, but it would be legislatively far simpler. Quick and dirty and effective.

Now, I’m not necessarily saying that the government’s plan is good even in theory, just that my plan would get us most of the way there a lot more easily. And of course there are other things you might want to change about the Lords (me, I’d kick out the clergymen). But the more you try to change in one go, the more fronts you’ll find yourself fighting on.

Keep it simple.

1 comment:

john b said...

No, I don't like that one at all - it erodes the only advantage of single-member FPTP, which is your ability to reward the likes of Jeremy Corbin or David Davis (according to taste) without it also electing tame lobby fodder for the party they frequently rebel against.

At the same time, because single-member FPTP necessitates tactical voting, it's based on a grossly unreliable measure of what people want. A Lords elected on a dedicated party list PR vote would end up with a decent whack of Kippers and Greens - far more so than a Lords elected on GE share where both groups tend to don a clothespeg and vote Tory or Labour.