Washminster

Washminster
Washminster

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The Government's White Paper on reform of the House of Lords is available at

http://www.justice.gov.uk/docs/elected-second-chamber.pdf

The Executive Summary states -

In March 2007, there were free votes in both Houses of Parliament on House of Lords reform. The House of Lords voted for a wholly appointed House and the House of Commons for a wholly or mainly elected second chamber. This White Paper sets out what giving effect to the votes of the House of Commons, which is the primary chamber in the UK legislature, might mean in practice. The proposals, which are Government proposals, follow cross-party talks. The cross-party talks reached consensus on a number of issues. The detailed text of this White Paper indicates where other members of the Cross-Party Group on House of Lords reform dissented from the Government’s proposals.

There is already widespread consensus over the role of the second chamber and its relationship to the House of Commons. The primacy of the Commons and the right of the Government to get its business through Parliament is acknowledged as beyond debate. But the second chamber has a crucial role to play.

In its three main functions of scrutinising legislation, conducting investigations and holding Government to account, the second chamber should complement the work of the Commons. Irrespective of its membership, this should continue to be the case in a reformed second chamber.

There are four key principles underpinning the reform proposals to maintain the difference between the membership of each House after members are elected to the second chamber:

• members of the second chamber should be elected on a different representative basis from members of the House of Commons;
• members of the second chamber should be able to bring independence of judgement to their work;
• members should serve a long term of office; and
• the second chamber should take account of the prevailing political view amongst the electorate, but also provide opportunities for independent and minority views to be represented.

The Government welcomes a confident and assertive second chamber. It sees this as further enhancing our democracy and something that is entirely consistent with the primacy of the House of Commons. That primacy rests in the fact that the Government of the day is formed from the party or parties that can command a majority in the House of Commons. It also rests in the Parliament Acts and in the financial privilege of the House of Commons. The Prime Minister and most senior ministers are also drawn from the House of Commons. A more assertive second
chamber, operating within its current powers, would not threaten primacy.

One of the key reforms proposed in this White Paper is the introduction of elections to the second chamber. It was a recommendation of Lord Wakeham’s Commission and has since enjoyed widespread support, including within the Cross-Party Group, that elected members would normally serve a single, non-renewable term of 12-15 years. They would be elected directly in thirds and with each member serving three electoral cycles. Large constituencies, each returning more than one member over the three electoral cycles, would be used. The elections in thirds would take place at the same time as general elections for the House of Commons. To mitigate the risk of members serving very short terms, where a general election occurred less than three years after the previous one, it would not be accompanied by elections to the second chamber. The Government would welcome views on the appropriate size for a reformed second chamber.

Further consideration should be given to the options of using a First Past The Post, Alternative Vote, Single Transferable Vote or open- or semi-open list system. The Government would welcome views on the voting system to be used for electing members to a reformed second chamber.

The current powers of the House of Lords and the conventions that underpin them have worked well. The second chamber is likely to be more assertive, given its electoral mandate. The Government and members of the Cross-Party Group welcome this. Increased assertiveness is compatible with the continued primacy of the House of Commons, which does not rest solely or mainly in the fact that the House of Commons is an elected chamber whilst the House of Lords is not. Instead it rests in the mechanisms identified above. There is therefore no persuasive case for reducing the powers of the second chamber.

The key argument for any appointments to the second chamber is that it would preserve a significant Crossbench element. If there were an appointed element in a reformed second chamber, appointments would be made by an Appointments Commission, which would seek applications and nominations, against published criteria. Appointments would be made on merit, with the key focus being an individual’s ability, willingness and commitment to take part in the full work of the second chamber.

As with elected members, appointed members would serve for three electoral cycles without the possibility of re-appointment. One-third of appointed members would be replaced at each set of elections to the second chamber.

The Appointments Commission would operate on a statutory basis.Legislation would contain only broad parameters in relation to the role and operation of the Commission,to give it flexibility.The Commission would be accountable to the Prime Minister.

There would be no reserved seats for Church of England Bishops in a wholly elected second chamber. If there were an appointed element in the second chamber, there would be a proportionate number of seats reserved for Church of England Bishops. Retired Law Lords, or after 2009, Justices of the Supreme Court who were formerly Law Lords, would have the same status as other existing life Peers.

Membership of a reformed second chamber would no longer carry with it a peerage, nor would it be associated with the award of any other honour.

Eligibility requirements for membership of the reformed second chamber would be brought more into line with those for membership of the House of Commons. The minimum age for membership of the second chamber would be 18, and there would be no maximum limit. British, qualifying Commonwealth and Republic of Ireland citizens would be eligible for membership,as they are now.Those subject to a bankruptcy restriction order, those holding full-time judicial offices, those with certain criminal convictions, those detained for mental health reasons, those who had been convicted of electoral fraud and those who were not UK taxpayers would be ineligible. Those who had served as elected members would not be eligible to be appointed as members and vice versa.There would be provision for members to resign,but not to take leave of absence except if they had a major illness. Members would be allowed to vote in elections to both the House of Commons and the second chamber at all times.The Government would welcome views on whether there should be provision, similar to that which applies for the House of Commons, disqualifying those in certain public professions and offices, or who are members of certain public bodies, from membership of a reformed second chamber.

Further consideration would need to be given to the accountability arrangements for members of the reformed second chamber, particularly in light of proposals that they serve long,single terms.The Cross-Party Group discussed the possibility of introducing recall ballots,along the lines of those that exist in some states of the USA.The Government would welcome views on the proposals for such ballots set out in this White Paper.

Members of a reformed second chamber would receive taxable salaries.The Senior Salaries Review Body would advise on an appropriate level of salary and on the possibility and desirability of linking it to a member’s contribution to the work of the second chamber.

There would be a transitional phase of three electoral cycles during which the three tranches of new members took up their places.During this time,new practices both internally and in relations with the House of Commons would develop.Existing peers would have key roles in ensuring that the second chamber continued to work effectively with the House of Commons and in transmitting knowledge to new members.

The sitting and voting rights of the remaining hereditary Peers would be removed,but the timing of this is for further consideration.This is linked to the need for further discussion about how far the rights of life Peers to sit and vote should continue during the transition and about whether they should continue after that phase is complete.TheWhite Paper sets out three options, on which the Government would welcome views.

A common feature of almost all recent proposals is that the peerage itself, as an honour bestowed by the Crown, should be distinct from membership of a reformed second chamber.A peerage would therefore be neither a qualification nor a disqualification for membership.This would make it anomalous for the reformed chamber to be called the ‘House of Lords’, and a new name would be needed. Many, though by no means all, second chambers around the world are called ’Senates’, and the title is no guide to their powers and functions. Such suggestions have been made for the reformed second chamber here.There may be others.The Government is open-minded on this, though there was a strong consensus among members of the Cross-Party Group for the name ‘Senate’.To avoid a preoccupation with name over function and composition in the debates about the future,we use the neutral term "reformed second chamber" throughout this document.

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