Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Lords reforms explained

UPDATE: Things have changed somewhat since I wrote this, I've updated it to take account of the changes to the proposed Lords reforms

Here are the key proposals for Lords reform according to the BBC:

KEY FEATURES OF PROPOSALS
  • 300 450 members
  • 80% elected - 20% appointed but with a provision for a fully elected chamber
  • Members to be elected for single 15-year terms under the single transferable vote open list system of proportional representation
  • A third of members to be elected in 2015, a further third in 2020 and 2025
  • Number of bishops to be reduced from 26 to 12
Now, in case anyone's wondering, this is why each element of the proposals came to be.

The 300 450 member limit is intended to reduce costs (which are currently huge) and to ensure a body half the size of the Commons - the latter reason being a matter of principle apparently. The 80% elected component is intended as a compromise in order to make the reforms acceptable to enough people for the proposals to make it through  Houses of Parliament without being voted down. The provision for a 100% elected upper chamber can be seen as what Nick Clegg would like to have in an ideal world and 80% as what he thinks is likely to actually get approved. The 20% of members who are appointed would have to be cross-benchers i.e. people who aren't members of any political party.

The single 15-year terms are to ensure that each member of the upper house will not be dependent on a political party to be re-elected as the single term limit will make them ineligible for re-election. The idea behind this is that it will allow members of the upper chamber to vote according to their consciences as opposed to voting for whatever the party tells them to on pain of de-selection. STV Open list PR is to ensure that the new upper chamber will be elected by proportional representation which means that each party will have the same percentage of seats as it got of votes and should also hopefully mean that no one party will have a majority in the upper chamber thus stopping a government from railroading through its proposals. STV Open list PR also allows voters to pick between candidates from the same party and so will also reduce the influence of political party selection procedures on who gets elected - again reducing members' dependence on the party.

The fifteen year term is tied in to electing the new chamber in thirds. The idea is that the elections to the new chamber will take place at the same time as parliamentary elections and thus members will simultaneously have plenty of time to exercise their experience and so on whilst still ensuring that the public regularly gets its say in who the members are. And if you're going to elect the upper chamber in thirds at the same time as parliamentary elections then you need a fifteen year term for each member. The other reason is that it means that the Lords can't claim to have more democratic legitimacy than the Commons.

Finally the reduction in the number of Bishops is simply proportionate to the reduction in the overall size of the upper chamber.

I hope this explanation helped.

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