26 May 2011

Thinking Paper # 10: House of Lords Reform – Is it sufficiently post bureaucratic?

By Ronnie Ford-Golightly


At 3.30pm on 17th May our beloved Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, made a statement about the Government’s plans to reform the other place – the House of Lords. By this point in the paragraph I expect to have lost 100% of our readership so I will continue to write as if no one is actually reading.

The Detail

In this section we will analyse the details of the draft bill setting out our analysis of its post bureaucratic credentials. The statement went on for some time and it was followed by a number of questions from Labour, Tory and Lib Dem MP's. Nick Clegg ranged between angry and condescending in his responses, in large part because of his frustrated public schoolboy background.

The main points are highlighted below:

The DPM said: “The Prime Minister and I are clear that we want the first elections to the reformed upper Chamber to take place in 2015”.

The IIPBA say: “Seems clear enough. Clear target but 4 years suggests a little too much process”.

The DPM said: “We propose an upper House made up of 300 members, each eligible for a single term of three Parliaments. Three hundred is the number that we judge to be right.”

The IIPBA say: “15 years? Elected for 15 years? Sorry, back to the bureaucratic point. I like the second sentence – “300 is the number we judge to be right” – no consultation, no evidence, no analysis, it’s just the right number, end of story. We judge this to be sufficiently post bureaucratic.”

The DPM said: “The Bill makes provision for 80% of Members to be elected, with the remaining 20% to be appointed independently. The 60 appointed Members would sit as Cross Benchers, not as representatives of political parties, and in addition bishops of the Church of England would continue to sit in the other place, but would be reduced in number from 26 to 12”.

The IIPBA say: “I hope that’s clear”.

The DPM said: “In the Bill, we have proposed a staged election—or election and appointment—by thirds in 2015, 2020 and 2025, alongside a staged reduction, commensurate with that, from the House of Lords as it is at the moment.”

The IIPBA say: “Our Parliamentary team here at the IIPBA suggests that even Nick Clegg didn’t know what he was talking about on this point and we therefore strongly feel that it probably came from the quill of a senior civil servant and is therefore a little too bureaucratic.”

Concluding comments

Our favourite quote from the debate came in response to a question from Helen Goodman, Labour MP:

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): How would you do that (the reduction by thirds)?"

The Deputy Prime Minister replied: "We will leave it to the House of Lords itself to decide the precise method."

If our analysis is correct, and this amused us somewhat, the House of Lords will be reduced in numbers and be made more democratic by allowing the House of Lords itself to “decide the precise method”. We suggest that if House of Lords reform is a genuine ambition of the Coalition government, then this is unwise.

These efforts are kind of credible and well intentioned, as were the other 1,000 attempts to reform the other place since the time of Asquith, but as with the AV referendum few people care about what seems to be an overly complex, bureaucratic and flawed reform bill.

Policy recommendations

1. In line with the post bureaucratic age philosophy, the decision on whether we should reform the other place should be left to the court of The Daily Mail comments page.

2. If, as we predict, the Daily Mail readers descend into vicious infighting about how Britain has gone to the dogs, we suggest that to solve all House of Lords related reform problems, we simply get members of the public to nominate themselves and appear on television in a talent contest. The nations fat people can then vote for their preferred 300 Lords using the red button and the individuals that are elected will stay there forever. During this time, they will be locked in the upper chamber and filmed for our pleasure.

3. Aforementioned infighting on the Daily Mail comments page may lead to calls for Chris Huhne to be hung on charges of witchcraft but we suggest that these calls may be credible.

4. There may also be mixed debate about what the mob should do with Ryan Giggs – we recommend that he fill one of the 300 vacancies in the House of Lords.

5. Simon Hoggart, Guardian sketchwriter, should be the main celebrity panellist judge on the talent show.

^Picture from Flickr by UK Parliament under a Creative Commons license^

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