Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Paul Stinchcombe MP (LR 38)

Consultation Response to the White Paper—The House of Lords, Completing the Reform

  The continued presence in the legislature of peers selected only by the accident of their birth was an affront to a modern democracy and had to end. I therefore applaud the decision to start the reform of the House of Lords during the last administration. I do—however—have concerns about the current proposals for the completing of that reform.

Do we need a second chamber?

  I believe strongly that we do need to have a second chamber. There is a massive need for scrutiny of Government, and members of the House of Commons—with so many other constituency responsibilities—do not have either the time or the expertise to undertake that exercise on their own. The second chamber has a vital role to play in imparting that expertise, providing that scrutiny, and being a check and balance on government itself.

Should its membership be directly elected?

  Nonetheless, I believe also that the second chamber should complement rather than compete with the first chamber and that if the second chamber were entirely and directly elected, there would be a real risk of competition to the grave detriment of good government.

  In particular, we already have an elected first chamber chosen by the people and given a democratic mandate. I fear that if we create a second directly elected chamber, it would claim—understandably—an equal democratic mandate and thereby claim powers beyond those of revision and scrutiny. As such, the real risk would be created by legislative impasse—if the two chambers had different parties in the majority—as two equal chambers asserted the right to impose their will.

  Moreover, I believe that a wholly and directly elected second chamber would also become increasingly the creature of party politics, losing much of its independence and expertise.

  Indeed, there would be a real risk if the second chamber were to be entirely directly elected of even greater party control of the second chamber than of the House of Commons. In particular, any chamber full of directly elected members without constituencies would likely be elected through some sort of party list system. There would thus be created a very real risk that candidates for election would be selected not by local parties or associations but by the central party machines. Party leaders could thereby exert massive control over the party lists, thus ensuring their preferred candidates had the best chance of being elected.

Should its membership be appointed through exercise of political patronage?

  I object equally to all other exercises of political patronage over the membership of the legislature. I am, accordingly, far from happy with the suggestion that any proportion of the second chamber be directly appointed by party leaders. Moreover, for the reasons given below I believe this could be avoided entirely without causing any of the problems described above of a second chamber directly elected in its entirety.

An alternative model—indirect elections/an electoral college

  It seems to me that the preferred solution—one which would be democratic but which would avoid: (1) the risk of the second chamber seeking to usurp the first; and (2) the risk of the second chamber losing its independence and expertise to become a creature of party politics—would be to create a second chamber whose membership would be largely made up of representatives indirectly elected by various groups and bodies.

  For example, there could be a second chamber of 200 members of which between 50-90 would be directly elected by the general public and the remaining 110-150 indirectly elected by various organisations and representative bodies—such as the CBI, the city, small businesses, the TUC, local government representatives, doctors, teachers, university lecturers, various other professions not mentioned above, the Church and other major faiths, ethnic minority communities, the elderly, the young, the disabled etc.

  This would ensure democratic accountability, avoid patronage, minimise party politics in the second chamber, ensure that the legislature was more representative of our pluralistic society, and better ensure the input of real expertise—with experts being chosen by their own peers—in the legislative process.

PROTECTIONS

  I have suggested above that my preferred solution would minimise party politics in the second chamber—this seems to me to be the very likely consequence of the second chamber's membership being largely made up of people indirectly elected by different organisations and representative bodies many of whom would have no party affiliation. For the reasons given above I perceive this to be advantageous.

  I appreciate, however, that wherever there are elections to any part of the legislature the various political parties will seek to organise. Moreover, some of the suggested participants—the CBI, the TUC, Local Government—will be readily amenable to party political influence, whether overt or otherwise. Various "slates" will doubtless be drawn up.

  It seems to me that it would be wrong—in any participatory democracy—to seek heavy-handedly to curtail or prevent all such party political activities. Nonetheless, some protections seem to me to be necessary—such as limits on the amount that can be spent by candidates—to prevent the party political machines from taking the process over.

  If the above solution were broadly to be accepted in preference to the deeply divisive proposals currently being consulted upon, it is on this kind of detail—together with the exact make-up of the electoral college—to which I believe detailed consideration should now be given and upon which I would then wish to see full consultation.

THE QUESTIONS RAISED BY THE CONSULTATION PAPER

  It is apparent from the above that my own preferences depart so significantly from the proposals that are currently being consulted upon that my comments do not fit neatly as answers to the various questions posed under the White Paper's Summary of Issues for Consideration. Nonetheless, I do address those issues as best I can below.

Is the overall balance between elected, nominated, and ex-officio members right, and the balance between political and independent members?

  No. The majority of the second chamber should be indirectly elected as above. I have suggested that with 200 members, between 50-90 members be directly elected and between 110-150 be indirectly elected by various organisations and/or representative bodies.

Should elections for regional members be linked to elections to the European Parliament or elections to the House of Commons? Is a link with regional elections realistic?

  It would be entirely feasible (and probably desirable) for wholly different arrangements to be established in respect of the various indirect elections suggested above. If my preferred solution were adopted, this would therefore mean establishing a timetable and other arrangements for the direct election of between 50-90 members only.

  So far as these direct elections are concerned, I accept that it would be desirable to have these elections on a regional basis to ensure equity in representation between the various regions of the UK.

  As to timing, I would prefer directly elected membership to the second chamber to be for a fixed term. This rules out linkage to elections to the House of Commons and—practically—to local elections also, so divergent are the various local electoral practices in the UK. Moreover, I would not favour linkage to the European Parliamentary elections either since this would inevitably influence the elections in an inappropriate way by focusing campaigns on one set of issues to the exclusion of others.

  I therefore favour an entirely separate timetable for these direct elections to a second chamber. This solution would also serve to emphasise the discrete importance of the second chamber in the new constitutional settlement.

For how long should regional members be elected?

  Five years. There is no reason why they should be elected for longer than any elected member of the first chamber.

For how long should appointed members serve?

  There should be no appointed members.

What should be the rules for disqualifying members?

  All elected members—whether elected directly or indirectly—should be treated the same, identically to elected members of the House of Commons. There would be no appointed members to be treated differently from the elected members.

Is it necessary to change the system of remuneration?

  As above there would be no appointed members to be treated differently from other members. There would—however—be two types of elected members: those elected directly and those elected indirectly. Both types of elected member should be properly remunerated—either by an annual salary or by remuneration for actual days attended. My preference would be for daily remuneration, with the total payable upon attendance every working day being equal to the MP's annual salary.

Paul Stinchcombe MP

January 2002



 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 25 February 2002