Dr Alan Renwickwritten evidence |
1. This submission is accompanied by a copy of
the Political Studies Association's publication, House of Lords
Reform: A Briefing Paper, which I wrote. The briefing paper
draws on extensive evidence from the UK and other countries and
sums up what we can say about the likely impact of various aspects
of the government's reform proposals. It is not my intention to
duplicate the briefing paper here (I understand that it has already
been sent to all members of the Committee). Rather, I shall briefly
highlight five points that I regard as particularly important.
The first three of these defend the government's proposals:
that the proposed reforms would destroy Commons primacy are greatly
exaggerated; in fact, they would probably lead to a limited increase
in the power of the House of Lords, and this change might well
of the type proposed would not obviously deprive the chamber of
experience, expertise, and independence, as some have presumed;
STV electoral system is the one most likely to deliver the sort
of chamber that most participants in reform debates want.
The remaining two points highlight difficulties in
the government's proposals and suggest possible remedies:
proposed move to a full-time, salaried chamber does appear likely
to discourage many of the best candidates from running; consideration
should be given to whether a satisfactory system of per diem payment
can be devised;
proposed system would do nothing to enhance accountability; while
there are advantages to this, there are also disadvantages; these
could be mitigated through minimum service requirements and recall,
both of which would be applicable at the five- and ten-year points
in a member's fifteen-year term.
The power of the second chamber
31. The evidence suggests that the government's
proposed reforms would create a more powerful second chamber,
but would not threaten the primacy of the House of Commons: the
reformed second chamber would have greater democratic legitimacy;
but it would still be constrained by the Parliament Acts and probably
by some conventional constraints, and the government would still
be based in the House of Commons;
32. There is much to be said for a more powerful
second chamber: power is presently highly concentrated in the
British political system, creating the danger that legislation
may be passed without adequate consideration of all its implications.
33. But our judgement upon the desirability of
the proposed reforms depends on whether the revised second chamber
would use its powers effectively. This depends, in turn, upon
the next point: the effects of the proposed reforms on the composition
of the chamber.
The composition of the second chamber
34. The current method of composing the House
of Lords is indefensible. While non-elected office-holders can
play important roles in a democracy, there can be no case for
a chamber whose overall party balance is shaped in significant
part by the whims of successive prime ministers and most of whose
members are party placemen.
35. Election, by contrast, is clearly a legitimate
mechanism for determining the composition of a parliamentary chamber.
The introduction of a statutory appointments commission would
also safeguard the appointments process against prime ministerial
36. Concerns have been expressed by some that
the proposed reforms would deprive the chamber of its experience,
expertise, and independence. There is, however, little reason
to think that the creation of a largely elected chamber, on the
basis proposed, would in itself necessarily have these undesirable
of the experience in the current House of Lords comes from members
who were formerly MPs, who move to the Lords in order to stay
active in politics without the burden of having to serve and nurture
a constituency. It is not clear why many of these people would
refuse to stand in one further election.
experts would continue to be appointed as now. Some of the current
partisan appointees are non-professional politicians who also
bring expertise to the House from other fields. The willingness
of such people to run for election is difficult to predict. But
the differences between the sorts of election we are used to and
the elections that are proposedone-off elections in very
large constituencies for a secondary chamberare very great.
We should not extrapolate from one to the other and presume that
non-professional politicians will refuse to stand.
terms will promote independence. Indeed, it is not at all obvious
why popular election should be thought likely to lead to less
independence than appointment by the party leader. The degree
of independence of partisan members and the number of non-partisan
members depends also on the specific electoral system, which is
my next point.
The STV electoral system
37. There is general agreement that no party
should hold an absolute majority among the partisan members of
the second chamber. Given this, a proportional electoral system
is necessary: a majoritarian system such as First Past the Post
or the Alternative Vote would often generate a majority for one
38. Among systems of proportional representation
(PR), there are three basic options: closed-list PR (such as is
used for British elections to the European Parliament), open-list
PR (not currently used in the UK, but widely used elsewhere in
Europe), and the Single Transferable Vote (STV, used for most
elections in Northern Ireland and for local elections in Scotland).
Of these, closed-list PR, quite rightly, has no defenders: it
can create politicians who are no more than elective placemen.
39. Open-list PR and STV are both equally good
at allowing voters to choose which of their favoured party's candidates
will represent them.
In the context of the proposed second chamber, however,
the case for STV over open-list PR is strong:
unlike open-list PR, allows voters to show support for candidates
across party lines. For Commons elections, there is a good case
for saying that voters should be encouraged to think first about
party: Commons elections are in large part about choosing the
party or parties that will form the government. But this does
not apply to elections to the proposed second chamber.
is far more permissive of independent candidates than open-list
PR. Given the general (and justified) belief in the value of independents
in the second chamber, this is a significant advantage.
STV is sometimes said to lead to excessive parochialism.
But this is unlikely to be a problem in the context of very large
constituencies and non-renewable terms.
40. The ability of STV (or open-list PR) to give
voters a choice of candidates from their preferred party clearly
depends upon the number of candidates that that party nominates.
The experience of STV elections in Northern Ireland and Scotland
is that parties have, in fact, often stood only as many candidates
as they hope to win seats, thereby denying voters this choice.
A rather obscure aspect of the government's proposed reformsnamely,
the method for filling vacancieswould, however, prevent
such behaviour. Vacancies would be filled by unsuccessful candidates,
so parties would have a strong incentive to run more candidates
than they expect initially to secure election. The proposal not
to hold by-elections would thusperhaps counterintuitivelyexpand
A full-time, salaried chamber
41. I have suggested that the proposed mixture
of election and appointment, as well as the specific proposed
electoral system, would probably have benign effects and, specifically,
that fears about scaring away the sorts of people whose participation
in the current House of Lords is widely valued are probably exaggerated.
But another aspect of the government's proposals that has received
much less attention does appear likely to have these unintended
effects. This is the proposal that members should work full-time
and receive a salary for doing so.
current chamber benefits from the contributions of individuals
with outside expertise. It is problematic if the outside experts
never or only very rarely attend. Equally, however, outside experts,
by definition, have other things to do. It is unclear why we should
want them to attend the Palace of Westminster most of the time.
It is also unclear why they would want to do so and why, therefore,
they would accept membership on this basis.
of the most active members, as already noted, are semi-retired
politicians who devote considerable time to the chamber but who
may not wish to commit themselves full-time. This consideration
is particularly acute when we consider the proposed fifteen-year
term, though members would at least be allowed to retire early.
I therefore suggest that the Committee consider whether
a satisfactory system of per diem payment can be devised,
such that varying levels of attendance can be acknowledged. It
is clearly unsatisfactory if members can arrive, sign in, and
promptly leave again, thereby securing their daily allowance.
But it is surely not impossible to design a system that works
better than this.
42. The government's proposals would improve
the representative quality of the second chamber, butbecause
terms would be fixed and non-renewablewould do nothing
to enhance its accountability. Such a scheme has both advantages
43. On the positive side, lack of accountability
would promote independent-mindedness. Members would be freed from
the game of calculating the effects of their every move upon their
prospects for re-election. Non-politicians who have no desire
to play this game would be more likely to put themselves forward.
44. On the negative side, members, once elected,
would be free to do as they wished. They might disregard the interests
of those who elected them. They might simply never show up, but
still (if the government's proposals go through) pocket a handsome
45. Given the desire for independence and expertise
in the second chamber, the benefits of non-renewable terms appear
great. Nevertheless, the negative effects of lack of accountability
might be mitigated through two measures:
While I have suggested that the reformed second chamber should
be built to accommodate widely varying levels of attendance, it
is reasonable to expectas the current Appointments Commission
doesthat members should regularly participate in the work
of the House. Minimum service requirements might therefore be
set as a condition for continuing membership beyond five years
and beyond ten years. The Appointments Commission's most recent
appointees have participated in a little over one quarter of the
votes that they could have taken part in, suggesting that a minimum
participation rate of, say, 20 per cent might not be so onerous
as to dissuade highly accomplished candidates while still ensuring
a significant contribution. Clearly, much care would need to be
taken in devising the details of such a scheme.
The government is non-committal on the subject of allowing recall
of members of the House of Lords. If introduced, recall could
not be used to precipitate a by-election: by-elections in such
large constituencies would be very costly; they would also violate
the principle of proportional representation. Rather, it could
be used only to require a member to stand for re-election after
five or ten years. A signature requirement of 10 per cent (as
the government initially proposed for recall in the House of Commons)
would be difficult to achieve in the proposed large constituencies,
so successful recall initiatives would be rare. But such a provision
should be considered as a way of providing an ultimate constraint
against unrepresentative behaviour without violating the general
practice of non-renewable terms.
11 October 2011