Draft House of Lords Reform Bill - Draft House of Lords Reform Bill Joint Committee Contents



Dr Stephen Watkins

1.  SUMMARY This evidence builds on the evidence calling for part time members of the House of Lords submitted by the Programme for Popular Participation in Parliament of which I am Chairman. It calls for the House of Lords to sit for twice its current number of hours per year both by sitting for longer each day and on Saturday (amounting to 80 hours per week) and sitting through the recess. It proposes that there should be 312 whole time equivalent non-voting seats filled by modestly reforming the current membership of the House of Lords and 312 whole time equivalent elected voting members. This amounts to twice the number of whole time equivalents proposed by the Government because the House would sit more and therefore each seat would be 2wte. Non-voting members could hold proxies for absent voting members. The various whole time equivalent seats would be divided between a number of people elected from diverse democratic mandates. Specifically 100 voting seats would be filled by about 1,000 members called aldermen elected to serve one day a fortnight in the House of Lords and also to serve on their local council, 96 voting seats would be filled by 240 senators elected in the way the Government proposes but for two days a week, 12 voting seats would be filled by 30 people elected by faith groups, 5 voting seats would be shared by the members of the UK Youth Parliament, there would be 27 citizen's jurors at each session and 100 voting seats would be divided between the non-voting members by a list system election structured to favour cross party and crossbench lists.

2.  I am Dr. Stephen Watkins. I am a public health doctor. I am a libertarian socialist and a member of the Labour Party. I have held various offices in the past in the Medical Practitioners Union and the Socialist Health Association and both in the past and currently in the British Medical Association and the Transport and Health Study Group. However this evidence is personal and is unconnected with any of those offices.

3.  I am Chairman of the Programme for Popular Participation in Parliament. This small organisation which seeks to promote part time membership of Parliament has given evidence to your committee.

4.  In that evidence it has asked the committee to maintain the House of Lords as a House of part time members.

5.  It has said that this could be done by creating a larger number of seats but making them part time or it could be done by providing for the 312 seats proposed by the Government to be job shared.

6.  It was not appropriate for PPPP as an organisation to go further than this. It exists only to advocate for the availability of part-time seats in Parliament and does not have any specific policy on any other aspect of reform of the House of Lords.

7.  However I am submitting personal evidence suggesting how this might be implemented.

8.  In this evidence the abbreviation wte means "whole time equivalent". For example 5 members each attending one day a week amount to 1wte, as do two members each attending for half the time. If the House meets for double the time that a full time member could be expected to attend then one seat amounts to 2wte.

9.  PPPP's evidence drew attention to various options. Those options were intended to stimulate debate as to how an elected House containing part time members might be constituted and to point out that it opens a much wider range of options than a full time House.

10.  This evidence contributes to that debate.

MY PERSONAL PROPOSALS

11.  It is possible to opt for a simple system, perhaps of the kind that might have been implemented for full time members, and then modify it by introducing jobshares or by increasing the number of people elected. This approach has the advantage that it is easier to understand. I am aware that my Deputy Chairman, Dr. Helena McKeown, favours this option and will be giving evidence accordingly.

12.  Another option is to exploit the wider range of possibilities that part time members open up and to balance them so as to create a more balanced chamber. This is the approach I have taken in this evidence. I believe that it offers a more balanced membership representing a wider range of interests and, most importantly, a range of different forms of democratic mandate varying in the extent to which national political parties will be able to influence them.

13.  The PPPP evidence listed various options. In this evidence I give one example, the one that I personally would choose, for balancing these various options.

14.  One of my considerations has been that nobody has ever criticised the quality of debate in the present House of Lords—they have only criticised its democratic mandate.

15.  I would have a House of Lords which sits for about twice its current number of hours per year, partly by sitting for longer each day and partly by sitting on Saturdays and during the recess. To fill 312 seats it would therefore require 624 wte members. If each of these wte is made up of several part time members then it would be a House that has more members than at present, not fewer.

16.  I would suggest that the 624 wte should be made up of 312 wte elected members who would be voting members and 312 wte unelected members who would be non-voting members but would be able to hold proxies for absent voting members. Every vote cast in the House would therefore derive from a democratic mandate, but at the same time the current House with its high standards of debate and its considerable expertise would be retained.

THE VOTING MEMBERS

17.  In suggesting the ways to elect the voting members I have had regard to the desirability of ensuring that there are a significant number of cross benchers and also of ensuring that the party members operate in a milieu which is not that of the Westminster Village and its associated think tanks.

18.  I suggest that the 312 wte be made up of

  • 100 wte made up of about 1,000 members who would be elected to a seat (usually 0.1wte—eight hours on one day each fortnight) in the House of Lords linked to a seat on a local council, with the title alderman. This would link local and national government and would ensure that those holding these seats operated in the milieu of local community politics rather than of Westminster.
  • 96 wte made up of 240 members who would be elected in accordance with the Government's proposals for election for single terms of 15 years from regional constituencies using STV with quota. These would be elected in three tranches of 80 and would each be 0.4wte (eight hours on each of two days a week). They would be called senators.
  • 12 wte made up of 30 elected Lords Spiritual each 0.4wte
  • 10 wte made up by sharing 5 seats amongst the members of the UK Youth Parliament (because the jobshared seats would be filled all the time by one of its jobshare holders without needing recourse to non-voting members as proxies each such seat would amount to 2wte)
  • 54 wte made up by having at any given time 27 citizen's jurors selected by a random process. Some jurors would attend on specific dates and times for which they were selected. Others would be selected for a particular Bill and would attend on each occasion that that Bill was being considered.
  • 40wte made up of 100 seats divided between the non-voting members according to an election held by the list system concurrently with alternate European Parliament elections and organised so as to encourage crossparty and crossbench lists. There is an interesting question of how many wte this amounts to. On the one hand as seats filled on a rotating basis each seat is 2 wte so there is 200wte here. On the other hand as these seats are filled by people who also hold non-voting seats it is arguable that it is 0wte. I have assumed that the need to fill the list seats will add to the attendance of non-voting members by about 20% so I have counted these as 40wte.

PROCEDURAL ISSUES

19.   Voting should be on the basis of 1 vote for each 0.1wte. Thus an 0.1wte alderman would have 1 vote, an 0.4wte senator would have 4 votes, a jobshared seat that would be filled all of the 2wte that the House sits would have 20 votes, except for the list seats restricted to non-voting members which would have 10 votes (mainly to achieve balance—it would give this form of electoral mandate about the same voting power in total as aldermen and senators). Voting members who were absent could appoint proxies but there would be a limit of 30 votes on the number of votes that a member could hold.

20.  When the number of members wishing to attend exceeds the capacity of the House members who do not intend to contribute to the debate but simply to listen to it and vote could be allocated to overflow meetings, which need not be in London, Indeed with appropriate telecommunications they could be in the members' homes.

21.  I will discuss the arrangements for elections in a later section

THE NON-VOTING MEMBERS

22.  Initially the non-voting members would be the members of the current House and during the transitional period of two Parliaments before the elected membership is complete they would not be entirely non-voting as they would be able to allocate the voting seats yet to be filled amongst themselves as in the Government proposals.

23.  Currently the House's attendance pattern is the equivalent of 388wte. 312 wte non-voting seats in the permanent proposed membership plus 40 wte allowed for the list seats plus 56 wte transitional voting seats to represent the senators to be elected in 2020 and 2025 means that it would need 408wte members in the 2015 Parliament. This is not grossly out of line. Indeed some decline in attendance is likely if members feel no compulsion to attend on occasions when they do not intend to speak and do not hold a proxy so it is possible that there is scope for some additional appointments.

24.  Over time as existing members reduce their activity the non-voting membership should be reshaped so as to consist of

  • 75 wte appointed by political parties. These could be made up of life peers, Ministerial members, and members appointed for only a single Parliament. It would be up to political parties how many individuals shared these seats but they would need to agree the level of activity expected of each so that they could match those appointed to the number of wte. The number of wte allocated to each party should be proportional to its average support over elections held in the last 15 years.
  • 75 wte life peers appointed by the House of Lords Appointments Commission, mainly crossbenchers. Each appointment should include an agreement about the expected level of activity so that the number of wte can be calculated and these would be reviewed periodically
  • 1 wte shared between a number of offices of state that should have the right to participate in debate when they have distinctive professional contributions to make. These should include the Chief Medical Officer, Chief Nursing Officer, Chief of the Defence Staffs, Comptroller and Auditor-General, Ombudsman, Local Government Ombudsman, Health Services Ombudsman, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Poet Laureate, Controller of the Queen's Music, Lord Chamberlain, Earl Marshal, Cabinet Secretary, Court Jester (an office that should be revived) and Governor of the Bank of England.
  • 75 wte representatives of organisations chosen by the House of Lords Appointments Commission to represent the range of civil society, like the CBI, TUC, BMA, Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, RCN, Council of Engineering Institutions, Bar Council, Law Society, Royal Society, Royal Academy, Royal Institute of British Architects, Women's Institute, National Trust, CPRE, Liberty, Amnesty etc. Each appointment should include an agreement about the level of activity so that the number of wte can be calculated and these would be reviewed periodically. Persons appointed by these organisations would be known as "representatives" and would place the initials RP after their name.
  • 74 wte made up of 370 representatives, each 0.2wte (attending for eight house on one day a week), elected by or appointed from particular professions or economic groups. 10 members could be elected by and from amongst each of the following professional groups:- registered medical practitioners, nurses, allied health professionals & chartered environmental health officers, social workers, chartered civil engineers, chartered mechanical engineers, chartered electrical engineers, other chartered engineers, Fellows of the Royal Society, qualified architects, solicitors, barristers, chartered accountants, qualified public finance accountants, registered teachers, academics of the rank of senior lecturer or above in the natural sciences, academics of the rank of senior lecturer or above in the social sciences, academics of the rank of senior lecturer or above in disciplines other than the natural or social sciences, and University Vice Chancellors. 5 members could either be elected by and from amongst the members of their discipline or alternatively appointed by the House after advertisement and competitive interview from each of 8 disciplines which have particular relevance to the whole range of issues before the House—historians, economists, public health specialists, academic experts in Government and politics, constitutional and human rights lawyers, organisational psychologists, social and behavioural psychologists, and experts in the interpretation of scientific evidence for policy purposes (including two statisticians, two academic experts in social policy and one scientist). Organisations of various types involved in the economic world would also elect representatives with ten representatives being elected by each of the following groupings of organisations:- FTSE200 companies and private companies of equivalent size, smaller companies that are still larger than SMEs, small and medium size enterprises, mutual organisations and social enterprises, large registered charities, trade unions of over 1,000,000 members, trade unions of between 100,000 and 1,000,000 members, smaller trade unions, and farmers. Holders of large landholdings or aristocratic titles could also form a group electing 10 members. 30 members could be chosen in some way by and from amongst those engaged in the arts, entertainment, media and sport. 10 members could be elected by and from amongst those honoured by the Crown or included in recognised lists of achievement and standing such as Who's Who, Debrett's People of Today, recognised Rich Lists and recognised celebrity lists.
  • 12 wte Lords Spiritual, made up of 8wte allocated to the General Synod of the Church of England (4wte to the House of Bishops and 2wte to each of the other Houses), 1wte to other Christian churches, 1 wte to other Abrahamic religions, 1wte to other religions and 1wte to secular faiths like humanism and Marxism.

ELECTION METHODS

Senators

25.   Senators would be elected by STV with quota from regional constituencies as proposed by the Government.

Aldermen

26.  District councils and their equivalents would be allocated aldermen in the ratio 1 session of 0.1wte per 65,000 population.

27.  In councils with between 3 and 7 sessions STV with quota would be used and the number of sessions rounded to the nearest whole number. One alderman would be elected for each session. These aldermen would also have a seat on the council.

28.  In councils with 1 or 2 sessions entitlements would be calculated over a group of councils so that one alderman was elected for each Council and the remaining seats used for additional top up sessions for proportional representation by the AMS system. The top up seats would be allocated to parties. They would be allocated firstly to candidates who were runners up in the election in a council which, if considered alone, would be entitled to 2 sessions and secondly to candidates who were runners up in a smaller council. As between two or more such candidates priority would be given to candidates where the party in question is underrepresented on the council in question. These rules apart prioritisation would be order on the party list. If it was necessary to go beyond candidates who were runners up then the seats allocated to those aldermen on their local council would be non-voting, although their seat in the House of Lords would be voting.

29.  No Council would have more than 7 aldermen. Instead if a council is larger than 500,000 population its Leader (or elected Mayor), its Chief Executive and its ceremonial head (ie Mayor in a council which does not have an elected Mayor) would be members of the House of Lords for 0.1wte. If a Council is over 1,000,000 population each of its 7 aldermen would be 0.2wte (one day a week). Over 1,500,000 and this would move to 0.3wte (three days a fortnight) and over 2,000,000 to 0.4wte (two days a week).

30.  A small number of councils would have an entitlement which rounded to the nearest whole number is 0 sessions because they are smaller than 32,500 population. They would be entitled to one alderman of 0.05wte (about one day a month). In the case of the City of London this seat would be held by the Lord Mayor.

31.  It would left to councils to decide the terms of office of aldermen (but this must not be less than 4 years nor more than 12 years), whether they are to take place at the time local government elections take place or whether they are to be concurrent with Parliamentary elections or with European elections and the years in which the elections take place if they are to be at the local government date. All aldermen in each council would need to be elected together so that proportionality can operate and in councils which are grouped for AMS purposes the terms of office and dates of election would need to be the same.

List Seats

32.   These elections would take place concurrently with alternate European elections starting in 2018.

33.  Non-voting members would organise themselves into lists.

34.  100 voting seats would be allocated to lists by the d'Hondt system. Those at the top of the list, to the number of seats won, would become voting members but other members on the list would be available to deputise for them.

35.  Peers and representatives could be on more than one list (for example a scientist sitting as a Conservative peer might well appear both on the Conservative list and on a science list). If a list failed to gain any votes peers and representatives who were only on that list would be purely non-voting.

36.  Lists could be named after organisations that sponsored them or after some common interest shared by those on the list or after the peer or representative leading the list.

37.  To strengthen the crossbench and cross-party lists and allow lists that were rooted in civil society

  • voters would be able to vote for, say, seven lists
  • the law should specifically disapply, for this election only, any rule that a party may have preventing its members supporting opposing lists
  • the laws restricting the fielding of candidates by charities and by trade unions should also not apply to this election.

Elected Lords Spiritual

38.  These elections would take place in two parts. Firstly voters would be asked to indicate their faith and denomination concurrently with alternate European elections starting in 2023. 30 seats each 0.4wte would be allocated to groupings of religions, denominations and secular faiths such as humanism based on these indications. Some time later and separately from any political election an election would take place to those seats by STV with quota with voting taking place at places of worship for the religious group concerned at times appropriate to the groups in question. At this stage candidates would need to be members of the religious group in question. Everybody would be free to vote in one of the religious groups only and would receive a poll card which they would surrender when they vote.

12 October 2011


 
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