Letter from Keith Rumsey (LR 46)
re: The reform of the second chamber of Parliament
I should be grateful if you would consider,
as my MP, the following thoughts on the form of the new chamber.
The second chamber should be different
in character to the primary one because the House of Commons is
Faults in the formation of the Commons
which must be avoided in the second chamber are:
(i) Though MPs are democratically elected
(I leave aside any considerations of reform of the voting system),
the selection of those put forward for the voters to choose from
is effectively in the hands of unelected party members.
(ii) There are too many career politicians,
who depart from the original principles of our parliamentary system
by representing their own career aims more diligently than they
represent their constituents.
(iii) Because thoughts tend to the next General
Election within three years of the previous one, there is a strong
temptation to take a short-term view of policies.
If the second chamber is to be in
a position to balance these faults in the first chamber:
(i) + (ii) it must be democratically elected
but in a way which is, at least to a large extent (more than 50
per cent of its members) independent of the party system.
(iii) it should involve a longer period of
service than the Commons: either elections every seven or eight
years, or (my preference) one-third of the members only standing
down at every General Election.
We should also look at the advantages of the
composition of the old House of Lords. (I take it as read that,
by its undemocratic nature, it needed reform.)
(i) It did have long-term membership (see
(ii) It had people of a wide range of backgrounds
(iii) The presence of "elder statesmen"
such as Dennis Healey, Geoffrey Howe, Shirley Williams, with great
political experience but loosened ties to their Party, has often
been seen as beneficial.
(iv) The unelected hereditary peers were
at least free of any obligations to anyone for their presence
in the House.
These considerations do not make it obvious
what form the new chamber should take, but I hope you might agree
that they suggest that the government have got it wrong in their
Rather than be purely negative I make the following
suggestion for the elected members of the chamber:
(i) that the country be divided for these
purposes into large electoral districts, eg East Anglia. (This
might help to meet the devolution problem).
(ii) within each district the following groups
be invited to nominate candidates for election: the CBI (and/or
Chambers of Commerce), the TUC, the Churches (not just the Church
of England!), the universities, magistrates, charitable organisations,
the armed services, journalism, Local Government. I do not regard
this list as definitive; the aim is to find people of proven service
to the community and wide experience.
(iii) the voters would then be able to vote
freely for members from within the listno quotas. This
would be difficult to manage the first time, but if only a third
were re-elected each time subsequently within each district I
think the list should be manageable.
Mr Russell, if you have read this far, thank
you for taking the time to listen to me. I should say that none
of the criticisms of the Commons above should be taken as reflecting
on your personal performance as an MP! I hope that the Liberal
Party will be able to push for sensible reforms which represent
an improvement and not just a replacement of the dregs of royal
patronage by political patronage.