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Saturday, June 23, 2012

No referendum is good news

I have written in the past that the main reason why referendums are held is to resolve inter-party squabbles on key issues, normally constitutional matters. That is why we are often required to vote on entirely esoteric matters as we did in March 2011 on Welsh Assembly powers, whilst important, economy-changing decisions such as our continued membership of an enlarged and entirely changed European Union or whether we should adopt the Euro are left to be decided by policy inertia.

After all we live in a representative democracy and elect MPs, AMs etc to make these decisions on the basis of their manifesto pledges, in full knowledge of all the facts and after the sort of sophisticated debate and scrutiny that is not possible in a mass vote.

That is why I welcome the decision by David Cameron that there will not be a referendum on Lords reform. After all it was in the manifesto of all the main parties at the last election, so the principle has already been decided. What we need to do now is to agree the detail.

That is a matter for consultation and scrutiny of course and that is how it should be. In that spirit I will kick off the debate by saying that 300 members of an elected chamber is not enough and that such a diminuitive legislature will mean that small countries like Wales will be inadequately represented.

The House of Lords should be more than a revising body, it should be a Federal chamber in which Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have a substantial presence so as to ensure that they retain a stake in the union and that their voice there is representative of their own electorate. For that to happen membership of the second chamber should be 400 as a minimum and possibly more.

Of course there are more important things we need to concentrate on such as the economy. However, the issue of the House of Lords has remained unresolved for a century and more. If we are now going to sort it out, let's do it properly.
I agree with much of what you say.

I am confused regarding it being a 'federal'chamber, as that would require wholesale constitutional reform, including the abolition of the Commons as the legislative body for the UK, and converting it into a parliament for England. All four 'parliaments' would need to have exactly the same powers in a federal system. The overarching federal chamber would deal only with those matters reserved to it.

Also, are you suggesting that Wales (& Scotland, and NI) should have a disproportionate representation within it? I can see the sense in that, as the structure of the UK is so imbalanced.

I think that a federal UK would be much better that what we have now, but I'm inclined to think that in the medium to long term it would break down, especially on issues such as defence and foreign affairs.
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