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Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Half measures fail to deliver proper democratic reform

A committee set up in December last year by the Speaker of the Lords, Norman Fowler to look into the reform of the second chamber has reported and it is the usual fudge and half-measures that will do nothing to enhance our democracy.

The Guardian tells us that the committee has concluded that the House of Lords should be reduced in size by a quarter to no more than 600 members, with new peers limited to 15-year terms. The Lords has more than 700 members, excluding bishops, making it the world’s second largest legislative body after China’s People’s Congress.

And while the numbers would eventually fall to 600, smaller than the House of Commons, this would not happen before 2027, according to the report. Numbers would then stabilise at 574, making 600 when bishops are included.

The report also recommends a maximum term in the Lords of 15 years for any newly appointed members. The party makeup would be managed to make sure no one group had a majority, with at least 20% of peers being non-partisan crossbenchers.

They say that future appointments to the Lords, rather than being purely at the discretion of the government, would be shared between parties based on an average of the vote share at the last election and the total number of Commons seats won. This would, the report said, make sure the Lords “reflected the political views of the country over the medium term”.

Whereas the maximum term of 15 years is welcome these proposals do not go far enough. They continue to enshrine party patronage in our unwritten constitution, instead of giving the public a say on who should sit in the second chamber, they do not guarantee a proper regional and national balance and the numbers of peers are too large. My view is that 300 would be a reasonable number for an elected second chamber.

Yet again we have evidence of a national institution being unable to adequately reform itself properly.
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