by Gary J
Fri Jun 29th, 2012 at 08:08:28 AM EST
The UK is launching itself on another experiment in constitutional reform - only one hundred and one years after starting reform of the House of Lords.
Edited highlights - previously on Westminster, a story about lawmaking folk ...
In 1911 the House of Lords, then composed of hereditary peers and a few Law Life Peers (the Lords Temporal) and some Church of England Archbishops and Bishops (the Lords Spiritual), lost its equality of legislative power with the House of Commons. Now if the House of Commons passed the same law in three successive sessions it became law even if the Lords did not consent (or even in one session if the dispute was over a money bill).
In 1949 a Labour government reduced the Lords delaying power to two sessions.
Various schemes, over the decades, were proposed to make the Lords more representative. Few changes were made (life peers 1958, seats for all Scottish peers and female hereditary peeresses and power to disclaim unwanted peerages 1963).
The House of Lords Act 1999 removed most hereditary peers (leaving only 91 representatives of the old order). This ended the traditional overwhelming Conservative majority, but did nothing to make the House more democratic.
See after the fold for the latest instalment - an actual government bill introduced today! Could anything be more exciting?
front-paged by afew
The House of Lords Reform Bill (text available on the Parliamentary website), is designed to produce a long term solution to one of the longest running issues in British politics.
At the next House of Commons election (due in May 2015) the first transitional period will begin. At the general election after that (so long as it is after May 2017) the second transitional period will start. Then at the third qualifying general election (more than two years after the second) the new style House will be in full operation.
The powers of the House of Lords are left unchanged.
At each qualifying General Election, one third of the elected members will be returned. That is 120 members. 117 of them will represent the same national and English regional areas as are used for European elections (East Midlands 9, Eastern 11, London 14, North East 5, North West 14, South East 16, South West 11, West Midlands 11, Yorkshire and the Humber 10, Scotland 10 and Wales 6). The remaining three members are allocated to Northern Ireland.
True to recent British tradition, a new version of an electoral system has been devised which is not the same as that used in any other UK election. The electoral system is a party list method. Seats are allocated between lists on what looks to be the d'Hondt method, but with an opportunity to cast a personal vote to alter the order of candidates on a list as long as the affected individual candidates get five per cent of the vote. Northern Ireland will use the single transferable vote, instead of a list system (as in European elections).
During the first traditional period, two thirds of the old style members will continue to have seats. In the second transitional period, one third will remain. They will be all gone thereafter.
In addition to the elected members there will eventually be ninety appointed members. Thirty appointed members will be selected at the time of each qualifying election. An appointments committee will propose a batch of the "great and the good" to the Prime Minister, who will then ask the Queen to make the appointments. This is a variant of the methods used now to appoint Bishops and Judges, designed to avoid partisan politics by making the role of the Prime Minister (like that of the Queen) purely formal.
The number of Lords Spiritual will be reduced, by stages, to twelve. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, together with the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester, will always be members but the Church of England gets to choose which seven of its remaining Bishops go to Parliament.
Finally there are to be a class of ministerial members. Up to eight ministers, at a time, can be appointed but once they are in the House they retain a seat until the second qualifying general election even if they stop being ministers. As far as I can see there is no limitation on numbers except that only eight at a time can be ministers.
The Liberal Democrats are all in on this bill. This is Nick Clegg's project and probably his last chance to get something of lasting constitutional importance through Parliament. Having failed to change the Commons electoral system, proportional representation for the upper house would provide some consolation.
The Conservatives do not feel so strongly and some of the backbenchers are openly hostile. The fate of the bill will probably depend upon how many rebel against the timetable motion. If the committee on the bill is taken on the floor of the House (as is normal with a constitutional measure) with no timetable in place, the prospect for the bill consuming so much time that it has to be dropped to save other government business must be quite high. The sort of opposition, which Enoch Powell from the right and Michael Foot from the left, used to defeat the last comprehensive House of Lords reform bill in 1967 would be quite likely.
Labour supports the reform, in general, but sees the opportunity to make mischief by promoting extended debate and a referendum on whatever may pass Parliament.
If the House of Lords is not reformed now, it may be generations before anyone tries again.
Update 1 (10 July 2012)
The House of Commons has just completed a two day debate on the second reading of the bill (where the House considers the principles of the bill). The bill was approved on a vote of 462 to 124. However the government did not try to pass the programme motion, to limit debate at the committee stage of the bill. This presumably means that the whips did not think the motion would pass. It remains to be seen how much more progress the bill can make, against determined Conservative back bench opposition and a Labour opposition more interested in causing mischief than in passing a bill they more or less support.