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Term limit new peers to ensure reform

May 18th, 2010 Posted in Election, Liberal Democrats, UK Politics by

Yesterday’s news that the new coalition will seek to ennoble a significant number of new peers to reflect the vote shares in the last election is an uncomfortable reminder of the realpolitik facing the new government.

It would be very easy to regard this as an entirely cynical measure, paying off worthy servants of the party machines and unlucky candidates for their contribution.

It is also a blunt reality that the House of Lords currently over-represents the Labour party and under-represents the Government. Given no one can be sacked, and no one in the Lords has any democratic legitimacy to be there, should the Government risk their entire agenda being derailed for this?

This was not a position taken by the last Government, who also used an ‘interim measure’, with a promise of future reform, never delivered, to improve their own position.

The most popular option to avoid repeating such an exercise would be to push through second chamber reform at the same time. But there is no consensus between the parties, or within some, on what this reform looks like. More democratic, entirely democratic, revolution, bridging arrangements, term lengths, electoral system, titles, actual powers and so on, the range of views is wide, and the iron law of self-interest would suggest most deeply held by those favouring the status quo. It will take time to build a consensus on how to remove this feudal relic from our constitution.

An easier step towards reform though would be put forward a proposal for term limits for all new peers to the current House. Perhaps 5 years, perhaps more. Perhaps no more than two terms possible for any of them.

This does not then require the current turkeys to vote for Christmas, makes reform in the interest of the new appointments, and puts them under the clock to deliver. It would provide some of the pressure of accountability current lacking.

It is not a very radical step. But that is the point. The new coalition cannot deliver a radical agenda to the peers until there is a consensus. In the interim it needs to dilute Labour’s blocking minority, and it needs to do so in a way that supports the Liberal Conservative reform narrative, rather than undermining it. I’m not sure there are many ways of doing that quickly that stand a chance of passage through the current second Chamber.

Who then gets appointed and how is a different question. Personally I’d like to see a party approval process at least as rigorous as that required for potential MPs, then an open selection process in the manner of a ‘amIhotornot’ website where the public can rate the contenders. That’s about as close as we can get to a national primary for a large number of candidates quickly and cheaply. I’d also bar anyone in paid employment by either the government or the parties, unless they choose to resign.

The current Liberal Democrat option is an inward-looking peers panel process of hacks choosing hacks that acts as a suggestion box for the Party Leader, and can be ignored. It is not ideal nor particularly useful.

Lastly I’d say isn’t it about time John Stevens got a peerage? Securing 10,000 votes against the Speaker and pushing Nigel Farage into third place on an anti-sleaze platform is one of the best results by any independent candidate. And it is just possible he could claim to be the only true Liberal Conservative candidate in the election. One who oddly finds himself with a government but no position within it.

21 Responses to “Term limit new peers to ensure reform”

  1. Jock Says:

    If in 1999 they could sack several hundred at once some of whom had been there fore several hundred years, why can they not repeat the exercise?

    There’s the Salisbury Convention, and the Parliament Acts. It argues well for PR if they can paint the 30% who are Labour as blocking on purely tribal grounds.

    I don’t think it is necessary or a politically good move</a and it is repugnant to me to have the illegitimate appointing the unelected, to sit in judgement of us all!

  2. Andy Mayer Says:

    In theory they could.But the peers would have to vote for it, and who do you sack and how. I think such a move fails the Turkeys voting for Christmas test.

  3. Ziggy Says:


    You don’t like democracy a great deal Jock kind of strange for a Lib Dem

  4. Ziggy Says:

    Sorry that should be ‘representative’ democracy, can’t say I’m any fan of direct democracy

  5. Jock Says:

    Oh, I think democracy’s fine Ziggy, so long as it’s voluntary. Co-operatives, the golf club committee and so on, but not when its outcomes are forced, with violence, upon everyone with no chance of escape from them (and no, emigration is not escape, it’s exile).

  6. Ziggy Says:

    Oh here we go again with the libertarian spew of why can’t I opt out? I’m surprised that no anarcho-libertarian says it in a whiney voice whilst stamping their feet, because its reminiscent of a spoilt brat whining that they can’t get their own way.

    If you really want to opt out then fine stop using public roads, oh & if you get injured then don’t go to a public hospital, oh & if you do go to a private hospital make sure the Doctor who treats you didn’t attend public school or private school on a scholarship.

    I’m sure the likes of Stuart Sutcliffe & Ian Huntley might ask why they can’t opt out, hey where’s the harm if women & children consent to be killed.

  7. Jock Coats Says:

    Oh Ziggy – why do you expect people to engage with you? It is soooo tedious and predictable.

  8. Ziggy Says:

    your bigotry against government is just as tedious & predictable.

  9. Jock Coats Says:

    Bigotry: “unreasonable attachment to a belief”

    I don’t think it unreasonable to be against an institution that has proven itself to do almost inestimable damage and destruction over centuries. Your argument is false. And you are usually unforgivably rude with it.

  10. Ziggy Says:

    Bigotry also means intolerant to the views of others, which many of libertarians of your ilk are very much guilty of.

    The only difference between many libertarians & anti Semites is that libertarians blame government not Jews for the root of all evil.

    If libertarians could figure out an argument to blame government for the lack of sunshine or the quality of sliced bread, they’d be flaunting it.

    You said the other day elsewhere on this blog that there would be greater liberty if there was less government, which is a wholly narrow-minded & selfish view. The blind man who needs assistance, the individual in a wheelchair, those who are vulnerable or ill, are not freer without assistance & government has proven to give much of the assistance needed & that’s because the market had failed to provide that assistance.

    You seem to believe liberty is purely negative liberty, Isaiah Berlin warned against the exclusive use of either negative or positive liberty shame you’ve not heeded his words.

  11. Jock Coats Says:

    Thinking someone’s views wrong is not intolerance. Especially when they are.

    Declaring that others are some kind of anti-state version of anti-Semites really does your argument no good at all. I’m sure there probably are reasons one could blame the government for the quality or not of sliced bread; after all its manufacture, ingredients and sale are heavily regulated. I doubt the same could be said about sunshine, despite the politically aligned mainstream media’s propensity to come up with stupid statistics like “less rain under the Tories” and so on.

    You said the other day elsewhere on this blog that there would be greater liberty if there was less government, which is a wholly narrow-minded & selfish view.

    No, it is not. Income levels rising, interference levels falling will make for greater liberty, for the greater number, to use a nasty utilitarian phrase. What happens to those who do fall between the cracks is a different debate, and you have to consider whether the diminution of liberty for all as a result of the state taking on such support roles for the few is a reasonable trade off. If we believe that the support for others would be there in a voluntaristic society then quite clearly the answer is that the trade off involving the state is not necessary or proportional.

    The blind man who needs assistance, the individual in a wheelchair, those who are vulnerable or ill, are not freer without assistance & government has proven to give much of the assistance needed

    The state has also proven to pursue its aims often with great violence, much more so than we would accept from any other organisation of which we were paying “customers”. It has proven itself willing to take a vast proportion of the national production to provide these relatively rare services. It has not proven itself to be the only arrangement that can provide such services for the most needy.

    & that’s because the market had failed to provide that assistance.

    In particular in the area of health care, the government has over time been complicit in causing market failure by monopolising the market and crowding out competitors, sometimes again with force.

    You think it is selfish to want to live in a world where such things are done voluntarily, without the concomitant state’s ability to do violence to others, both their own citizens and those of others. I beg to differ.

    Oh, but I suppose you are right, I am indeed intolerant of views which suggest the only way to solve social problems is to create a massive coercive monopoly with the ability to violently impose the will of the minority on the majority. And I do not apologise for that – it’s quite possibly one of the most stupid things humanity has allowed itself to be persuaded of.

  12. Ziggy Says:

    I’m sure there probably are reasons one could blame the government for the quality or not of sliced bread

    The point I was making was that libertarians blame government for EVERYTHING when in fact government isn’t to blame for EVERYTHING. The government is to blame for something, the free market is to blame for other things. To say that governmentis to blame for everything then you have a rather blinkered & unbalanced view.

    Declaring that others are some kind of anti-state version of anti-Semites really does your argument no good at all..

    Err no because anytime i hear Scott the bigot 7 Ian Freeman go at it on FTL, the only difference I hear is Ian saying government is the root of all evil & Scott saying Jews are the root of all evil.

    The state has also proven to pursue its aims often with great violence

    Oh dear here we go again with the whole its wrong to rob Peter to feed Paul argument…snore!

    Well allowing Paul to starve to death is a far worse crime.

    Oh & Peter isn’t robbed of his entire income to feed Paul, but rather expected in the society we live in to contribute to towards those less advantaged. Its called a social contract & before you say that you’ve not consented to it, oh yes you have by using public roads & paying tax. If you don’t consent you do get a choice you can go to jail, pack your bags & go elsewhere or alternatively build a rocket & bugger off to the moon. Of course you wait until your voice breaks & you stop getting zits, at which point you’ll realise that we live in a parliamentary democracy, sure its flawed but its on the whole what people want. Sure people differ how much government should be doing & that’s a fair debate, but generally people think there should be government.

  13. Ziggy Says:

    Oh & one other thing which I forgot to say in that last post about Peter paying to feed Paul is that unless there is some welfare provision there’s likely to social unrest & an awful lot of it, therefore its in the best interest of Peter to feed Paul to avert that.

  14. Roger Says:

    What happened to the Lords Reform ?

  15. Steve D Says:

    It is also a blunt reality that the House of Lords currently over-represents the Labour party and under-represents the Government.


    This statement is factually wrong regarding Labour Party representation. The figures speak for themselves:

    Labour 211 (30%)
    Conservative 188 (27%)
    Lib Dem 72 (10%)
    Ukip 2 (0%)
    Crossbenchers 182 (26%)
    Lords Spiritual 25 (4%)
    Other 24 (3%)
    Total 704

    Indeed the coalition combined is the largest block at 37%, it is of course some way short of the 60% combined share of the vote at the general election. However one has to ask the desirability of the Lords either mirroring the commons or the % of votes at the general election.

    It rather mutes a second chamber. What is the point of it; if it is simply in a position to rubber stamp legislation from the commons?? You might as well not have a second chamber to scrutinize and revise legislation.

    With regard to getting legislation through there are the parliament Acts and the Salisbury Convention; however it is debatable that legislation stemming from the cobbled together Coalition agreement will meet the requirements of this convention.

    There is nothing wrong with some redress of the balance of views in the Lords, but what appears to be proposed goes way beyond that.

    The combination of proposals on the constitutional arrangements for dissolution of parliament and for stacking the House of Lords with Tory and Liberal Peers, is a blatant attempt to rig both Houses in favour of the coalition partners. In the Commons to protect it from dissolution and in the Lords to ensure its legislation is rubber stamped.

  16. Ziggy Says:

    I think the ‘spiritual’ is definately over represented lol

    Oh yeah does anybody know if there’s an actual limit to the number that can sit in the House of Lords, believe it or not I don’t know.

  17. Andy Mayer Says:

    Steve, it’s a strange set of criticisms. On the facts I agree the figures do speak for themselves. Labour’s representation in the Lords is 103% of their GE2010 vote, the coalition’s is 62%. One is then over-represented compared to their support, the other is under-represented.

    Whether or not redressing that balance to GE2010 levels is the best solution is a moot point, the alternative on offer is the actual and relative over-representation of Labour based on their own ‘reforms’ to stack the house in their favour. You seem to be saying that and the coalition’s rumoured solutions are wrong, but are very unclear as to what reddress is fair and on what it would be based.

    I believe what we all want is proper democratic reform of the Chamber, something that could be phased out of sync with the Commons to address your concerns about mirror-chambers. But at the moment such a radical change will not happen as there is no consensus on the replacement. So what do you suggest the coalition do in the interim? That is their dilemma.

    My suggestion is term limits. Do you have an alternate proposal?

  18. Steve D Says:

    @Andy Mayer

    Firstly, the actual percentages regarding Labour representation do speak for themselves. As a percentage of 704, 211 is 29.97%. Labour support at the recent GE was 29.65%. I would not characterise 0.32 of a percentage point as “a blunt reality that the House of Lords currently over-represents the Labour party”. This is to suggest that a 0.32% variance equating to 2 peers, is somehow significant.

    With regard to representation of the Tory Party and the Liberal Democrats; there is of course under representation, especially for the Liberal Democrats. I am not arguing against some redress of the balance to correct this. However I find it strange that Liberal Democrats would argue for the large increase in patronage suggested in the coalition proposal; given that you wish to see a fully elected and democratic second chamber.

    The suggestion that the Labour Party stacked the House of Lords in their favour is an interesting one. I’m not sure the facts fully support this. Certainly, prior to the 1999 Legislation there was an inbuilt Tory majority thanks to the vast number of Tory hereditary peers. The legislation obviously removed that. However, the number of hereditary peers that remained at that point clearly still favoured the Tory Party. The House determined that the 90 would be divided as follows: deputy speakers, 15; Conservatives, 42; Crossbenches, 28; Liberal Democrats, 3; and Labour, 2.

    The subsequent appointments of Labour Peers to a level today of 29.97%, is still nowhere near the levels of support Labour obtained at General Elections prior to 2010. So in the realities of Government: Labour never enjoyed the dominance in the Lords that their levels of support suggested they should have; using a model where the second chamber reflects percentage share of the vote and mirrors the first chamber. You will see from the information below, that the recent Labour administration suffered far more in term of defeats within the House of Lords than it’s predecessors.

    With regard to whether the second chamber should reflect the first; far from being a moot point, it is in fact the salient one. What is the point of a second chamber in this case? In order to scrutinize and revise legislation surely there should be independent voices and a different balance of opinions? If there isn’t, then a real danger exists that it will simply act to rubber stamp the Commons. Further, for a fully elected chamber it would surely be democratic to reflect public opinion at a different time to having that opinion expressed for the commons. Mid-Term elections to the second chamber would make sense.

    The sensible thing to do in my view would be to simply move ahead with plans for a fully elected second chamber; if your Tory coalition partners can be persuaded it should be fully elected. There is no need to alter drastically the composition of the Lords to achieve this; the Parliament Act and Salisbury convention will suffice. Indeed the same can be said of any legislation the coalition wants to pass.

    The coalition combined in the Lords is still the largest block, on some legislation it will no doubt carry Labour and Crossbench peers with it. For other legislation it will have to deal with the same challenges and scrutiny all Governments have faced.

    I think there is some consensus on how to proceed with Lords reform; certainly more so than at any time, given the shift on this from the Tory Party. However we are yet to see detailed proposals from the coalition to comment fully.

    What I cannot believe is that it is democratic to parachute between 100 and 200 peers into the House of Lords simply to serve the interests of the coalition partners.

  19. Roger Says:

    The alternative is that we follow the German model which we imposed on them. Firstly we cut the number of people in the Commons and make the seats more equitable in terms of size.This needs doing as it takes less votes in some of the old inner cities or Scottish seats than it does in the average English seat. We then have a minimum of AV+ as the basis of election to that house. My only hesitation is that the Parties have control over the top up list and what order the Candidates appear in.I want the right to choose who get elected off that list. In other words I really ought to go for full PR.

    Then we scrap the Lords and have representatives from the regions elected on PR basis. These could afford to be slightly out of balance to the size of the electorate. This would give the Scots compensation for their loss of Commons seats.Also this would clear out all those anachronisms such as the remaing heredataries and also the Lords Spiritural. If a Bishop wants to be in the Second Chamber he/she should stand for election like anyone else.

  20. Andy Mayer Says:

    Steve, it sounds from Clegg’s speech today that reform may come sooner rather than later, we shall see. Otherwise all of your points are addressed in the original article.

  21. Dave Atherton Says:

    As your resident Tory troll can I said that Nick Clegg on civil liberties was a tour de force today. Bloody outstanding.