Plan to DUMP legislators by lottery!

Plans to reform House of Lords could include a lottery to cull peers

Nick Clegg’s white paper to include several options for cutting second chamber seats to 300 by 2015
Patrick Wintour
Wednesday 11 May 2011 21.13 BST

A lottery could be used to decide which peers are thrown out of the House of Lords under one method being discussed to cut the second chamber down to as few as 300 members.

Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, will seek to re-energise his political reform agenda next week when he publishes a white paper on an elected second chamber that will set out plans to cull remaining hereditary and appointed peers.

The government is expected to leave open the question of which peers are selected to stay, but a favoured option being canvassed is for each party group to hold a random draw for each phase of the removal of peers.

The draft bill will suggest slashing back the number of existing peers from 790 to 200 by 2015, with 100 elected in 2015, bringing the total size of the chamber to 300, half the size of the Commons.

Clegg will also canvass a softer option in which no peer is forced to leave until 2025, the point at which the reforms are complete. Numbers would fall as peers die or chose to retire, but this option has little support within the Liberal Democrats. Only bishops can currently retire, though others can take leave of absence. The aim is for the new Lords to be complete by 2025. Twelve bishops will be retained with full voting rights. Clegg will propose the second chamber is either 80% or 100% elected, saying a totally elected chamber is his preferred option.

Clegg is hopeful that David Cameron will not simply go though the motions of supporting Lords reform next week, but will use some of his political authority to say he wants the reform on the statute book by the time of the next election, so that the first tranche of elected peers can be introduced in 2015. Clegg has repeatedly attacked Labour’s past failure to reform the Lords, and it would be embarrassing if he also discovered Lords reform is harder to achieve than demand. The coalition agreement does not spell out that the Lords will be replaced by a wholly or mainly elected second chamber, merely that proposals will be brought forward.

Clegg will face resistance across the parties in the Lords, and among many Tory MPs who do not want to see the legislative programme clogged up with a constitutional dispute. The Lib Dem leader is expected to be pressed on his plans when he gives evidence to the political reform select committee on Thursday morning. In a signal that he wants to minimise unnecessary battles he will propose that 12 bishops remain with voting rights under his preferred option of 60 crossbenchers. There are currently 26 bishops in the Lords.

Government sources said the plans will have little to say on changing the powers of the Lords as a legislation-revising chamber. Clegg is hoping his reform bill will be submitted in the 2012-13 session in time for the first elections in May 2015. The white paper is expected to propose peer elections by the single transferable vote system, with elections for five to seven peers every five years in multi-member districts. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will each be treated as single constituencies. An expert group will be responsible for drawing up the boundaries, and not the Boundary Commission.

Cameron will have to decide whether he needs to do more than offer broad support for an elected Lords. Lib Dem figures such as Lord Ashdown have warned that they would see it as a further breach of faith if the prime minister did not show a real commitment to a democratic second chamber. But Clegg is anxious that Lords reform is not seen as his chief priority.

Dr Meg Russell, deputy director of the Constitution Unit, a research body on constitutional changes, has said: “Nick Clegg may press David Cameron to give him Lords reform as a consolation prize for losing the AV referendum, but this is not in Cameron’s gift to give. There will be strong resistance to the government’s proposals in the Commons, as well as in the Lords.” Hillary Benn, shadow leader of the Commons, demanded that Clegg did not backtrack on a wholly elected second chamber, saying: “This is an issue of principle and must not become one of tactics. At a time when people are taking to the streets across the Middle East and north Africa demanding to have a say in who represents them, how could anyone contemplate reforming our system on any other basis than full democracy?”

5 Responses

  1. There are two ironies involved here:

    1) The House of Lords is the only chamber that functions more or less as intended, and yet is continually the but of reform proposals.

    2) The upper chamber, as currently constituted, is more descriptively representative than the Commons. Creating a senate that was 80% elected would simply replicate the homogeneity of the lower house (a small elite of professional politicians who, for the most part, have never had a proper job before).


  2. This appears to be EL employed as a mere tool (or weapon?). BEL, on the other hand, is a fundamental Principle of democracy which is essential for a Republic which is full and genuine.


  3. Forgive my ignorance — what do those acronyms stand for?


  4. Richard makes the distinction between sortition as an occasional device (EL, or elections-by-lot) and sortition as a system (BEL, or blanket-elections-by-lot).

    I agree with Richard that sortition can easily be manipulated into being nothing more than a fig leaf for an oligarchy (electoral or otherwise).


  5. So what would the acronym be for sortition as an ongoing element of a mixed constitution?


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