How not to ‘do’ constitutional reform – by James Hallwood

The latest Coaltion fall-out over Lord’s reform has highlighted the way in which constitutional issues can easily turn into a game of political football. Booted between the Coalition partners, a decision of crucial importance on how we run our democracy has descended into short-term politicking.

A turnaround from a principled stand in favour of boundary changes to opposition marks a new low in how constitutional issues are addressed. The debate on whether AV or Lord’s reform was the price of reducing the size of the Commons misses the point entirely – constitutional changes require scrutiny and well-thought out legislation, not horse-trading and tit-for-tat.

While there are principled reasons for and against specific changes on either side of constitutional debates it is frankly depressing how these have often been quieter than discussion of partisan advantage. From arguments within Labour as to whether AV would benefit them or not to the quid pro quo agreement in the Coalition that AV would benefit the Liberal Democrats and boundary changes would benefit the Tories. 

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House of Lords Bill Published

The government’s House of Lords Bill has been formally published amidst discontent on the Conservative backbench. 

The Bill is having its Second Reading on 9th July which will then be followed by the Committee Stage assuming the Bill passes this first hurdle. After this there would be a Report Stage followed by the Third Reading and movement of the Bill to the Lords where the process is repeated. 

Labour has already committed to voting against a timetable motion, designed to limit the time spent debating the Bill, and is likely to table an amendment for a referendum on this constitutional change. It is widely believed that many Conservative backbench MPs are considering voting with Labour on this.

The main details of the government’s proposals are as follows:

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APPG meets to discuss House of Lords reform

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Constitution works to improve the quality of debate on proposals for constitutional change and the way in which they are introduced. Previous topics explored range from the AV referendum to Scottish independence. The APPG is supported by The Constitution Society. 

The meeting on 16th May 2012 was a response to the House of Lords Reform Report and was attended by Members of both Houses. The event was chaired by Lord Norton of Louth with presentations from Dr Meg Russell (Deputy Director, Constitution Unit, UCL) and Professor John Curtice (Research Consultant to NatCen Social Research).

The APPG meetings are open only to members of both Houses and are unattributed so the following is a brief summary of the topics explored.

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Queen’s Speech – the constitutional highlights

This year’s Queen’s Speech is the second under the Coalition and the 57th of Her Majesty’s reign, the full text of which can be found here. While the emphasis of the government programme appears to be to ‘reduce the deficit and restore economic
stability’ this is a speech that outlines some potentially monumental constitutional changes. 

Succession

The speech notes that the  ‘…government will continue to work with the 15 other Commonwealth realms to take forward reform of the rules governing succession to the crown’. Building upon the Perth agreement between Commonwealth Realms in 2011, the speech alludes to the plans to end male preference primogeniture, allow those who marry Roman Catholics to remain in the line of succession and reduce the need to ask permission of monarch for a marriage to only the six closest in line to the throne. 

While relatively uncontroversial, such moves will require the amending of several key constitutional laws such as the 1689 Bill of Rights and the 1701 Act of Succession. 

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Joint Committee publishes its report on House of Lords Reform

The Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill published its report today.

Amongst its main recommendations are:

  • An 80% elected chamber by STV with 20% nominated for expertise
  • 450 member strong House to provide an adequate pool to scrutinise legislation
  • 15 year non-renewable terms for members
  • A referendum to decide if members of the House of Lords are to be elected

The End of the Peer show? Responses to the draft bill on Lords reform

[First Published on Tuesday 19th July 2011]

The following post was first published on ConSoc’s previous site. It is recorded here as a window onto issues as they were at the time.

The end of the peer show? is a collection of responses to the Coalition Government’s reform proposals for the House of Lords, published in May 2011.

When The Constitution Society commissioned these essays we asked our contributors to focus on the specific proposals in the draft bill rather than on the broad narrative of incomplete reform which has been ongoing for a hundred years since the passage of the 1911 Parliament Act.

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ARCHIVE: Government Reform Proposals for the House of Lords

[First Published on Thursday 2nd June 2011]

The following post was first published on ConSoc’s previous site. It is recorded here as a window onto issues as they were at the time. For more up to date news on the Constitution and Constitutional reform, make sure to follow the ConSoc blog.

On May 17th the government introduced its Draft Bill for House of Lords Reform in the Commons and the Lords.

The Draft Bill proposes a move to an 80% elected upper house, with the remaining members appointed by recommendation of the Prime Minister.  The new House of Lords would be made up of 300 members, with the 240 elected members sitting for 15-year terms. Membership will not be renewable, which is intended to safeguard the independence of the elected members.

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ARCHIVE: Scaling the Heights of Lords’ Reform

[First Published on Wednesday 5th January 2011]

The following post was first published on ConSoc’s previous site. It is recorded here as a window onto issues as they were at the time. For more up to date news on the Constitution and Constitutional reform, make sure to follow the ConSoc blog.

If you had risen to your feet in Parliament 100 years ago and asked the Prime Minister whether his planned reform of the House of Lords would be completed before you could make a telephone call from the top of Mount Everest, Mr Asquith would have doubted your sanity and dismissed your question as facetious.

And yet, as we await the promised Lords Reform Bill to turn decades of modernising dreams into a 21st-century reality, almost all the parameters of that long-desired reform are still undecided: the only casualty so far has been the majority of hereditary peers, whose right to sit in judgement over the elected Commons derived from an ancient forebear’s sometimes questionable service to the monarch of the day.

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ARCHIVE: Baroness Royall on House of Lords Reform: The government’s draft bill ducks the crucial constitutional questions

[First Published on Tuesday 9th August 2011]

The following post was first published on ConSoc’s previous site. It is recorded here as a window onto issues as they were at the time. For more up to date news on the Constitution and Constitutional reform, make sure to follow the ConSoc blog.

THE FOLLOWING IS TAKEN FROM THE CONSTITUTION SOCIETY PAMPHLET, THE END OF THE PEER SHOW?, AVAILABLE TO DOWNLOAD HERE, FREE OF CHARGE.

Nick Clegg’s proposed reforms to the House of Lords do not represent a new movement; there have been proposals and incremental reforms of the Lords for the past 100 years. The Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon argues that the current bill is ill-considered, and that it, through the introduction of elections, will significantly undermine the primacy of the House of Commons.

Reform

Reform of the House of Lords is 100 years old this year. At this moment, the coalition government is bringing forward its proposals to transform the current House – in effect abolishing it, according to critics of the plan – by finally making the election of its members the basis for the bulk of its composition.  An elected House of Lords has been the dream of many on the left for the past century – though some on the left, let alone the other parts of the political spectrum, believe this is an unthinking dream which will in fact debilitate future Labour governments.  The arguments are familiar.  Will the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition end them, by securing a change which has evaded constitutional reformers since 1911?

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ARCHIVE: Professor John Baker on House of Lords Reform: Appointment or election?

[First Published on Tuesday 9th August 2011]

The following post was first published on ConSoc’s previous site. It is recorded here as a window onto issues as they were at the time. For more up to date news on the Constitution and Constitutional reform, make sure to follow the ConSoc blog.

THE FOLLOWING IS TAKEN FROM THE CONSTITUTION SOCIETY PAMPHLET, THE END OF THE PEER SHOW?, AVAILABLE TO DOWNLOAD HERE, FREE OF CHARGE. 

The future of the House of Lords is the most important constitutional question of the present age, because if it is resolved badly there may be little left of a British constitution at all.  A constitution, whether written or unwritten, serves three fundamental purposes:

  • It defines the way in which power is to be lawfully exercised by the Government of the day.
  • It imposes limits on that power, so as to prevent absolutism and preserve basic values.  
  • And it provides some means of holding governments to account for the exercise of their power.  

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