20 September 2007
The unelected House of Lords is an affront to democracy. Peter Tatchell sets out the case for reform in this interview with Peter Facey of Unlock Democracy and Baroness Scott of Needham Market.
Peter Tatchell writes:
Britain is a flawed democracy. Our second legislative chamber, the House of Lords, is unelected. Members of the Lords are appointed for life. No matter how rarely or badly they fulfil their duties they cannot be removed. They are not accountable to us, the public, for laws they pass which affect our lives.
A hang-over from the dark ages of feudalism and aristocratic privilege, the Lords are appointed by the great and the good, consist of the great and the good, and often serve the interests of the great and the good. They do not reflect or represent a true cross-section of British society.
Moreover, the appointment system, largely based on nominations by the party leaders, smacks of patronage. This system has been thoroughly discredited by the ‘cash for peerages’ scandal, which has added to the urgency of reform.
It is time to remedy the democratic deficit by dumping aristocratic titles like Lords and Baronesses, electing the upper house and renaming it the Senate.
The Senate would have, say, 360 members. Elections could be every five years, coinciding with the Euro-elections.
The system of election for the Senate should vary from the House of Commons, to ensure that the Senate’s composition does not merely replicate the composition of the lower house and instead offers a fresh composition to political decision-making. In particular, the electoral system should allow for the representation of minor parties, to reflect the full range of political opinion in the country. It should not reproduce the big-party stitch up that characterises the voting system in general elections for the House of Commons.
To this end I would suggest the following three innovations:
First, election via regional party lists, to reflect the regional strengths and weaknesses of particular parties. The regions could be the same as used for the Euro-elections. In a 360-member Senate, each of the 12 regions would elect 30 Senators.
An alternative system, which has some merits, would be to have national party lists, which would allow the election of a wide range of small minority parties and thereby make the Senate more diverse and representative of a true cross section of public opinion. A national list system with a 1% threshold is likely to result in the election of Senators representing the often marginalised interests of women’s, pensioner, gay, disabled, black, Jewish, Muslim, NHS patient and anti-war organisations. It would certainly enliven British politics.
Second, open party lists, where electors can vote for their preferred candidates from a particular party, or can vote for a mix of candidates from different parties. In other words, a person may not like the first few candidates on their preferred party’s list of candidates, so they would be free to vote for candidates further down the list. Equally, they may want to split their votes between candidates from different parties.
Third, to redress the gender imbalance in parliament and secure 50 percent women’s representation, electors could be required to vote for an equal number of men and women candidates. In each region, there would be two lists of candidates – a male list and a female list. If a regional Senate constituency elects 30 members, for example, electors would vote for 15 men from the male list and 15 women from the female list. The top 15 candidates from each list would be elected.
More info: Elect The Lords
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