Lords reform (and the proposal for flexible lists)

This week, the UK Coalition submitted its bill for reform of the House of Lords. The sponsor is Deputy PM Nick Clegg; it has has the public backing of PM David Cameron, though he has been warned that 100 or so MPs of his party will defy the whip and vote against, including possibly some quite senior members. ((One example from the linked item:

Conservative aide Conor Burns said: “If I lose my job for something that was a mainstream view within the Conservative party in the last parliament which serving cabinet ministers held, so be it.”

)) Labour is also divided on the issue.

Despite earlier news items that suggested the reformed body would be called the Senate, it will actually remain the House of Lords. However, members will not be called Lords, though it is left to parliament to decide upon a title.

Highlights from the bill:

At the first election, anticipated with the general election of May, 2015, there would be 120 elected members. By the third electoral period that number would have risen to 360. There would continue to be 30 appointed members at each electoral cycle (thus 90 at steady state), as well as a declining number of Lords Spiritual. There will also be some ministerial members (appointed by the monarch upon nomination by the PM).

An elected member of the House of Lords serves a 15-year term.

The bill makes clear that the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 will continue to apply. (These allow the Commons to override objection by the Lords after one year; there has been concern that a popularly elected second chamber would be more assertive.)

Elections concurrent for the two chambers, except in the case of a Commons election that happens within two years of the previous one. (The Coalition has already legislated fixed Commons terms, but there are still provisions under which an extraordinary election could be held.)

A list system of proportional representation in Great Britain, but Single Transferable Vote in Northern Ireland. (Earlier drafts had called for all members to be elected by STV.)

The districts will coincide with those used to elect Members of the European Parliament. Their number of elected members will range from 3 (Northern Ireland) to 16 (South East) at any given election (see Schedule 2). This will mean an average district magnitude of 10, and only three districts are set to be below this average. There is a provision for redistribution of magnitudes across districts.

The electoral formula in Great Britain is D’Hondt. Lists are flexible: a candidate can be assured election to an available seat for his or her party only upon obtaining preference votes equal to at least 5% of the list’s total vote; seats not filled via preference votes are assigned in “the order in which they appear on the party list” (see Schedule 3).

Former members of the House of Lords will be unable to stand as candidates for the House of Commons for four years.

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