Friday, 19 November 2010

It shouldn't be Nick Clegg's Choice

We heard this morning from No.10 Downing St of the list of 54 new Peerages to the House of Lords. Of these, 43 are Coalition Peers (27 for the Conservatives, 15 for the Liberal Democrats and 1 Cross-bencher), 10 are Labour Peers and 1 from Plaid Cymru.

I'm particularly pleased to see that out-going Welsh Assembly Member Jenny Randerson AM (a former Culture Minister in the 2000-2003 Labour/Liberal Democrat Welsh Assembly Coalition) is to be made a Baroness. Her expertise and experience will be invaulable in the Upper House. It's also good to see that Sal Brinton, Susan Kramer and Nicol Stephen are also being elevated.

Patronage Gone Wrong
Jenny, Sal, Susan and Nicol I believe, deserve their new 'calling'. They have been active in their communities for years and have a role to play in the House of Lords.

But not all peerages are given on such meritocrious (is that a proper word?!) grounds. From this current list, there are a number who have been significant donors to their parties. Robert Edmiston and Stanley Fink for example, have been prominent Conservative donors whilst Sir Gulam Noon was likewise for the Labour Party and had been previously nominated by Tony Blair for a Peerage.

This is where the system is fundamentally flawed. For as long as party political leaders have the ability to choose who should be elevated to the House of Lords and have this power of patronage, there will always be scope for abuse. Why should party donors be given a Peerage? It's crass and quite simply, wrong. Donors should want to give support to political parties not on the basis of what they individually can get out of it. Donate to help the party grow becuase you believe in their cause? Yes. Donate because you want leverage on the leadership to give you something that is within their power to give? No.

An Elected House of Lords
This is why we need to crack on and finally complete that long-running saga - House of Lords reform.

Whilst I'm pleased that a number of worthy people as well as those that I have named above, have received Peerages today, including Dame Joan Bakewell for Labour, Dafydd Wigley from Plaid Cymru and Sir Richard Dannatt from the Conservatives (but will sit as a Cross-bencher), I believe that it is giving too much power of patronage to too few people to allow the current situation to continue.

The likes of Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and David Cameron should not have this ability. Members of the House of Lords should, on the whole, be elected. They should get there with a democratic mandate.

A Wholly Elected Second Chamber?
Having said that, I stand, possibly in opposition to many of my friends in the Liberal Democrats, against the concept of having a 100% wholly elected second chamber. I think an overwhelming majority does need to be elected (somewhere within the region of 75%-90%) but that the remainder be selected and appointed by an independent panel to sit in the Lords on a term-by-term basis to fill any 'needs-based' gaps that may not be covered by the elected members.

For a wholly elected chamber will mirror too closely the House of Commons but will not guarantee that the relevant and required experience and expertise is there to scrutinise the executive's legislation.

So for example, if a Jenny Randerson didn't want to stand again for election but the independent panel believed that her expertise was required in the Upper Chamber, then they could propose a Peerage for her to fill that 'needs-based' gap.

Whether such a solution or a wholly elected alternative was taken forward by the Coalition Government, it would be a darn sight better than this unsatisfactory situation that we currently have to live with.

Take the patronage out and put some common sense democracy in.


  1. I agree with you on the 10% unelected appointed by an independent panel. i think that some top experts could be put off by an election process. As a general rule though the vast majority should be elected.

  2. Seems to me we need fully elected, the way to get real expert advice is from enquiries and evidence sessions as well as real independent advisory bodies. Trying to put the right "experts" into a Legislature seems wrong, in effect inneficient call on the right expertise when you need it. So elect all politicians and know that that is what they are. So to the elections - if they are elected on a distinctly different basis from the commons they will contribute a different angle to imporove our politics. Regional and national basis to represent wider interests, long terms perhaps limited to one term of 10 years, say to give them independence from party machines. Ban their standing for the commons afterwards. In effect this would release them from the casework and local campaigning which distracts our MPs from holding the government of the UK to account and dealing forensically with legislation. Do all this and recognise that the Commons would not and does not deserve primacy, the chamber I propose would command respect and deserve a serious share of power.