A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Four Lords Allegedly a-Lobbying

Reading the Sunday Times stuff about Lords Snape, Truscott, Moonie and Taylor has reinforced my belief that Labour shot itself in the foot by not fundamentally reforming the Lords years ago.

The problem is that unless a Peer is a Minister, they don't get paid a salary. So they have to have outside jobs. And if you are allowed as a Peer (as long as you declare all the relevant interests) to own a company, to run a charity or NGO, be a non-exec or executive director of a company, a lawyer for various clients, or a PR person for various clients, it is understandable that the current fudged position exists whereby you can sell political consultancy in the form of advice to clients, but not offer paid advocacy i.e. not talk to people on behalf of clients. The argument over the Sunday Times story is whether or not any of the four peers offered to advocate for clients rather than just advise them - if they did then they definitely broke the rules.

As readers may know, I work for a public affairs agency myself. Our trade body, the APPC, goes further than the House of Lords does and bans the employment of or any payment to Peers by member companies (as well as MPs, MSPs, WAMs, LAMs and MEPs). It says "In the view of APPC, it is inappropriate for a person to be both a legislator and a political consultant." As a lowly councillor, I'm banned from lobbying my own authority by my professional code of conduct - it's an obvious conflict of interest - and would lose my job if I did as the code is part of my contract of employment.

We need to have a House of Lords than is full-time, salaried, elected rather than appointed (preferably by a proportional voting system to counter-balance the FPTP elected Commons), and a lot smaller. Probably 200 full-time peers could do the necessary work of amending and scrutinising legislation.

I don't have a problem with the title Lord this or that being dished out to retired politicians, academics, senior generals and coppers etc. but it shouldn't carry with it a seat and a vote in the legislature. Thus removing the current potential for conflicts of interest.

Then the people with the honorific title "Lord Whatever" who aren't in parliament anymore can lobby away to their hearts' content, leaving the 200 elected ones - let's call them Senators - to get on with legislating and scrutinising without any distracting or corrupting second jobs.


Blogger Bill said...

Why even bother, the scrutiny function could be carried out by ad-hoc committees of appointees - tehre's no need for a second chamber (especially of the rubber stamp variety). there's no good case for a second chamber.

3:56 pm, January 26, 2009

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

We should probably scrap the upper chamber and strengthen the powers of the commitees, as in the Hollyrood model.

4:00 pm, January 26, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Because the first chamber is elected by a flawed electoral system which produces over-powerful majority govts on minority votes and therefore needs a check and balance.

Unicameralism may work for small cohesive societies like New Zealand and Nebraska (the only two examples I can think of that have it) but in most societies it is unlikely that one chamber can perfectly represent all the interests in society - and in any case a second look at things by people coming from a different angle is usually a good idea.

4:03 pm, January 26, 2009

Blogger Mark Reckons said...

Totally agree Luke.

In the years to come I am sure Labour will come to regret the missed opportunities like this (along with electoral reform for the HoC) as they face years in the political wilderness.

The sad thing is though that once politicians get their feet under the ministerial table their priorities change.

5:17 pm, January 26, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The list of unicameral legislatures is a lot longer than that.

You forgot Scotland and Wales for starters.

Not to mention Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Portugal, Greece, Hungary and Israel.

Granted, there aren't any examples of big democracies with a unicameral legislature. But given that no one can agree what the reformed second chamber should be for, we should at least debate getting rid of it and reforming the lower house at the same time to correct its flaws.

6:02 pm, January 26, 2009

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

"We need to have a House of Lords than is full-time, salaried, elected rather than appointed (preferably by a proportional voting system to counter-balance the FPTP elected Commons), and a lot smaller. Probably 200 full-time peers could do the necessary work of amending and scrutinising legislation."

I'd watch out. The amount of pure common sense contained in this dense little paragraph may pull all of your posts about Compass into a swirling black whole of rationality.

6:06 pm, January 26, 2009

Blogger kris said...

Or, simply take the Barack Obama approach.

You do not need a sledge hammer to crack the HofL nut.

'sides. You Brownites are nicking ideas from across the pond all the time.

6:23 pm, January 26, 2009

Blogger kris said...

"Unicameralism may work for small cohesive societies like New Zealand and Nebraska"

You have the misfortune of having a Nebraskan as a fellow SN resident and blogger.

The reason why a unicameral works in Nebraska is a) the population is small; and b) our state senators, while maybe Republicans or Democrats in name, are independently minded - much like the people they represent. Don't fence me in.

Because of this, Nebraska is in no danger of becoming an "elective dictatorship".

Turning to the UK. It's bad enough that a party in power (the Executive) can run virtually anything they want through the Commons and into law. It would be even worse for Labour to keep fiddling with the Lords - killing off once and for all any check on the Executive.

As above, turn to Barack. He knows. Put a bar on lobbying. You want to work/be appointed to government? You have to give up the lobbying. You now want to leave government? Fine, you just have to wait 2 years before you can get a lobbying job.


6:39 pm, January 26, 2009

Blogger kris said...

(You know you're waiting for the slap...)

What really makes me despair about your post is the total lack of appreciation that liberty can only survive where the three branches (the executive, legislature and judicial) have (largely) seperate functions and equal powers.

6:52 pm, January 26, 2009

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

I think the Swedes - and indeed the New Zealanders - might consider themselves big democracies. Okay their populations are a lot smaller than the UK, but they are not internal states or provinces; they're big, important countries who do very well with a unicameral parliament.

Not that I'm supporting that idea for the UK - toughening up the Commons to act as a real check on executive power would be one way of making unicameralism work, but having a constitutionally-bound, fully-elected revising chamber probably makes more sense. Through some sort of regional PR approach to the revising chamber, you could also introduce more proportionality into the UK parliament without losing the strong, majoritarian system in the Commons that allows - in theory at least - a government to be elected with a mandate and be able to carry that mandate out.

(I suspect Luke will disagree about the last bit, but there you go...)

7:20 pm, January 26, 2009

Anonymous Rich said...

Boring, don't care and I'm not bothered. No matter what you do you will always have corrupt politicians. Let these crooks do what they want as in the end they will get what is coming to them.

One thing though, how come the police haven't kicked down their doors and raided their parliamentary offices. Is this because they are Labour?

8:28 pm, January 26, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rich good point is that why Peter Hain is really a tory then LOL.

8:57 pm, January 26, 2009

Anonymous Loyalist said...

Really annoyed that Peter Truscott persists in denying an accusation which wasn't made against him, and ignoring the one that was.

9:15 pm, January 26, 2009

Anonymous Simon said...

The Canadian provinces all have unicameral legislatures, too.

2:42 am, January 27, 2009

Blogger Bill said...

We have elective dictatorship, the UK is basically unicameral in that the Lords can onjly ever delay. The correctives for a unicameral HoC is more MPs (yes, decrease the ratio of voters to representetives) and more elections (annual, or bi-annual, maybe). Bring back the chartist demand for annual parliaments, say I...

10:56 am, January 27, 2009

Blogger Merseymike said...

I agree with an elected chamber but I don't think its the only model - I think that it would be a pity to lose non-party voices which would be the inevitable consequence of a fully elected chamber, yet I do think that election is an important principle

A unicameral chamber could work but only with electoral reform and differentiation of role.

10:58 am, January 27, 2009

Blogger Robert said...

I am correct is saying this, for turning up at the house a peer gets paid a daily allowance of £350.

This includes expences.

That is more then I get for two weeks on disablity, and before you shout get a job I'm excused because sadly I will not be around to long.

2:08 pm, January 27, 2009

Anonymous Rich said...

£350.00 for London is not a lot. I'm not sure you would get people in the Lords for less.

I think the removal of the Lords would actually damage our democracy. These wise old men do have some uses

7:16 pm, January 27, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rich what are you on about wise old men they have just been found out take back handers. This is just your typical undemocratic views. You are a just a right wing reactionery.
The real wise people could be appointed by the PR system, if they are corrupt they would be removed by the parties.

12:13 am, January 29, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

' pie in the sky spending promises, plans for local income tax and a 50% top rate of tax.. and their sums still don't add up'

So, Vince Cable's sums don't add up? and Brown's performance as chancellor/ PM has shone has it?
I know who the public think would make the best Chancellor!

I think the Labour Party has far more in common with the Tories, so should work with them in the event of a hung parliament.
Lib Dem policies, like scrapping ID cards, reducing class sizes, and cutting taxes for the lowest paid, are not compatible with the 'progressive' Labour/ Tory parties. So, guess we've got another 18 years of Tory control to look forward to!

5:12 pm, February 05, 2009


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