Electoral Reform for the
By Peter Crayson
United Kingdom's House of Lords
The Labour Government of Tony Blair has committed itself to fundamental reform of the House of Lords. I propose a simple but effective reform which would see the chamber divided into voting and non-voting members, where half of the voting members would be elected by proportional representation, and half would consisting of life (appointed) peers.
Of the changes I propose, the key features are:
- the establishment of an electoral system for electing certain members to the House of Lords. For want of a better name, and adopting the nomenclature of the United States and of Australia, let's call these members "senators".
- that senators would be elected to the House of Lords simultansously with the House of Commons at every general election. The electoral system of proportional representation used for the Australian Senate would be used in an identical manner, with similar ballot papers.
- that all life peers would continue to hold office and would in every respect have the same powers as a senator; however, after each general election, some life peers would be designated as having the right to vote in the chamber, whilst the remaining life peers would not have the right to vote.
Election of Senators
Each country in the UK, and other provinces or territories either combined or separately as may be provided by law, would be divided into a number of senatorial districts. Each senatorial district would return an odd number of senators, being no less than five and no more than 9. (If only two parties win seats in a senatorial district, an odd number of seats would enable one party to obtain a majority of one seat in that district.)
At each general election, members would be elected to the House of Commons and to the senate seats of the House of Lords. The electoral system of proportional representation used for the Australian Senate would be used to elect senators to the House of Lords in an identical manner, with similar ballot papers. This is an example of an Australian Senate ballot paper:
To be elected, a candidate must receive a proportion of the votes, also known as the quota. The ballot papers are divided into two sections to distinguish the two alternative methods of voting for Senators:
See the Australian Electoral Commission's page on counting votes for the Senate for more information on how quotas are determined and votes are counted.
- In the section above the line, voters only have to put the number "1" in one box next to the party or group they want to support. Their preferences will be counted according to the way the party or group has registered them with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) (as shown on the group voting tickets displayed at all polling places).
- In the section below the line electors can vote by putting the number "1" in the box of the candidate they want as their first choice, number "2" in the box of the candidate they want as their second choice, and so on until all the boxes have been numbered.
The Life Peers
All life peers retain their seats and full powers as members of the House of Lords, except that they no longer have any right to vote in the House of Lords unless designated as "voting peers". This occurs in the following manner:
- At the first meeting of the House of Lords after each general election, the first item of business shall be the designation of voting peers.
- The senators shall vote, using a system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote, for a number of life peers equal to the number of senators, and those life peers so elected shall become voting peers, and those not elected shall remain non-voting peers. This will tend to ensure that the proportion of voting peers with a particular party affiliation would be roughly equal to the proportion of senators with a particular party affiliation.
- For the remainder of the term of the Parliament, voting peers and non-voting peers shall remain as such, except that the House of Lords may repeat the procedure for the designation of voting peers at any other time on petition of two-thirds of the senators. This may be deemed desirable if an unavailability of life peers with a particular party affiliation at the time of the initial designation of voting peers results in a significant inequality of the proportion of voting peers with a particular party affiliation and the proportion of senators with the same particular party affiliation. The appointment of extra life peers of the under-represented party, and a subsequent re-designation, may redress this inequality.
The Hereditary Peers
Heriditary peers lose any right to sit and to vote in the House of Lords.
A casual vacancy in the seat of a senator could be filled by the method of "counting back", where reference is made to the ballot papers and the time of the election, and the votes recounted as if that member was never a candidate. If no candidate of the same party is available to fill the place of the vacancy on that party's ticket, some method of appointment may have to be devised, such as a by-election with the only candidates being those endorsed by the party of the member whose seat became vacant, or with that party nominating a replacement subject to approval by Parliament in some manner.
A casual vacancy in the seat of a voting peer would be filled by a non-voting peer, but the method of "counting back" may be inappropriate, as life peers may elect not to organise themselves into "tickets" at the election by senators to designate them as voting peers. This being the case, it may be appropriate for each voting peer, upon designation as a voting peer, to designate a non-voting peer as a replacement should his or her seat become vacant. That non-voting peer could also designate a replacement (ad infinitum), just in case the seats of the voting peer and the replacement non-voting peer should simultaneously become vacant.
Appointment to Ministerial or Other Offices
All peers (whether voting or non-voting) and senators would retain the right to be appointed to ministerial or to any other offices, with no change to circumstances which presently obtain.
Last updated 27 February 1999.
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