Designing a new House of Lords

In House of Lords, voting systems on July 18, 2012 by dadge

It seems to me there are three requirements for an upper house. 1. It should be designed with regard to its function, i.e. to scrutinise the bills and other products of the House of Commons; 2. To this end, its seats should be filled by people who are, or might be, good at that job; and 3. its membership should not be elected by proportional representation.

The reason for 3. has been well rehearsed: it would be ridiculous to have an upper house that is more representative, more democratic, than the House of Commons. I know that some politicians, especially Lib Dems, are so desperate to get PR into parliament that they have no qualms about getting it in by the back door, so to speak, but it must be avoided at all costs.

The consequences of points 1 and 2 are, among others:

4. It doesn’t matter if the upper house is democratically elected or not, really. The current system of appointment works reasonably well, and the only tweak that’s necessary is to remove the hereditary peers. (There’s nothing to stop the best of them being re-appointed as what you could call “double-lords”.)

5. If we move to an elected upper house we need to find a way of ensuring that the people who are elected are capable of fulfilling their role. Unfortunately, open elections are not necessarily the best way of achieving this.

My recipe is as follows:

6. Make the elections for the upper house as different as possible from those for the House of Commons, given that the latter should be, and will eventually be, elected by STV or AMS. Therefore use FPTP or AV for the upper house.

7. Use fixed constituencies. The most suitable are local authority areas; where there are two tiers, use the upper tier (i.e. counties).

8. Rather than electorates, use total population (taking the figures from the census).

9. Make it easier for non-politicos to become their local representatives. This can be done, for example, by allowing certain people the right to automatic nomination, whilst politicians have to get their nomination paper signed by a lot of people.

10. As an extra twist, rather than a uniform system, why not allow each area to choose how it will be represented? Or how people will be nominated?


11. One senator per 150,000 people gives a chamber of about 410 senators. Each of the 4 nations gets (population÷150,000)+1 senators. The 2011 census returns for England and Wales have just been published and they would give England 354 seats and Wales 22, as follows:

Durham 3
Northumberland 2
Newcastle 2
Sunderland 2
Darlington 1
Hartlepool 1
Middlesbrough 1
Redcar & Cleveland 1
Stockton 1
Gateshead 1
North Tyneside 1
South Tyneside 1
Lancashire  8
Manchester & Tameside 5
Oldham & Rochdale 3
Salford & Trafford 3
Cumbria  3
Liverpool 3
Sefton 2
Bolton 2
Stockport 2
Wigan 2
Cheshire East 2
Cheshire West 2
Wirral 2
Blackburn & Darwen 1
Blackpool 1
Halton 1
Warrington 1
Bury 1
Knowsley  1
St. Helens 1
Leeds 5
North Yorkshire  4
Sheffield 4
Bradford 3
Kirklees  3
Wakefield 2
Barnsley 2
Doncaster 2
Rotherham  2
East Yorkshire 2
Hull 2
North East Lincolnshire 1
North Lincolnshire 1
York 1
Calderdale 1
Derbyshire  5
Lincolnshire 5
Northamptonshire 5
Nottinghamshire  5
Leicestershire  4
Derby 2
Leicester 2
Nottingham 2
Rutland 1
Birmingham 7
Staffordshire  6
Worcestershire  4
Warwickshire 4
Shropshire 2
Stoke 2
Coventry 2
Dudley  2
Sandwell  2
Walsall 2
Wolverhampton 2
Solihull 1
Herefordshire 1
Telford & Wrekin 1
Essex  9
Hertfordshire 7
Norfolk 6
Suffolk 5
Cambridgeshire  4
Central Bedfordshire 2
Bedford 1
Luton 1
Peterborough 1
Southend 1
Thurrock 1
Barnet & Harrow 4
Greenwich & Bexley 3
Camden & Westminster 3
Hackney & Islington 3
Havering & Barking 3
Croydon 2
Ealing 2
Haringey 2
Lambeth 2
Lewisham 2
Newham 2
Southwark 2
Tower Hamlets & City 2
Wandsworth 2
Brent 2
Bromley 2
Enfield 2
Hillingdon 2
Hounslow 2
Redbridge 2
Waltham Forest 2
Kensington & Chelsea 1
Hammersmith & Fulham 1
Kingston 1
Merton 1
Richmond 1
Sutton 1
Kent  10
Hampshire  9
Surrey 8
West Sussex 5
East Sussex  4
Oxfordshire 4
Buckinghamshire  3
Brighton & Hove 2
Southampton 2
Medway 2
Milton Keynes 2
Isle of Wight 1
Portsmouth 1
Reading 1
Slough 1
Bracknell 1
West Berkshire 1
Windsor & Maidenhead 1
Wokingham 1
Devon  5
Gloucestershire  4
Somerset 4
Cornwall & Scilly 4
Wiltshire 3
Bristol 3
Dorset  3
South Gloucestershire 2
Plymouth 2
North East Somerset 1
Bournemouth 1
North Somerset 1
Poole 1
Swindon 1
Torbay 1
Anglesey 1
Gwynedd 1
Conwy 1
Denbighshire 1
Flintshire 1
Wrexham 1
Powys 1
Ceredigion 1
Pembrokeshire 1
Carmarthenshire 1
Swansea 1
Neath Port Talbot 1
Bridgend  1
Vale of Glamorgan 1
Cardiff 2
Rhondda Cynon Taf 1
Merthyr & Ebwy 1
Caerphilly 1
Torfaen 1
Monmouthshire 1
Newport 1

12. In a very few cases I’ve combined local authority areas. I’ve done it in Greater Manchester, where by a quirk of fate there’s a lot of boroughs where there would be 1.5 senators, and in London, where it seemed a bit unfair that some boroughs would get 1 senator and some would get 2 even though they have similar population, and in Merthyr Tydfil/Ebbw Vale. 

13. Nomination

Imagining an AV election… All lords resident in the authority are automatically nominated unless they withdraw the nomination. Each authority can nominate one candidate. In a two-tier authority, the county and each district can nominate one candidate. All nominees and nominators must reside in the local authority area. Voters can “write in” the name of any resident of the authority.

example: Warwickshire (4 seats)

any current or past member of the House of Lords (listed first on the ballot paper); up to one county nominee (listed second on the ballot paper); up to five district nominees (listed third on the ballot paper)

listed next on the ballot paper, in random order:
up to one nominee of any organisation with at least 1360 members (0.25%); anyone nominated by 544 residents of the authority (0.1%); people who can self-nominate, viz. past members of the House of Commons, any GBE, KBE, DBE, MBE, OBE, CBE, QC, JP, OM, CH, VC, GC, FRS or professor, any bishop or religious leader (no religious group may nominate more than 80 people in the country)

example: Coventry (2 seats)

any current or past member of the House of Lords (listed first on the ballot paper); up to one city nominee (listed second on the ballot paper)

listed next on the ballot paper, in random order:
up to one nominee of any organisation with at least 798 members (0.25%); anyone nominated by 319 residents of the authority (0.1%); people who can self-nominate (see above).

Or something like that.


One Response to “Designing a new House of Lords”

  1. Its curious to argue against PR ‘because it’s more democratic’. I agree there is hardly an argument standing for election of the Commons by FPTP.

    The House of Lords scrutinises bills and also holds the Government to account. This second function requires some political balance, even if you see the first as a technical function. What is political balance? – you have to ask the people.

    ‘Appointed’ by who? OK as long as they appoint the ‘right’ people, but who ultimately has any power over an appointment board that is politically unbalanced? If you are a democrat the answer has to be the people. Back to my first point.

    Why should the Lords be elected by constituency? There role is nationwide, there focus should be nationwide.

    Your point six – I agree with the first part.
    We should make it easy for people to vote. On the face of it, weighing up a lot of different candidates is a lot to ask if you want a high turnout. How about a PR List election, but with an independent board putting forward a list of candidates in the election? People could then simply vote for one of the parties’ lists or the independent list.
    Thus if the appointment board is any good, it will put forward the best apolitical candidates, they will get lots of votes and we can have as many non party political senators in the house as the people see fit.

    A PR List election when modified with an independent list has various advantages, won’t be used for the commons, and senators don’t need to be from a particular constituency. Furthermore I don’t expect many of them will want to campaign much. It also means that the parties cannot rest on their laurels – they would have to compete by putting forward good candidates. It would result in a house with party political balance, and an independent element that is as large or as small as the people want.

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