Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Just A Second

Quite how being elected is an inoculation against financial corruption, I cannot even begin to see. But it looks as if we are to have a new second chamber. We had better be ready to make the best of it, with specific proposals to restore territorial representation (hereditary peers, very originally at least), national representation (life peers, at least in theory), representation of this country's moral and spiritual values and of her Christian heritage (Lords Spiritual), and independence of party or Executive.

The Senate should have the same powers as are currently enjoyed by the House of Lords, and also the same revising powers in relation to devolved bodies. It should have an absolute veto over any Bill passed by the House of Commons (or any devolved body) without a vote, including any EU legislation passed by negative resolution of the House of Commons. And it should have the power to require a referendum on any Bill already designated as constitutional for the purposes of the procedures of the House of Commons.

Each of the English ceremonial counties, Scottish lieutenancy areas, Welsh preserved counties and Northern Irish counties (99 units in all) would elect six Senators, who would have to have been registered voters there throughout the previous five years, with each voter voting for one candidate by means of an X, and with the six highest-scoring candidates declared elected at the end. The whole country would elect a further six Crossbenchers by the same means. The Senate would have a fixed term of six years, and Senators would have the same remuneration and expenses as MPs.

Meanwhile, the place of the bishops in the Lords has nothing to do with the Established status of the Church of England. They were there before the Reformation. Indeed, with the abbots and priors of the still-undissolved monasteries they formed the majority of the members. So, in place of 26 bishops, let there be 26 representatives (all politically independent, of course), 13 specifically of the United Kingdom's Christian heritage, and 13 of moral and spiritual values generally. This would be far more than fair: if the aim were simply to reflect the population at large, then seventy-two per cent of such seats would be reserved for Christians.

Elections would be on a national basis. From each list of candidates, each of us would be able to vote for one candidate, and the highest-scoring 13 would be declared elected at the end. Vacancies in the course of a Parliament would be filled by simply bringing in number 14. As to whether these should be members of the Senate, I am not sure. That would spoil the nice round number 600, at which I would also fix the number of MPs, with 100 constituencies having equally-sized electorates elected six MPs each by the means set out above. Instead, any two of them from both lists or three from either might have the right to put down an amendment and to come and argue for it before the Senate (or, if the Senate did not support it, the Commons, just as Ministers from either House should once again appear before both Houses in order to answer questions), and any four of them from both lists or six from either might have the power to send back a Bill before it receives Royal Assent, with the requirement that it receive a two-thirds majority in both Houses before proceeding.

As to the vexed question of a residency requirement for MPs as for Senators, in the course of each Parliament each party should submit a shortlist of the two candidates nominated by the most branches (including those of affiliated organisations where applicable) to a binding ballot of the whole electorate at constituency level for the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, at county level for the Senate Candidate, and at national level for the Leader. All the ballots for Prospective Parliamentary Candidate would be held on the same day, all the ballots for Senate Candidate would be held on the same day, and all the ballots for Leader would be held on the same day.

Each of those ballots would be held at public expense at the request of five per cent or more of registered voters in the constituency, the county, or the country, as appropriate. Each candidate in each of these ballots to have a tax-free campaigning allowance out of public funds, conditional upon matching funding by resolution of a membership organisation. The name of that organisation would appear on the ballot paper after that of the candidate. There would be ban on all other campaign funding, and on all campaign spending above twice that allowance.

Such ballots for Commons candidates would heavily favour local candidates ordinarily, but would also leave open the possibility of a major figure's doing what there is a long tradition of their doing, a tradition followed by Gladstone, Churchill, George Galloway and others, and very much part of our parliamentary system.

And as to Senatorial independence of party, there is no reason why the parties in the second chamber need necessarily be the same as those in the House of Commons. Indeed, there is every reason why they should not be.

The legislation creating the Senate should ban by law the contesting of Senate elections by parties that contest Commons elections, and provide for the creation of two new parties, to contest only Senate elections. One might be called the National Party, the other the Democratic Party. Anyone would be free to register, without charge, as a member of either, though no one would be compelled to. Anyone so registered could contest that party's primary, in which, as set out above, everyone, registered or not, would have a vote.

The character of each of the National Party and the Democratic Party, or indeed of any other Senate party (and there would be six seats per county to fill) would depend entirely on who registered as a National, or as a Democrat, or whatever, and then exercised their rights as such. There would be no reason for Commons parties to prevent their members from registering with Senate parties, although they would be forbidden by law to require it, and vice versa. And Senate parties would be forbidden to receive funding other than by resolution of membership organisations, thereby requiring them to have links to wider civil society.

No comments:

Post a comment