Despite earlier news items that suggested the reformed body would be called the Senate, it will actually remain the House of Lords. However, members will not be called Lords, though it is left to parliament to decide upon a title.
At the first election, anticipated with the general election of May, 2015, there would be 120 elected members. By the third electoral period that number would have risen to 360. There would continue to be 30 appointed members at each electoral cycle (thus 90 at steady state), as well as a declining number of Lords Spiritual. There will also be some ministerial members (appointed by the monarch upon nomination by the PM).
An elected member of the House of Lords serves a 15-year term.
The bill makes clear that the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 will continue to apply. (These allow the Commons to override objection by the Lords after one year; there has been concern that a popularly elected second chamber would be more assertive.)
Elections concurrent for the two chambers, except in the case of a Commons election that happens within two years of the previous one. (The Coalition has already legislated fixed Commons terms, but there are still provisions under which an extraordinary election could be held.)
A list system of proportional representation in Great Britain, but Single Transferable Vote in Northern Ireland. (Earlier drafts had called for all members to be elected by STV.)
The districts will coincide with those used to elect Members of the European Parliament. Their number of elected members will range from 3 (Northern Ireland) to 16 (South East) at any given election (see Schedule 2). This will mean an average district magnitude of 10, and only three districts are set to be below this average. There is a provision for redistribution of magnitudes across districts.
The electoral formula in Great Britain is D’Hondt. Lists are flexible: a candidate can be assured election to an available seat for his or her party only upon obtaining preference votes equal to at least 5% of the list’s total vote; seats not filled via preference votes are assigned in “the order in which they appear on the party list” (see Schedule 3).
Former members of the House of Lords will be unable to stand as candidates for the House of Commons for four years.
One example from the linked item:
Conservative aide Conor Burns said: “If I lose my job for something that was a mainstream view within the Conservative party in the last parliament which serving cabinet ministers held, so be it.”
The following is a guest-post by Alan Renwick, Professor at the University of Reading in the UK. It originally appeared at the Reading Politics blog.
I asked Alan if I could reproduce this essay here at F&V, figuring it would be of interest to this community.
All of what follows is by Alan. I will also copy over a comment that I originally posted at Reading Politics.
Electing the House of Lords: Should there be above-the-line voting? Alan Renwick
The parliamentary select committee that has been examining the government’s proposals for reform of the House of Lords will be publishing its report in a couple of weeks’ time. Rumour has it that they want an electoral system different from the one proposed by the government. Nick Clegg and colleagues argue that the Single Transferable Vote (STV) form of proportional representation should be used. But the committee has been interested in finding a system that will give voters a choice between voting for individual candidates and for a single party ticket (see the transcript of their oral evidence session last December, when the quizzed Iain McLean and me on this subject). According to the Guardian, the committee is going to recommend the form of STV used in many Australian elections, where voters can vote ‘above the line’ for a party or ‘below the line’ for individual candidates.
The Electoral Reform Society is crying foul over this. Calling the proposals a ‘dog’s breakfast’, they say that STV with above-the-line voting will return power to the parties, rather than allowing voters to determine who gets elected.
What should dispassionate observers make of this? I think three questions need to be considered. First, how much power would the inclusion of a party voting option give to parties and to voters? Second, how much power should parties and voters have in determining which candidates are elected? Third, are there any other considerations that we should take into account before deciding whether we think that possibility of above-the-line voting should be welcomed? Most of this rather lengthy (sorry) post will focus on the first of these questions; I’ll say a little about the other two at the end.
At least two unitary states have a second chamber in which the units (departments, provinces) have equal numbers of representatives, regardless of population: Bolivia1, and the Dominican Republic.
While the logic for equality of unit representation in federal systems is clear, the logic for the same organizing principle in a unitary state is much less so.
However, aside from making that observation, the real purpose of this planting is to ask the readership if anyone knows of other examples of unitary states that have second-chamber equality. These are the only two I can think of.
A further purpose is to observe that the French Senate is in the process of a major reorganization that has begun in 2011 (but it is not a case of equal representation of units).
I would have provided a link, but senado.bo returns an error, “This Account Has Been Suspended”! [↩]
Ireland’s new Government of National Recovery, as the coalition consisting of Fine Gael and Labour is to be called, took office Wednesday.
The coalition agreement* begins,
On the 25th February a democratic revolution took place in Ireland. Old beliefs, traditions and expectations were blown away. The stroke of a pen, in thousands of polling stations, created this political whirlwind. The public demanded change and looked to parties that would deliver the change they sought.
Among the commitments regarding political reform is to abolish the second chamber (Seanad), subject to voter approval in a referendum (p.18).
A Constitutional Convention is to be established. It will consider several amendments, including reduction of the presidential term to five years “and aligning it with the local and European
Also included are plans to restrict campaign spending, consideration of lowering the voting age to 17, and working to increase the representation of women. “We will ask the Constitutional Convention, which is examining electoral reform, to make recommendations as to how the number of women in politics can be increased,” it says (p. 20). No guidelines about what sort of electoral reforms might be considered are given.
There are a series of proposed reforms dealing with legislative procedure, including more time for question periods, fewer committees but with constitutional recognition for key committees, and more opportunity for debating non-government bills (pp. 21-2).
The following is promoted from a comment at another thread by Wilf Day. This planting is not mine. Thanks, Wilf, for this information.
The binding coalition agreement says “We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010. It is likely that this will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely that there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.”
“a slimmed down elected ‘senate’ containing just 300 members. The first elections would take place in 2015. . . David Cameron used to refer to overhauling the Lords as a ‘third term issue’ before the election, but has been persuaded the Government should press ahead as quickly as possible. Polls would be based on pure proportional representation, where votes cast precisely reflect the seats allocated.
“It is favoured far more highly by Lib Dems than the alternative vote, the subject of a referendum on reform of the electoral system for the Commons, which is due to take place next year.
“Attention has focused on what the Lib Dems will do if Commons reform is rejected. But sources say that focus is quietly shifting to Lords reform as the ‘glue’ that will keep the Coalition together.”
It sounds like regional list (either open list or flexible list which the UK calls “semi-open”) in the same regions used for the European Parliament. With 100 elected every five years for 15 year terms, that’s 12 regions with something like 14, 12, 11, 9, 9, 9, 9, 8, 7, 5, 4 and 3 senators. The two highest numbers are in the Southeast and London, the same regions that elect Green MEPs, and will presumably elect Green senators. Likely calculated by highest average, it might exclude parties like the BNP (6.2% last year) unless they have regional strongholds.
One way that the Democratic Party can prevent a loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat from stopping their healthcare program from becoming law, without either reopening negotiations (e.g. trying to get one of the Maine Republicans to vote with them) or using hardball tactics (e.g. finding a procedure to pass the bill without needing 60 votes), is for the House simply to adopt the Senate bill. Then it would not require another vote in the Senate.
I can’t claim to know who will win the special election for the US Senate seat from Massachusetts formerly held by Ted Kennedy. However, I do know one thing: It is yet another item in the “charge sheet” against the American way of politics and policy-making that a government that, along with its legislative majorities, was endorsed by substantial majorities of the electorate could have its entire agenda pivot on the outcome of a special election for one seat in one house in one state just one year into its tenure.
It is worth noting that the current government is the first government in the USA to have popular majorities backing both it and its legislative majorities in quite some time (since 1976, I believe; no Republican Senate majority in at least five decades has been backed by a popular majority and Clinton never won over 50% of the vote). But that does not matter. One might think that elections should matter–that is, national elections–and that governments endorsed by majorities might be generally able to implement their programs. Well, at least that is what one might think if one were a committed small-d democrat.
That the Democratic Party is in such a fight for this seat–in Massachusetts!–is also a new item for the charge sheet against the party. How can it have missed the boat so badly with its policy agenda that it is struggling to hold a Senate seat in a state so reliably Democratic, till now, in Senate elections?
One item from the Globe and Mail suggests one reason why Republican Scott Brown is putting up such a challenge: He says that health care is a state issue. That is a defensible position–personally, I think it’s wrong, but it is defensible. The interesting twist is that various elements of the Democratic proposals resemble the healthcare policy put in place already in Massachusetts. That healthcare program was signed by a Republican governor (Mitt Romney, and that fact won’t help him with the national Republican primary electorate in 2012). So, in a sense, at least some swing voters in Massachusetts may be voting to protect what they already have from feared federal intrusion by a national policy. Ironically, that is how the Senate is supposed to work: as a forum for protecting state interests. Here we have a state that is seriously under-represented in terms of population per Senator, given that severe malapportionment of the institution. But in this one election, it will be seriously over-represented, as a relative few swing voters in one state essentially decide the fate of the governing party program, by bringing its majority below 60% in one house.
On the contest itself, Republicans chose for themselves about as good a candidate as they could have: Brown is very liberal for a Republican–even in the context of Massachusetts, where Republicans are in general about as liberal as they can be and still be Republicans. (Both points are made by Boris Shor, in a graph posted by Andrew Gelman at 538.)
On the other hand, evidently Democrat Martha Coakley is no exactly an exciting candidate, or one in touch with her voters–she evidently does not even know that Curt Schiling is something of a Massachusetts legend, suggesting he was a Yankees fan. If Coakley loses, there will be debate about how much candidate effects mattered and how much it really was a referendum on Obama’s policies, especially healthcare. But there is little doubting the impact. And, whatever one’s opinion of the policies or the current government, that just shows what an odd way we run this system known as American democracy.
Incumbent Romanian president Traian Basescu won 32.8% of the vote and will qualify for a runoff on 6 December against Mircea Geoana, who won 29.8% (via BBC).
In the run-up to this vote, the governing coalition supporting Basescu collapsed, and the president’s choices for a new government were turned down by parliament. Under Romania’s premier-presidential system, the president elected in the upcoming runoff will re-initiate the process of forming a new government. Parliament is not subject to election now, as Romania abandoned concurrent elections in a constitutional reform in 2003. The last parliamentary election was one year ago.
In a referendum also held yesterday, 80% of voters voted to abolish the Senate and reduce the size of the Chamber of Representatives from 471 334 seats to 300.
The proposal for unicameralism has been around a while: it was even one of the causes advanced by mass protests earlier in Basescu’s term, when supporters rallied against an impeachment attempt.
My colleague, Robert Pekkanen, sends this note from Bloomberg:
Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party may pledge to cut the nation’s parliament from two chambers to one and reduce the number of legislators by 30 percent in 10 years…
The party will include the promise in its platform for the next general election, the [Yomiuri] newspaper reported, without saying where it got the information. The LDP also plans to restrict close relatives of lawmakers from inheriting constituencies, the report said.
There is nothing like losing control of the second chamber to make a ruling party think of cameral change! The LDP is in serious danger of losing control of the first chamber, too, in this September’s election. Japan’s second chamber (House of Councilors) is one of the more powerful among parliamentary democracies, although the government need maintain the confidence only of the first chamber (House of Representatives).
The point on “inherited” seats is also interesting; Japan probably has the highest rate among all democracies of sons, daughters, wives, grandsons, etc., of former politicians serving in its legislature.
A proposal to change Maine’s state legislature from bicameral to unicameral has achieved “initial approval.” As Matt Yglesias comments, “We have fifty states, but in some ways remarkably little institutional diversity between them,” in spite of the fact that “nothing terrible seems to happen in unicameral Nebraska.”
The legislature is renamed the Plurinational Legislative Assembly and, presumably to put that into action, the first chamber electoral system will be required to have seats set aside for indigenous representation. However, Miguel notes that this is not very significant in practice:
The indigenous seats must come from the 130 total, are limited to “rural” districts [...Moreover, ] Rural SMDs were already de facto “indigenous” seats; now that is merely recognized officially.
The MMP system, in which about half the seats are elected from single-seat districts, remains. This is in spite of earlier proposals from the ruling MAS to move to a system of exclusively single-seat districts.
MAS also previously advocated abolishing the Senate. Instead, it will be retained, but with a non-trivial change: the number of seats per department will go from 3 to 4. Currently, these are elected by that Latin American oddity that I refer to as “limited slate” or “limited nominations.” A party may nominate two candidates on a closed list, and the party with the plurality elects both, while the first runner-up elects its first-ranked candidate. (Similar systems are used in the second chambers of Argentina and Mexico.) Miguel notes that the electoral system for the new 4-seat districts is undetermined, but is supposed to be “proportional.”
Bolivia’s Senate is really an anomaly: it just might be the most malapportioned chamber in any unitary state. It is not surprising that, politically, it could not be abolished or even that its malapportionment could not be reduced, given conflicts over regional autonomy. Still, as Miguel says, this reform actually makes the small departments more over-represented. The move to 4-seat districts, however, should counteract that to some degree, as far as partisan representation is concerned, as long as the formula actually is PR and not some continued form of list plurality. Under PR, the second and even third largest party in a department would be better represented than is now the case, which potentially nationalizes the highly regionalized party system a bit more.
As for whether Bolivia retains a unitary state, I believe so. An earlier post by Miguel refers to a new “federacy,” a term I understand as within the confines of a unitary state, but with special autonomy status for one or more of several sub-jurisdictions of the state.
In short, these changes seem like small improvements. But will they help solve the country’s deep political conflicts?
So, let’s start the week with a provocative question: Is Canada a democracy?
A couple of weeks after the Prime Minister of Canada ‘advised’ the Governor General to prorogue parliament to avoid a no-confidence vote he was nearly certain to lose, he is now set to ‘advise’ Her Excellency to appoint several members of the federal Senate.
Presumably she will accept her adviser’s advice, and so a government without a mandate to govern will stack the upper house with allies, who hold their seats to age 75.
* Granted, David Christopherson is not an unbiased observer; he is the member of Parliament for Hamilton Centre and the NDP critic for democratic reform. I suppose the fact that Canadian opposition parties have “critics for democratic reform” could remain evidence that Canada is still more democratically healthy than its neighbor to the south.
The House of Lords issues a reminder that it still has veto power. And that just because governments say they need expanded power of detention without charges to defeat terrorists doesn’t mean that they are right.
The Japanese veto-gate structure could be about to get really interesting. Japan’s upper house, the House of Councilors (HoC) is quite powerful among upper chambers of parliamentary systems, but it does not have an absolute veto. Rather, on measures that require passage through both houses, its veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the lower house, the House of Representatives (HoR).
It just so happens that the LDP and its coalition partner, the New Komeito, will have only 42.6% of the HoC seats after Sunday’s election, but the governing coalition has exactly 70% of the seats in the HoR since the 2005 election. (The LDP alone holds 63.5% of the HoR seats.)
As Robert Pekkanen notes in the previous thread, the opposition DPJ will have 45% of the HoC seats, and thus not enough to control the body on its own. However, it ran in an alliance in many districts with some of the successful independents and PNP candidates (also, in at least one case, with the SDP). It thus might be able to form a coalition to control the HoC, though (as Prof. Pekkanen also notes) it may choose not to do so.
In any event, the HoC veto and HoR override provisions will suddenly become quite relevant for policy bargaining. The only items over which the HoC has no veto are the selection or ousting of a Prime Minister (on which it also has no initiative), treaties, and the budget (where the veto is suspensory only: the HoR can override by majority after 30 days). The budget is, of course, a big piece of legislation on which not to have a full veto. But revenue and program authorization are ordinary legislation and thus require the consent of the two houses (or 2/3 of the HoR). (This is all based on my interpretation of a translation of Articles 59-61 of the Japanese constitution.)
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4