It’s a sideshow, says Sean Creighton
The type of reform Labour envisages for the House of Lords is a side-show from grappling with the real problem of the relationship between the Houses of Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and a future working Stormont.
I wonder whether the relationship could be considerably improved by converting the House of Commons into the Parliament for England, and the House of Lords into the Parliament for the United Kingdom.
The membership of the UK Parliament could comprise an element of directly elected people (who are barred from being members of a devolved parliament or assembly), and representatives of the elected members of the three or four national parliaments or assemblies. Having a quarter of the seats for each ‘nation’ would give equality, and prevent England dominating if seats were allocated on a share of population base. It could also ensure that the real needs of the three minority nations are properly considered.
The UK Parliament would have responsibility for all matters that are UK wide, including budget, foreign affairs and defence. All current government ministerial functions which are not UK wide would be devolved. Each national parliament or assembly would have its own ‘general’ election. There would be a UK-wide general election for the elected members plus for the leading members of the UK government who have a UK remit, such as the prime minister, the chancellor and the foreign secretary. These posts would therefore be be based on a popular vote, not on the fact that they are the leader of the majority party, nor that they are chosen by that leader to be his leading ministers. The UK cabinet would be made up of these directly elected people and the leaders of the devolved parliaments and assemblies.
Yes, this may mean there are people from different parties in the UK cabinet, if the electorate vote different parties in at a devolved level. But it is not the same as being a behind closed doors cobbled together coalition government. If the cabinet did comprise members from different parties it might encourage the development of more constructive approaches to opposition than simply opposing for the sake of it. While the directly elected members to the cabinet would be free to resign, the devolved leaders could only do so if they also resigned their positions in their own nation.
All legislation going through the devolved parliaments and assemblies should have a two-thirds majority in favour. This would force ruling administrations to seek to ensure that legislation is built on a degree of consensus, and may reduce the temptation to legislate for the sake of it. The UK Parliament would have the right to scrutinise draft legislation which appears to have UK-wide implications. It could then either require the deletion of those implications or give approval by taking them into its own legislation.
To help ensure that legislation at UK and national level is kept up-to-date and relevant, there should be an annual Miscellaneous Bill. This would avoid delaying worthwhile changes to be included in some special bill, and end the current lottery as to which legislative changes can be made through the Private Members’ Bills procedures.
All elections would be held at the same time, and there should be an automatic requirement that a general election is held on the same date – for example, every three years. General elections could be called during those three years if the prime minister or the cabinet resigns, or if the UK Parliament passes a two-thirds vote of no confidence in the cabinet.
What do other readers think?