Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Letter from Norman Jones (LR 36)

  I am a retired Chartered Engineer. My interest in the Reform was sparked by a plea for ideas from my erstwhile MP, the independent Martin Bell, to which I responded. We exchanged views and I began to appreciate its importance.

  I have already "had my say" to the Lord Chancellor's Dept about the WP (a bit like the curate's egg) and offered an alternative scenario. Regional and Crossbench members elected, the remaining "ordinary" members appointed, all from a pool of "peers" (persons with. . . "a breadth of experience. . .range of expertise. . .personal distinction", etc equal to the tasks of "revising legislation" and "scrutinising" Government actions).

  A total of 400/500 largely part time, say 1 day/week, on average. Paid a fee for their commitment + expenses. Their performance monitored.

  I was disappointed with the debates. Long on rhetoric, and short on detail. I have not studied the Tory proposals yet. I was not aware until the nineteenth that your Committee was also considering this matter. Some thoughts/questions follow that you may find relevant to your considerations.

  Hereditary peers are axed but existing life peers stay for life! A 15 year term far too long—should be nearer 5 years. Minimum age 21!—Should be nearer 51. The Anglicans keep their monopoly? All links to the honours system severed yet, with all its faults, it has been the source of the mature, competent and dedicated members who keep the H of L effective. Why seek a different source?

  "A strong infusion of independent, non-party members able to bring expertise and experience from beyond the world of party politics" is needed. Crossbencher's present perceived but undefined role is as politically independent "specialist back bench members". Their web site lists 48 main areas of interest with added sub sections. However 36 per cent of the crossbench members have nominated no interests at all. Of the remainder, some 66 per cent have registered up to five mainly related interests, and 8 per cent from 14 to 20 interests!! Is their primary role to be "independent" or "specialist" or must it be both?

  The Royal Commission said, "Vocational or interest group representation is attractive," and the principle is already applied for prelates, judges, and one might argue for politicians too. It may be too difficult to apply to the whole chamber but it is appropriate for the Crossbenchers.

  Major vocational groups can offer candidates with expertise, experience and personal distinction. They have membership registers, processes for conducting elections, and will likely use the ERS balloting services. With their co-operation probably 200 or more members of a reformed chamber could be elected thereby. Many groups may already number peers among their members.

  As a Chartered engineer why should I not "have a say" in who shall speak for my vocation/interests in a reformed second chamber?

  People vote for parties rather than their candidates. The appointment of members, by the parties after an election, and in proportion to the votes cast for them, may offend the purist but give much the same result as the conventional procedures. The method could be used for the election of regional members as well as the "ordinary" members based on the latest General Election results.

  However should the parties be able to claim a share of the votes not cast? I think not. The proportion of total membership represented by these should be appointed as "independents" by the Appointments Commission. This would enable the Commission to more readily influence the ethnic and gender balance, also to provide a voice for special interests not accomodated by the Crossbenchers. It would reduce party political domination unless they are able to substantially increase election turnout.

  There are advantages in a Westminster location but it is inconvenient for those who do not live nearby. With modern technology debates can be "attended" and a vote registered from almost anywhere. Even a speech could be made remotely but I think this would be better done in the chamber, in person. Such reforms should also be on your agenda I feel.

N J Jones C Eng MIEE

January 2002

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