Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Letter from Keith Rumsey (LR 46)


re: The reform of the second chamber of Parliament

  I should be grateful if you would consider, as my MP, the following thoughts on the form of the new chamber.

    —  The second chamber should be different in character to the primary one because the House of Commons is not perfect.

    —  Faults in the formation of the Commons which must be avoided in the second chamber are:

    (i)  Though MPs are democratically elected (I leave aside any considerations of reform of the voting system), the selection of those put forward for the voters to choose from is effectively in the hands of unelected party members.

    (ii)  There are too many career politicians, who depart from the original principles of our parliamentary system by representing their own career aims more diligently than they represent their constituents.

    (iii)  Because thoughts tend to the next General Election within three years of the previous one, there is a strong temptation to take a short-term view of policies.

    —  If the second chamber is to be in a position to balance these faults in the first chamber:

    (i) + (ii)  it must be democratically elected but in a way which is, at least to a large extent (more than 50 per cent of its members) independent of the party system.

    (iii)  it should involve a longer period of service than the Commons: either elections every seven or eight years, or (my preference) one-third of the members only standing down at every General Election.

  We should also look at the advantages of the composition of the old House of Lords. (I take it as read that, by its undemocratic nature, it needed reform.)

    (i)  It did have long-term membership (see above).

    (ii)  It had people of a wide range of backgrounds and experience.

    (iii)  The presence of "elder statesmen" such as Dennis Healey, Geoffrey Howe, Shirley Williams, with great political experience but loosened ties to their Party, has often been seen as beneficial.

    (iv)  The unelected hereditary peers were at least free of any obligations to anyone for their presence in the House.

  These considerations do not make it obvious what form the new chamber should take, but I hope you might agree that they suggest that the government have got it wrong in their present proposals.

  Rather than be purely negative I make the following suggestion for the elected members of the chamber:

    (i)  that the country be divided for these purposes into large electoral districts, eg East Anglia. (This might help to meet the devolution problem).

    (ii)  within each district the following groups be invited to nominate candidates for election: the CBI (and/or Chambers of Commerce), the TUC, the Churches (not just the Church of England!), the universities, magistrates, charitable organisations, the armed services, journalism, Local Government. I do not regard this list as definitive; the aim is to find people of proven service to the community and wide experience.

    (iii)  the voters would then be able to vote freely for members from within the list—no quotas. This would be difficult to manage the first time, but if only a third were re-elected each time subsequently within each district I think the list should be manageable.

  Mr Russell, if you have read this far, thank you for taking the time to listen to me. I should say that none of the criticisms of the Commons above should be taken as reflecting on your personal performance as an MP! I hope that the Liberal Party will be able to push for sensible reforms which represent an improvement and not just a replacement of the dregs of royal patronage by political patronage.

Keith Rumsey

November 2001

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