Will the parties reform Westminster? - Parliament Matters podcast, Episode 38

21 Jun 2024
©Maria Unger/UK Parliament
©Maria Unger/UK Parliament

After a brief election-induced hiatus Mark and Ruth are back to look at the party’s manifesto plans to reshape Parliament and politics. They are joined by one of the country’s leading constitutional experts, Professor Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit at University College London, to give us her verdict on the parties’ proposals to reform both the Commons and the Lords.

They explore Labour’s proposals for a Modernisation Committee in the House of Commons which will be tasked with considering procedural reforms, driving up standards and improving working practices. So, what might the agenda for this new Committee look like? How will the membership be constituted in a House with so many new MPs who have little knowledge and experience of how Westminster works?

The conversation then shifts to the House of Lords, where Mark and Ruth speak with the Earl of Kinnoull, Convenor of the Crossbench Peers, the facilitator of the second largest group in the House. The Lords is one of the few real speed-bumps that a Labour Government with a large Commons majority would face. Could a Labour Government even with a very big majority run into resistance on some of its proposals to reform the Upper House? Lord Kinnoull suggests that building cross-party consensus is likely to be the most productive approach to these constitutional reforms.

Back in the studio Meg Russell suggests ways in which the relatively vague manifesto commitments might be implemented, to improve the way Peers enter and leave the House and to police its future size.

  • What’s the current state of the election campaign, two weeks out from polling day?

  • Why are the Conservative Party’s arguments about the threat of a Labour “elected dictatorship” falling on deaf ears?

  • Why is coverage of the election so focused on the ‘horse race’ rather than the parties offer to voters?

  • What have the parties promised in their manifestos for reform of Parliament?

  • How might Labour’s plans for a House of Commons Modernisation Committee work?

  • What does Labour plan to do to address ethics and standards in government and Parliament?

  • What is the Salisbury-Addison Convention and why does it matter?

  • What are the challenges facing Labour’s proposals for House of Lords reform?

  • What is the Salisbury-Addison Convention and why does it matter?

  • What could be done to improve the process for appointing new members of the House of Lords?

  • How might Labour’s proposals to remove the hereditary peers be implemented?

  • How might Labour’s proposal to introduce an age cap of 80 years of age be implemented?

Parliament Matters is supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

Parliament Matters is supported by a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, a Quaker trust which engages in philanthropy and supports work on democratic accountability.


Professor Meg Russell

Meg Russell is Professor of British and Comparative Politics and Director of the Constitution Unit at University College London. She leads the Unit's work on Parliament particularly on the House of Lords, bicameralism, and Parliament's policy influence. She has also conducted recent work on referendums, devolution, and citizens' assemblies. Before joining UCL she was a consultant to the Royal Commission on Reform of the House of Lords and from 2001-03 was seconded as a full time adviser to Robin Cook in his role as Leader of the House of Commons. She has acted as an adviser to numerous parliamentary-related Commissions and House of Commons Select Committees, and is a Fellow of the British Academy.

Charles Hay, 16th Earl of Kinnoull, is a hereditary peer and Crossbench member of the House of Lords. He currently serves as Convenor of the Crossbench Peers. A qualified barrister, he joined the House of Lords in 2015 through a hereditary peers' by-election. Hel served as Chair of the European Union Committee from September 2019 until the Committee was dissolved in March 2021, at which point he became Chair of the newly formed European Affairs Committee, a post he held until his election as the Crossbench Convenor in 2023. Between January 2022 and June 2023, he was Vice Chair of the UK delegation to the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly.

©UK Parliament

The Earl of Kinnoull

Hansard Society


Constitution Unit, University College London

Please note, this transcript is automatically generated. There are consequently minor errors and the text is not formatted according to our style guide. If you wish to reference or cite the transcript copy below, please first check against the audio version above. Timestamps are provided above each paragraph.

00:00:00:00 - 00:00:16:24 You're listening to Parliament Matters, a Hansard Society production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Learn more at 00:00:17:01 - 00:00:39:19 Welcome to Parliament Matters, the podcast about the institution at the heart of our democracy, Parliament itself. I'm Ruth Fox and I'm Mark Darcy. Coming up, we take a look at the parties' manifesto plans to reshape parliament and politics. One of the country's leading constitutional experts, Professor Meg Russell, joins us to give her verdict on the parties' proposals to reform the Commons and the Lords. 00:00:39:21 - 00:00:55:07 But there's a warning from a key player in the House of Lords that even a Labour government with a very big majority could run into resistance on its proposals to reform them. 00:00:55:09 - 00:01:19:04 But first, Ruth, it's worth recapping. We're recording two weeks out from polling day, and the big surprise is that there haven't really been very many big surprises in this election campaign. I mean, the one real shocker was the entrance of Nigel Farage deciding that after all, he was going to contest the seat, because the last time we were here, we were talking about how he wasn't going to contest a seat and that was going to leave Reform hanging. 00:01:19:05 - 00:01:44:24 Well, Reform has rather taken off in the polls since then. But other than that, Labour's lead has remained commanding throughout. There hasn't been the kind of drop that maybe a lot of people thought might happen when people focus on the general election and some pretty terrifying polls have been coming out suggesting that the Conservative Party could perhaps, and of course, it's only a poll and you don't really know till polling day, but could perhaps be blasted back to bedrock. 00:01:45:01 - 00:02:08:18 Yeah, the Conservatives, I think, have converted the chaos of governing into the chaos of campaigning. I think probably the best thing one can say about their performance is extraordinary. It's absolutely bizarre, I think for decades to come political science professors will be teaching courses on how this bizarre election campaign by the Conservatives just disintegrated, where they seem to stumble from one pratfall to another. 00:02:08:20 - 00:02:27:20 Yeah, I mean, they're getting no traction on any of their messages because frankly, none of it really gels with their record in government. So, you know, I think like taxes, it's not sticking because nobody believes what we've got to say. We had a bit of policy early on in the campaign. But I mean, policy seems to have been junked in favor of chaos day after day. 00:02:27:22 - 00:02:46:13 Well, I suppose there will now be another two weeks of pretty continuous bombardment of Labour. Labour will put up your taxes headlines on just about every Tory tabloid. That's not hedging its bets. And we'll have to see whether the Labour Party can come through that. But at the moment it looks like Sir Keir Starmer is heading for Downing Street. 00:02:46:14 - 00:03:07:02 He's almost at the get ready to measure the drapes phase of campaigning. Well, even the Conservatives are conceding that, aren't they, because of the way that they're effectively acknowledging without having to acknowledge, given the scale of the polling, the prospect of them turning this round is increasingly remote. But I mean, if you look at the polls that have come out in the last few days, they vary. 00:03:07:04 - 00:03:27:03 They these polling models, they vary in terms of the scale of the potential defeat, but they're all pointing in one direction. And, you know, it's just a question of the order of magnitude. The best the Conservatives on the recent polls look like they can get is a 1997 scale result. That would be a good result for them. The alternatives are much, much worse.

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