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

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.

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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. 00:03:27:05 - 00:03:53:12 Yeah, well, I've seen polling projections that have the Conservatives down in single figures, and that implies Labour winning some pretty implausible seats, frankly. And that's why I think my own constituency well, I take it that all this with a tonne of salt because it does imply some pretty astonishing results. And I suspect some slightly bewildered Labour candidates who never thought they were going to get into Parliament, having to walk up to Westminster and start MP-ing. 00:03:53:14 - 00:04:13:03 And the other side of it is that the Tories’ campaign pitch now seems to amount of pleading for mercy. There's got to be a strong opposition. Yeah, and that's not exactly the sort of flourish of trumpets that we're used to from Tory campaign messaging. Yes. I mean the phrase some, you know, we need Conservative MPs to ensure there isn't an elected dictatorship by the Labour Party. 00:04:13:05 - 00:04:32:19 It's been used a number of times. And as I said on social media a few days ago, it's sort of like the Conservatives have had a Damascene conversion during the election campaign to the merits of parliamentary scrutiny. That usually happens after the election, when you're exiled to opposition. And indeed in some quarters, to the merits of a PR election system. 00:04:32:19 - 00:04:52:22 There's a columnist in the Telegraph's increasingly unhinged op ed page suggests that if the Conservatives couldn't get a decent contingent in the House of Commons, the case for first past the post elections was pretty much exploded. And that seems a pretty soft focus navel gazing approach to electoral reform. Either a system is a good electoral system or it isn't. 00:04:52:22 - 00:05:09:03 It can't just be chosen because it's good for one of the parties, but not for the others. Yeah, but but again, on this issue, it's very difficult for them to get some traction. I mean, first of all, you know, in terms of a retail offer to the voters, what do we want? Parliamentary scrutiny is, as we know, not not the easiest is the easy sell on the doorstep. 00:05:09:05 - 00:05:31:02 So there's that problem. But again, they've got a 14 year track record and a track record, particularly over the course of this last Parliament, where they've shown a disregard and a disrespect on numerous occasions for Parliament, and therefore it doesn't really get traction. And also, as you say, the argument that parliamentary scrutiny is essential and necessary to stop a Labour elective dictatorship. 00:05:31:04 - 00:05:56:20 But it's absolutely unnecessary when it's the Conservatives who have a massive majority. Strikes me as a pretty poor argument as well. And here we are, and the people being forced into making these really slightly improbable points because of the free fall into which the Conservative campaign has degenerated. Now we're both going to sound pretty silly. If Rishi Sunak's triumphantly returning to number ten Downing Street on the 5th of July, I think we give up punting at that point. 00:05:56:22 - 00:06:36:21 But it is at the moment looking like a campaign wipe out to dwarf almost all previous campaign wipe outs. 1906, not 1945, not 1997 have ever seen a wipe out on the kind of scale the pollsters are telling us looks likely at the moment, and that of itself casts a shadow over the campaign. I mean, perhaps one of the debates for future election campaigns is do you allow so much polling in future because it becomes about the horse race, not about kind of the parties offer to the voters, and everybody's looking up towards the result rather than down towards the small print of the manifestos? 00:06:36:23 - 00:06:56:07 Yeah. So far as anyone ever did, look down towards the small print of the manifestos, I suppose. Yeah, as you say, it's about the horse race, and it's also become about the leaders debates. But we're not actually having much debate about the detail of the policies scrutiny in any depth. And when you think about it, you think about Labour's potential, you know, the scale of their win. 00:06:56:09 - 00:07:13:10 What do we really know about what they're going to do? I mean, not an awful lot. We haven't got a lot of detail. They've not been put under the microscope. I was talking to our producer, Richard earlier before we started, and we were saying, you know, back in the day 25 years ago, you just had daily press conferences. 00:07:13:14 - 00:07:35:11 What happened to them? you know, I remember in the 2001 general election organizing the first press conference for Labour outside London. It was in the Harlow constituency at the for Latton Bush Center. And the whole press contingent, national and international press turned up. We had Blair, we had Brown, we have Blunkett, and they were put under the microscope by the press for about 45 minutes. 00:07:35:13 - 00:07:54:05 There was none of that. Now remember that now the best you can hope for is a shouted question from a press huddle somewhere that someone may deign to answer, or possibly be hustled away before they can answer, even those are scripted because, you know, the journalists that have been chosen at the press conferences are clearly decided beforehand, and it's limited to 4 or 5, and it's usually the same outlets. 00:07:54:07 - 00:08:11:08 what this boils down to I think, is that Labour in particular is a party that thinks it's heading for government. Its cards have been kind of chemically bonded to its chest. Yeah. There's no way that they're going to give away information that might be used in evidence against them, maybe prize a few voters away from them. So they're being incredibly careful. 00:08:11:08 - 00:08:36:12 And having stumbled through such a series of gaffes and actually found that policy doesn't necessarily shift the dial, either. With a national service on offer. Maybe the Conservatives are wary of that as well. So it's all about image now, and the only moment of kind of spontaneity where something might happen is these leaders debates. And even then the format is so controlled and so artificial and so unreal, then that's quite unlikely. 00:08:36:12 - 00:08:52:12 I mean, I used to say a little piece of my soul died during Prime Minister's Question Time, but Prime Minister's Question Time is a kind of model of Socratic political debate compared to the awfulness of those debates where, you know, you've got how are you going to solve the climate crisis? You've got 45 seconds. Yeah. I mean, that's that's a nonsense. 00:08:52:12 - 00:09:09:04 Yeah. Whoever proposed that format and then whoever agreed to it. Well, whatever they were doing, it wasn't serving the voters. I mean, it may have kept the parties from being too afraid of having the debate. of course you can't force them to do it, but the value of what they do is, I think, rather limited now. 00:09:09:04 - 00:09:32:04 Yeah, well, the Hansard Society actually, well one of my predecessors, Professor Stephen Coleman, who's now at Leeds University, he actually proposed the first sort of set of rules suggesting party leaders debates about 20 odd years ago and things I should say have moved on a long way, but not in a good direction. I mean, compared to what he was hoping would be achieved and what he proposed and what we've actually ended up with is a long way from that. 00:09:32:04 - 00:09:55:04 And of course, part of that is the way in which the negotiations happen between the parties and the media, and how it's organized. Things, to coin a phrase, have only got worse. Yes, sadly. Well, having said that, many people aren't looking at the small print of the manifestos. One person who definitely has and who's digested its import in great detail is professor Meg Russell, director of the Constitution Unit. 00:09:55:06 - 00:10:30:09 And to walk us through what the parties are saying about making politics better, can you pull out of it a kind of general theme that they all want to create a better politics, or is it all rather sort of vague, disconnected policy-ettes dotted about the constitutional landscape. I think it's a mixture of both, really. I think a number of the manifestos have got some quite nice, warm words about wanting to restore trust in politics and improve standards and this kind of thing, wanting to improve the quality of debate, which would be nice, particularly in the middle of an election campaign as much as any other times. 00:10:30:11 - 00:10:57:12 And then you've got sort of bits and pieces. It's quite interesting. There are some significant gaps in some of the manifestos. So very striking that the Conservative manifesto says literally nothing about parliaments and parliamentary reform, and literally nothing about standards and ethics in government. But then the Liberal Democrats say quite a lot about standards, and Labour says some quite surprising things, which I'm sure we're going to talk about, about reform of the Commons, as well as quite a lot of detail about reform of the Lords. 00:10:57:12 - 00:11:16:03 And then you've got a lot of stuff about devolution, which is probably above our pay grade here isn’t it. Possibly so. But looking at what the parties are saying, what I didn't get at any point was any sense the parties were embracing the idea that there was a huge crisis of trust in British politics, and substantial tightening up of the system, and institutional reform is needed. 00:11:16:03 - 00:11:38:15 What you get is kind of policy McNuggets a bit. So a bit so, but I think the Liberal Democrats and Labour both do address fairly head on the standards issue. They pick up different bits of it, and the Liberal Democrats have got a bunch of commitments on bringing prerogative powers under parliamentary control, which is quite interesting. Some of the things have been talked about in recent years about the war power. 00:11:38:17 - 00:11:55:20 this is where a prime minister basically has the power to do a lot of big decisions, almost without reference to Parliament. Yes, exactly. So some of the things that fall into that are in the international sphere, such as, signing treaties and other international agreements, which has become increasingly important post-Brexit, because that used to be done for us by the European Union. 00:11:55:22 - 00:12:21:14 We have to work out how to do that for ourselves. And I've been arguments about parliamentary control over that power. And then there's been the long running arguments about parliamentary control over the use of troops, military action, war powers, if you like. Yes. And the Liberal Democrats say something about both of those things as well as interestingly, I think bringing back the power to Parliament following the repeal of the fixed term Parliaments Act that might have taken your, your intentions. 00:12:21:16 - 00:12:45:04 I mean, maybe some people wouldn't be surprised that that was in the Liberal Democrat manifesto, because some people think it was always a sort of liberal Democrat ruse to trap the Conservatives or in their own coalition. That was nonsense, actually. It had been proposed by various Labour politicians for years before 2010, actually. And of course, Boris Johnson abolished it with the dissolution and calling of Parliaments Act 2022, I think. 00:12:45:06 - 00:13:03:12 And that immediately looked like a mistake, really, because no sooner he'd done it and taken back the unilateral power to himself to call an election, within weeks there were rumors that he was going to call an election to avoid being removed as Conservative Party leader. And suddenly all his backbenchers are saying, who gave him this power? This is terrible. 00:13:03:12 - 00:13:23:08 Well, they gave him that power by voting it through. So I think a reversal to fixed term parliaments might be quite sensible, but, nobody's much expecting the Liberal Democrats to form the government. So these are further down the agenda than some of the things in Labour's manifesto. Another one that took my eye. The Green Party's got a proposal that job sharing for MP should be considered to make politics more accessible. 00:13:23:08 - 00:13:39:14 What do you think about that? Because I'm a great skeptic about job sharing. Well, you and I agree about a lot, Ruth. I'm a bit skeptical about that too. I mean, my concern, there are lots of people who want it, and I do understand why they want it. I do understand the drive for diversity. And, you know, that's a noble thing to want. 00:13:39:16 - 00:14:01:10 The difficulty, as I see it, is that no matter how many hours that are in the day or week, MPs will work them. We know they work a kind of 80 hour week. It's not what they're doing at Westminster that matters. It's all the hours that they put in in the constituency. If you had two MPs in a seat, would they really both work part time or would they just do double the work of an MP at local level? 00:14:01:10 - 00:14:17:19 And how could you even police that? That would create an unfairness with other constituencies that only had one MP. And I was always rather mystified about what would happen if there was a contentious kind of conscience issue on which the two MPs perhaps didn't have the same view. That's how you will always arrange this, Well even on policy. 00:14:17:19 - 00:14:35:20 They could disagree. You could envisage a situation where something gets through or it doesn't get through the Commons, depending on which one turns up for that particular vote. My big concern has also been that if you split it in half and you divide the Westminster work, you get that problem around the voting and who decides and when and what if they disagree? 00:14:35:22 - 00:14:58:14 Or the alternative is to split it so somebody is doing the Westminster work and somebody is doing the constituency work. And make your point about, do you just end up sort of doubling the amount of work that gets done? My concern relates to that is what is the chances that it's the female member of Parliament, the half that ends up doing the constituency work and the male member of Parliament, if you had a gender split of the roles, ends up doing the Westminster work. 00:14:58:15 - 00:15:16:17 Well, to be honest, this is my feminist friends. I completely count myself as a feminist, but some of them will be shouting at them. They will shouting at the radio at this point. But this is one of the things that actually concerns me about more virtual participation as well, because I imagine that it would be the men who turn up to Westminster and kind of participate and give all the great speeches and debate and all the rest of it. 00:15:16:17 - 00:15:38:02 And then the women who are actually at home signing in virtually because they're doing the caring responsibilities and so on. So it's very hard to stamp out the unfairness in the system, I think. Yeah. The other thing that's mooted in several of the manifestos is extending select committee oversight of public appointments. Some liberal Democrats particularly favor that. Yes, the Liberal Democrats have said that, haven't they? 00:15:38:02 - 00:15:53:19 But it's I mean, a number of these proposals, they're a bit nonspecific. So clearly we do have some select committee oversight at the moment. Quite a lot of select committee oversight of public appointments. Do they mean they want to extend the number of roles that are subject to that because it's quite a lot already? Or they might mean 00:15:53:19 - 00:16:17:24 They want the select committees to have veto power in more areas. In other words, American style confirmation hearings. People love saying American style. Love the idea that it's the drama. You know, I've watched The West Wing too often, perhaps, but you've got a situation where some of these public posts are fantastically powerful industry regulators who can change the direction of billions of pounds with the stroke of a pen. 00:16:18:01 - 00:16:37:07 People like the chair of the BBC, the governor of the Bank of England, any number of public figures who are of fantastic importance, who can basically be appointed almost on prime ministerial bookings. Let's get my mate in there. And the only way that you can stop the exercise of that unchecked power is to give someone or other the ability to say no. 00:16:37:10 - 00:16:58:23 Yes, well, I think there probably is a case for extending veto powers in some cases, but I'm also somebody who tends to think that veto powers in general are a bit overrated, and that actually much of the power of Parliament is exerted in more subtle ways. So the very fact that people appointed to these roles are going to have to face the scrutiny hearing, I think probably will. 00:16:58:23 - 00:17:16:08 Most panels think actually, is this person really good enough or they're going to fall apart under questioning. But there have been cases where I think there was, an education appointment made by Ed Balls as a Labour education secretary, where he overrode the committee. It's not you said no, no, it does. And sometimes that does happen sometimes. And clearly that's questionable. 00:17:16:08 - 00:17:34:18 But also certainly in some cases. And I think that may be one of them. People said, well, actually the committee was overly politicizing the argument, and they were sort of using this as a way to punish Ed Balls. And that's why he ignored what they said. So it gets quite tricky. But anyway, I mean, the short answer is that they haven't really specified what they mean by extending the powers. 00:17:34:18 - 00:17:56:15 So it might or it might not be sensible, depending on the detail. Another area that they touch on and Labour as well, it's actually a bit more detail is standards. Now obviously we talked a lot in the podcast about parliamentary standards, about the number of MPs who've lost the whip for one reason or another, that the standards Committee in the House of Commons has had this review of the regulatory landscape for standards. 00:17:56:17 - 00:18:17:16 Labour, for example, is proposing an independent ethics and integrity commission to ensure probity in government. But there's not a lot of detail about how it would relate to sort of existing standards bodies. Is your take on this, that what the parties are proposing on standards mainly relates to government rather than parliament, and therefore, can we expect anything, do you think, in terms of parliamentary standards? 00:18:17:22 - 00:18:48:00 My understanding is that the Ethics and Integrity Commission is about government standards, not parliamentary standards. And I think it's probably quite important to keep them separate, although the Liberal Democrats do have some words about bringing into line some of the reporting requirements for ministers into line with the parliamentary requirements, which I think would just sort of simplify. But I think there are a number of things on the agenda for the improvement of government standards, which the Constitution Unit and other organizations like the Institute for government have done quite a lot of work on pushed for. Then the Committee on Standards in Public Life. 00:18:48:00 - 00:19:06:10 The Cspl, which is one of the existing bodies, has pushed for years for improvements in some of the powers of these bodies. So there are a number of these existing bodies that regulate government, but their powers could be strengthened. And a lot of people think that they should have more of a statutory underpinning so that they can enforce their powers. 00:19:06:10 - 00:19:30:06 I mean, we may come on and talk about the House of Lords. The House of Lords Appointments Commission, for example, is a non-statutory body and the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, actually ignored one of its recommendations. And there's no way that it can enforce those recommendations unless a statutory underpinning. And there are things that you could do to strengthen some of the other bodies, like the regulation of lobbying, the regulation of former ministers and senior civil servants taking jobs in the private sector. 00:19:30:08 - 00:19:50:07 It's quite easy for some of those rules to be flouted if people choose to do so. So tightening up the powers and giving them a statutory basis would be sensible. The Ethics and Integrity Commission, which has been a commitment of Labour's for quite a long time. We haven't really seen much flesh in terms of what that means. I mean, I think the important thing is the standards bodies that we have now are strengthened. 00:19:50:07 - 00:20:09:21 I think that's being seen as something like an umbrella body, which sort of ties them together better. They've said they're going to appoint a chair of it and consult on exactly what it does and how it works with the existing bodies. I think it's somewhat symbolic. They want to make a splash by saying we take ethics and integrity seriously, and therefore we're setting up this thing. 00:20:09:21 - 00:20:32:16 That's how seriously we take it, which is symbolism can be really, really important. But symbolism can also push you into doing stuff in the sense, I suspect that if Labour is going to make a big thing of being more ethical and having greater integrity in government than its predecessors, the first time a minister puts a toe out of line, they've got to be seen to come down on that person like a ton of bricks. 00:20:32:16 - 00:20:52:22 You know, that person may end up being thrown to the wolves precisely because Labour can't afford not to make an example of them. Yes, well, we saw Angela Rayner. Yeah. The really serious. Yes. Yeah. I mean we've another of the bodies, although it's more of a person that we've seen controversy about in recent years is the independent adviser on ministers interests. 00:20:52:24 - 00:21:10:05 Boris Johnson allowed two of those people to slip through his fingers because they made recommendations that he chose not to take up. One of them was over Priti Patel and the alleged bullying in the Home Office, where Boris Johnson chose to side with Priti Patel rather than his own adviser. And it was the adviser rather than the minister who resigned. 00:21:10:05 - 00:21:39:14 So both the Liberal Democrats and Labour have got words about strengthening the power of that body, and that also doesn't exist in statute. So there definitely are some things a new government could do on the very first stage, just announcing that some of these bodies are being given more powers, even without the statutory authority. You could, for example, say, I mean, we'll talk about the House of Lords in greater depth later, but you could, for example, say that someone was blackballed by how like the House of Lords Advisory Committee on Appointments, I, as a Prime Minister, would not then appoint them. 00:21:39:20 - 00:22:01:11 I wouldn't push ahead with that. Yes. And that just takes the Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street or in the House of Commons on day one or whatever, to just say I will respect the recommendations of the House of Lords appointments Commission. I would feel more comfortable if that were underpinned by statute, to say that the House of Lords Appointments Commission has the final say, because, of course, what one Prime Minister says doesn't necessarily bind the next. 00:22:01:15 - 00:22:19:04 Quite difficult to reverse from. But yes, if you really wanted to break into that, as I mentioned, you could. Yes. So should we come on to the Commons then you talked a little bit about what the Liberal Democrats and others have got to say. But we're two weeks out from polling day. I don't think we're giving the game away to think that, you know, Labour is likely to get into government. 00:22:19:06 - 00:22:45:19 And I think even the Conservative is their ideology. Not now. So Labour's proposals obviously become the critical manifesto to look at. That's proposing a new modernization committee tasked with reforming House of Commons procedures, driving up standards and improving working practices. Now, this is clearly modeled on the modernization committee that was introduced in the first term of the Blair government to drive reform that existed all the way through till 2010. 00:22:45:21 - 00:23:02:02 Yes. And which you advised, if I'm not mistaken. Not exactly. I worked for two years for leader of the House Robin Cook, back in the early 2000, which ages me, and he was the chair of the modernization committee because it was chaired by the leader of the House. But I didn't support that committee specifically. I was working with him on other things. 00:23:02:02 - 00:23:20:08 But yes, I have some familiarity with it in sort of from real life experience. But when we're talking about interests, I should acknowledge that the first chair of the modernization committee that introduced it was, of course, the Hansard Society's current chair, Baroness Taylor of Bolton. Taylor Oswalds. Yes. And this commitment in the manifesto could indicate that she's had some behind the scenes influence. 00:23:20:10 - 00:23:38:07 Possibly, but I couldn't possibly comment. So how does this work? I mean, the key difference between it and I don't know whether they plan to repeat this exact structure, but the key difference between the modernization Committee and other Commons committees at the time was it was chaired by a minister, it was chaired by the leader of the House. 00:23:38:07 - 00:23:58:11 And that gave the ability, presumably to drive stuff through once a decision had been made. It was always a controversial body. For that reason. To have a select committee chaired by a government ministers. Absolutely not normal. And so a lot of people were quite suspicious that this was some sort of government controlled body. The modernization committee did actually achieve quite a lot. 00:23:58:14 - 00:24:25:21 This is the thing. I mean, the Constitution Unit, two of my colleagues, Tom Fleming and Hannah Kelly at the Constitution Unit just a few weeks ago published a report called delivering House of Commons Reform What Works. And they did quite a detailed study of the success rates and the reception of the reports and so on, of the modernization committee compared to the Procedure Committee, and also the thing people called the right committee, which was the one off committee very late in the last Labour government's term. 00:24:25:23 - 00:24:55:24 And what they found was the hit rate, the success rate for the modernization committee was much higher than for the Procedure Committee and the Procedure Committee's proposals. I mean, we've seen this in recent years, haven't we, since the modernization committee was abolished by the incoming Conservative Liberal Democrat government in 2010. We haven't seen that much procedural reform, really, and we've seen some quite important reports by the procedure committee, like on private member's bills, for example, simply blocked by the government, simply not given any debating time. 00:24:56:01 - 00:25:20:16 The government has that power to keep things off the agenda, which is something that I've written about and is another thing that we might think about reforming. But for as long as that's there, there is a significant advantage in having the government sort of in on the inside on the discussions about reform, because the way the modernization committee worked before, yes, there was a government minister around the table and yes, that might mean some compromise on the radicalism of the proposals. 00:25:20:16 - 00:25:42:00 But actually, if they could be agreed by that committee, they were almost assured to be given time for debate and to get put through to succeed. Lucy Powell. the shadow leader of the House, so I suppose we must assume would be the leader of the House in a Keir Starmer government, was speaking at the Institute for government a few weeks back, and she was very keen to try and improve the legislative process. 00:25:42:00 - 00:26:02:02 She's talking about all the good things that Labour would try and do to change the way that the Commons operated, to get it to be a more efficient and effective legislature. So what do you think their agenda now will be? Well, I thought that was an important speech. She was expressing concern about the way that, close to your heart, Ruth, there has been too much delegated legislation. 00:26:02:04 - 00:26:21:03 Too many bills are being rushed through too quickly and not enough taking of expert evidence, all these kinds of things. A lot of those problems can be solved simply by the government behaving better. Yeah, this is where ‘we’ll good chaps’. Yeah. Now, I mean, she sounded sincere. She sounded pretty determined to do things about that. And there's a lot that as leader of the House you can achieve on that. 00:26:21:03 - 00:26:47:03 You've got to tell your fellow ministers that they can't introduce bills that are unprepared, that they can't have lots of late government amendments and so on. So the government can sort out quite a lot of that. But I think, for example, if you want something to address whether the House of Commons can improve its standards of scrutiny of the statutory instruments, the delegated legislation that exists, there needs to be some forum to debate how to do that and some means of agreeing it. 00:26:47:04 - 00:27:08:12 And that's the sort of thing, I imagine, that might appear in front of this new modernization committee for discussion. Also, as I already mentioned, private member's bills, which is really a bit of a running sore. It never gets sorted out. Well, we have a stack of proposals on both sides. Yes, I know, I know. And so yeah, I mean, the hope is that we can put those proposals forward and let the committee have a look at it. 00:27:08:12 - 00:27:27:16 And they don't all have to be implemented all at once. I think that's the important thing to stress that, you know, you could actually make some significant improvements with just some of the first stages. And you could wait and test pilot, see how things work, and then make decisions later about fuller implementation. I mean, I think there are some interesting questions about the modernization committee. 00:27:27:21 - 00:27:56:04 We don't know what the make up of it is going to be. Presumably it's on the old model which is that you have some frontbenchers and it's not just the government. There were opposition frontbenchers on there as well alongside backbenchers sitting together. Well this is where the election result becomes quite interesting. The sums of who's on that committee, because the balance of committees normally would be sort of on the balance of the House, you know, the election result, if we are looking at a very, very unbalanced election result and a huge Labour majority, that's going to pose some challenges. 00:27:56:09 - 00:28:21:21 The scale of turnover, there aren't going to be that many old hands in a Conservative group that would be coming back. Many of Labour's old hands will be looking at ministerial offices or other select committee chairs jobs, and there's going to be huge turnover. So many of those new MPs obviously are not going to be experienced in the ways of the House and the processes and procedures, and therefore probably not the best people to have on that committee. 00:28:21:21 - 00:28:44:12 So it's gonna be interesting how they work out the it is interesting. It is interesting. Another thing that's interesting about it is that they do mention, as you said, House of Commons procedure standards and improving working practices. Now, obviously there is a standards committee for the modernization committee. Before the previous one didn't really look at standards, but maybe they're wanting to go wider with this one, which raises some boundary questions about that. 00:28:44:12 - 00:29:07:12 And the Standards Committee and the standards Committee, of course, will be chaired by an opposition person. If it's the Conservatives in opposition who are going to be the senior Conservatives to chair things like the Standards Committee and the Public Accounts Committee, we're just going to have to see how the dust settles after the election. One of the other big things that the previous incarnation of the Modernization Committee did was it oversaw a change in the sitting hours of the Commons. 00:29:07:12 - 00:29:33:13 It ended the tradition of the Commons sitting late into the night pretty much every night. And I find myself wondering whether one of the ways of changing the commons is working. Practices this time round might be to sort out sitting hours once more, or perhaps formally go down to a four day sitting week for the Commons, rather than having the occasional private member's bill Friday where they sat on the Friday just purely to debate private member's bills, get rid of that. 00:29:33:13 - 00:29:54:09 Stick private member's bills into one of the weekday evenings. Perhaps, maybe if we want to go wildly radical here, they might take a leaf out of the European Parliament's rulebook and have, weeks where the full chamber isn't used and the whole thing is devoted to committee business. The committees are increasingly important than the work of Parliament, so maybe someone might even try something like that. 00:29:54:12 - 00:30:09:24 How radical do you think they might be? Do you get any sense of. I don't really have much of a sense, but I think what what is interesting and quite constructive is that we know there's going to be a vehicle to consider these ideas. I think if I were them, I'd be saying, well, let's consult early on. Let's ask the Hansard Society. 00:30:09:24 - 00:30:36:16 Let's ask the Constitution in it. Let's ask members of Parliament what do they want the agenda to be? And then there's a space where it can be discussed. And if they can reach some agreement, then there's every chance that those things can be brought about, because you've got some buy in from the government as well. Another thing that I think might be if the polling is, although the polling is a bit all over the place, but it does suggest a big Labour majority if that proves to be the case, there are some quite interesting questions about, well, what are all these backbenchers going to do? 00:30:36:18 - 00:30:58:11 How can they be constructively used? Are there procedural changes, maybe the creation of new committees, new temporary committees, the way they do in the House of Lords, say to look at important kind of contemporary issues. Can we get these backbenchers working in a constructive way on policy matters, to inform the government a lot of free legislative scrutiny of the kind of second wave of government bills, perhaps? 00:30:58:11 - 00:31:26:13 Yes, exactly. I think there's all sorts of things that they can look at, really. I mean, one of the things that we've reported on years ago now is whether we couldn't bring more specialist expertise into the public bill committee process. I think it would be a bad idea if a select committee is to be looking at government bills, but maybe you could have some parallel committees which were looking at some of the more heavy legislating areas, which had a more permanent, membership rather than a sort of revolving temporary membership bill by bill. 00:31:26:18 - 00:31:45:10 There's just lots of stuff that they can look at and it's going to be an exciting time. Well, there are also plenty of proposals in the party manifestos about what to do about reshaping the House of Lords. And we'll be talking about those in a little while. But before that, we thought we'd speak to one of the major players likely to be involved in any debates about the future of the House of Lords. 00:31:45:10 - 00:32:06:10 The leader of the second largest group in the House of Lords, the convener. He's not the leader. He's the convener of the crossbench peers, Lord Kinnoull. But before that, we'll take a short break and we'll be back in a minute. Polling day is just a few weeks away, but there's still time for schools to organize a mock election with our ten step toolkit. 00:32:06:12 - 00:32:27:10 Teachers can register their schools on the Hansard Society website to get the free toolkit filled with everything they need to bring the drama of a real election to life in the classroom. Mock elections are a fantastic and fun way to teach students about democracy. They can run as candidates, create manifestos, canvass support, deliver speeches, design posters and cast their votes. 00:32:27:12 - 00:32:54:11 Research shows that this hands on experience fosters positive attitudes towards political participation in the future. That's why the Hansard Society has run mock elections at every general election for over 50 years, one of the world's oldest civic education projects for schools. So teachers visit to sign up and get your free toolkit. And parents and grandparents spread the word to your child's school so we can get as many students involved as possible. 00:32:54:13 - 00:33:26:22 Again, that's Participating schools will contribute to a nationwide mock election result on July the 4th, so stay tuned for our post-election episode to find out the results. Well Ruth and I here are in the convener of the crossbenchers office off the main corridor that runs through the length of Parliament and with us is Charles, Lord Kinnoull, the convener of the crossbenchers, not exactly the leader, but the facilitator of what is now the second largest group in the House of Lords. 00:33:26:24 - 00:33:50:02 And the thought here is that the House of Lords is one of the few real speed bumps that a Labour government with a large Commons majority would face, and one of those speed bumps takes the form of something called the Salisbury Convention or the Salisbury Addison Convention, a convention about how the House of Lords deals with the program of an incoming government with a fresh democratic mandate. 00:33:50:02 - 00:34:21:03 So look, all first of all, what is your understanding of what the Salisbury Addison Convention is? What are the rules? So it's quite it's quite a complicated thing. Firstly, the modern convention arrived in 1945 when, of course, there was a huge Labour majority, but very, very few Labour members of the House of Lords, I think under ten. And so they were worried that the mandate, the electoral mandate that the new government had in 1945 would be interfered with by the House of Lords. 00:34:21:05 - 00:35:02:15 And in fact, the expression of the convention drew on historical concerns that people had had in the House of Lords about how an unelected House should behave with an elected House. And essentially the convention decided that where you had a clear manifesto commitment, the House of Lords should not prevent the coming in onto the statute book of those clear electoral commitments of a manifesto, different from saying there should be no amendments, but it should allow them to come forward and it should make things happen in a reasonable timescale. 00:35:02:17 - 00:35:35:01 And so there's the concept of allowing an elected government, its raft of legislative provisions and dealing with things in a reasonable timescale so that you're not using time as a weapon as well. These are two principles which have changed a bit in the period since 1945. But that's broadly speaking. And in fact, fairly specifically speaking, the Lords has obey is slightly the wrong word, but the Lords has been operating the convention in a pretty good way. 00:35:35:03 - 00:35:58:20 So in technical terms, that translates as the House of Lords will always give a second reading to a bill that's been foreshadowed in a manifesto. I mean, these days they give a second reading to any government bill, I think, and they won't pass wrecking amendments, and they won't use delaying tactics. Is that a fair summation? Yes, that's a very fair summation, rather better put than my one earlier on. 00:35:58:22 - 00:36:22:11 But that raises the question how do you identify a manifesto bill? Because unless the parties start publishing kind of bills as appendixes to their manifesto, here's the bill that we're going to pass. To some extent, you're having to analyze and deconstruct the manifesto to discover what commitments are in it. Well, this is, of course, a difficult question. And here the convention has had to adapt to more modern times. 00:36:22:11 - 00:36:57:09 In 1945, the Labour Party manifesto was quite a short document. I think, depending on how you print it out, about eight pages with a series of very, very precise and specific proposals. So it was pretty easy to identify what was a manifesto commitment when a bill came forward. The Modern manifesto is, of course, now 100 pages long, contains quite a lot of aspirational statements, a lot of sort of rather marketing language statements and of course, on the campaign trail, quite a lot of additional color is added to things. 00:36:57:09 - 00:37:23:02 That's within the manifesto. And arguably, of course, the philosophy behind saying that something is a manifesto commitment also applies to something said consistently and strongly on the campaign trail, because they're things which aren't in the voters heads as they head into the voting booth. So you could have an argument that, all right, this wasn't in the manifesto, but it was in the deputy leader speech in a wet church hall in Dudley on a distant Tuesday during a thunderstorm. 00:37:23:02 - 00:37:58:20 So we've got the democratic authority for that as well. Well, clearly, that particular example, we've got quite a weak argument. But but the answer is it is an argument. It's something that the Lords has to have regard to when it seeks to apply the convention inches only a convention. And of course, conventions can be breached. But I think that the history of what is now joining the 80 years of the convention is that people would feel, on the whole, Lord's has held up its end of the convention and has thought carefully about what really is a manifesto, commitment and what is not. 00:37:58:22 - 00:38:25:17 And how do you look at the next Parliament? What's your thinking about the challenges that the House of Lords is going to face with an incoming Labour government, most likely with the big majority? Clearly, the question of what is a manifesto commitment is going to be potentially a live one because, as you say, you know, Labour's manifesto 130 odd pages long and some of it's quite vague language, other aspects of the convention that you think might come under pressure, things like concept of time. 00:38:25:19 - 00:38:46:07 When is an amendment a wrecking amendment? I mean, in previous sessions we've seen lots of the Lords amendments to government bills, and there's been some criticism that, you know, the House of Lords is behaving in a way that it shouldn't from the government side. But, the alternative argument is, no, we're actually improving the government's legislation now. And what kind of challenges you see in the upcoming Parliament? 00:38:46:09 - 00:39:12:09 I don't think that the challenges will be that different for an incoming Labour administration to those challenges that we face in the last 5 or 6 years with the existing administration. I mean, very, very big constitutional questions have been discussed in the Lords. The wrecking amendment words have been used regularly. But the truth of the matter is that the governments of the day, if they've been able to secure a majority in the Commons, have got their legislation through the Lords. 00:39:12:15 - 00:39:46:00 And we saw very unhappy Lords, for instance, come through in a very conventional way with the Rwanda bill recently. And I don't see that the Lords is going to, en masse, behave in a different way with an incoming administration at all of whatever color in the Lords isn't a campaigning organization. It's a whole lot of people who and I'm not talking about the legislative side of the Lords, collaborate together, and we get a lot of help from external people making suggestions about what sort of amendments might come through the numbers. 00:39:46:02 - 00:40:21:11 Not for the last session. We haven't got the numbers over the session before that, which is quite a long session, is that the Lords considered more than 7500 amendments in primary legislation, and more than 2500 of those amendments eventually made it through into the primary legislation. So the that function of the Lords has been going well over the last few years, and I don't think anyone would feel we had stood in the way of a Commons majority on anything, and I can't see that it will be any different under the next administration of whatever kind of is there perhaps a case for refocusing the workings of that? 00:40:21:11 - 00:40:44:06 Salisbury Anderson convention and perhaps saying instead of looking at the manifesto and getting into a tangle about what has or hasn't been promised by an incoming government that maybe you should look at what's in the King's speech. The government's program was then endorsed by the House of Commons at the very beginning of each parliamentary session. And so those are the bills that we won't meddle with unduly. 00:40:44:08 - 00:41:12:09 Well, I think the convention and the way it operates has been I mentioned that in real life, Parliament is operating a different way. Today is what it was 40 years ago. The convention also has been subtly changing. I think one of the strange features of Covid, if I can mention the Covid word, is that people's ability to understand the convention, if you are a new member, came in just before Covid or during Covid, was affected by being away. 00:41:12:09 - 00:41:50:04 And so is it possibly a bit of a reminder job for members of the House about the convention? Why the convention actually is helpful to both houses in the processes, and what the convention really consists of. But the house isn't on fire. I just feel that that would be a nice thing to do. And we in this office have been publishing a series of papers about the convention over the course of the last year, and we have some a couple of other papers that are about to come forward but been held up by the election process in order to try and remind people off of what the constituent parts of the convention are, and where 00:41:50:04 - 00:42:12:11 the edges of all conventions are slightly sort of wooly things, but where the edges of the conventions are so that people properly understand it and are able to operate a complex thing which is at the core of our legislative processes, we talked about the evolution of the convention. Of course, it began as a two party arrangement between Labour and the Conservatives formally in 1945. 00:42:12:11 - 00:42:35:12 It's now accepted by the whole House. It's accepted by the Cross-Bench Group, it's accepted by the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and so on. How does that evolution come about? What are the mechanisms? Is it is it formal study consideration by committees, or is it private conversations between you and the group leaders and your predecessors over time? How does that evolution happen here? 00:42:35:16 - 00:43:06:09 All of the above. It may well have been various committees, of course, that have looked to the convention over the period of time. The last one was the 2017 Constitution Committee in the House of Lords. It looked at the convention, and they've been able to sort of mark where the convention is a particular times around. And I think that I'm hoping that the set of papers that we produced, which didn't seek to persuade anyone of any particular right or wrong, just trying to record where the convention is, is certainly do that. 00:43:06:09 - 00:43:51:16 And it is the case that the two major parties and the cross-bench are very clearly feeling that they're bound by the convention. The Liberal Democrats have a slightly nuanced feeling about the convention. Sometimes in Hansard. They're very complimentary of the convention, other times in Hansard, they feel it doesn't really apply to them. But I think that there's enough of the house is covered by the two main parties and the crossbench in percentage terms, that it doesn't really matter what the smaller groupings feeling about the convention, because enough people will be driven by the convention to mean the convention will apply and to be quite honest, I think that the other groupings would accept that the convention 00:43:51:16 - 00:44:12:21 has been very helpful in trying to make sure that a government of the day can get their business through the Lords, because the way that Lords is set up today, no government can ever have a majority in the Lords. It needs to rely on the convention and on the two great weapons that the Prime Minister still has in the ability to create an unlimited number of peers. 00:44:12:21 - 00:44:39:09 And the Parliament acts as well in the background to make sure that an elected government can get its business through Parliament. A couple of points in the Labour manifesto that I think the convention pretty clearly would apply to are about the House of Lords itself. Their proposal to introduce an age cap so that peers would have to leave the House of Lords at the end of the Parliament at which they turn 80, and also a commitment to exclude the hereditary peers and you’re yourself a hereditary peer. 00:44:39:11 - 00:45:06:02 So is that something that the House of Lords is going to say? Well, we may not like this, but we're going to have to do it because Salisbury Convention and it's in the manifesto. Well, I think it we're getting a bit of ahead of ourselves in trying to do that. But the Lords will apply a convention following an election, and you're testing the edge of a convention if you do very major things in constitutional terms, naturally. 00:45:06:04 - 00:45:33:19 But I think that's we'll just have to see how those cards fall on the table around. And fundamentally, it wouldn't be a good idea to clog up the creation of a new legislative platform for a new government with a bit of navel gazing in something which is fundamentally working okay today. I mean, these are at the margins of the workings of the House and the truth. 00:45:33:22 - 00:45:58:09 I get back to those numbers of 7500 amendments considered, and 2500 accepted into the thing. The House, from a legislative point of view, is doing its job and doing its job well. And so the bigger picture, I think, is served by getting the legislative program of a new government home, and not necessarily by engaging in lengthy constitutional meanderings. 00:45:58:14 - 00:46:32:08 That's a very interesting answer. You seem to be saying this might take a while, and why muddy the waters when it's all working perfectly fine as it is? Well, life can always be improved, so I'm not saying that not a thing should be changed at all, but all I'm saying is that the substantial manifestos that all of the parties have, whoever wins the election, what is really important to that party will be half a dozen or a dozen particular proposals that they want to bring forward policy for in the form of a primary legislation. 00:46:32:08 - 00:46:58:17 And I'm sure that they will feel that is what they should focus on and not on things of a second order nature. But look, it's a second order bills and legislation, perhaps in a in subsequent sessions. So that's when the challenges will arise. Yes. And the British Constitution, one tends to try and do constitutional things by consensus and, and try hard to deal with things by consensus. 00:46:58:21 - 00:47:35:18 You want to have a great big battle. Eventually you could have some sort of things out. And I think that the various proposals, six of them about the constitutional changes in the House of Lords that are in the Labour Party manifesto are all things that need to be discussed. And I would thought, a better way of, of handling those particular issues would be to at least see whether it would be possible to deal with them and get a consensus and move forward from there, which wouldn't necessarily affect the bringing in of the major proposals of a legislative program that an incoming government might have. 00:47:35:20 - 00:48:06:17 Well, Lord Kinnoull, thanks very much indeed for joining Ruth and I on the Pod. Not at all. And and please come again. So we're back and let's just start with what is in the Labour manifesto about House of Lords reform. Your specialist subject. So what Labour's proposing essentially is Lords reform in two stages. So stage one is reform of the appointments process, removing the remaining hereditary peers and introducing an age cap so that the end of a parliament in which a member reaches eighty years of age, they'd have to retire. 00:48:06:19 - 00:48:28:09 And then a second stage longer term of replacing the Lords with an alternative second chamber that's more representative of the nations and regions of the UK, and some kind of consultation proposal on that. But let's just go back to first stage. What are your thoughts? Well, I was quite glad to see this level of detail because I think that for many years it's been clear that something needs to be done with the House of Lords. 00:48:28:11 - 00:48:53:12 There are questions about big reform, which will come on to. But in the meantime, until we get there, there are things that can be done. Now. Reforming the appointments process to me is the most important thing, so I'm really glad to see words in on that. Although again, the words are relatively vague in terms of exactly what they're going to do if we wanted to tighten them up, I think the Prime Minister should commit to accepting the recommendations of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. 00:48:53:14 - 00:49:12:03 I think that the House of Lords Appointments Commission's remit should be broadened to make recommendations not just on the propriety of members, as is the case now, but also on their suitability on whether they're going to make a decent contribution to the House. I know that the chair of the House of Lords Appointments Commission is quite keen on the idea. 00:49:12:05 - 00:49:31:11 And, you know, I mean, this is basic stuff. It shouldn't be controversial that political parties should have to submit and sort of nomination papers explaining why the person is suitable and that the person themselves should have to state what contribution they want to make and that that should all be public. Those are very small things to ask for, and I hope that we're going to see that. 00:49:31:11 - 00:49:56:08 I think that the words on achieving national and regional balance are very interesting, because that suggests that the House of Lords appointments Commission may get some scope to place requirements on the parties to ensure that there's diversity, which would be interesting. That was an interesting one because they were very keen to get, as you say, regional diversity. And one of the big hits against the House of Lords at the moment is that so many of its members live in London or the South East. 00:49:56:10 - 00:50:17:21 But all that can be done with a simply an instruction to the House of Lords Appointments Commission can't it. It doesn't actually need legislation to do that. Well, yes, I think it's the House of Lords Appointments Commission at the end of the day, cannot make the prime Minister do things that the Prime Minister doesn't want to do, because the Prime Minister has this the same as prerogative power to make the recommendations to the monarch as to who should be appointed. 00:50:17:23 - 00:50:39:07 So if you really want to make those kind of rock solid copper bottoms, then you do need legislation. But if there's goodwill in the system, then simply the Prime Minister saying that the House of Lords Appointments Commission, you now have this power to monitor the regional diversity of people coming in and to say to us, actually, we haven't got enough people from the North East or whatever, so can you send us a few more? 00:50:39:12 - 00:51:00:01 I think that would be welcome. You might do similar things on gender. You might look at other aspects as well. And certainly the most important thing of all is party balance, because I think the most important thing is that the House of Lords Appointments Commission could be given are the policing of the size of the House of Lords, which, as the manifesto says, has become too big. 00:51:00:03 - 00:51:23:01 And the reason it's become too big, contrary to what the manifesto says, is not necessarily, as it says, because appointments are for life. It is because prime ministers keep putting too many people in there, and we need to stop that. And the way to stop that is to have an agreed maximum size, and then to have somebody who's keeping an eye on that and the obvious people to keep an eye on it are the House of Lords Appointments Commission and to say, as in Canada, they have an appointed Senate. 00:51:23:01 - 00:51:46:02 In Canada, the size is fixed. Vacancies occur when people leave. So we say 600, 650, whatever number we agree. House of Lords Appointments Commission have a look at the end of the year. How many people have departed? How many vacancies are there? How should they be divvied up between the parties? This would be a rational system. It's not clear in the Labour manifesto that they're going to go that far. 00:51:46:02 - 00:52:05:15 It's not clear what are going to be the components of the new appointments process, but I hope that they're going to be looking at some of those things. What are the big components of Labour's plan? Is the idea of removing the 92 hereditary peers who still sit in the House of Lords, the legacy of a long forgotten political compromise to get most of them removed back in the 1990s. 00:52:05:17 - 00:52:21:06 That is something that is now, in words of one syllable in the manifesto, as we were discussing with Lord Kinnoull and he didn't seem desperately keen on it. I mean, is there a possibility of this being watered down just to make sure it went through the House of Lords nice and easily or even forgotten? Well, we will see. 00:52:21:07 - 00:52:41:06 We've obviously had the bill. Well, obviously to those of us who watch this obsessively, there has been a bill year on year from Lord Grocott called the former Labour chief whip. And previous chair of the Hansard Society. Yes. Trying to get rid of the by elections, the peculiar by elections by which hereditary peers, when they die or retire, are replaced by new hereditary peers. 00:52:41:06 - 00:53:01:06 And this has been going on for over 20 years now. As a result of that compromise that you just referred to Mark, that bill hasn't gone through because the government would never give it backing. Most people in the House of Lords thought it was actually perfectly sensible, and would have been happy to see it go through. But without government backing, it could be blocked by procedural tactics by a few. 00:53:01:08 - 00:53:22:21 I think what Labour's done here is several kind of enough now, if that had been introduced at the time when it was first discussed, which is right after the 1999 reform happened, there probably would be hardly any hereditary peers left by now. So now with the House of Lords being oversize, it's probably got about 200 people in it, too many, nearly 800. 00:53:22:23 - 00:53:51:16 And also with the hereditary peers being overwhelmingly Conservative. So I think it's something like 46 or 48 of the 92 are Conservative, four are Labour, four are Liberal Democrat. So if you want a rebalancing of the House of Lords, which is needed actually, because the Conservatives have got about 100 seats more than Labour, then a very quick and easy way of doing that, at least theoretically, is to get rid of the hereditary peers, because you bring the numbers down and you also bring the Conservative numbers down. 00:53:51:16 - 00:54:09:15 But obviously it's not going to be as uncontroversial as the idea of just sort of letting people depart and not be replaced. So it may reach more opposition in the Lords and gradually rather than natural wastage, if you like. Yes. But I mean, it will have a lot of support in the House of Commons. There's not gonna be any dissenters on the Labour benches. 00:54:09:15 - 00:54:29:14 Whether the Conservatives will oppose it remains to be seen. The Liberal Democrats, I'm sure, will back it if it goes up to the House of Lords with overwhelming support in the House of Commons. The House of Lords does tend to accept those things even when they're not in the manifesto, but perhaps especially when they are, and a system which has byelections in which there are more candidates than voters on occasion. 00:54:29:15 - 00:54:51:04 It is pretty old ditch to try and die in. It is unfinished business. From the 1999 reform, when the vast majority of hereditary peers left. And it's worth remembering that back then, when they did that reform, they did give out a few life peerages to hereditary peers. I mean, there were the ones who stayed as a result of elections inside the parties, the 92 who remained as hereditary. 00:54:51:04 - 00:55:17:13 But there were a few others who were seen as valued and were therefore given life peerages in order that they could continue. And I suspect that that's where the compromise lies. Undoubtedly, there are many hereditary who make, you know, very valuable contributions to the House of Lords. Some of them may be happy to go, but in some cases where there are people who are really considered key and irreplaceable, then maybe life peerages is the way of easing that transition. 00:55:17:13 - 00:55:38:07 And of course, there will still be one hereditary peer left because, as I understand it, the proposals from Labour would leave the Earl Marshal in place because of those ceremonial functions of that hereditary office, which are so rooted in the medieval period somewhere. But that would be the one anomaly that wasn't dealt with. I think I might leave the medieval period to you, Mark. 00:55:38:09 - 00:55:53:09 What about the age cap retiring at 80? I mean, did you expect this? It was a surprise to me that it was in the manifesto, because there's not been much talk at all of that idea. No, it was a surprise to me as well, except in as much as it somehow was leaked a few days before the manifesto was published. 00:55:53:09 - 00:56:13:00 But until then, I absolutely wasn't expecting it. We've already said several times that the House of Lords is too big and the size needs to be brought down, and so I'm not surprised that there's a policy in the Labour manifesto, though, suggesting a route to doing that. And I welcome the fact that they're suggesting a route to doing it. 00:56:13:02 - 00:56:31:03 What I think might have been more pragmatic would have been to say, we have a determination that we're going to bring the House of Lords down from 800 to, let's say, 600, whatever is chosen. I mean that the Lord Speaker's Committee on the size of the House, which actually I was a specialist adviser to, recommended a few years ago that the size should be brought down to 600. 00:56:31:03 - 00:56:56:09 And we've done polling, asking the public what they think about this. We ask them, should the House of Lords be not allowed to be any bigger than the House of Commons? And there's just overwhelming public support for the House of Lords not being bigger than the House of Commons. So if they put that in the manifesto and said it must be 650 or it must be 600, and we are going to consult on ways to do this, and we are going to legislate, even legislate in the first year to bring that about. 00:56:56:11 - 00:57:14:16 Very sensible. I'm not sure that the age of 80 is the one that would have got settled on if they'd done that. I think what's more likely, as you would have seen something a bit more like what happened in 1999 when the parties all agree to shrink by a certain number, and that way they could choose to keep valuable members over 80. 00:57:14:16 - 00:57:37:05 But maybe kick out some members who are under 50 who are not contributing very much. Say, now, this isn't a manifesto. I think they're unlikely to move radically away from it. But the other peculiar thing about the policy is that, as Mark indicated, it's not going to actually kick in in terms of the size until the end of the policy, which I find very peculiar. 00:57:37:07 - 00:57:51:14 If you want to bring the size of the House of Lords down, why would you wait 4 or 5 years to do it? I was just thinking on the way to this recording, is there some sort of a compromise here, maybe where they say, okay, we can see it's upset a lot of people in the House of Lords. 00:57:51:14 - 00:58:16:20 This suggestion, maybe there's a way through where they say it's a retirement age of 85, but we're going to introduce it now because then you would get some shrinkage straight away. I think a retirement age of 85, there's still some very valuable people in there who are over 85, don't get me wrong, but it's a bit less controversial because a lot of people are very active in the early 80s, and then you would get the immediate shrinkage, which is what we all want. 00:58:16:21 - 00:58:45:09 House of Lords library figures, which suggests that there are 186 peers who are over 80 or plus. So that's the kind of order of magnitude in the end of this Parliament. But also then 274 peers are aged between 1779. So I don't know what the share of those is that will be reaching 80 at the end of this Parliament, but clearly some of them, so potentially you're looking at some 200 plus would be retiring removed at the end of this parliament. 00:58:45:09 - 00:59:05:16 But for me the interesting point is Labour group is considerably smaller than the Conservatives in the House. The average age of Labour's group is also quite a bit older. I mean, Conservative average age of 67. The average age of the Labour group is 74. So you're going to be reaching a situation where more Labour peers get to 80 earlier than the Conservative peers. 00:59:05:16 - 00:59:28:13 More of them would have to be departing. Given those numbers, Labour could be finding itself with a problem. Yes. Well, there's a lot of complexity here. I mean, if people in the House of Lords are really unhappy with the retirement age, I think the Labour peers are not so much the problem. Because first of all, I think that if there's a Labour government, there's quite a lot of Labour peers who might just voluntarily retire straight away. 00:59:28:13 - 00:59:50:06 They've been hanging on and hanging on to try and do good service to the party, because they know that if they retire, the Conservative government would have been unlikely to replace them, like for like with new Labour peers. Whereas clearly, if Keir Starmer is the prime Minister, he'd be delighted to make some appointments. So there might be a bunch of people who go quite happily and are replaced with people who are significantly younger and able to be active and take ministerial office. 00:59:50:08 - 01:00:13:10 And I suppose also that you might get a situation where it comes into the calculations of a prime minister. You want to appoint them young, so you've got plenty of time for them to make their mark in the House of Lords before they reach the magic age of 80. Well, this is a danger you're absolutely right. I mean, we've had these cases just in the last year or so of one person who was appointed, aged 30, Charlotte Owen, and then applied come, remember, who was actually under 30. 01:00:13:12 - 01:00:42:21 Those people are potentially there for 50 plus years. It would be really unhelpful to create a system which incentivizes parties to put people in in their 30s, in order that they can get them for 50 years. The way to deal with that is, as I said before, to have a formula for how the seats are shared out between the parties, that it's rational, that it's based in some way on vote shares in general election seats in the House of Commons, the Burns Committee, the Lord Speaker's Committee on Size of the House did make a recommendation on this, which is quite firm and clear. 01:00:42:23 - 01:01:11:00 If you implement it, that you would remove as essentially the incentives for parties to try and kind of stuff their benches with young people who'd be there forever because they'd be assured that they'd get a fair share of the seats, no matter who was in government. But I was going to say, if if your real concern is with the retirement age and whether it's the right thing, if it appears in there worrying about that, then I suppose the primary problem here is the Conservatives, because they're overrepresented. 01:01:11:02 - 01:01:32:20 There have been over appointments in recent years by Conservative prime ministers of their own. This is a problem now because the place is unbalanced. If the Conservatives perhaps wanted to come forward with an alternative suggestion to say, look, please don't throw out all our valuable over 80s, we would prefer to do an internal election to get rid of people, to bring the numbers down. 01:01:32:22 - 01:01:48:03 I don't see why the government wouldn't be happy with that, you know, but maybe the boot on slightly on somebody else's foot to make a counteroffer if they're not happy with the age of 80, rather than throwing up their hands in horror and having a big arguments about it. What's your preferred answer? Because there are some alternatives. Yeah. 01:01:48:03 - 01:02:11:04 So sort of replace the blunt instrument of the age and replace it with a test of will quality. Perhaps not, but usefulness. Yeah. I mean, to be honest, I suspect that the majority of people on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords have their eye on a few people on the Conservative benches that they wouldn't mind being rid of themselves if they were, if they were given the choice over who were the most useful members. 01:02:11:10 - 01:02:34:20 And I also bet that most of those would not be over 80. Now, this could all be dismissed by some critics as tinkering around the edges. Labour are also proposing to take a longer term look and consult about the future shape of the House of Lords. They haven't bought into the massive Gordon Brown plan that was floated a while ago for reconfiguring the Lords, but they want to take a look at its fundamental nature in the future. 01:02:34:22 - 01:02:52:09 Is that something that you think is essentially a way of kicking this into touch? And incoming Prime Minister will always take a look at the House of Lords and think, well, reforming. That's a third term issue for me. I have no idea what's going on inside Keir Starmer's mind. I suspect that it's not just a cynical ploy to kick the can down the road. 01:02:52:11 - 01:03:11:05 he commissioned Gordon Brown to do that big review of the Constitution, which the bit that made the most headlines, although it was actually a minority part of the report, was about changing the House of Lords into a chamber of the Nations and regions. There clearly are people in the Labour Party who are properly, seriously interested in doing this. 01:03:11:07 - 01:03:37:02 I don't know whether Keir Starmer is one of them, but, I think it is sensible to say that we're going to get ahead with some of these small things while we're thinking about it, because otherwise it's possible that nothing will happen. But I think that probably there are many people in the Labour Party were perfectly serious about having a debate on longer term reform, introducing elections and more democratic accountability and so on, but you certainly can't solve that overnight. 01:03:37:04 - 01:03:59:19 But even the Brown report was pretty vague on what the makeup of this chamber would be. It couldn't really agree on the size. It wasn't clear how the seats were going to be shared between different parts of the country. Would they be elected with some of them be sort of indirect election by the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Parliament, this kind of thing, if it is going to be elected, what's the electoral system? 01:03:59:19 - 01:04:19:06 You know, this devil is really in the detail and I think it actually wouldn't be right for the UK government in London to hand down some fixed view on how this should work. I think it's right that there should be consultation, that the devolved institutions are involved in, that the people out in the English regions are involved in that, and that's what they're saying they're going to do. 01:04:19:06 - 01:04:39:11 They're going to have consultation. We don't know what shape it's going to take. This is going to be an all singing, all dancing royal commission, touring the country, taking views, grinding out a massively authoritative report. By the end of the first term of the Starmer premiership. Well, of course, the last Royal commission that we had in the UK was the Royal Commission on House of Lords Reform, chaired by Lord Wakeham, which reported in the year 2000. 01:04:39:11 - 01:04:56:13 So 24 years ago, and I've been in the game long enough that I actually gave evidence to that royal commission. But I think they want to go for something more inclusive. I mean, one of the things that's interesting that I've mooted in the blogpost, in our series on the manifestos, which is on the Constitution Unit blog, should anybody want to go and have a look. 01:04:56:13 - 01:05:12:18 There's a whole series on all sorts of issues in the manifestos around the Constitution. That's what's known in the trade as an organic plug, by the way, I should say there'll be on the show notes for the episode, but one of the things that we're wondering is, might they even think about holding a citizen's assembly on House of Lords reform? 01:05:12:18 - 01:05:42:04 Because it's a perfect kind of issue for a citizen's assembly. I know you're a bit of a skeptic about these, Mark, but these these sort of things that are in the too difficult box that politicians cannot agree on, that they may even have a degree of vested interest in certain outcomes. If you throw them to the public and get people debating and deliberating on the evidence, the public may come up with some compromise solutions which can get the politicians out of a difficult corner, that they know that if there's some public backing for it, and maybe that resolves the way forward, I think it probably couldn't do any harm. 01:05:42:04 - 01:06:02:02 We've been stuck on long term Lords reform for decades, and so arguably so, yes. So I think there will be some sort of consultation on what form it will take. I don't know, and I suspect it's going to be a later in this Parliament or even possibly a second term Labour government, should they be lucky enough to get one which might act on those proposals? 01:06:02:04 - 01:06:22:06 Plenty for us constitutional anoraks to get our teeth into. So I think we'll leave it there, Meg. Thanks ever so much for coming in and talking to us. That was fascinating. And as we said, we'd been able to find access to all the Constitution Units reports on this and the blogs, on our show notes. And I think, Mark, we should probably just, tell listeners what our plans are for the next couple of weeks. 01:06:22:06 - 01:06:43:00 Yes, indeed. We're going to be looking next week at the preparations for what promises to be a vast new intake of MPs into the House of Commons. How is the House itself preparing for their arrival? Everything from the boring organizational stuff about setting up offices to starting to marinate the new MPs in the processes and procedures and hidden rules of the House. 01:06:43:02 - 01:07:08:04 Yeah, and the following week, then, of course, is polling week. Absolutely. We we decided they probably wasn't a good idea to record on polling day before we know the results. So we're actually going to delay the episode and we're going to be here at Hansard Society Towers recording the podcast on the Saturday after the election, when we've had time to digest the results and clear the hangovers and clear the hangover, well, speak for yourself and hopefully we we will have on that episode. 01:07:08:04 - 01:07:23:19 Unless he gets a better offer, we will have Michael Crick, who knows more about the candidates and future MPs than pretty much anyone in the country. That's something to look forward to. We'll be taking a look, an early look, at how the new House of Commons will be shaped, how it will work, and who the prospective big characters within it will be. 01:07:24:00 - 01:07:35:07 So tune in for that. As well. And in the meantime, thanks everyone, and thank you, Meg. Thank you for having me. We. 01:07:35:09 - 01:07:53:08 Well, that's all from us. For this week's episode of Parliament Matters, please hit the Follow or Subscribe button on your podcast app to get the next episode as soon as it lands, and help us to make the podcast better by leaving a rating or review on Apple or Spotify and sharing your feedback. Our producer tells us it's important for the algorithm to give the show a boost. 01:07:53:10 - 01:08:11:23 Mark, tell us more about the algorithm. What do I know about algorithms? You know, I write my scripts with a quill pen on vellum and then send it in by carrier pigeon. Well, before we go, a quick reminder also that you can send us your questions on all things Parliament by visiting 01:08:12:00 - 01:08:36:01 We'll be discussing them in future episodes, including our special Urgent Questions editions dedicated to what you want to know about Parliament, and you can find us across social media @HansardSociety to get more content related to the show and the wider work of the Hansard Society. 01:08:36:03 - 01:08:54:11 Any Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. For more information, visit or find us on social media @HansardSociety.

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