The home of our democracy is
falling apart and it is plain for anyone to see. We have buckets in the
corridors collecting drips, dregs and sometimes even gushes. Sometimes water
even mixes with electricity – as happened with a leak in my office – and yet we
have become so conditioned to these things that no one bats an eyelid and we
just get on with it. Sadly, the same can be said of our democratic processes.
Brexit is many things, but more
than most it is a rejection of our politics and a longing for a new
constitutional settlement. The myth that “the public will lose faith in
politicians if we don’t honour the referendum” is based on the false premise
that anyone trusted politicians in the first place. Brexit is happening
precisely because people don’t trust politicians nor the way that
politics is done. If there is to be any hope at healing the divides in this
country, we must fundamentally change the way that politics is done and is seen
to be done.
The Restoration Bill going through Parliament tries to ignore the political
earthquake that we are living through and aims to spend several billion pounds
keeping everything pretty much the same. The Houses of Parliament were designed
and built before women were allowed to vote, and when the franchise was restricted
to land owning men. It was in the time where Prime Ministers were Lords and the
Commons was seen as subordinate – long before the conventions that underpin our
still fledgling democracy came to be. It is a Palace designed for wealthy men
to continue their Old Etonian ways, while the two main parties take it in turns
to run the Government. This year’s elections and current opinion polls are an
indication that the two party system is on the verge of collapse. The seating
arrangements in the Commons will be chaotic if the next general election splits
the vote four, five or even six ways. Plus, the introduction of PR at a future
date would make two rows of opposing benches a redundant approach to running
The current draft legislation makes absolutely no attempt to engage with the
future of our political system, and will instead spend millions of pounds
turning the temporary accommodation into a perfect replica of the dysfunctional
House of Commons chamber, complete with replica division lobbies where MPs
waste days of their working lives queuing up to vote. We live in an age of
smart phones and interactive democracy – can’t we save money on the architects’
fees and just press a button to vote? No longer will every vote take fifteen minutes
or even longer for hundreds of very highly paid people to shuffle down a
corridor, sometimes many times a day. No other democracy in the world indulges
such silly ideas, why should we?
This Bill dodges any public consultation or
engagement with the project – leaving it all but guaranteed that this project
will be seen as a huge waste of money with politicians spending billions on
themselves. The Bill does nothing to consider how our political system might,
or should, change over the coming years decades and beyond. And the Bill misses
the opportunity of using the temporary parliamentary chambers as testbeds for
improved ways of working, which might save millions of pounds in even a very
short period of time.
To ensure that we restore and renew our democracy,
to make it fit for the twenty first century and beyond, I will be proposing
amendments to this Bill. These amendments will require the Sponsor Body to
effectively consult with the public, to use the results in their plans, and to
consider the desirability of different ways of working in the temporary and
future parliamentary chambers. The current plans waste billions of pounds on
maintaining a state of total obsolescence.
I today launched the House of Lords (Elections and Reform) Bill. This comes on the day that the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) has criticised the Government for kicking the issue of Lords reform into the long grass for more than 107 years.
Continue reading “Green Party Peer Launches Bid To Scrap House of Lords”
You are playing an essential role in our parliamentary democracy, in making your voices heard. I’m hopeful that your MPs will listen and start to think hard about the fact that our voting system is completely broken.
Continue reading “Message to ‘Make Votes Matter’ mass lobby of Parliament”
Please support our work
Unlike MPs, who receive state funding, members of the House of Lords don’t receive any financial support to employ staff or fund office costs.
As the only Green in the House of Lords, covering as many issues as I can, I need staff to help me with research and press work. I have a small, part time team (equivalent to one full time person) who are paid for from donations from people like you. Continue reading “Crowdfunder to support Jenny’s work”
Did you know that the Government are able to wave through masses of tweaks to the law with little to no scrutiny by a process called “secondary legislation”?
Continue reading “Starting a rebellion against secondary legislation”
I love watching a good game of football, but I would never let that stand in the way of voting through environmental protections in the Lords. I’m furious that a ‘cross party’ group of peers have convinced Lord Krebs to drop the amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill today, just so that we can reach the amendment on giving the commons a meaningful vote before the game starts. Quite simply, the opposition whips were afraid that their peers would leave, while the Rugby and Cricket loving Conservatives stayed. This is no way to run Parliament and it’s time we replaced the Lords with an elected second chamber. Continue reading “Football scuppers Lords vote on environmental protection”
One of the surprises of life in the Lords is that our laws are partly decided by the bar room stamina of government supporting peers. The Lords defeated the government three times yesterday over the charter of fundamental rights and also earned a good concession from them over the protection of public health. The Opposition was on a roll and not one of the peers in the chamber got up to speak against the amendments sponsored by green NGOs to retain the EU’s environmental protections and principles. No one opposed, but vast numbers of Conservative peers were hanging out in the bars and restaurants, waiting for their whips to call them to vote. In the end, the Minister rose, made concessions and the amendment was withdrawn. Continue reading “Withdrawal Bill debate shows why we need Lords reform”
A recent report by the Electoral Reform Society says that 115 peers claim £1.3m despite not speaking in Lords for nine months. I’m happy to say that I’m not one of them. I spoke nearly a hundred times last year and as the only Green in the room (the only Green Party peer), I’m in a unique position to raise issues that are often ignored. From civil liberties to the use of pesticides, I can influence what issues are discussed. Continue reading “Fewer Lords is no guarantee of improved efficiency”
Today, the government revealed that they are reaching for the Henry 8th powers, which are the nearest this country comes to making law by Ministerial diktat. The Lords has to do everything in its power to fight this government power grab. Continue reading “Lords must fight government power grab”
I have written to every member of the Lords outlining the reasons why they should support the transformation to a democratically elected second chamber. This would use proportional representation to elect a new house, but keep many existing peers as non-voting experts.
This is the first Bill to come from the Lords with this mix of proposals. I’m not the only Lord who wants to abolish their right to vote in the second chamber, but I’m aiming to be one of the most energetic peers in making it happen. I’m relatively new to the Lords and I hope my fresh approach will help fast track the various discussions about Lords reform. Continue reading “Brexit makes Lords reform essential and urgent”