Unelected Lords debate elections for MEPs

Lord Rennard 05/03/2012 – 8:56 pm

Today, I challenged the Government to improve upon the unpopular ‘closed list’ system for electing Britain’s MEPs.  The debate was foreshadowed by a piece I wrote for Politics home: http://http://www.epolitix.com/latestnews/article-detail/newsarticle/more-power-to-choose-meps/

There was a fierce row about this issue in the House of Lords in 1999 when Labour carried out their Manifesto commitment (and a legal obligation) to introduce Proportional Representation for the European Parliament elections. 

Many peers including the Liberal Democrats and crossbenchers such as Lord Alton (for whom I am a former election agent) objected to Labour’s use of a system that puts power in the hands of political parties rather than voters.  The system means that the political parties rank their candidates in order of preference so that voters who support a particular party have no say in which candidates from that party might get elected. 

I asked if “Could not consideration be given to using, for example, the transferable system already in use in Northern Ireland for electing MEPs, which is in use in Scotland for local elections and which the Government propose for future elections to the House of Lords? Failing that, will the Government at least consider using an open-list system, which would give more power to voters and less to political parties?”

The response was disappointing as those who criticised the system in 1999 seem not to have thought yet about changing it before the next European Parliament elections in 2014, although Lord Howell of Guildford did say that it could be considered.

More surprising to me, however, was the attack in the House of Lords from Lord Rooker on  ‘unaccountable MEPs’.  The former MEP sitting behind me, Lord Teverson, was clearly shocked that unelected peers could say this of elected MEPs  and former European Commissioner Lord Kinnock attacked the negative portrayal of the European Parliament .

More annoying to me was the way in which Labour backbenchers (Lord Grocott) and Tory (Lord Cormack) claimed that a referendum rejection of a system (Alternative Vote) that is anything but Proportional Representation was somehow a rejection of PR when this option was not allowed by either of these parties to be on the ballot paper.  It is a shame that so many parliamentarians seem to know so little about the different systems by which people can get elected – and might one day get elected to the House of Lords!

The debate is http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/lords/todays-lords-debates/read/unknown/31/

Last Word on Privacy

Lord Haskel 05/03/2012 – 11:23 am

This is my last word on privacy on the internet because the debate and discussion is now everywhere.  The EU Commission, 39 US Attorneys General, the press – even the Financial Times had an editorial about it – and in the bloggersphere.    

To retain our goodwill hopefully businesses will try to strike a sensible balance between power and responsibility.  Otherwise there will be a backlash and others will offer more acceptable conditions.  Governments will realise how important computer science education is and we will start getting good advice.  We will also become more alert as new ways are found to trespass on our private space.  Incidentally, I have also learned that our photos are vulnerable and so are our video conversations.

But none of this should make us deny ourselves the pleasures and usefulness of social networking.  Let it progress within the bounds we find acceptable.

All Calm on the Westminster Front

Baroness Murphy 03/03/2012 – 11:39 am

Murphy at sea

Were you wondering where I’d gone? Well I’m back now from Central America and the Caribbean and mightily pleased I missed all that cold weather. I was in some remote spots and got news from Britain only intermittently. But the health bill figured in almost every bulletin. Turmoil, Coalition falling apart, political storms at Westminster, doctors and nurses noisily opposing the reforms and a beleaguered Andrew Lansley on the brink of being sacked. Or so ‘twas said.

So the moment I landed I got out Hansard on line and read through the debates in the Lords that I’d missed. No political storms, no significant challenge, Earl Howe working away negotiating some sensible changes and generously responding to amendments. Of the 6 votes so far, only the minor first amendment was lost by a 4 votes. The rest were won by the Government with a very comfortable majority, which means there were few Lib Dem or Conservative rebels (the maximum number of coalition rebels for any one vote was 4 and that occurred only once) and the crossbenchers largely supported the Coalition. The turn-outs were good.

The week I returned was recess but Earl Howe asked if he could meet me with the bill team that week. He’d been pondering over an amendment that Lord Warner and I had spoken to in Committee and were due to speak to again at Report. We wanted a mechanism to ensure that the Secretary of State could ensure that NHS monies could be transferred to Social Care, or Housing or indeed other organisations if it was in the best interest of patients. There are mechanisms in place at grass roots level but they are rarely, indeed insufficiently used. The bill team came up with the idea of inserting a Secretary of State’s direction to that effect in Schedule 4, which addressed my concerns perfectly, and I was able to table it in time for the debate on Monday. We also had a good discussion about how to achieve a satisfactory process to monitor and intervene in failing hospitals before they get to crisis point. By Wednesday Earl Howe had produced a mechanism which Lord Warner and I felt was an excellent solution.

So in spite of the media hype, in spite of the apparent opposition generated by sackfuls of misinformed briefings and letters, so far the Lords have been listening more carefully to the arguments in the Chamber than the barrage outside. This may not last…we are getting to some controversial bits of the Bill next week  and after all the duty of the Opposition is to oppose.


Repression of Peace and Democracy Party in Turkey

Lord Hylton 02/03/2012 – 11:01 am

I asked HMG this Question about recent arrests in Turkey (see HL 15667 under 27 Feb 2012 : Column WA325)

Israel – Illegal and Provocative Behaviour

Lord Hylton 02/03/2012 – 10:59 am

Please follow this link to my Questions and Answers re Israel -particularly HL 15557; HL15558; HL 15700; HL 15697; HL15881

Also   HL15698