- What exactly are you proposing?
- What are the options for House of Lords reform?
- How would the Citizens' Parliament be chosen?
- How would decisions in the Citizens' Parliament be made?
Lords Reform is long overdue, but our politicians can't get the required legislation through parliament, perhaps because the issue is so politically charged.
One way to confront highly political issues about the way our democracy functions is to empower a randomly selected, representative sample of ordinary people to tackle the problem and come up with a proposal. The participants don't need to worry about media ratings, and don't have to win an election, or please party factions or donors - in many ways they are more free than our politicians to make impartial decisions for the long term common good of the country.
So we want such an assembly - a Citizens' Parliament - to consider the options, consult widely, deliberate together, and come up with a proposal. This process would be done over several weekends over the course of a year. The timetable may be something like this:
January-March: Learning phase: The participants study the history, options and complexities of House of Lords reform.
April-June: Consultation phase: The participants consult widely, around the country and in their own constituencies.
July-September: Deliberation phase: The participants deliberate together, and request more information if needed.
October-November: Decision phase: They come up with some options, and vote to choose a final one.
Then the proposal would be put to a national referendum.
The options given in the open letter for House of Lords reform are:
- Replacement with a fully elected Senate: members of the reformed House of Lords would be elected. Options include the number of members, the electoral system (first-past-the-post, proportional representation, or another method), the length of the term (5 years, 10 years, or 15 years), and various other factors.
- Replacement with a fully appointed Senate: an independent commission would be set up to determine membership of the House of Lords. Options to consider would be the number of members, what criteria are used to appoint new members, and how the commission operates.
- Replacement with a fully allotted Senate: members would be chosen randomly from the electoral roll, ensuring that the Senate was a representative sample of the people. Options would include length of term (for example, 5 years, perhaps with one fifth of them being replaced every year), and exactly which factors would be considered relevant in determining representativeness (for example, gender, age, educational level).
- Some combination of the above three options: some people have proposed various combinations of the above options, for example, 80% elected and 20% appointed, or two thirds allotted and one third elected.
- Its abolition: some people believe the House of Lords should be abolished and legislation from the House of Commons should not be subject to a house of review.
Several other important issues are raised by the reform:
- would the new positions be paid, and if so, at what level?
- would they have staff, and if so, how many?
- would the powers of the reformed House remain the same, be reduced, or be increased?
The people would be chosen using stratified random selection from everyone on the electoral roll. The process would be done in a few steps. First, a large number of randomly chosen citizens (around 5000) would be asked if they are interested in participating: it would not be compulsory, and would not be paid, although all expenses would be covered, including childcare if needed. From those who express an interest, a stratified random selection is made to ensure that the final parliament is gender balanced with a proportional number of people across all age groups and education levels, matching the latest census data.
This representative sample of people would form the citizens' parliament.
The citizen parliamentarians would typically sit at tables of around 10 people, together with a facilitator and a note-taker. They would discuss proposals and issues and the facilitator would ensure that everyone's voice was heard and no one dominated the discussion.
All the tables would be networked together and a "theme team" could see what issues and options every table was discussing and would identify the top themes. These themes (or issues or options) would be presented to the entire parliament and all the participants would have voting keypads to confirm (or not) that the options had been identified and ordered correctly.
The parliament could call experts or witnesses to present information to the entire assembly, or present detailed reports. Questions could, of course, be asked.
The tables discuss and refine all the top options, finally voting for their preferred outcome. In this way decisions are made.
This is obviously a brief and very simplified description to give the general idea. The exact process would be far more detailed and precise.