Oliver Heald is the MP for North-East Hertfordshire and a former Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
I served as a member of the 2007 Parliamentary Cross-Party Working Group convened by Lord Falconer and Jack Straw MP to consider House of Lords reform. More recently I have been a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill. I was one of the 12 signatories of yesterday’s Alternative Report as I did not feel that the Joint Committee’s report considered one of the most important questions – what is the best system for elected members to be elected.
The Draft Bill spoke only of direct elections on the basis of regional areas. In my view this system is flawed. Yesterday I published a pamphlet for the Society of Conservative Lawyers arguing that direct regional elections would –
• Jeopardise the Government’s ability to govern effectively;
• Weaken the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament;
• Blur the clarity of the constituency link between MPs and their constituents and lead to conflicts at local level;
• Reduce the quality and extent of the pool of talent available for the Second Chamber;
• Increase election costs and the complexity of the voting system and
• Increase the costs of running the Second Chamber.
The Government should consider a system of indirect elections known as the Secondary Mandate. Indirect elections are commonly used for national Second Chambers. Internationally, a form of indirect election is used to elect the membership of 34 Second Chambers and 16 of these are wholly indirectly elected.
The Joint Committee received proposals for various types of indirect election, but one type was the system where votes for the House of Commons are translated into a proportionately representative Upper House, or its elected element. Under the Secondary Mandate, each Party would publish a list of its candidates and would gain seats in the Second Chamber in exact proportion to the share of the electorate’s support it won. Philip Collins of The Times has described it as a system where “if the turnout were 100% and the Tories won 40% of the popular vote, they would get 40% of the seats in the Upper House.”
The Secondary Mandate is simple but proportionate. It has none of the complexity of STV or the complex application of electoral formulae. The experience of the Alternative Vote referendum suggests that the public like a straightforward system.