The Sunday Times yesterday carried a leak as to one of the recommendations that will be appearing in the Government White Paper on Lords reform: provision for a recall election for elected members of the upper house.
The proposal rather reflects the muddled thinking that has underpinned work on the White Paper. The idea is to have elected members serve single long-terms of 10-15 years. The reason for this is to try to retain the independence that characterises the existing House. By not being subject to re-election, members would be able to speak and act freely. However, recognising that once elected, members could decide to do little or nothing, yet be paid – the intention is that they should be salaried – the Government now suggests provision for a recall election: if a set number of electors sign a recall petition, the member is removed and a new election triggered.
The intention is that this will be used against members who do little, but there will be nothing presumably to stop it being used on political grounds. How, then, does one protect the independence of members who may have to be looking constantly over their shoulders in case political opponents threaten a recall petition? MPs at least know they are secure until the next general election. Members of the second chamber will only be secure until someone starts a recall petition: even if not successful, it will drag the member into what is likely to be a bruising political conflict.
One may be overly optimistic if one assumes that this is the only muddled thinking that will appear in the White Paper. One need only look at previous White Papers on the subject.