Leader of the Opposition Speech: Law Reform Society
Permission for speech and LRS endorsement granted by AV Josh
Ladies and Gentlemen, esteemed colleagues, thank you all for joining me today.
This week history was made, for the first time in this nation’s history we now have a dually elected bicameral legislature, the House of Lords is no more, the Senate stands in its stead. I have long argued that it is unconscionable that individuals who are unelected should hold a role in our political system, they had no mandate from the people and they had no way in which to be held accountable for their decisions. It is for these reasons then that I am sure that there will be many of you who join me in welcoming the history that has been made, we have removed the unelected from the halls of power and produced a genuinely democratic alternative. But now that we have the Senate, what now?
The national results for the Senate were a triumph for the Conservative Party, no question about it. We have the most Senate seats by a country mile, only finished lower than second in one region, won a clear majority of the regions, and even topped the pile in Wales meaning that Labour lost a national election there for the first time in about a century if you ignore our parallel success in the Welsh Assembly. But the problem that has arisen as articulated most wonderfully in the Times this morning is that we have very much received a rainbow Senate, a Senate where cobbling together a majority is borderline impossible meaning that it shall be at best a Senate of indecision with the only agreement being possible being the agreement to disagree. With a Senate as empowered as our current one we run the very real risk of reaching a situation not dissimilar to our American cousins where effective decision making is impossible and a culture of partisan blocking rules the roost unless you have a clear majority in both Chambers. Foreseeing this risk in the Senate’s inception I introduced a safeguard against Government shutdown, the retention of certain sections of the 1911 Parliament Act to ensure that a budget can always be passed by the Government. I believe passionately that this is a strong safeguard that can be expanded upon as we consider other measures to prevent a never ending deadlock in the Senate. This paper here before you outlines a number of proposals that the Conservative Party shall be taking into the room with us as we enter cross-party talks on the future of the Senate.
The central issue with the Senate is that building a majority is essentially impossible without the inclusion of ten parties, all of whom could reasonably expect to gain something in return for their support whether that be policy, concession, or cabinet position. It is therefore necessary to re-examine the arithmetic used to divide up Senators. In Greece they have a system where a number of their MPs are elected through a combination of more and less proportional means with 1/6th of their representatives being elected by the national popular vote with those 50 MPs all going to the party that wins the highest share of said vote. I propose that we re-examine that paradigm and apply it to the UK’s Senate. I propose that in each region the party that wins the highest share of the popular vote is given 25% of that region’s allotment of Senators to add to their total. As we currently do not elect the entire Senate at once it would be impractical to give that vote share to the highest national vote winner and as such the principle is modified in this document to reflect the different system. If this system were applied in this week’s election then it would be possible to form a majority in the Senate with only four parties rather than the rainbow coalition we are currently facing of seven political parties, this will allow for a far stabler upper chamber that is less-prone to the absolute chaos and upheaval that is a seven party government.
Secondly, in this paper we examined the possibility of forming a Committee of the Whole Parliament on legislation that is forever ping ponging back and forth between the Commons and the Senate. As a Committee of the Whole House is a Committee stage held not by select committee, but instead by the entirety of the House of Commons, the Committee of the Whole Parliament shall be a joint sitting of the House of Commons and the Senate chaired by either the Speaker of the Commons or the Speaker of the Senate where the entirety of the Houses of Parliament shall be granted three courses of action:
- Adopt the bill in its entirety
- Reject the bill in its entirety
- Amend the bill
Under these proposals the decision to adopt the bill or to reject it would require an absolute majority of all 1050 (1150 if the 25% rule is adopted) elected MPs and Senators, 526 (576 if the 25% rule is adopted) votes and the bill will bypass the usual channels and head straight to the desk of Her Majesty the Queen for Royal Assent. With these proposals Parliament will be faced with a straight choice at the end of the day, can this bill be approved by a majority of elected officials or can it not? As an additional bonus that will also be discussed during the cross-party talks we shall examine if there are grounds to introduce a maximum number of times a bill can be put to an ultimate vote to adopt or reject to prevent the Committee of the Whole Parliament from being made to sit all day by a handful of abstainers.
Thirdly we shall examine the potential for amending the Fixed Term Parliaments Act to allow for Double Dissolution. In this paper the Law Reform Society and I advocate for a provision allowing for double dissolution if an absolute majority can be found in a Committee of the Whole Parliament. Double dissolution would allow for a fresh election to both chambers should one become necessary either democratically or practically. For example in a situation where both the House of Commons and the Senate are unable to find stable working majorities it may become necessary to send both questions back to the people so that they may try and solve the deadlock if Parliament cannot.
These are the three main policies that I intend to take into the meeting of Party leaders to discuss the future of the Senate. I have spoken about them extensively with senior Conservative Party Senators and I have their full support on this issue. I would like to thank the Law Reform Society for their assistance in drafting these proposals and if they are to be accepted then I am sure that I will be back here in the pursuit of help with drafting the proposals into legislation. But whatever happens we must not lost sight of the facts. The United Kingdom made history this week, fact. The United Kingdom now has, for the first time in its long and storied history, an almost fully democratically elected legislature, fact. I am immensely proud of the Conservative Party’s performances across the country this week. We are the largest party in Wales and the Senate, we deprived the Lib Dems and the SNP of majorities in Cornwall and Scotland respectively, and we had our best ever result in the London Assembly where we finished joint top with the Labour Party. Don’t let anyone tell you differently the Conservative Party won well and truly, but now we must put aside the divisions of the campaign and come together in the name of cross-party reform to ensure that our legislature is fit for purpose. Later today I shall meet with the leaders of all parties represented in Parliament to discuss these proposals and any that they want to bring to the table. I urge them to come full of compromise, collaborative spirit, and hunger to see the British people done right by. Whatever changes we make over the coming days will see winners and losers perhaps, but when it comes to our constitution the only winners and losers are the British people, they win when we work together and they are subjected to good governance, they lose when we are divided and they are subjected to disjointed government.
Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire
Leader of the Opposition (2014-16)
Prime Minister (2014)
Parliamentary Experience: Novice (25)
Media Experience: Experienced (62)
Policy Experience: Novice (29)
It's a good speech, but it didn't happen at the LRS. + for the Conservatives; bit of scepticism around Mac as he actually proposed the Senate in the first place.
Labour Party Adviser
Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence Moderator