Female. Education: London School of Economics, B.S.; Middlesex University, M.A.
Researcher and party officer. South Bank University, researcher; Constitution Unit, University College, London, senior research fellow, 1998—. Formerly worked as national women's officer for British Labour Party; former parliamentary researcher. Advisor House of Commons Leader Robin Cook, 2001-03; consultant to Royal Commission on Reform of the House of Lords.
Also author of reports and briefings for Constitutional Unit, including Women's Representation in UK Politics: What Can Be Done within the Law?, 1996; An Appointed Upper House: Lessons from Canada, 1998; A Vocational Upper House?: Lessons from Ireland, 1999; A Directly Elected Upper House: Lessons from Italy and Australia, 1999; (with Aisling Reidy) Second Chambers as Constitutional Guardians and Protectors of Human Rights, 1999; and Resolving Disputes between the Chambers, 1999. Contributor to books, including The State and the Nations: The First Year of Devolution in the UK, 2000, and Second Chambers, edited by N. Baldwin and D. Shell, Frank Cass, 2001; contributor to journals including Guardian, Journal of Legislative Studies, Parliamentary Affairs, Political Quarterly, Scotsman, Times Higher Education Supplement, and Modern Law Review.
A member of the Constitution Unit, an independent think tank based at University College, London, Meg Russell has written a number of reports on second chambers in parliamentary governments, an issue of particular importance in the United Kingdom in light of Parliamentary reforms enacted at the turn of the twenty-first century. In her 2000 book Reforming the House of Lords: Lessons from Overseas Russell examines and compares second chambers in Canada, Australia, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, and Ireland. Following an overview of issues that include the role of politics and personalities, administration, legislation, committees and investigative work, and constitutional and constituency roles, Russell considers what lessons might be learned from the examples of these overseas second chambers.
In Reforming the House of Lords Russell concludes that Germany's Bundesrat may be the best model as the only second chamber to enjoy general public support. Russell points out that, since the Bundesrat represents provincial governments, it has the standing to challenge both the lower house and the federal government; since it also represents the political parties, it asserts itself with restraint. John Vincent explained in the London Review of Books that Russell "wants to see a new rationale for the Upper House as a chamber of nations and regions. This involves dividing England into nine regions, each roughly equal to Scotland or Wales. If these are mere areas for electoral purposes …, that is harmless enough. If on the contrary, regionalism is part of a less than benign assault on the unitary nation in the interests of a Brussels-inspired 'Europe of the Regions,' not a few cries of alarm will be raised."
Commenting on Russell's work in Contemporary Review, George Wedd noted that Reforming the House of Lords can serve as "a useful handbook for everyone engaged in deciding what might come in 'Stage Two' of the UK reforms." Alan J. Ward praised Russell's scholarship in his review for the Australian Journal of Political Science, noting that the author "set herself a huge task for a book that was completed in only a year. It is unavoidably repetitive in places, and some academics might find it too neutral, or inconclusive, for their tastes, but her task is to provide data for policy makers, not construct a theory of second chambers. Given that limitation, the book is a unique piece of research that deserves a far wider readership than just the policy community in the United Kingdom."
Part of her responsibilities as a member of the Constitutional Unit is to compile reports and briefings for the use of political leaders, and others involved in public policy. Her 1996 report, titled Women'sRepresentation in UK Politics: What Can Be Done within the Law?, addresses women's underrepresentation in political office, particularly at higher levels of government. Women members of Parliament serve in far lower numbers than their counterparts in Germany, Denmark, or Sweden, despite the advances made by the Sexual Discrimination Act of 1976. This report, according to a New Statesman reviewer, evaluates the potential for adopting "an electoral law … which would allow parties to adopt quota systems, without making them compulsory, thus working towards fairer representation."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Australian Journal of Political Science, March, 2001, Alan J. Ward, review of Reforming the House of Lords: Lessons from Overseas, p. 198.
Choice, October, 2000, M. Curtis Rutgers, review of Reforming the House of Lords, p. 405.
Contemporary Review, January, 2000, George Wedd, review of Reforming the House of Lords, p. 49.
London Review of Books, March 16, 2000, John Vincent, review of Reforming the House of Lords, p. 11.
New Statesman, August 21, 2000, review of Reforming the House of Lords, p. 22.
Political Quarterly, July, 2000, Jeremy Mitchell, review of Reforming the House of Lords, p. 375.
Public Law, winter, 1999, Richard Corne, review of Reforming the House of Lords, p. 776.
Constitutional Unit Web site,http://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/ (October 27, 2003), "Meg Russell."
Line One,http://www.lineone.net/express/ (July 12, 2000), Sarah Womack, "New Laws to Boost Number of Women MPs."*