The Coalition’s proposals
The UK Coalition Government published a draft bill on 17th
May 2011, with two proposals:
- 80% elected and 20%
- 100% election
The bill was dropped in 2012
because of opposition from within the Conservative Party. Do you think election
would be an improvement?
The details of the bill were as follows:
- 300 members. Each could
be elected for a single non-renewable term of three parliaments, generally
15 years. (Plus 12 bishops.)
per cent of members to be elected using the Single Transferable Vote
(STV), electing a third of members each time. Elections would normally
take place at the same time as general elections.
per cent of members to be appointed independently by a statutory
Appointments Commission. These appointed members to sit as
‘cross-benchers’, which means they are not linked to a particular party.
(voting ‘areas’) can send more than one member to the Lords. The system
would probably use the same constituencies as for elections to the
chamber members would be barred from standing for election to the House of
Commons until at least four years after their term has ended (or they
resign their seat).
this question assumes
- Having a House of Lords, or at least a second chamber, is A Good
- The second chamber should carry on, broadly speaking, doing its
present job. It should be second in importance to the Commons, but it
should be able to challenge legislation proposed by the government and to
suggest revisions. It should not be able to veto legislation.
- The previous point means that there is a difficult balancing act. If
the House of Lords is too powerful, it could challenge the status of the
Commons as the leading chamber. If it is too weak, it won’t be able to do
- Getting the balancing act right is to be achieved mainly by making
changes to the way in which people are recruited to the second chamber. (You
might think that it would be better to make changes to the way people are
elected to the Commons and what it does, but that is not covered here.)
- This map compares
election with the current method of appointment. It does not look at other
methods of recruiting the second chamber, such as:
oSecondary mandate. (This is a form of indirect election. It
shares out seats in the second chamber in proportion to the votes cast in the
What is the role of
the second chamber?
There are two main roles:
and check the actions of main centre of power, i.e. the government and the
first chamber (the House of Commons). This is important in the UK because
we do not have a written constitution and so do not have a constitutional
court, which would perform some of this role.
- Represent parts or aspects of society not otherwise represented.
For example, in Germany, the members of the second chamber (the Bundesrat)
are members of local governments, and their role is to represent those
roles are exercised through four functions:
What are the powers of the
House of Lords at present?
powers of the House of Lords are large compared to many second chambers. The
Lords can delay most bills from the Commons for up to a year. The Parliament
Acts of 1911 and 1949 curbed their powers so they cannot veto most laws. They cannot
hold up money bills for more than one month. But they can propose their own
laws and have a veto over those.(ref 11
that the House of Lords is generally considered weak does not depend on the
powers set down in the Parliament Acts, but on how little these are used in
practice. For instance, the informal Salisbury-Addison agreement, made in 1945,
restrains the Lords from holding up bills based on the commitments made by the
governing party in the election manifesto.
Who makes up the House of Lords are there
There are nearly
790 members, although the average daily attendance is only half that. The vast
majority are appointed. These people are made life peers. In addition to
appointed members, there are 26 bishops and around 90 hereditary peers.
What other countries do
In 2009, 75 countries had two chambers of
parliament. This is about 40% of the total. Second chambers are more common in
countries with larger populations. Of those 75:
- 38 were wholly elected. This election may be direct or indirect,
for example, by regional parliaments.
- 31 were a mix of elected and appointed.
UK is almost unique (except for Canada) in having an appointed second chamber.
References and sources
1 - A written debate produced by Intelligence
Squared to accompany their live debate on the topic “An elected House of Lords will be bad for
British democracy”.The live debate took place on 23rd
November 2010. The written debate can be found at http://www.intelligencesquared.com/controversies/elected-lords?result_374_result_page=2
2 - A briefing
paper by the Political Studies Association:http://www.psa.ac.uk/PSAPubs/HLReformBriefingPaper.pdf;
3 - A collection
of essays from the Constitution Society: http://www.consoc.org.uk/news/articles/105/
4 - Material on
the practice in other countries comes from www.ipu.org/parline-e/parlinesearch.asp
5 - http://effectivesecondchamber.com/coalition.html
6 - http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jul/01/lords-reform-bill-catastrophe is good
7 - http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm120709/debtext/120709-0003.htm
10 - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/228718/8391.pdf