House of Lords reform

Your opinion at the start - stage 1/6

Members of the House of Lords are mainly appointed at present. In 2011, a proposal was made to elect 80% or 100% of the members for a single 15 year term. Do you agree with the proposal, and if so with which variation?

Read background

Author: Paul Eustice; reviewer: Perry Walker

Drag these using the hand symbol () so that they are in order, most preferred at the top

  • 100% elected
  • 80% elected and 20% appointed
  • 100% appointed

The Coalition’s proposals

The UK Coalition Government published a draft bill on 17th May 2011, with two proposals:

  1. 80% elected and 20% appointed
  2. 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.)
  • 80 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.
  • 20 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.
  • Constituencies (voting ‘areas’) can send more than one member to the Lords. The system would probably use the same constituencies as for elections to the European parliament.
  • Second 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).

What this question assumes

  • Having a House of Lords, or at least a second chamber, is A Good Thing.
  • 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 its job.
  • 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:

oRandom selection

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 general election.)

What is the role of the second chamber?

There are two main roles:

  • Review 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 local governments.

These roles are exercised through four functions:

  • Debate
  • Scrutiny
  • Revision
  • Delay

What are the powers of the House of Lords at present?

The formal 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 & 12)

The fact 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 at present?

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.

The 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

8 -

http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2011/04/jesse-norman-mp-why-plans-for-replacing-the-house-of-lords-with-an-elected-senate-should-not-be-a-pr.html

9 -

http://www.jessenorman.com/2012/03/times-op-ed-why-an-elected-house-of-lords-should-not-be-a-priority.html

10 - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/228718/8391.pdf

11 -

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200506/ldselect/ldconst/141/14104.htm

12 -

http://www.lawteacher.net/constitutional-law/essays/the-house-of-lords-decides-law-essays.php