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House of Lords Reform

The issue of reform of the House of Lords is one that has persisted since the first Parliament Act of 1911. Today Nick Clegg and the Tory deputy for constitutional reform Mark Harper sit down to face a parliamentary committee to discuss the coalition’s agreed plans to reform the House of Lords. Therefore it is poignant to reconsider the conundrum of reform (or even reconstitution) of the House of Lords.

Neither Clegg nor Cameron wants to be seen to take up the issue whole heartedly for fear that they will be seen as prioritising constitutional reform ahead of measures (other than austerity ones) to recover the economy.

 

There is no question that at the current rate the House of Lords isn’t sustainable as each successive government appoints more and more peers to the lords. In addition more peers are turning up to claim their daily tax free sum of £300 every day. Harper claims that to sustain a pension of such a level you would need to have a pension pot of around £1million.

 

What are the options available?

 

1. A completely elected House of Lords

 

This is following on from the train of thought of political theorists such as Lijphart who suggest that an elected body is much accountable and therefore can scrutinise the government to a larger degree. However even the 1999 Royal Commission (published as the Wakeham Report) agrees that a fully elected House of Lords would undermine the legitimacy of the House of Commons which should be the primary forum for debate.

 

2. A partially elected House of Lords

 

The current parliamentary commission is suggesting that an elected house of up to 80% of elected peers could promote legitimacy without undermining the legitimacy of the House of Commons. However as the Wakeham Report also suggests electing members based on constituencies would mean that the House of Lords would come to represent the regions rather than provide an effective check on government.

 

3. An entirely appointed House of Lords

 

Out of the 3 options this is the most attractive as appointed peers could be representative of the population and could also draw on expertise from a number of fields. However for this to work a fully independent commission for appointing new peers would need to be established. If this was the case then such a commission could ensure that peers appointed would bring a field of expertise to the chamber rather than simply the prerogative of a particular party. This is a logical progression from the House of Lords Act 1999 which was only intended as a temporary measure as the remaining 92 hereditary Lords were to be removed at a later date.

 

The agreement of the Con-Lib government prior to entering coalition means that over the coming months the issue of parliamentary reform will once again rear its ugly head. There is even the suggestion from polls that not only do younger Tory MPs support this reform but also the public. There is no doubt that until the issue of hereditary peers is resolved resolved there will always be scope for reform.

 

History of Reform in the House of Lords

Parliament Act of 1911 and 1949 - forced through under pressure from David Lloyd George, ensured that the House of Lords couldn’t veto bills that concerned money and veto of other bills wouldn’t mean indefinite suspension. The Parliament Act of 1949 followed up on previous reform by ensuring that the House of Lords veto was limited to 2 sessions and a maximum period of 1 year.


House of Lords Act 1999 - removed all but 92 of the hereditary peers in the House of Lords in favour of appointed lords. However it was only intended as a temporary measure to be followed up.


1999 Royal Commission (Wakeham Report - http://www.archive.official-documents.co.uk/document/cm45/4534/report.pdf) – advised that the House of Lords should be capped at 92 members of which 65-195 should be elected. It also advocated the creation of an independent commission to appoint new peers in order to bring in peers who weren’t professional politicians who could bring in expertise from a number of fields. However it recommended against a majority elected second chamber or even indirect election from devolved assemblies or institutions.


2001 White Paper – made considerations of its own based on the Wakeham report. Suggested that the remaining 92 hereditary peers were to be removed and 120 members would be elected to represent the regions. A statuary commission would be created to manage the size of the house and appoint independent peers as well as assure the integrity of peers nominated by political parties.

 

Followed by parliamentary debate in February 2003

Results of Parliamentary Votes 4 February 2003

Option

Lords

Commons

Elected

Appointed

For

Against

For

Against

0%

100%

335

110

245

323

20%

80%

39

375

-

-

40%

60%

60

358

-

-

50%

50%

84

322

-

-

60%

40%

91

317

253

316

80%

20%

93

338

281

284

100%

0%

106

329

272

289

Abolition

-

-

172

390

 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reform_of_the_House_of_Lords#cite_note-House_of_Lords_debate-41)


2007 White Paper – suggested that half of peers should be elected under a regional list system. Each member would serve for a fixed 15 year period on a 5 year cycle in which 1/3 of the House would face elections.

 

Followed by a parliamentary debate in March 2007

Parliamentary Votes for an Appointed House of Lords 7/14 March 2007

Option

Lords

Commons

Elected

Appointed

For

Against

For

Against

0%

100%

361

121

196

375

20%

80%

-

-

-

-

40%

60%

-

-

-

-

50%

50%

46

409

155

418

60%

40%

45

392

178

392

80%

20%

114

336

305

267

100%

0%

112

326

337

224

Retain Bicameral

-

-

416

163

Remove Hereditaries

-

-

391

111

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reform_of_the_House_of_Lords#cite_note-House_of_Lords_debate-41)

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Greg

Founder

History MA

GDL Student

Trainee Solicitor

Website: motor-mouth.co.uk/contributors/Greg
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