UK Constitutional Law Association

affiliated to the International Association of Constitutional Law

House of Lords Reform

The Government has published the House of Lords Reform Draft Bill.  The proposals are still subject to consultation and parliamentary debate, but it seems that, at a minimum, the bulk of Lords will be directly elected (with 240 members elected, and 80 appointed).  It is proposed that elected members would sit for 15 years, and would be elected through some form of proportional representation.  Twelve bishops will remain in the House.

It seems  that the public will not be asked to approve these proposals through a referendum.

2 comments on “House of Lords Reform

  1. rjdhazell
    May 17, 2011

    UCL’s Constitution Unit has warned that success in the government’s plans for Lords reform is far from assured, pointing out eight particular obstacles where there is division within and between the parties.

    In their press release the Unit’s Deputy Director Dr Meg Russell said “Lords reform has been much discussed since 1997, and indeed for 100 years. The government proposed a largely appointed house in 2001, but has edged slowly towards a largely elected one, under pressure from MPs and the public. These proposals look like a logical culmination of that journey. But there are many dimensions to Lords reform, and many other factors over which parliamentarians can disagree. While the Liberal Democrats are fairly cohesive on this issue, there is much opposition on the Conservative benches, and Labour has long been split on Lords reform”.

    The eight key sticking points are likely to be:

    Proportion elected. The government proposes 80%, but many purists will want 100%, while others object to election.
    Electoral system. The proposal is for STV, a proportional system. Many Conservatives object to proportionality, while others will argue over the detail.
    Terms of office. 15 year non-renewable terms are proposed. Some think this is too long, while others believe re-election is essential for accountability.
    Bishops. A reduction from 26 to 12 is proposed: possibly a compromise that pleases no one. Many want the bishops to go.
    Lords powers. These would remain unchanged, but some think an elected house will need its wings clipped if it is not to become too dominant.
    Expertise and independence. The proposed reduction to 300 members leaves little space for part-timers, but many see the Lords’ expertise as its greatest asset.
    Transition. The existing 800+ peers will need to be phased out, and there will be many arguments about how this should be done.
    Referendum. Labour in particular may claim that such a major change should be put to the people: their manifesto promised a referendum on Lords reform.

    Meg Russell added “There will be much talk about how the Lords will respond to these proposals, and whether they will need to be forced through. But the bigger question is whether they will gain support in the House of Commons, given that there are so many issues on which MPs disagree. Numerous amendments are likely, and could ultimately kill a bill. Public opinion will also be important, and support for ‘more elected politicians’ cannot be guaranteed”.

    The Unit’s full press release is at

  2. Dawn Oliver
    May 31, 2011

    According to The Times today there is strong opposition across the parties in the House of Lords to these proposals, and a substantial proportion of the peers consider that it would be ‘unconstitutional’ for these reforms to be pushed through under the Parliament Acts. On what grounds would it be ‘unconstitutional’? One ground might be that the inclusion of a large elected element in the second chamber would politicise the activities of the chamber, while our constitutional arrangements rely on relatively non partisan intra parliamentary scrutiny of bills for compliance with constitutional and human rights prnciples. This aspect of the current second chamber substitutes for arrangements made in other countries to uphold constitutional and human rights principles, such as a written constitution supported by a Constitutional Court or Council and/or a Conseil d’Etat. To weaken the second chamber’s ability to perform these functions by increasing party politics and reducing the influence of independent, expert and experienced members in these matters could be regarded as un- or anti-constitutional unless other new mechanisms to uphold these principles were also being introduced.

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This entry was posted on May 17, 2011 by in Constitutional reform, UK Parliament and tagged .

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