The context of our inquiry
13. The Government has made House of Lords reform
a leading element of its constitutional programme. The first stage
of reform was completed in November 1999, when the House of Lords
Act removed the majority of hereditary peers from the chamber.
Issues relating to the second stage were considered by a Royal
Commission, chaired by Lord Wakeham, which was asked to work quickly
and which produced a report in January 2000.
The Government then attempted to establish a Joint Committee of
both Houses to examine what it described as the parliamentary
aspects of the Royal Commission proposals. However there was disagreement
between the parties about the terms of reference of the Committee,
and in particular about whether it should consider the composition
of the House, with the result that the Committee was not established.
14. The Queen's Speech of June 2001 set out the Government's
view of the way forward. The Government intended, after consultation,
to introduce legislation to implement the final stage of Lords
reform. This reflected the Labour party manifesto commitment of
"We are committed to completing House of Lords
reform, including removal of the remaining hereditary peers, to
make it more representative and democratic, while maintaining
the House of Commons' traditional primacy. We have given our support
to the report and conclusions to the report of the Wakeham Commission,
and will seek to implement them in the most effective way possible.
Labour supports modernisation of the House of Lords' procedures
to improve its effectiveness. We will put the independent Appointments
Commission on a statutory footing".
15. The Government took the next step with the publication
of a White Paper, 'The House of Lords: Completing the Reform'
in November 2001. It made it clear at the time, and has since
re-iterated, that this was a consultative document. It did not
propose a Joint Committee. Responses were invited by 31 January
2002. The Government has in particular asked for views on these
- the balance between elected and nominated, and
political and independent members.
- timing of elections: should they be linked to
European Parliamentary elections, general elections or regional
- length of terms for elected and appointed members:
15 years as recommended by the Royal Commission, or 5 or 10 years
to give more accountability but less independence?
- introduction of daily payments as well as expenses.
- rules for disqualifying members.
16. The immediate response to the White Paper was
largely unfavourable, as had been the earlier response to the
Royal Commission (unfairly so in some respects). One criticism
levelled against the White Paper was that it did not in fact implement
the recommendations of the Royal Commission as the Labour Party's
election manifesto had promised. This was the view of Royal Commission
members. Lord Wakeham said just after the publication of the White
Paper that the Government had:
"...got several things wrong. First of all,
I wanted a wholly independent Appointments Commission. I wanted
an end of Tony's croniesor any politician's cronies. I
wanted people appointed on an independent basis. And they seem
to have gone soft on that.
"Secondly, I wanted the elected element in the
House of Lords to be there for a long time rather than a short
time, because I did not want them to be rivals of the House of
Commons ... I think their idea of less than 15 years, something
like 10 years or even five years, would be very damaging".
17. Similar views were expressed by the Rt Hon Gerald
Kaufman MP, a member of the Royal Commission, who told us "The
White Paper to a very large degree on several particularly important
matters does not implement the Wakeham Report ... I will not support
this White Paper and I will not vote for legislation deriving
from this White Paper because, as I say, I am committed to the
Royal Commission Report and what is more as a Labour MP I am bound
to the Wakeham Report by the manifesto pledge".
18. Such negative reactions have tended to obscure
the fact that the White Paper represented some movement in the
Government position in some important areas, particularly in proposing
an elected element in the chamber, a break with the honours system,
and a statutory basis for the Appointments Commission. The final
departure of the hereditary peers will remove a remaining obstacle
to greater legitimacy for the second chamber. More generally,
the Government have maintained the momentum for reform. It is
vital that this momentum is not lost.
19. This was the starting point for our inquiry.
In December 2001 we decided to take evidence on the White Paper.
We have taken oral evidence from 18 witnesses and received 62
written submissions, and are very grateful to all those who have
helped us with our inquiry. Although limitations of time and the
specific focus of our inquiry meant that we had to confine our
oral evidence to parliamentarians, we have received some very
useful written evidence from members of the public and outside
experts. We have benefited greatly from the expertise of our Specialist
Adviser, Professor Robert Hazell, Director of the Constitution
Unit, University College London. We have approached this inquiry
in a spirit of urgency. We hope that the Government will respond
in similar vein, replying to our Report well within the two months
required by convention.