Select Committee on Public Administration Fifth Report


    (a)  Reform is not a zero-sum game in which advances for one chamber are inevitably threats to the other. That is where the White Paper is fundamentally misconceived, as was the Royal Commission, in its oft-repeated determination to ensure the pre-eminence of the House of Commons. No-one is casting any doubt on that pre-eminence. We believe that the real task is rather to increase the effectiveness of both chambers in holding the Government to account for its actions and policies. The focus should be on the capacities of the institution as a whole.

    (b)  We agree with the Government that no major change is required to the role or functions of the second chamber. It should continue to be a revising, scrutinising and deliberative assembly. But its performance of all these functions can and should be strengthened.

    (c)  If the Government proceeds with its proposal to remove the veto power of the House of Lords over secondary legislation, then there should be a fixed minimum delay of three months and a requirement that the Commons would have to reconfirm its previous decision in each case.

    (d)  We do not believe the Government has made its case for reducing the Lords' powers over subordinate legislation. The preponderance of evidence is in favour of the chamber retaining its existing powers. The existing power of veto should remain.

    (e)  To fulfill the condition that the second chamber should be predominantly elected, we therefore recommend that 60 per cent of its members should come by election. Of the remainder, half (20 per cent of the total) should be nominated by the political parties; and half (20 per cent of the total) should be independent, non-aligned members; both categories should be appointed by the Appointments Commission. We further recommend that a draft Bill should contain options for the precise proportion of elected and appointed members.

    (f)  We recommend that all members of the second chamber should serve for similar periods and for long terms; should enjoy equal facilities; and should receive the same pay and conditions of service.

    (g)  We agree with the Government that elections for the second chamber should be based on the same regional constituencies as those used in the European Parliament elections. These members are to represent the 'nations and regions', and it makes sense for their constituencies to match the nations and regions of the UK. It also helps to distinguish them further from MPs in the House of Commons: the larger the area, the less likely they are to do constituency work. We also recommend a formal convention to prevent this.

    (h)  If the numbers of elected members prove to be too great to be accommodated in just twelve regional constituencies across the UK, we recommend that the Electoral Commission be invited to draw a new set of sub-regional boundaries.

    (i)  We recommend that any voting system for the second chamber should satisfy the following general principles. It needs to:
  • be complementary to the voting system for the House of Commons;

  • minimise the risk of one party gaining an overall majority;

  • maximise voter choice, by enabling voters to vote for individual candidates, within and across parties;

  • encourage a more diverse chamber; and

  • encourage the election of independent-minded people.

These principles will best be realised by using multi-member constituencies, and a proportional voting system. This could be either STV or regional lists, so long as the lists are fully open lists, which maximise voter choice. We would not support limited open lists, which present an appearance of choice for the voter, but almost never affect the outcome.

    (j)  We recommend that second chamber elections should take place at the same time as General Elections.

    (k)  We recommend that elections to the second chamber should be staggered.

    (l)  We recommend that elected second chamber members should serve a single term extending to two Parliaments. No member of the second chamber should be permitted to stand for election to the Commons for ten years after leaving the second chamber. These restrictions would apply from the next general election. Political parties should not be allowed to nominate for appointment anyone who has served as an elected member of the second chamber.

    (m)  We recommend that the parties should submit lists of party nominees to the Appointments Commission, ranked if they wish in order of preference, but that the Commission should make the final selection. The Appointments Commission would take the final decision on those who are to represent their parties. If the Government is unable to agree to this recommendation, which we regard as fundamental, then we recommend that there should be no separate element of party nominees in the second chamber and that its composition should consist of 70 per cent directly elected members and 30 per cent independent appointees.

    (n)  If elected members are allowed a single two-Parliament term, then we believe a limit of ten years should apply to appointed members; with no possibility of gaining a second term by switching categories.

    (o)  The Committee do not believe that the involvement of the executive in the selection of a body which is meant to be directly accountable to Parliament is appropriate. Parliament should take firmer hold of the process, so that the credibility of the new Appointments Commission can be properly established.

    (p)  We believe that it is time Parliament took full responsibility for the recruitment and appointment of bodies which are directly accountable to Parliament. We suggest that a committee of senior members of both Houses should examine how best this should be done.

    (q)  As a signal that the Appointments Commission should take very seriously the aim of producing a House which is more diverse, we recommend that the Commission should itself be more diverse.

    (r)  We recommend that the Appointments Commission should allocate the numbers of politically nominated members to each party, based on the share of the vote won by the parties in the most recent second chamber election.

    (s)  We recommend that the law lords should leave the second chamber at the next general election but one.

    (t)  We recommend that the Bishops of the Church of England should no longer sit ex officio from the time of the next general election but one.

    (u)  We recommend that the size of the second chamber when all elected members have joined should be clearly established and that it be set at up to 350. This figure would be very much the upper limit of the acceptable range.

    (v)  We recommend that a review of the effect of these changes should be held when the maximum number of elected members have entered the second chamber.

    (w)  We recommend that the research and other resources available to members of the second chamber should be adequate for the role that it is required to perform. We further recommend that this should be kept under regular review.

    (x)  We recommend that the Senior Salaries Review Body should review the question of payment of members when the reformed chamber has been operating for a number of years.

    (y)  We recommend that a joint committee of both Houses be established to examine proposals on improving co-operation in scrutiny of legislation and of the executive. It should be asked to report within a year. This need not delay, but should complement, progress on the general reform of the second chamber.

    (z)  We recommend that membership of the second chamber should no longer be linked with any honour, including the peerage.

    (aa)  We recommend, that it would be better to adopt the name "second chamber", to emphasise its complementary role in Parliament. The ancestral name "House of Lords" would slowly slip into desuetude. The members of the second chamber could be entitled, on the analogy of the members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs), Members of the Second Chamber or MSCs.

    (bb)  We recommend that the remaining hereditary peers should leave the second chamber when the reform Act comes into effect.

    (cc)  We recommend that all life peers should remain in the second chamber until the next general election. An appropriate scheme of payments should be offered to members who wished to withdraw from the second chamber. The appointments commission should not make appointments until the next general election.

    (dd)  We recommend that one or more elections should be held among the life peers, at the same time as general elections, to reduce their numbers by stages to zero.

    (ee)  In our view the next step would be the production of a draft Bill for consideration by a joint committee of both Houses as soon as possible and we so recommend.

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Prepared 14 February 2002