Memorandum by Mark Fisher MP (LR 37)
1.1 The aim of any reform of the second
chamber should be to find ways of helping it to contribute more
effectively to the prime roles of both Houses of Parliament; to
hold the government to account; to scrutinise its legislation;
and to act as the national forum for debate. There is widespread
concern (the Liason Committee report, Shifting the Balance; the
Hansard Society Commission, The Challenge for Parliament) that
Parliament as a whole is not fulfilling the first two of these
roles as effectively as it should.
1.2 Any reform of the Second Chamber should
therefore be considered alongside the reform of the House of Commons,
which is currently taking place.
1.3 As the Wakeham Commission (WC) said
(para 8.12), the two Houses should be "complementary and
mutually reinforcing", so any reform should strengthen the
ways in which they compliment one another.
1.4 Their complementary roles should, where
possible, be distinct and should not duplicate one another. A
good precedent is the different scrutiny to which each house subjects
European legislation, the Lords' European Union Committee scrutinising
a small (30-40) number of items in depth each year while the Commons
Committee "rapidly sifts all proposals under the consideration
of the Council of Ministers (usually about 400 a year)".
[Hansard Society Commission (HSC 6.22, p75)]
1.5 There are opportunities for the two
houses to work more closely by means of Joint Committees.
1.6 The overall aim should be to reform
both Houses so that, together, they fulfil the functions of Parliament
more effectively, particularly in relation to Government. If that
is achieved it is likely that public confidence in our political
institutions will be increased.
2. THE REMIT
2.1 The Second Chamber should be, above
all else, a House of Scrutiny, building on and strengthening its
2.2 The Hansard Society Commission has identified
areas in which Parliamentary Scrutiny could be broader and more
effective, (chapters 2 and 6).
2.3 In particular the HSC identifies the
growth of Ombudsmen (1.34) and of regulatory bodies (1.26) and
believes that "Parliament needs to be at the apex of the
network of regulatory bodies and alternative scrutiny mechanisms"
(HSC 1.53, p13). Since the Commons has little spare capacity to
take on new roles, these responsibilities should be assumed by
a Second Chamber.
2.4 The House of Lords has an excellent
record in Select Committees which cut across Department responsibilities
(European Union and Science and Technology). Consideration should
be given to augmenting these with other Cross Departmental Committees
(Equal Opportunities, Social Exclusion, Freedom of Information,
The Green Environment, Urban Affairs and Human Rights).
2.5 For some of these it would be appropriate
to establish Joint Committees modelled on the Joint Committee
on Statutory Instruments.
3. REMIT: REVISING
3.1 The Second Chamber should have the responsibility
to consider and the power to amend, Government legislation, but
not to block or veto any legislation for which the Government
has been given a mandate at the most recent General Election.
3.2 Accordingly the present delaying power
in relation to public, non-money bills should be fixed at 12 months.
3.3 The Salisbury Convention should be entrenched
and extended to all Government Bills that have been a manifesto
3.4 The Second Chamber should undertake
pre-legislative scrutiny of proposals (Delegated Powers and Deregulation
3.5 The Second Chamber should be able to
debate, in Committee, those Statutory Instruments it deems to
be of importance and to take evidence relating to them from outside
4. REMIT: THE
4.1 The Second Chamber should have a specific
responsibility to be the guardian of the Constitution, by means
of a Select Committee on the Constitution.
4.2 The HSC identifies 15 pieces of constitutional
legislation, which were introduced between 1997 and 2000. These
and other relevant Acts should be monitored by the Second Chamber,
which should also consider and report on new constitutional legislation
or amendments to existing Acts.
4.3 There should be a six-month period allowed
for such consideration.
4.4 A Select Committee on the Constitution
should advise Parliament on other constitutional questions that
arise out of legislation, common law or convention.
5.1 The membership should be wholly elected,
on the principle that it is for the electorate to determine who
sits in Parliament.
5.2 Membership of the Second Chamber should
disbar a person from being a Minister in the Government; this
would reinforce the Second Chamber as a House of Scrutiny, by
providing a degree of separation and independence from Government.
5.3 It is sometimes argued that a House
of Parliament which did not offer the opportunity to be a Minister
would not affect candidates of calibre. There is no evidence for
this. Many members of both present Houses do not seek Government
Office but feel that they contribute fully to Parliamentary debate
and scrutiny, eg MPs of all political parties with the exception
of Labour and Conservative; Independent MPs; the majority of Life
5.4 Members should be elected at the same
time as European MPs, by the same system of election.
5.5 Membership should be limited to 261;
ie three times the number of UK MEPs.
5.6 Members should be paid the same salary
as the Members of the House of Commons and should receive travel
and living expenses. Their office and secretarial allowances should
be smaller to reflect the fact that members of the Second Chamber
would not have constituency responsibilities.
5.7 Qualifications and disqualifications
should be in line with those set out in the House of Commons Disqualification
Act 1975, ie membership of the armed forces, police, judiciary,
civil service, those under 21, aliens, bankrupts and those convicted
6. PRIMACY OF
6.1 Far from the primacy of the Commons
being threatened by these proposals it is strengthened, as the
Commons becomes exclusively the House of the Executive.
6.2 The Second Chamber gains a new authority
from its democratic legitimacy but the clear separation of remit
and powers (the House of Commons, to form the Government and the
possessor of a democratic mandate to legislate; the Second Chamber,
to scrutinise, monitor, amend andwithin a tight limitto
delay) ensures that there can be no deadlock.
6.3 It is right that the Executive should
be able to get the legislation (as amended) that it was elected
to enact subject only to sufficient delay to give it pause for
6.4 It is also right that the Second Chamber
should have new and wider responsibilities and should be the guardian
of the Constitution. Its authority will come as much from the
quality of its consideration and scrutiny, and its independence,
as from its new democratic mandate.
6.5 If it fulfils these responsibilities
wisely, the second Chamber will acquire a confidence and will
have a moral authority, which it will be hard for the Government
in the Commons to ignore. As a result Parliament, reformed in
both houses, will be in a position to do a better job of scrutinising
the Executive and holding it to account.