Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform Second Special Report


Letter from the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, to the Chairman of the Joint Committee

I am pleased to enclose two copies of the Government's official response to your Committee's very helpful and constructive second report of 9 May.

16 July 2003




1. The Government is grateful for the work which the Joint Committee has undertaken in considering the issues raised by further reform of the House of Lords, and which is reflected in both this Report and their First Report on December 2002 (HL Paper 17; HC 171). This is the Government's response to the specific issues raised by the Joint Committee.

2. The two Reports are the product of a careful analysis of the many and fundamental issues which are raised by the question of the reform of the UK's second chamber. They provide a useful synthesis of the arguments to date, and identify a number of areas where there is wide agreement on the objectives of reform, for example over the role and functions of the House of Lords. They provide a fitting summary of the debate which has taken place since the establishment in January 1999 of the Royal Commission chaired by Lord Wakeham.

3. Consistently with the Joint Committee's original remit, its First Report proposed a number of different possible compositions for the House of Lords, with varying numbers of elected members. The Government had hoped, in seeking the establishment of the Joint Committee, that consideration of these options by both Houses of Parliament would give an indication of a way forward that would be acceptable to both Houses. The options were debated in the House of Commons on 21 January 2003 and in the House of Lords on 21 and 22 January. These debates were followed on 4 February by votes in each House.

4. Those votes resulted in a clear decision in the House of Lords in favour of a wholly appointed House. There was, however, no such clear decision from the House of Commons, which voted against every one of the Joint Committee's proposed configurations. These votes, as the Joint Committee has recognised in this Second Report, have made it difficult for it to continue with the second part of its original remit, to work up a detailed proposed blue-print for reform. That failure is no reflection on the quality of the work the Joint Committee has done up to now.

5. The Government agrees with the Joint Committee's view that the Parliamentary votes have shown that there is no consensus about introducing any elected element in the House of Lords.

6. The Joint Committee states in paragraph 3 of its Report that 'simply to maintain the status quo' is undesirable. The Government agrees with that view. If the present configuration of the House is to become a medium-term rather than a short-term settlement, then some changes will be needed. The Joint Committee has itself noted a number of areas where there might usefully be further work around the re-configuration of a wholly appointed House.

Government proposals

7. The Government strongly welcomes the Committee's views on the role and powers of the House of Lords. In particular, the Government agrees with the Joint Committee that there should be no significant change in the powers and functions of the House. The House of Commons must remain pre-eminent. The Government shares the Joint Committee's concern to ensure proper co-ordination of the legislative loads between the two Houses. It supports the Joint Committee's view that a consensus has now been established around the proper role, functions and powers of the House of Lords, and that all proposals for further reform must respect that consensus.

8. The Government also endorses the Joint Committee's analysis, in paragraph 23 of its Report, of the five qualities which need to be applied to the composition of a House which can perform the functions assigned to it. Those five qualities of legitimacy; representativeness; no domination by one party; independence; and expertise must remain the touchstone against which all reforms, whether major or minor, are measured.

9. The Government has already announced a further major reform of the House of Lords, with its decision to establish a separate Supreme Court. That will lead to the removal of the Law Lords. The Joint Committee report calls (paragraph 20) for full public discussion of this issue. The Government published on 14 July a consultation paper designed to facilitate precisely this debate with a request for comments by 7 November.

10. In addition, the Government has invited the House to consider establishing a Speakership independent of the executive. The House has appointed a Select Committee to consider this matter.

11. The key issue in establishing the present House of Lords in a stable state for the medium term is the appointments process for new members. The Joint Committee discusses this issue in paragraphs 29-30 of its report. The Government agrees that the appointments process must display 'independence and integrity' and must be 'respected and viable' and that the Government should examine the present arrangements with a view to seeing where they might be strengthened. The Government therefore proposes to consider this issue further over the course of the summer, and will consult in the autumn on proposals for a revised Appointments Commission.

12. This consultation on the role of the Appointments Commission will give the opportunity for looking at a number of the other issues highlighted by the Joint Committee. Foremost among these are the optimum and maximum size of the House (paragraph 27 of the Committee's Report); how to ensure that the House is as representative as possible on a broad range of measures, including ethnicity, gender, and making sure the nations and the regions are properly represented (paragraph 17 of the Report); and how to widen the basis for religious representation (paragraph 31).

13. The Joint Committee highlights the position of the remaining hereditary peers. It remains the Government's policy, as set out in its White Paper in November 2001, that the remaining hereditary peers should be removed from the House.


14. The Government is grateful to the Joint Committee for the work that they have done, and their efforts to take forward the question of House of Lords reform. It agrees with the Joint Committee that its work, and that of the Royal Commission and the Government itself before it, have produced a considerable degree of consensus on the roles, functions and powers of the House of Lords. They have demonstrated, in contrast, that there is no consensus about the best composition for the second chamber. For the time being, the Government will concentrate on making the House of Lords work as effectively as possible in fulfilment of its important role.

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Prepared 17 July 2003