PART 3: WHAT SORT
30. Having identified the appropriate roles, functions
and powers of the second chamber, we turn to the question what
sort of membership is desirable to undertake these roles and perform
those functions. We consider five qualities desirable in the makeup
of a reformed House, namely (not in any order of importance):
· no domination
by any one party
31. We have referred above (in paragraph 2) to a
general desire to increase the legitimacy of the second chamber
and (in paragraph 16) to the lack of legitimacy which has in the
past beset the House of Lords and to the view of the Royal Commission
that greater representativeness would confer a new legitimacy
on the House. The Royal Commission Report talked of the new "confidence"
that a reformed House would have.
The Commons Public Administration Committee Report also considers
the question of legitimacy.
Some maintain that only a democratically elected second chamber
can be truly legitimate, others that there are other routes to
legitimacy, including in particular the other qualities which
we discuss below.
32. Before the introduction of life peerages the
House of Lords could be said to have been unrepresentative of
almost any group other than landowners. It is now a much more
representative body, though the manner in which its members are
appointed has continued to sustain some doubts about its legitimacy.
33. Nevertheless, of the desirable
qualities we have listed, the present House is weakest in respect
of representativeness. It is overwhelmingly male (84 per cent).
 It includes
few young members (the average age is almost 68). It has a disproportionate
number of members from the south-east and too few from the English
regions. And, although more representative of ethnic minorities
than the House of Commons (over 20 members),
it still falls short of properly representing the UK's ethnic
diversity. We consider that all these elements of
representation must be improved and that better balances can be
achieved either by a new appointment system or, with appropriate
checks in place, by various methods of election.
by any one party
34. The Royal Commission considered
that it was crucial that no one political party should be able
to dominate the second chamber: "If it were to be controlled
by the party of Government it might become nothing more than a
rubber stamp. If the main Opposition party were to gain control,
it could be used to produce legislative deadlock
This view was endorsed by the Government in its White Paper
and accepted by the Commons Public Administration Committee.
We note that this is a characteristic of the present House: no
party has more than one-third of the members of the House (and
this would continue to be the case with the departure of the 92
excepted hereditary peers).
We therefore conclude that any arrangements for the reformed
House must take account of the importance of maintaining the principle
that no one political party should be able to be dominant in it.
35. We have identified independence
as an important characteristic of the present House of Lords in
keeping the executive to account.
That independence arises from the fact that the House contains
a substantial number of Crossbench members who do not take a party
whip. But equally important is an independence that arises from
membership of a House where the party whips do not influence party-affiliated
members in the same way as they do in the Commons. The fact that
members of the present House do not face election or some form
of reselection is an important element in underpinning that independence.
It is our view that any new system of getting members into
the House needs to ensure that independence, whether arising from
non-party affiliation or from less attention to the requests of
the Whips, is not jeopardised or diminished.
36. Of the 681 members of the House of Lords on 9
December, 210 (31
per cent) were not members of one of the three main political
parties. They comprised 24 bishops, 9 members with no affiliation
and 177 Crossbenchers. The term "Crossbencher"
is used to describe those members who belong to a group which
represents the interests of members who do not take a party whip,
and which meets weekly under a Convenor to discuss matters of
common interest, but not matters of political controversy (which
are for individual members). Since 1999 the Convenor has received
public funds to enable him to employ assistance.
37. Among the Crossbenchers are 12 serving Lords
of Appeal in Ordinary, several members of minor political parties
and several members with definite political affiliations who sit
on the Crossbenches because of the office or position which they
hold or have held, or for other reasons. By custom, law lords,
former Speakers and former public servants normally join the Crossbenchers.
Many others such as industrialists and scientists choose to do
so, including some but not all politicians from minority parties
with no party organisation in the Lords. The fifteen non-party
political life peers so far nominated by the Independent Appointments
Commission have all joined the Crossbenchers.
38. The impact of the Crossbenchers on voting in
the House of Lords is less frequent than their numbers might suggest,
because as unwhipped members they usually vote only when they
have heard the arguments. On the other hand it is this very ability
to listen to argument and vote accordingly that makes the contribution
of the Crossbenchers particularly valuable in specialised areas
such as medical ethics, or areas of special sensitivity or importance
such as anti-terrorism measures. In the last session, 2001-02,
3355 votes out of a total of 39,007 cast in 172 divisions (8.6
per cent) were cast by Crossbenchers.
The role of Crossbenchers is often particularly significant in
relation to participation in debates and committees and the quality
they bring to these deliberations.
AMONG PARTY MEMBERS
39. It is much more common in the Lords than in the
Commons for party members to speak and vote against their party's
line. This is particularly true of supporters of the governing
party. This may result from the fact that, on the whole, the Opposition
parties choose the issues on which they decide to challenge the
Government; it is hardly surprising that they should thus choose
issues on which their supporters are united and Government supporters
are not. The fact that members almost all have seats for life
and that the whips have few sanctions available other than withdrawal
of the whip contributes to independence among members of the House
who are party members. Furthermore, in an unpaid part-time House
it is easy for members unsympathetic to their party's line to
absent themselves when they do not wish to go to the extent of
voting against the party line.
FOR A REFORMED HOUSE OF LORDS
40. The presence of a substantial
number of independent members, and the fact that almost all the
members of the House have seats for life,
crucially ensure a valuable degree of independence which is so
important to the effectiveness of the present House. Such independence
would be significantly reduced in a substantially elected House.
We consider this independence an important element in any reconstituted
41. It has often been said that in the House of Lords
an expert may be found on any subject. The nominations made by
successive prime ministers have brought into the House, as well
as a very significant proportion of politicians, a wide range
of people who have achieved distinction in many fields. It can
be argued that, because membership is for life, there is a risk
that some older members' expertise may sometimes be out of date.
On the other hand the part-time nature of the present House enables
members with contemporary knowledge and skills in a wide range
of disciplines to participate in the work of the House. There
is no doubt that the quality of debates can be very high as a
result of the range of expertise to be found in the House. While
many of those concerned are Crossbenchers, there are also others
with specialist knowledge who take a party whip. It is unlikely
that many of them would wish to fight an election to gain membership
of the House, nor to accept a commitment to more or less full-time
42. We consider the expertise
which is evident in the existing House to be something of considerable
importance which we would wish to see preserved in the new House.
43. The existing House
of Lords meets several of the criteria which we have been considering,
namely lack of domination by one party, independence and expertise.
If these existing qualities, bolstered by a greater representativeness,
can be transferred to the reformed House, we believe that a new
legitimacy, which we have already highlighted in considering the
House's role, will naturally develop.
37 Royal Commission Report, paragraphs 10.8 and 10.9. Back
Commons Public Administration Committee Report, paragraph 68. Back
This figure would be reduced to 82 per cent (the same as the present
percentage in the Commons) with the loss of the 92 hereditary
peers, of whom all but 4 are male. All the 25 bishops and all
the 28 law lords are male. Back
This represents about 3 per cent of the membership of the House.
The equivalent figure for the United Kingdom population is about
7 per cent (Social Trends No. 32, Table 1.4). Back
Royal Commission Report, paragraph 10.25. Back
Government White Paper Completing the Reform, paragraph
Commons Public Administration Committee Report, paragraph 80. Back
An analysis of the membership of the House at the start of the
new session in November 2002 is given in Appendix 2. Back
See above, paragraph 24. Back
The importance of the independent element is recognised throughout
the Report of the Royal Commission, but see especially paragraphs
10.14 to 10.18. Back
This figure excludes 12 members who are on leave of absence and
three (the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Sheffield and
the Duke of Norfolk) who have not yet received a writ of summons. Back
The term derives from the cross benches where peers who are not
members of a political party traditionally sit. But for reasons
of space many Crossbenchers sit on nearby benches. Back
House of Lords Official Report, 29 July 1999, columns 1677-86.
The Group has its own website http://www.crossbenchpeers.org.uk Back
A further 142 votes were cast by bishops and 216 votes by peers
with no affiliation. Back
The bishops are the exception: on retirement they cease to be
The Commons Public Administration Committee Report (paragraph
49) suggests an independent quota of 20 per cent of the reformed
The Royal Commission Report identifies among other types of expertise
that of Members with experience of constitutional matters and
human rights issues (paragraphs 10.19 and 10.20). Back
See paragraph 16 above. Back