Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform First Report


PART 5: THE OPTIONS

61. In our terms of reference we were required to report on the options for composition from a fully nominated to a fully elected House and on intermediate options. We were also required to consider the implications of these options in terms of the role and authority of the reformed House in Parliament as a whole, taking into account the experience and expertise of the existing House. In this part of the Report we focus more closely on the options and their implications, though the observations and conclusions we have come to throughout this Report must be taken into account when considering that narrower focus.

62. We identify seven options. We have marshalled these options so that the two complete models - appointed and elected - are first considered and then decreasing proportions of each in turn until the exact balance is reached in Option 7. The proportion of elected members of a mixed House could be phased in over a period of twelve years rather than fixed at a particular time. This would ease transitional arrangements and ensure that a House with experienced members continued over a number of years. The options are:

1.  Fully appointed

2.  Fully elected

3.  80 per cent appointed/20 per cent elected

4.  80 per cent elected/20 per cent appointed

5.  60 per cent appointed/40 per cent elected

6.  60 per cent elected/40 per cent appointed

7.  50 per cent appointed/50 per cent elected

Option 1 - A fully appointed House

63. A fully appointed House would most closely resemble the existing House of Lords, with the remaining hereditary element removed. Although the legitimacy of such a House would be challenged, this could be mitigated if a new independent and respected Appointments Commission was set up by statute. We have said that we consider that there is a place for political appointments to the House but, to ensure the integrity of the process, all such appointments should be scrutinised by the Appointments Commission.

64. An appointed House could more easily be made representative both of sections of society (ethnic groups, sexes, etc.) and of the regions. It would be the responsibility of the new statutory body, the Appointments Commission, to ensure that such representativeness was achieved. It is essential that a revamped Appointments Commission should itself be seen to be independent and to gain widespread support for its difficult but important work.

65. A fully appointed House could also provide a method for the inclusion of independent members and experts. It could continue to provide part-time members who could bring contemporary professional experience to bear on the duties of scrutiny and the passing of legislation. The matter of the length of tenure and any conditions attaching to renewal and eligibility for entering the Commons would need detailed investigation.

66. A fully appointed House suggests a larger House, particularly during the transitional period, than a fully elected House.

Option 2 - A fully elected House

67. The principal argument in favour of a fully elected House is that it would have greater legitimacy and accountability. That view rests upon the premise that legitimacy and accountability are conferred by election. On the other hand the existing House, in exercising independence and in applying expertise, has contributed significantly to the process of parliamentary scrutiny. That may also be considered a basis of legitimacy, important but different from legitimacy conferred by election. Legitimacy based entirely on election may well result in a House which is more assertive. While a reformed second chamber could not unilaterally increase its formal powers, it is a matter for consideration just how far it might feel disposed, by more vigorous use of its existing powers, to challenge the House of Commons and the Government. Such developments could represent a significant constitutional change. A further advantage of a fully elected House is that it provides representation from across the United Kingdom.

68. An elected House is also likely to have few if any independent members, although, as we have said, independence is a quality that can be found among members from party backgrounds as well as from those not affiliated to any party. Nevertheless the domination of the House by elected party politicians would irrevocably change the nature of the House and the attitude and relationship of the House to the Commons and to the Government. In a fully elected House there could be no question of continuing membership for the law lords or Church of England bishops (or other religious representatives). A fully elected House suggests a smaller House since members might be expected to be largely full-time.

69. Even so, the cost is likely to be greater because elected members will expect to be salaried and will expect facilities on a par with those in the House of Commons. The transitional arrangements - i.e. getting from the present House to a fully elected House - will also be more complex and will need to include detailed provisions with respect to existing members. The matters of the length of tenure and any conditions attaching to renewal and eligibility for entering the Commons would need to be spelt out. Some consideration also needs to be given to the method of election. One concern which we have expressed in our Report is to build upon the representative quality of the existing House in terms of ethnicity, gender distribution and regional representation. A first-past-the-post system would seem to us to be likely to lead to replication of the Commons, particularly if elections were held at the same time. It would not be possible to ensure that there was sufficient balance between parties in the second chamber. We are aware of the difficulties of various methods of indirect election in a country like ours where there is no federal structure on which to base it. Nevertheless some form of indirect election might possibly be a better way of achieving the aims of representativeness and regional balance in a second chamber. It will in any case be necessary for further detailed work to be done on the methods and timing of such elections once the opinion of the Houses on composition is known. We do, however, recognise that turnout at any proposed election is likely to be higher if it coincides with another election.

Option 3 - 80 per cent appointed/20 per cent elected[62]

70. We do not share the view that a House of mixed composition is necessarily undesirable. Indeed, in certain senses the House of Lords has always been a mixed House (comprising hereditary peers by succession, hereditary peers of first creation, ex officio members, and in recent times life peers). However, although this model would ensure the entry to the House of a sufficient number of independents, we can foresee difficulties in holding a direct election for only twenty per cent of the second House. Turnout in all elections has fallen to a worryingly low level. We cannot see an election for a small proportion of the new House raising any enthusiasm or contributing to a sense of the importance of the reformed House in the eyes of the electorate.

Option 4 - 80 per cent elected/20 per cent appointed[63]

71. We have said that there may be virtue in a mixed House. Nevertheless, if the appointed element is pitched as low as 20 per cent, difficulties will arise. The current working House consists of 300 or so members but it is a frequently changing 300, depending on the business being considered. The independent element and the element of expertise need to have a sufficiently wide base to provide opinion on a vast range of subjects as they arise in the course of the House's business. With a smaller appointed element in an elected House of reduced size, that provision is unlikely to be sufficient or satisfactory. The law lords and the bishops (or other religious representatives) could not easily be retained. Moreover, a House of largely elected members is bound to change the culture of the second House, making it less attractive for those who wish to remain unaffiliated to party. It will also make it difficult for part-time members with valuable specialist knowledge to participate.

Option 5 - 60 per cent appointed/40 per cent elected

72. This balance of composition would provide a more reasonable basis of independent members and experts who do not wish to stand for election. It would, on the other hand, provide a significant elected element, to go some way to meet the demands of legitimacy. The replacement of a large number of existing members would imply a long transitional period and a large interim House. The proportion of elected members could be established over a period of twelve years rather than at one particular time, easing transitional arrangements.

Option 6 - 60 per cent elected/40 per cent appointed[64]

73. This model retains the advantages of a mixed House. Nevertheless, it is a matter of judgement as to whether a 40 per cent appointed House is sufficient to provide the necessary diversity of expertise. Two important considerations affecting this judgement are the size of the new House and the nature of the transitional arrangements i.e. what happens to the existing members. This option would imply that the House would be substantially larger than 600 for a lengthy transitional period.

Option 7 - 50 per cent elected/50 per cent appointed

74. The above arguments broadly apply to this option as well. However, the exact half-way House may have some appeal on grounds of mathematical neatness. It would provide an apparently sufficient balance of electoral legitimacy on the one hand and of independence and expertise from appointment on the other.

Independent members and the appointment process

75. If any option other than 2 or 4 above is chosen, it will be necessary to specify the quota of independent members within the appointed element so as to ensure that they form about 20 per cent of the House. The appointed element should be nominated by a new independent statutory Appointments Commission whose principal function would be to ensure a quality of representativeness and regional balance in the reformed House.

How shall the Houses decide?

76. Finally, we have considered the matter of how the Houses should proceed in deciding on the options. We hope that there will first be "take-note" debates on this report in both Houses, with the opportunity to vote on the options coming later, after members have had time to study both debates. We are convinced that it is essential that both Houses follow the same procedure in voting on options. If they do not, the task which we identified in our Special Report, of establishing how the respective views of each House might be brought closer together if they differ, will be made a great deal more difficult.

77. Having considered various possible methods of approaching the voting, including the possibility of a ballot, we conclude that the best way of getting an accurate measure of views in both Houses would be to have a series of motions put on the different options one after the other, notwithstanding the normal practice of the Houses in dealing with substantially similar questions and questions disagreed to. This follows the precedent used in the case of the Motions on Hunting with Dogs in both Houses in March 2002.[65] Accordingly we recommend that a series of motions, each setting out one of the seven options we have identified, be moved successively in each House notwithstanding the normal practice in regard to questions. Members would be free to vote in favour of as many of the options as they considered acceptable, after a separate debate on the issues raised in this Report.

78. We suggest that the form of the motions should be on the following lines:

House of Lords Reform—[Name of mover] to move, That this House approves Option 1 (fully appointed) in the Report from the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform.

House of Lords Reform—[Name of mover] to move, That this House approves Option 2 (fully elected) in the Report from the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform.

House of Lords Reform—[Name of mover] to move, That this House approves Option 3 (80 per cent appointed/20 per cent elected) in the Report from the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform.

House of Lords Reform—[Name of mover] to move, That this House approves Option 4 (80 per cent elected/20 per cent appointed) in the Report from the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform.

House of Lords Reform—[Name of mover] to move, That this House approves Option 5 (60 per cent appointed/40 per cent elected) in the Report from the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform.

House of Lords Reform—[Name of mover] to move, That this House approves Option 6 (60 per cent elected/40 per cent appointed) in the Report from the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform.

House of Lords Reform—[Name of mover] to move, That this House approves Option 7 (50 per cent appointed/50 per cent elected) in the Report from the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform.


62   The Government White Paper Completing the Reform (paragraphs 43-47) proposed a second chamber composed on this basis. Back

63   In their responses to the Government White Paper Completing the Reform, the Conservative Party proposed a second chamber composed on this basis, and the Liberal Democrats favoured one with a maximum of 20 per cent appointed members. Back

64   The Commons Public Administration Committee Report (paragraph 96) proposed a second chamber composed on this basis. Back

65   Votes and Proceedings of the House of Commons, 18 March 2002 page 670. House of Lords Official Report, 19 March 2002, columns 1239-40. Back


 
previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 11 December 2002