Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform Second Report

PART 3: What is the way forward?

26.  We have already noted (paragraphs 2-4 above) the absence of common ground on which to found proposals for change in the long-term composition of the second chamber. There is, however, a range of inter-related matters which need to be examined carefully if the case for reform is to be taken forward. Progress can be made and has been made already on an incremental basis. Further consideration of these matters does not in any way entrench the present composition of the House since they would have had to be examined even if there were no proposals to reform the composition of the House. The matters we highlight in this Report would have had to be the object of detailed scrutiny whatever the outcome of the votes on composition in the two Houses. We made these issues quite clear in our First Report, including among them the question of the size of a reformed House, tenure, the appointments system, the position of the law lords and the bishops and the financial consequences of reform. On many of these questions, the way ahead has been foreshadowed in the Royal Commission Report and subsequent documents. At least some parts of this agenda can, moreover, be carried forward without the need for primary legislation.


27.  Our views on the size of the House and on tenure were challenged in the debates preceding the votes on the seven options, particularly in the House of Commons. There was a broad opinion that a House of six hundred Members, with an appreciably larger House during the transitional period, was too high. The Leader of the House of Commons urged us to "think more boldly about the eventual reduction in size of the second chamber".[16] Other Members also spoke in favour of a smaller House. The question of size must be linked to that of tenure, frequency of attendance as well as to the need for flexibility to secure appropriate political "balance" and an independent "base" as we said in our First Report. Nevertheless we would enter the second phase of our deliberations with an awareness that a reduction in size (from 600 as the eventual number) is widely considered desirable. However, the question of size is inevitably linked to decisions as to whether existing life peers should be subject to compulsory retirement, what proposals should be made for voluntary retirement, whether members should regard membership as a full-time commitment, consequent provisions relating to remuneration, and procedural reforms such as the degree of delegation to committees.

28.  The matter of the length of tenure was raised in debate, when it was suggested that the 12-year term proposed in our First Report might be too long. This was one of only two matters on which the Committee divided, an amendment to allow an 8-year term, once renewable, being defeated. This is another matter to which the Committee can return in its further deliberations.


29.  There was less criticism of our stance on the important matter of the Appointments Commission (which would be necessary for every possible future prospect, save that of an 100 per cent elected House). The importance that we attached to getting the right balance between allowing for some nominations to be made by the Prime Minister of the day and others by party leaders and otherwise delivering an open and fair system of appointment was not seriously challenged in the debates in either House although disquiet about patronage was expressed. The need for independence and integrity of the appointments system was recognised by the Royal Commission in its Report.[17] We agree with the Royal Commission that much the best way of achieving this is to reformulate the existing Commission and put it on a statutory basis. But much work needs to be done on exactly what is needed to produce a widely respected and viable method of appointment.

30.  Meantime, and in the possible absence of primary legislation, this is not an issue that can be neglected for long. Two years have passed since the appointment of the last group of new life peers. There is, therefore, a growing need to top up the stock of expertise and of younger members. In order to handle this problem, consideration should, therefore, be given to the appointment of a new and manifestly independent Appointments Commission, and endorsed - as an interim alternative to primary legislation - by an Order in Council, approved by both Houses.

Bishops and the representation of other denominations and faiths

31.  We have already indicated in our First Report that the position of the Church of England bishops would need to be considered in a reformed House. We believe that such reforms, aimed at making the House more representative of British society as a whole, must entail examining the merits of religious representation. We would wish to consider that matter carefully, on the basis of evidence from various religious and spiritual communities.

Financial matters

32.  The financial consequences of reform are something that should be costed. Parliament should not consider itself above an exercise that would be routinely part of inquiry into changing the structure of any other organisation in the land. There are implications here about the requirements which Members of a reformed House would demand. They include accommodation, secretarial services and research support. The size and composition of the reformed House will be decisive in setting figures on these demands but in any case they merit serious inquiry. There would also need to be a review of the present system of offering no remuneration to Members but only reimbursing expenses within daily limits.

Two remaining issues

33.  There are two remaining issues of particular importance which we now consider need to be tackled. The first is that of the position of the remaining 92 hereditary peers; the second is whether we should begin to examine systems of indirect election to a reformed House.

The Hereditaries

34.  The 92 hereditary peers (including ex officio Members) have continued to participate effectively in the affairs of the House. The Government White Paper Completing the Reform confirmed the Government's intention that the remaining 92 hereditary peers would leave the House as part of the next stage of reform.[18]

An indirectly elected House?

35.  We note the view expressed by a number of Members of the House of Commons that the possibility of indirect elections to the House of Lords should be considered. Various possibilities exist for moving towards an indirectly elected House. The main problem so far identified is the lack of a regional structure, especially in England, from which to draw membership. Nevertheless things are developing in this direction - the Government remains committed to taking forward measures to introduce regional assemblies.[19] Members of a reformed House could be indirectly elected by these new bodies together with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Another possible approach involves a "secondary mandate" whereby votes in elections to the House of Commons are also used to elect Members of the House of Lords using a regional list system.[20] These are complex matters which would need careful scrutiny in an ongoing programme of reform.

Response from the Government

36.  We have identified in this report the area of consensus that has been achieved in the matter of reform. So far as recognition of the roles, functions and powers of a reformed House are concerned, that consensus is considerable. It is accepted by almost all Members of the House of Commons who spoke including the unicameralists who, once their preferred option had been defeated, divided almost equally into supporters of a fully appointed and a fully elected House. It is also a view shared by almost all Members of the House of Lords who spoke in the debates.

37.  Agreement about those matters is, in our view, a strong basis for continuing the reform. We have identified areas where work needs to be done - namely in respect of the issues of the hereditary peers, the appointments system and such matters as the size and conditions of tenure of the House. As a longer-term matter there is the possibility of indirect election to the House. If these reforms can be carried through in a sustainable way, then the fundamental issue will remain to be resolved, namely whether the Lords should be wholly appointed, wholly or partly directly elected or wholly or partly indirectly elected. We look forward to a reply from Government within the customary two months and then acceptance by both Houses that our work should continue on the lines we have set out.

16   House of Commons Official Report, 21 January 2003, column 206. Back

17   Royal Commission on Reform of the House of Lords, A House for the Future, Chapter 13, The Appointments Commission. Back

18   Government White Paper The House of Lords: Completing the Reform (Cm 5291, November 2001), paragraph 89. Back

19   The Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill has completed its Commons stages and is now awaiting report stage in the Lords. Back

20   See, for example, the submission by Billy Bragg in response to Completing the Reform. ( Back

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