PART ONE: FINDING THE CENTRE OF GRAVITY
20. Speaking in the House of Commons on 10 January,
the Leader of the House, the Rt Hon Robin Cook MP, outlined the
Government's proposals, saying that "the limited functions
of a second chamber do not require it to mirror the democratic
mandate of the House of Commons".
21. Mr Cook then referred to the defeat of the 1968
House of Lords reform proposals and urged the House not to let
history repeat itself. He invited those who supported reform to
seek not consensus but something that might be more pragmatic
and more achievable the 'centre of gravity': "On the
broad principle, of course we will listen to what is said during
the consultation period. In the period of reflection that will
follow, we will see what is the centre of gravity in order to
move forward with reform".
22. When the House of Commons debated the White Paper
on 10 January, it was widely criticised from all sides. The limited
proportion of elected members which it proposed attracted much
criticism. There was also a general demand for extended terms
for second chamber members and an underlying recognition that
the chamber's scrutiny role should be complementary to and not
competitive with that of the Commons.
23. Peter Bradley MP was unequivocal, saying that
the White Paper "does not provide the basis for reform".
He set out some "key principles" for the second chamber:
"It must be distinctive in its role and function ... It must
not replicate, imitate or duplicate the work of the House of Commons.
It must be complementary, not competitive, so it must inevitably
have subsidiary powers. It must be legitimate, and much of that
legitimacy will come through election, whether whole or substantial".
24. The Rt Hon Sir George Young MP said that "the
real contest today is not between the Lords and the Commons but
between Parliament and the Executive. In that battle, the two
Houses are not rivals but partners". He characterised the
White Paper proposals as something that would "undermine
the legitimacy, independence and effectiveness of the second chamber".
He argued for a second chamber that would be one-third non-political
and appointed, two-thirds political and elected.
25. There was a little support for a wholly nominated
House. Sir Patrick Cormack MP saw the possibility of gridlock
between the chambers if the second chamber were elected. He argued
that a wholly nominated chamber would be legitimate: "If
we look around the world, we see that many of the second chambers
are not directly elected. Nobody questions that France is a democracy,
but it has an indirectly elected second chamber ¼
In Canadawhere the second chamber has the power of total
vetothere is a wholly appointed second chamber¼
In my view, we would be far better building upon what we have".
26. Paul Tyler MP said that no-one questioned the
supremacy of the Commons over the House of Lords: "What we
are saying is that the supremacy of Parliament over the Executive
is critical in a parliamentary democracy". He argued for
a strengthening of the capacity of the second chamber to hold
the Government to account, including more pre-legislative scrutiny
through Joint Committees with the Commons and a Select Committee
on treaties. Mr Tyler advocated a smaller second chamber with
"a democratically elected mandatefull stop".
27. In their debate on 9 and 10 January, Members
of the House of Lords were equally unenthusiastic in their comments
on the White Paper, although often from a different perspective
than its Commons' critics. Very few peers judged that it offered
a convincing way forward. Many stressed the importance in any
reform of preserving the independence of mind and wide range of
expertise contained in the House. Others argued that it was inappropriate
that a substantial proportion of the second chamber should be
elected. Those who opposed election considered that it could introduce
the disadvantages of party politics, including determined whipping,
compliance with the party line and the search for office. They
also feared that an elected second chamber would compete with
the House of Commons.
28. Lord Dahrendorf (Liberal Democrat) argued against
elections for the second chamber: "I cannot insist too strongly
that elections are neither the only source of legitimacy nor do
they necessarily create legitimacy ¼
judges are not elected, yet, as a body, they may be more legitimate
than some parliamentary institutions. On the other hand, a limited
number of representatives selected from party lists and elected
by a miserable turn-out to serve for long periods in a badly-understood
parliament cannot be described as legitimate".
29. A very different assessment of an elected second
chamber was made by the Earl of Listowel (Cross Bench) who referred
to the fully directly elected Australian Senate, which, he accepted,
was "accorded general popular respect¼
In Australia, the upper House is respected for its ability thoroughly
to revise legislation because it will occasionally intervene in
the legislative process. It has blocked the government's legislative
programme at times".
However, Lord Listowel did not conclude from this that the establishment
of such a chamber would be prudent in the UK. He feared a repetition
of the problems caused in the mid-1970s when the Australian Senate
refused the government supply and precipitated a constitutional
30. The Rt Hon Lord Richard (Labour), a former Leader
of the House of Lords, was a strong advocate of a substantial
element of election for the second chamber:
"In this country legitimacy comes primarily
from the exercise of democratic choice¼
I have never understood the argument that appointments can produce
a more generally representative House. The public are used to
elections; they are part of the fabric of the constitution. Sometimes
they may choose not to vote. But it is a democratic right not
to turn up and put a cross on the ballot paper just as much as
it is a right to do so. If that is the position as regards the
rest of the constitution, why not this Chamber?".
Lord Richard restated his long-held view that two-thirds
of the second chamber should be elected.
31. Lord Northbrook (Conservative) was doubtful about
"Adding a number of elected Members may have
a symbolic resonance, but would it necessarily produce a more
effective second chamber? Would it make up for the skills lost
through the exclusion of the hereditary Peers?".
32. The positions of the Conservative and Liberal
Democrat parties have also been set out in recent weeks, both
supporting a predominantly elected second chamber.
13 Official Report, 10 January 2002, Col 710 Back
Ibid Col 703 Back
Official Report, 10 January 2002, Col 767 Back
Ibid, Col 727/8 Back
Ibid, Col 739 Back
Ibid, Col 723 Back
Lords Hansard, 9 January 2002, Col 591/2 Back
Lords Hansard, 9 January 2002, Col 671 Back
Ibid, Col 603 Back
Ibid, Col 659 Back
'Delivering a Stronger Parliament: Reforming the Lords' Conservative
Party 5 February 2002
'House of Lords Reform' Liberal Democrats
22 January 2002 Back