Building on the strengths of the
54. Also generally agreed is the fact that the current
House of Lords has considerable virtues which should be preserved.
Its debating style, for example, tends to be less partisan than
in the Commons, and whipping is less obtrusive.
55. Lord Jenkin of Roding (Conservative), with long
experience of both chambers, told us that:
"Whereas the culture of the House of Commons
is dominated by the party battle and is therefore confrontational
and often noisy, the culture of the House of Lords seems much
more driven by the wish to see the widest possible consensus and
to seek ways of achieving that".
Culture is important, and is easier to destroy than
56. We believe that reform should build on the existing
strengths of the House of Lords. As Lord Norton of Louth (Conservative)
said of the House in his oral evidence to us:
"it does add some value to the political process
because it fulfils functions that are qualitatively distinctive
to those of the first chamber and it performs them tolerably well".
57. During the debate in the Lords, Viscount Goschen
(Conservative) referred to the House's:
"increasingly vital role in scrutinising legislation
and in asking another place to think again about provisions with
which they disagree or about which they have not thought in the
58. Other commentators have pointed to the relatively
generous amounts of time that the Lords can devote to consideration
of Bills. This is seen to be in contrast to the rushed timetabling
which is often a feature of the Commons, and it can help to give
Lords scrutiny a quality lacking in the other chamber.
59. The quality of Lords' Committees, including those
on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform, Science and Technology,
and the European Union, is widely acknowledged. Unlike most Commons
Committees, they have a cross-cutting remit which gives them a
distinctive role. They also have a considerable expertise. In
this area at least, the complementary roles of the Commons and
the Lords are well understood.
60. The Lords, then, is regarded as very effective
in carrying out a range of scrutiny and legislative work. But
there is ample evidence that, for all its expertise and experience,
it does not have enough confidence in its own legitimacy. From
time to time the House of Lords amends legislation very effectively,
in ways that are inconvenient to the Government but which can
result in better law. The last occasion was during the recent
passage of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. But these
high profile cases are rare. We judge that there are many more
occasions when the Upper House feels itself unable to act as it
would if it felt more secure in its legitimacy. It is inherently
unsatisfactory for the second chamber to have a wide range of
powers that are unused in this way, and reform should be such
that it helps to give it the confidence to use them whenever appropriate.
61. But the Lords is not an apolitical place where
technocrats and philosopher kings debate issues in an entirely
disinterested atmosphere. Despite the high technical quality of
some of its work, especially on scientific topics, the second
chamber is not primarily an advisory committee or quango, but
a politically-active chamber of the legislature. Therein lies
its chief value. The expertise of the second chamber is of no
value unless it is used effectively in the actual business of
holding government to account and improving the quality of legislation.
62. Nor are all peers wholly convinced of the consistent
quality of the work of the present second chamber. Lord Harrison
(Labour) called for "root and branch reform" of the
House's committee system, which, he said, suffered from the "grace
notes and curlicues" of custom and practice.
Select Committee reports were presented in a "tired and unserviceable
way" and methods of taking evidence were "antiquated,
inefficient and, at
times, downright lacking in civility".
It is only fair to add, however, that the House of Lords is rightly
taking steps to modernise its methods, and has established a Leader's
Group to address the issues.
63. As we noted above, there is widespread evidence
of public disillusionment with our political system. In a recent
report this Committee referred to a 'civic crisis'.
Because the Lords is one of our senior political institutions,
reform should include among its aims a strengthening of the connection
between Parliament and the people. This was well put by Sir Brian
Barder, who said in a submission to us that our democracy is suffering
a "double crisis", with "the establishment of virtually
untrammelled control of the House of Commons by the executive"
and "the collapse of public confidence in Britain's governmental
and parliamentary systems" as demonstrated by the turnout
in the 2001 general election. The measures adopted to reform the
second chamber should, he said:
"1. ensure that the dominance over parliament
of the executive, including the political party machines, is reduced
and monitored, not increased and 2. make the second chamber more
obviously relevant to ordinary people's lives, appropriate to
the 21st century, unarguably democratic, free from the control
of government and party bosses and just plain interesting".
64. The need to make the second chamber interesting
is not a trivial point. Parliament must reconnect with people.
Below we explore ways in which reform could do this.
65. But there is also another sense in which reform
should build on the strengths of the present House of Lords. We
have noted the number of peers who have expressed fears that knowledgeable
and expert voices could be lost if reform were botched. We are
confident that our proposals will help to meet these understandable
66. In similar vein, the contribution made by independent
cross bench peers is rightly seen as lending a distinctive quality
to debate in the Lords. The main parties recognise the importance
of persuading the cross benchers of the virtues of their case,
and this is a feature of the Lords that needs to be safeguarded
in any reform.
67. We note with interest a submission from a group
of cross bench peers including The Rt Hon Lord Chalfont and The
Rt Hon Lord Weatherill.
Their proposals seek to ensure that, in the transition to a new
second chamber, there is no diminution of the contribution of
these independent members. Among the proposals is one to ensure
that no representative of a political party is counted in any
quota of independent members during the period of transition.
While not all the proposals are relevant to our specific recommendations,
we see value in anything which helps to preserve the ethos of
independence in the second chamber, and commend the submission
as an important contribution to the reform debate.
The Legitimacy Issue
68. The question of legitimacy is a running thread
in discussion of second chamber reform. It is dogged by confusions
and misunderstandings. The Lord Chancellor told us that "the
nominated would be as legitimate as the elected",
yet this is conspicuously not so in relation to Ministers (which
is why it is no longer acceptable for senior ministers, including
the Prime Minister, to come from the Lords). If it was so, and
if there could therefore be no competing legitimacies, then logically
the Lord Chancellor's opposition to an elected second chamber
would fall. It is evident that a second chamber that is more legitimate
will perform its role and exercise its powers with more confidence.
That is to be welcomed, if we are serious about having an effective
second chamber. This does not disturb the constitutional balance
between the two bodies, as the subordinate power of the second
chamber is firmly established. We distinguish between the overall
legitimacy of the institution, and the legitimacy of its individual
members. We believe that the former does require a sufficiently
firm basis in election, or the institution will never be taken
seriously enough; but that once this is established there need
be no difference in legitimacy between members drawn from different
29 HC 494-iii, Q324 Back
HC 494-II, LR 17 Back
Ibid, Q326 Back
HC 494-iii, Q282 Back
HC 494-II, LR 15 Back
HC 494-ii, Q124 Back
Lords Hansard 9 January 2002 Col 646 Back
Lords Hansard 9 January 2002 Col 655 Back
Lords Hansard 9 January 2002 Col 656 Back
'Public Participation' First Report 2001/02 HC 334 Back
HC 494-II, LR 44 Back
Ibid, LR 33 Back
HC 494-iii, Q412 Back