Letter from Professor Lord Hunt of Chesterton
CB (LR 12)
I am glad you are holding hearings on the reform
of the House of Lords, and are seeking evidence. I enclose a letter
I wrote to the Times (unpublished) which expresses my thoughts
(as a relative newcomer).
You might be interested to hear that at a recent
open meeting at UCL when this was discussed (along with other
topical matters) there was not much enthusiasm even for the limited
elected element proposed by the GovernmentI was surprised.
On the basis of my 18 months experience as a
Labour Peer, I find that I can broadly support the Lords' reform
recently proposed by the Royal Commission and the Government.
So I have to disagree with your editorial views on this point
and on the effectiveness of the Lords in general. Because the
media, with the notable exception of BBC radio, barely report
at all on the legislative process or on the role of the Lords,
many of your correspondents' comments on its future do not seem
to be based on much familiarity with how it actually works.
As the Prime Minister explained, Bills are regularly
improved by the Lords. For example in the recent Transport Bill,
environmental considerations. which had escaped the Commons' notice
were included in Lords amendments. In the Freedom of Information
Bill, useful ministerial statements about the operation of the
Act, which have legal force, were made following representations
by outside organisations who on this, as in many occasions, make
full use of the Lords to promote their companies. My Scandinavian
friends say that having eliminated reforming second chambers from
their parliaments, second attempts at legislation become more
Obviously the Lords should be more representative,
especially of the UK regions, which is why the new proposals include
having a good proportion of elected members. This essentially
complements the continuing practice of political and independent
appointment of members from a wide range of backgrounds, including
the holding of various kinds of elected office (as I have myself).
A continental student observing the UK parliament commended the
practice of having part-time politicians, who do not live in a
Although there is a fear that these two types
of member will be regarded as first and second class, this is
probably unlikely given the gradual way that the changes are being
introduced and also the constructive way in which members with
different experiences work together. Indeed the interactions of
these two kinds of members should make the Lords more lively and
Finally, why should we be so worried as some
politicians seem to be, that these reforms may be experimental
and interim? This would be quite consistent with the usual heuristic
practice of British constitutional developments?
Lord Hunt of Chesterton