Letter from the Secretary of State for Constitutional
Affairs and Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, to the
Chairman of the Joint Committee
I am pleased to enclose two copies of the Government's
official response to your Committee's very helpful and constructive
second report of 9 May.
16 July 2003
JOINT COMMITTEE ON HOUSE OF LORDS REFORM : SECOND
1. The Government is grateful for the work which
the Joint Committee has undertaken in considering the issues raised
by further reform of the House of Lords, and which is reflected
in both this Report and their First Report on December 2002 (HL
Paper 17; HC 171). This is the Government's response to the
specific issues raised by the Joint Committee.
2. The two Reports are the product of a careful analysis
of the many and fundamental issues which are raised by the question
of the reform of the UK's second chamber. They provide a useful
synthesis of the arguments to date, and identify a number of areas
where there is wide agreement on the objectives of reform, for
example over the role and functions of the House of Lords. They
provide a fitting summary of the debate which has taken place
since the establishment in January 1999 of the Royal Commission
chaired by Lord Wakeham.
3. Consistently with the Joint Committee's original
remit, its First Report proposed a number of different possible
compositions for the House of Lords, with varying numbers of elected
members. The Government had hoped, in seeking the establishment
of the Joint Committee, that consideration of these options by
both Houses of Parliament would give an indication of a way forward
that would be acceptable to both Houses. The options were debated
in the House of Commons on 21 January 2003 and in the House of
Lords on 21 and 22 January. These debates were followed on 4 February
by votes in each House.
4. Those votes resulted in a clear decision in the
House of Lords in favour of a wholly appointed House. There was,
however, no such clear decision from the House of Commons, which
voted against every one of the Joint Committee's proposed configurations.
These votes, as the Joint Committee has recognised in this Second
Report, have made it difficult for it to continue with the second
part of its original remit, to work up a detailed proposed blue-print
for reform. That failure is no reflection on the quality of the
work the Joint Committee has done up to now.
5. The Government agrees with the Joint Committee's
view that the Parliamentary votes have shown that there is no
consensus about introducing any elected element in the House of
6. The Joint Committee states in paragraph 3 of its
Report that 'simply to maintain the status quo' is undesirable.
The Government agrees with that view. If the present configuration
of the House is to become a medium-term rather than a short-term
settlement, then some changes will be needed. The Joint Committee
has itself noted a number of areas where there might usefully
be further work around the re-configuration of a wholly appointed
7. The Government strongly welcomes the Committee's
views on the role and powers of the House of Lords. In particular,
the Government agrees with the Joint Committee that there should
be no significant change in the powers and functions of the House.
The House of Commons must remain pre-eminent. The Government shares
the Joint Committee's concern to ensure proper co-ordination of
the legislative loads between the two Houses. It supports the
Joint Committee's view that a consensus has now been established
around the proper role, functions and powers of the House of Lords,
and that all proposals for further reform must respect that consensus.
8. The Government also endorses the Joint Committee's
analysis, in paragraph 23 of its Report, of the five qualities
which need to be applied to the composition of a House which can
perform the functions assigned to it. Those five qualities of
legitimacy; representativeness; no domination by one party; independence;
and expertise must remain the touchstone against which all reforms,
whether major or minor, are measured.
9. The Government has already announced a further
major reform of the House of Lords, with its decision to establish
a separate Supreme Court. That will lead to the removal of the
Law Lords. The Joint Committee report calls (paragraph 20) for
full public discussion of this issue. The Government published
on 14 July a consultation paper designed to facilitate precisely
this debate with a request for comments by 7 November.
10. In addition, the Government has invited the House
to consider establishing a Speakership independent of the executive.
The House has appointed a Select Committee to consider this matter.
11. The key issue in establishing the present House
of Lords in a stable state for the medium term is the appointments
process for new members. The Joint Committee discusses this issue
in paragraphs 29-30 of its report. The Government agrees that
the appointments process must display 'independence and integrity'
and must be 'respected and viable' and that the Government should
examine the present arrangements with a view to seeing where they
might be strengthened. The Government therefore proposes to consider
this issue further over the course of the summer, and will consult
in the autumn on proposals for a revised Appointments Commission.
12. This consultation on the role of the Appointments
Commission will give the opportunity for looking at a number of
the other issues highlighted by the Joint Committee. Foremost
among these are the optimum and maximum size of the House (paragraph
27 of the Committee's Report); how to ensure that the House is
as representative as possible on a broad range of measures, including
ethnicity, gender, and making sure the nations and the regions
are properly represented (paragraph 17 of the Report); and how
to widen the basis for religious representation (paragraph 31).
13. The Joint Committee highlights the position of
the remaining hereditary peers. It remains the Government's policy,
as set out in its White Paper in November 2001, that the remaining
hereditary peers should be removed from the House.
14. The Government is grateful to the Joint Committee
for the work that they have done, and their efforts to take forward
the question of House of Lords reform. It agrees with the Joint
Committee that its work, and that of the Royal Commission and
the Government itself before it, have produced a considerable
degree of consensus on the roles, functions and powers of the
House of Lords. They have demonstrated, in contrast, that there
is no consensus about the best composition for the second chamber.
For the time being, the Government will concentrate on making
the House of Lords work as effectively as possible in fulfilment
of its important role.