Rethinking House of Lords Reform
Haselhurst, Alan, Canadian Parliamentary Review
Throughout its life, like all parliamentary institutions, the House of Lords has been in a state of flux. The road to reform has been a long and rocky one. Ironically, Canada has been facing the same questions over the Senate for almost the same period of time. This article looks at the recent attempt to reform the Upper House.
On September 3, 2012, Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg made a statement to the House of Commons that the House of Lords Reform Bill (HCB 52) had been withdrawn. To shouts of hooray, the Deputy Prime Minister, who led the charge for reform, explained why the process had collapsed after only getting as far as its Second Reading. Oddly enough, the Second Reading had resulted in 462 members voting in favour of the Bill to 124 against. (1)
This Statement ended what was a two and a half year process of attempting to alter the structure and makeup of the United Kingdom Parliament's Upper House; a practice that has been ongoing for the last century. I was not in the Chamber that morning, but if I was, I do not know if I too would have shouted hooray or cried out in despair.
In 2010, as it had done over previous elections, the Liberal Democrat Party placed in their manifesto that it would "Replace the House of Lords with a fully-elected second chamber with considerably fewer members than the current House". (2) The Conservative Party limited itself to saying that it "will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords, recognising that an efficient and effective second chamber should play an important role in our democracy and requires both legitimacy and public confidence". (3)
In 2009, the then leader of the Party (and current Prime Minister David Cameron) had nevertheless proclaimed Lords Reform a 'third term issue'. However, this was clearly an item likely to appeal to the Liberal Democrats when in 2010 these two parties discussed forming the first post-war Coalition Government. As such, when the Coalition Agreement came about, the Conservative Party agreed to include reform of the House of Lords, by stating that "We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election". (4) In hindsight, perhaps it should have been obvious to the Liberal Democrats that an agreement to establish a committee does not equate with passing legislation. Nevertheless, between May 2010 and September 2012, after half a dozen cross-party talks, the drafting of a White Paper and draft Bill (Cm 8077), not to mention the formation of a Joint Committee to examine the proposals. What comprised the Bill is briefly listed below:
House of Lords Reform Bill (HCB 52 12/12) (5)
360 elected members,
90 appointed members (Life Peers),
Up to 12 Lords Spiritual (Archbishops/Bishops) and Ministerial members. Most importantly, no Hereditary Peers.
120 members would be elected at each election (3 elections, 5 years each)
Each elected Member would have a nonrenewable term of 15 years
Elections would be via an open list system (STV in Northern Ireland),
Electoral districts would be created
Elected members would be disqualified from standing as MPs for a period of four years after their term expires
Non Elected Members:
House of Lords Appointments Commission would be set up to recommend nominated peers
Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 (see below):
Neither would be repealed
Current membership of the House of Lords (as of 8 October 2012) (6)
674 Life Peers
92 Hereditary Peers
Although it is hard to say what the final Bill would have looked like after all the legislative stages had been completed, nothing in the Bill itself condemned it to the scrap heap. …