The Latest Attempt at Reform of the House of Lords - One Step Forward and Another One Back

By Ryan, Mark | Nottingham Law Journal, Annual 2013 | Go to article overview

The Latest Attempt at Reform of the House of Lords - One Step Forward and Another One Back


Ryan, Mark, Nottingham Law Journal


INTRODUCTION

"When it comes to House of Lords reform during this Parliament, the ship has sailed". (1) Sadiq Khan, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, January 2013.

In September 2012 the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made a statement in the House of Commons confirming that the House of Lords Reform Bill had been withdrawn. (2) Although the Bill had secured a Second Reading in the House of Commons in July by the decisive margin of 462 to 124 votes, (3) there was nevertheless an evident lack of support from MPs for the Bill's accompanying Programme Motion. Without such a motion the Bill could not have realistically navigated its passage through the Commons. (4) It might however have been so different as 2012 could have proved to have been the watershed year in the protracted history of Lords reform. Not only did a Joint Committee largely endorse the key elements of the Government's draft Bill, but more significantly, the 2012 House of Lords Reform Bill was the first Government Bill aimed at substantial reform of the second chamber to be presented to the House of Commons since Harold Wilson's Parliament (No. 2) Bill in December 1968. (5) This article examines these most recent developments and concludes by considering the prospects for reform.

THE JOINT COMMITTEE ON THE DRAFT HOUSE OF LORDS REFORM BILL

After the publication of the draft Bill in 2011, both Houses of Parliament established a Joint Committee with the remit to examine and report on its detail. Pre-legislative scrutiny is of course crucial for constitutional measures, as stressed recently by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution. In fact, it argued that the requirement that significant constitutional legislation undergoes pre-legislative scrutiny should only be departed from in exceptional circumstances. (6) The presentation of the House of Lords Reform Bill in draft was therefore to be welcomed as sound legislative practice. The treatment of this particular constitutional measure however, contrasted markedly with the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny afforded the 2010 Fixed-term Parliaments Bill. (7)

The Joint Committee was chaired by Lord Richard and its composition was both large and unwieldy. It crossed the political divide and comprised 13 MPs (8) together with 13 members of the House of Lords (which included two crossbenchers and a Bishop). (9) Although pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill could have been assigned to the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (10) or even a Royal Commission, (11) given that the measure was aimed at reforming the second chamber, it was apposite for it be considered by a Joint Committee which enabled the direct involvement and input of a significant number of peers. The Joint Committee issued its report after eight months (albeit with an extension) and the time allocated to this Joint Committee was in striking contrast to the woefully insufficient ten sitting weeks granted to the Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill in 2008. (12) In light of the size of the Joint Committee and given the highly divisive and emotive issue of Lords reform, it was inevitable that its report would not be a unanimous one. As Lord Richard observed, since Lords reform had been divisive for over a century "It would have been remarkable had this not been reflected in the committee itself." (13)

The Joint Committee's report was published in April 2012 (14) and was debated shortly afterwards on the Floor of the House of Lords in a two-day Motion to Take Note. (15) It was curious that it was not considered in the Commons, but presumably this was because a debate on the Second Reading of the fully-fledged Bill was impending. As the Joint Committee's report was not unanimous, in an unprecedented move a sizeable minority of 12 Committee members published their own parallel Alternative Report. (16) By virtue of Erskine May parliamentary rules, committee members who dissent from a report may not append a minority report, (17) however they can publish a report independently, outside of the formal framework of their select committee. …

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