Lords reform White Paper

Lord Norton

The Government White Paper on Lords reform is expected to be published tomorrow (Monday).   I and others will have the opportunity to comment further once it is published, but here are a few questions to bear in mind when you see the details:

To what extent does the White Paper actually provide an intellectually coherent case for change as opposed simply to accepting a declaratory vote in the House of Commons?

To what extent does it define the terms that are used to underpin the case for reform?  Taking terms such as democracy, legitimacy and representation as given, as opposed to contested concepts, would suggest ignorance of the literature on the concepts as well as recent work relating them to the upper chamber.  To refer to election of the second chamber as ‘the democratic option’ as if that is a self-evident truism should be taken as indicative of intellectual laziness.

Taking one of these concepts, that of representation, to what extent is the White Paper able to distinguish between representative as denoting a principal-client relationship and representative as denoting a socially typical body?  Lord Chancellor Jack Straw has variously mixed the two, ignoring the fact that the two are not necessarily compatible.  An elected (representative) second chamber can work against producing a more socially typical (representative) chamber.

If it is merely a document concerned with the mechanics for producing an elected chamber, how consistent are the proposals?  I have already drawn attention to the potential conflict between the purpose of having a single, long-term of office with the proposal for recall petitions.

Of course, the leaks about the content of the White Paper could be misleading.  Maybe it is a work of deep philosophical reasoning.  We shall see.  Watch this space.

7 comments for “Lords reform White Paper

  1. Adrian Kidney
    14/07/2008 at 6:03 am

    Lord Norton, do you get copies of White Papers, reports, and so on, mailed directly to your office at the Palace, or is there a central point that peers can collect any documents they wish?

  2. lordnorton
    14/07/2008 at 8:58 am

    Adrian Kidney: In the Lords, parliamentary papers and other documents, such as the White Paper, are held in the Printed Paper Office (PPO). We pick up order papers, Hansard, and the relevant papers for the day’s proceedings from there. Occasionally, as I suspect may happen with the White Paper, a document is circulated to all members via their mail trays.

  3. NHackett
    14/07/2008 at 1:48 pm

    The reform of the House of Lords under this government has become a huge farce. The 1999 reform which was Tony Blair’s big chance to change things was watered down because New Labour had no idea what the end position was to be and did not want an all appointed second chamber. From 1999 onwards there has been no direction on what the government wants no leadership in reform and White papers that have become increasingly comic. The fact that this present government thinks that it has the solutions in its present difficulty only goes to demonstrate its problems. These latest proposals will only result in a quick retreat once announced by the increasingly irrelevant present leader of the House and consigned like most of the present government’s announcements of late to the political dustbin. It is an insult to a great institution and a testament to the Lords that each set of new proposals becomes more and more unworkable.

  4. W Ollerenshaw
    14/07/2008 at 3:15 pm

    Is the paper published online as it is released? I can not seem to find it on Parliament’s website.

  5. lordnorton
    14/07/2008 at 9:09 pm

    Yes, it is available via the Ministry of Justice website. It can be found at:


  6. Adrian Kidney
    15/07/2008 at 8:21 am

    So, Lord Norton, do you think the Government’s obsession with reform of the second chamber is a) a will-intended but naive belief in the inherent superiority and magnamimous civic-minded generosity of the elected representative, or b) a cynical ploy to replace the best check on Government heavy-handedness with a totally compliant rubber-stamping institution? Or c) something else?

    I notice in the White Paper that the Government insists an elected second chamber would be more active and assertive than the Lords, but does not give any explanation as to why it believes this or how it envisions it would be more active, considering the limitations on the Lords’ powers.

  7. lordnorton
    15/07/2008 at 10:38 am

    The parties seem to be motivated by a desire not to be out-flanked by the other parties, apparently working under the delusion that this somehow matters to people in the country. As you will see from my latest post, the White Paper contains various unsubstantiated assertions, not least in relation to legitimacy and democracy.

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