House of Lords Reform

Lord Soley

Although I think the House of Lords is too large and needs to be reduced in size I don’t think the discussion about reform should start with that particular issue. We can and probably will be reducing the size in the reasonably near future. The bigger question is what do we want our second chamber to do? What should be its role and functions?

Those who want a quick look at existing functions can look at this entry on the Parliament web site:

I think a country the size of the UK needs a second chamber and I also see it as an important protection for our democracy and constitution. As long as the elected chamber can over-ride the appointed chamber in most matters then your democratic accountability is preserved and it is important to remember that appointed chambers can be a powerful check at times when social and economic stress results in an authoritarian party taking power. Never forget that Hitler and Mussolini were elected. Elections alone are not enough to protect your freedoms.

I think the primary role of the Lords is to revise and scrutinise legislation but I think it is and should remain much wider then that.

The issue of election to the second chamber should be addressed in the context of the British constitution. Precisely because our constitution is unwritten it makes it difficult to elect a second chamber without producing a continuing conflict for supremacy beteen the Houses UNLESS you write a constituion first which defines the powers of each House.

There is a case for a second chamber elected from the regions of the UK which, given the welcome devolution of power in recent years, would enable us to bring the devolved parts together in the second chamber. You could also have a partly elected second chamber which reflects this principle.

An appointed chamber does have many arguments going for it in the British situation but we need to rethink how those appointments are done. We might also want to consider change carried out progressively rather than in a single Act of Parliament that is currently proposed and which I think is wholly unrealistic and unlikely to find its way onto the statute book.

25 comments for “House of Lords Reform

  1. Senex
    09/06/2011 at 3:20 pm

    The recent EU bill finds the upper house supporting a 40% turnout as a precondition of accepting the outcome of a referendum. The house is therefore attempting to define legitimacy on a different basis to the legitimacy of elected government under the FPtP system as endorsed by the outcome of a referendum. There is no legal definition of electorate or turnout that would hold together under Judicial Review so the 40% amendment is at best a futile gesture.

    Futility is the hall mark of the upper chamber; it revises only to see the revisions overthrown more often than not by the primacy of the lower house. If on the other hand the upper house had elective legitimacy it could pursue the means of acquiring a legal definition of electorate and turnout that the lower house would have to respect.

    This leads onto what sort of democracy should serve the upper house. Some say it should be done on the same basis as the Commons but this immediately creates a tug of love between lower and upper houses in the electorates mind. Better that the upper house adopts an indirect form of democracy relevant to its need because democracy only works when relevant to a need. If the lower house must serve the needs of all the people the upper house should serve the needs of the establishment otherwise we end up with a US style Congress with its industry of establishment lobbyists working invisibly to effect change.

    Then there are money matters. All the members of the upper house have to be self sufficient; their livelihoods have to be sustainable. Why can’t taxation be based upon the same premise, that of sustainability. If the lower house wishes to apply taxation destructively the upper house should seek by persuasion to tax on a more sustainable basis in full view of both electorate and establishment.

    • maude elwes
      11/06/2011 at 2:58 pm

      @ Senex:

      I go along with your second paragraph.

      However, I really feel that there is no need whatsoever to have so called ‘appointed’ people to the upper chamber.

      On what basis would they be appointed? Look at what happens presently. Many are appointed on the basis that they will promote party idealism rather than be of the real world. Politically correct candidates are there simply to fill the chamber with ‘yes’ people. Yes to whatever crazy move a government wants to thrust on the electorate. (There still lingers the spectre of the Blair/Brown’s madness) And with no way of removing them once they have their backside on that red seat.

      I think this irks me more than anything else. The can’t oust them, no matter what, clause. What should be taken into account are the non arriver’s, or, those who clock in and leave. Those who commit crimes and those who fiddle expenses. Those who are the funders with plenty to splash around, or, those who are relatives or close friends.

      All levels of society should be accounted for and the well off should not be over represented as they are presently.

      A cross section is good, as long as they have something to offer in real terms. Too many academics are not necessarily as enlightening as may seem on paper. Brilliant some of them may be, but brilliance nearly always comes with obsession or fanaticism. Or, they simply want to play out an experiment or two, just to sample the possibility of a theory in action.

      I like balancers and levelers. Common sense addicts and realists. And those with no axes to grind. With a splash of free spirits and futurists to lift the excitement level.

      And of course they must have more power in order to balance the bolshiness of the lower House, who likewise have no mandate from the voter to govern, even thought they claim to do so.

  2. MilesJSD
    09/06/2011 at 6:23 pm

    This matter, as with other grave matters, needs to be constructed in all-round long-term depth and thoroughness.

    Terms need to be defined up-front;
    and Needs need to be exhaustively Listed up-front.

    For instance, “Sustainability” is an unsafe-starting base:
    remember that The Third Reich would have been “sustain-able” had it not been for a large measure of ‘dirty-work’ and eventual military-destruction of it by The Allied Forces and Economies;
    what it was not, from its conception, was “Sustain-worthy”.

    So, to ensure both immediate and longest-possible-term sustain-worthinesses at every level of the British Nation & State, that should be a main duty and function-ability of the Second/Upper/Senate/ or House of Lords; and that should also direct its composition.

    That is certainly not going to happen by having it closed-elected by the First/Lower/ Commons/ or House of Representatives (whose duty evidently should be limited to meeting all the Needs of all levels of The People and of the State.

    “The Establishment” has never been there on behalf of The People, only on behalf of Itself and of the Wealthy & Powerful who support or ‘own’ it.

    At this point I have to risk having this submission ‘blocked’ (by LOTB’s/Hansard’s Moderation Beccy Allen, who is currently blocking a previous submission on the flimsy authoritarian-judgemental ground that it contains material previously submitted. Material but always ignored, denied or distorted-diluted-beyond-recognition):

    Lord Soley has done a reasonably clear opening-post and it needs responses that follow the three principles of good-communication and honest-argumentation
    1. State your facts, factors, formal-argumentation, moral-reasoning, and life-experience, clearly.
    2. Openly recognise the good-intention contained in every other participant’s submission.
    3. Be openly self-corrective where you find you were mis-informed or mistaken, or are shown by another to have been wrong or omissive.

    “Democracy” needs to be (continually) defined in conjunction with the various duties, responsibilities, and response-abilities of every level of both Governance and People.

    Every-one needs to be able to check our current location on a Timeframe Chart of Democratisation.

    To say or imply that we already have, for instance, a fully-functional and sustain-worthy Democracy, is worse than false, it is destructively-malfeasant and irresponsibly-shortsighted.

    That is why submissions need to be Clear; Charitable; and Self-Corrigible –
    to the point of re-submission or continual-repetition where they have been neither insufficiently recognised nor constructively-responded to.

    I would submit that ensuring publication of such democratic-submission, question, and scrutiny, from any level or individual of The People, should also be a duty of the Second-House.


    • Hansard Society
      Beccy Allen
      10/06/2011 at 10:42 am

      JSDM the point of this blog is to encourage debate and dialouge between members of the House of Lords and members of the public. Your constant repetition of the same content (that is often mostly off topic) does not do much for the debate – as many other commentors have also pointed out. If you need to remind yourself of the guidelines they are here

      • MilesJSD
        11/06/2011 at 3:30 am

        Beccy Allen
        et Al

        the Point of an Honest Democracy is that before your sort of Top-Down, Upper-Class-Self-Interested,
        Trad-Establishment-Promoting, One-Way “Debating”-“winner takes all”,
        “first past-the-post-horse-racing-rush”,
        is allowed to dominate all levels of the Nation
        to the inhibition of new-knowledge and new-sustainworthy-lifestyling

        you at the ‘Top’ as well as we ‘the People’ at the ‘Bottom’ need cooperative-level Information-sharing & Discussion;

        and exhaustively so;

        not “Debating”.

        We first need rational non-competitive Discussion, including sharing all of the facts, factors, life-experience, scrutiny-questions, and constructive-submissions.
        Your rules and practices are still overly and obsolescently based upon your Top-End Wrong-Habits-That-Feel-Right,

        your own posts have become unconstructively repetitive,

        and your suppression of my submissions only proves this.


  3. Matt
    09/06/2011 at 7:06 pm

    I’m afraid I didn’t follow any of that, Senex.

    Lord Soley ~ What I want the second chamber to do is largely what it does already, BUT for it to have a bit more clout and backbone, in order for it to provide more of a ‘nuisance value’ to the executive of the day. I also want it to be a forum of a very different and distinctive character to the Commons … So an elected element + A random ‘jury’ style element + A life peer element + An hereditary peer element + Senior bishops and retired judges = the best mix, for me.

  4. Gareth Howell
    09/06/2011 at 9:34 pm

    Even a different voting system would vary the
    power relationship between the two houses, but in an unquantifiable way.

    We might also want to consider change carried out progressively rather than in a single Act of Parliament that is currently proposed and which I think is wholly unrealistic and unlikely to find its way onto the statute book.

    I’ve been interested in Lords reform since 1997, which was the first time anybody nominated me for it. Lords reform is surely progressive even for 100 years or more.

    It is surely the democracy of the place, to be done by the people, which is in question now, but only a sop to the Libdem party in govt, in reality.

    This cliché about people who would never be involved in politics having a hugely valuable
    contribution to make, so being peers, is just so much nonsense. I read an interesting definition of politics today, which was not very polite, but needless to say, politics begins with two, and, in the words of the old joke, it is when the third one comes along that the problems begin. When two or three are gathered together.

    If the “great and the good” are not capable of standing for election then their political skills in the house of lords are no good either.

    Of course UK needs a second chamber. It has a population which is more than a third as many again as California, and that state has got two, and makes good use of them. There are limits to tenure of elected office in that state as well.

    We would do well to adapt other bicameral
    parliament methods worldwide to our own use, rather than pretend ours is better than theirs, from longevity alone.

    Just/ because our Colonial office boffins
    invented the constitution of say Zimbabwe, is no reason to be sanctimonious about our own parliamentary procedures!

  5. Graham
    10/06/2011 at 12:24 pm

    A very sensible post from Lord Soley. A partially elected (maybe indirectly) and partially appointed chamber seems the most appropriate, although the way appointments are made would need to change, with considerably more openness. I would be keen to see the power of political parties limited: of course, I recognise that practical politics requires parties, but there should be a considerable “cross-bench” element as well (presumably they would all be appointed rather than elected, in practice).

  6. Lord Soley
    Lord Soley
    10/06/2011 at 3:08 pm

    JSDM. Beccy Allen is right. I often don’t fully read your comments because they are too long and off subject. You can and do write short ones that are to the point. Don’t waste your time with long ones that are not relevant – nobody will read them.

  7. Twm
    10/06/2011 at 7:14 pm

    JSDM Yes. Some aspects of his “futurism” have something to offer in terms of perspective.
    His punctuation, and affected grammar, nothing whatsoever.

    “Better that the upper house adopts an indirect form of democracy relevant to its need because democracy only works when relevant to a need.”

    I did not make the point well above. My suggestion was that the two houses should have different methods of electing their members; ie HofC FPTP, since we have learned that it is the prefered method, and the HofL to have, say, AV+.

    The difference would probably be sufficiently random to discourage the kind of lobbying mentioned by Senex above, a post of which I appreciated every word.

    • Matt
      11/06/2011 at 10:24 am

      As I’ve mentioned alreasy elsewhere, I really don’t think it’s feasible to push through another ‘tricksy’ voting system, after AV recieved such a definitive thumbs-down … and I was a supporter of it. ‘First And Second Past The Post’, sending two ‘county peers’ from each large area, will do fine.

    • ladytizzy
      12/06/2011 at 9:33 pm

      “I did not make the point well above.”

      It would appear that your original point has not made the cut unless this refers to another post or it has been made under a different username. Would you clarify, please?

  8. Senex
    12/06/2011 at 12:21 pm

    Matt: On the nature of the houses reforming role. Does it not concern you that the house can amend legislation but have no responsibility whatsoever as to its use once it reaches statute? This is nature of the appointments system – its work need only be academic not practical this is why so much of it is thrown out by government. Given this lack of accountability is it any wonder that the house cannot relate to ordinary people and why it was felt necessary to create an outreach blog.

    Everybody has a problem with the establishment at one point or another in their lives; it is the enormous frustration felt at this time that often shapes those lives. Two of the best companies I ever worked for were American. The culture within these companies was inclusive and everybody could have their say to effect change within their establishment. I have always contrasted this with working for British companies. A top down, do as you are told culture that worked to exclude people; board members that have no basis in reality only a pot of money to buy their shareholding and with only one purpose to line their own pockets. This sadly is still the case in all manner of British owned enterprise.

    If people in their daily working lives feel excluded, the NHS is a case in point, how are they to perceive the establishment as represented by the House of Lords? This is why a HoL outreach blog is groundbreaking and something that could not happen in the Commons or indeed in any Parliament that has both houses directly elected by the people. If the house was to be so elected the blog would have to go and people would have to write invisibly to their representatives in the house maintaining the establishment status quo.

    Before 1911 the culture within Parliament was to combine the efforts of both houses in the pursuit of tax revenues. The Lords was dominant in this relationship but the balance was to achieve sustainable taxation to encourage the grand lifestyles of peers at the people’s expense. This cycle was broken in 1911 and rightly so but the Commons went on to plunder tax revenues without regard to long term sustainability as though 1911 never happened.

    But what could the Commons do about this? Nothing! Because people wanted more and it had to be paid for. The electorate and the Commons between them have plundered the nations wealth sinking to the depths of thinking that debt and gambling were sustainable over the long term. Now, even if the working rich were to surrender all of their wealth and combine it to pay off the national debt it would be a just drop in an ocean of red ink. The people and the Commons have entered into a destructive cycle of decline no different to that of a yesteryear Parliament. How do any at the ballot box stop or slow down this decline? Endorse an indirectly elected HoL!

  9. ladytizzy
    12/06/2011 at 10:29 pm

    Lord Soley: “As long as the elected chamber can over-ride the appointed chamber in most matters then your democratic accountability is preserved…

    With all due love and respect, no it isn’t if a partially appointed chamber has the ability to prevail over an elected chamber at least once.

    There is a case for a second chamber elected from the regions of the UK which, given the welcome devolution of power in recent years, would enable us to bring the devolved parts together in the second chamber.

    What other means of electing a second chamber did you have in mind?

  10. Matt
    13/06/2011 at 4:06 pm

    Senex, I’m sure you are making some good points along the way, but I’m really struggling to follow your line of argument.

    What do you mean, for example, by ‘lack of accountability’?

    Why couldn’t the Commons have an outreach blog?

    What changes are you proposing as regards Lords composition and powers?

    How is the ‘establishment status quo’ relevant, one way or the other?

    • Senex
      16/06/2011 at 9:16 pm

      Matt: Good question on why there is no MP Outreach blog? Only the Speaker of the Commons can answer that. This blog came from an initiative by the Lord Speaker and Hansard to improve awareness of what the house does.

      Is the HoL accountable to anybody? Who delegates their authority to its members? The Monarchy orders peers to attend Parliament but the authority of the Monarchy is not delegated to peers; on this basis they are independent and accountable to no one. They cannot be got rid of except by an act of Parliament even when personal conduct has been deplorable. Contrast this with an MP: their authority comes from their constituency electorate and that electorate can get rid of them. So an MP is accountable to someone, a peer is not.

      There is no reason why every appointed peer could not be part of an election process making them accountable to somebody. However, a number of peers on the blog have suggested the house’s membership has become too large too unmanageable. On this basis Lords composition will be determined collectively by its membership.

      The powers of a new house would be determined by the public through their MPs and by the Commons in cooperation with the HoL. In the short term no extra powers would be needed for the house to perform its role as a reforming chamber. However, because peers would be accountable to some one no MP could accuse the house of a lack of legitimacy and dismiss reform on this basis. This would be new to the political process and increased powers would flow from this newly acquired legitimacy.

      If you look at the membership of the house most are senior members of establishments outside of Parliament. Collectively they represent the establishment per se. An indirectly elected house would allow the represented establishment within Parliament to synchronise with the establishment outside, as that establishment changes. At the moment we end up with a load of fuddy-duddy people who have lost their relevance to a contemporary society, through no fault of their own I might add, thereby maintaining a status quo.

      • Matt
        17/06/2011 at 5:53 pm

        I think I’m starting to get you, Senex, but still not entirely clear … Who would be in the electoral college that voted in the second chamber seats?

  11. Lord Soley
    Lord Soley
    13/06/2011 at 7:58 pm

    There are any number of posible reforms and I suspect they will be discussed when the new committee is set up.
    Any fully elected chamber will almost inevitable challenge the Commons – you might even get a prime minister in the Lords again!
    Electing members from the regions could be done as part of a reformed House but having two types of members may not work well – I’m thinking about that!
    Having a House wholly elected from the regions could limit their influence on other areas of policy but do we want to do that?
    Indirect election is another option but it might not get the most dynamic members. We have a lot of thinking to do but the essential point made by several of you is that we want it to be able to scrutinise the legislation well.

    • Senex
      16/06/2011 at 9:35 pm

      LS: You are bogged down with a democracy model not relevant to the need. A directly elected house would be no different the house before 1999. Hereditarily peers could never pull from their ranks the diversity that exists in the current house. If we ignore their titles for a moment they were just good ordinary people, well intentioned but struggling with the work load.

      Now if you were to say that Parliament had moved beyond governance on the cheap by creating a ‘Parliamentary Research Service’ at a cost of say 7 billions per annum, then these directly elected peers would like the US Senate make good use of such a service and the house size could be reduced to fewer than 100. Buddy, it isn’t going to happen, so the framework and strengths of the present house must be maintained until such a time that we can afford a PRS, if ever.

  12. Senex
    19/06/2011 at 12:36 pm

    Matt: On the subject of Electoral Colleges in an indirectly elected house.

    Below is a paraphrase of a ‘Humble Petition’ given in a series of notes presented to the blog a while ago on how the house might acquire elective legitimacy relevant to its needs.

    The Lords Appointment Commission asked the constitution unit of UCL to provide an “Analysis of existing data on the breadth of expertise and experience in the House of Lords”. The report was published in March 2010.

    Excluding political peers the house can be divided into a number of tribes. These tribes would have high council members elected to the house by tribe or by a delegated authority, to and by our oldest universities Oxford and Cambridge.

    If Parliament were to embrace a ‘Parliamentary Research Service’ only the chieftains of each tribe would be elected to the house thereby drastically reducing its numbers. This could be a long term ambition for Parliament to begin say in100 years time essentially returning the house by size to that of the Tudor era thereby removing the centuries of abuse by the Stuart legacy.

    Political peers would be elected by their political parties post General Election. Here candidates would display their fine wares to their party establishment. Peers returned to the house would mirror pro rata those returned to the Commons providing a ‘house majority’. The balance of power would lay with the other tribes Lords Temporal and Spiritual being fixed in number.

    Ref: Table 6 – Primary and secondary professional area, p15

  13. Matt
    19/06/2011 at 5:01 pm

    Senex: Gosh, that sounds complicated!

    And where on earth does this notion of ‘tribal leaders’ come from??

    The report you provide a link to could be used to suggest that we need to elect second-chamber seats on an occupational, rather than territorial (constituency) basis. If that is what you are leaning towards, then there is something to be said for it – but we would need complete clarity as to how it would work, and what the percentage-shares of each occupational-group would be etc …

  14. Mark B.
    20/06/2011 at 3:46 am

    I would support an elected Lords only if those standing were life peers rather than career politicians.

    Personally I would suggest that parties put forward a list of lords similar to the Scottish List system, at 80/20%

    We maintain our peer system and Lords can put themselves forward for the list
    We would keep the lords expertise, while allowing the country to decide which parties to be represented, the 20% to maintain appointed cross benchers, limit the number to 300 full time lords for periods of 4 years.

    Sounds like the perfect compromise to me.

  15. Matt
    20/06/2011 at 10:18 am

    Mark B. : There is something that is worth exploring in your idea. The trouble is, of course, that some life peers are life peers precisely because they are career politicians! We could, of course, count all peers as eligible candidates; hereditaries as well as lifers … That would be interesting.

  16. Senex
    20/06/2011 at 2:59 pm

    Matt: On complexity: previous attempts at Lords Reform have floundered because reform has centred on what powers a reformed house should have rather than improving the efficacy the house. In 1911 the house debated the ‘House of Lords Reconstitution Bill’. The Marquess of Lansdowne rose to speak:

    “…Indeed, I should almost venture to go further and to say that, if one of those questions is entitled to priority over the other, the reform of this House should come first, because, surely, it is impossible to decide what sort of powers, what sort of authority you shall give to any Assembly, until you have some idea, at all events, of the manner in which that Assembly is going to be composed…”

    Here an indirectly elected chamber based upon territory is dismissed.

    “…We found ourselves in the end driven to choose between two alternative plans. In the first place, we considered whether it might not be possible that this section of the House should be chosen by indirect election through the county and borough councils. The kind of scheme that we had in our minds, was that these great municipal bodies should choose from their own ranks electoral colleges, and that these colleges again should choose members of your Lordships’ House. But…”

    The reformed house size is set at 120.

    “…Now I come to the mode of election of these 120 Lords of Parliament. We propose to set up for each electoral district an electoral college, and we propose that that college shall be composed of the members of the House of Commons representing constituencies comprised within the limits of the electoral district…”

    His use of the term ‘Lords of Parliament’ is inappropriate because the phrase is associated with the Lords Spiritual the Bishops.

    The issues debated in 1911 are uncannily reminiscent of the issues facing the house today. A directly (plebeian) elected house has no constitutional precedent, however the precedent for an indirectly elected house is established by the Acts of Union, 1707 Scotland, 1800 Ireland and House of Lords Act 1999.

    Ref: HoL: Reform and Proposals For Reform Since 1900
    House of Lords Reconstitution Bill, HL Deb 08 May 1911 vol 8 cc215-42

  17. Matt
    20/06/2011 at 6:09 pm

    Well full marks for advocating the re-introduction of a 1911 bill! ~ This has a certain flair and eccentricity to it ~ If only you had told us that this is what you had in mind, in the first place … From what I can glean, you would be happy for, say, five newly-elected MPs from neighbouring constituencies to get together and vote-in one or two ‘lords of parliament’ for the second chamber?

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