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UNITED KINGDOM


SECOND READING OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS REFORM BILL


On 9 July 2012 the House of Commons spent the first of two days debating the Second Reading of the House of Lords Reform Bill. The House of Lords currently comprises 765 active Peers and 51 on leave of absence or disqualified from taking up their entitlement to sit. The majority of Peers are appointed, either by the political parties or (for independent or “cross-bench” Peers) the House of Lords Appointments Commission. A further 89 Peers are elected by and from among those holding hereditary peerages. Finally, 26 Bishops of the Church of England are entitled to sit in the House of Lords. The government’s Bill would


have replaced the current composition of the House of Lords with a Chamber 80 per cent of whose Members would be


introduced over three electoral cycles. Most Members of the Lords would be elected for non- renewable 15-year terms. The remainder would be appointed by the House of Lords Appointments Commission, by the government in order to serve in ministerial office or be one of 12 bishops who would retain their entitlement to sit. All three of the major political


parties entered the last election with some form of commitment in their manifestos to make progress on House of Lords reform. The coalition agreement between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats contained a commitment to “bring forward proposals” for a wholly or largely elected body. The government published a draft Bill in the previous Session. A joint committee of both


Rt Hon. Nick Clegg, MP


directly elected by a proportional voting system. The process would be a gradual one, with changes


Houses reported on the draft Bill on 23 April 2012 – several Members of the committee dissented from the committee’s report and produced an alternative, more critical, report. The Queen’s Speech which opened the 2012/13 Session of Parliament in May 2012 committed the government to bring forward a Bill to reform the composition of the House of Lords. The Bill was introduced into the House of Commons on 27 June 2012. Opening the first day of debate


for the government, the Deputy Prime Minister, Rt Hon. Nick Clegg, MP, (Liberal Democrat) said: “The House of Lords is an


institution that offers its Members a job for life; an institution that serves the whole of the United Kingdom, yet draws around half its Members from London and the southeast; an institution in which there are eight times as many people over 90 as there are people under 40; an institution that has no democratic mandate—none whatsoever—but that exercises real power. The House of Lords initiates Bills, it shapes legislation and, as governments of all persuasions know, it can block government proposals too. These reforms seek to create a democratic


as a Chamber that scrutinizes government. It means forcing governments to treat an elected upper Chamber with greater respect”. Finally, the Deputy Prime


Minister argued that the current arrangements of appointment to the House of Lords were unsustainable. He observed that “very simply, after a general election, new governments will always seek to reflect the balance of the vote in the Lords. But it is impossible to get rid of Members: the only way to leave is to die. So new administrations inevitably have to make more appointments to get the balance right. The current membership is 816. That will soon be over 1,000. Clearly, the status quo is unsustainable.” Speaking for the opposition,


Rt Hon. Sadiq Khan, MP


House of Lords, matching power with legitimacy.” Mr Clegg went on to argue


that a reformed second Chamber would give the House of Lords “more authority to hold governments to account — a greater check on executive power. That does not mean emboldening the Lords to the point that it threatens the Commons…but it does mean bolstering its role


the Shadow Sectary of State for Justice, Rt Hon. Sadiq Khan, MP, (Labour), began by saying “I admit that while the country is stuck in a double-dip recession and millions are still out of work, this would not have been my priority if I were sitting on the government Benches, but unfortunately we cannot set the government’s priorities, and we are where we are.” He went on to say that he was “a supporter” of House of Lords reform, but described the Bill as “a bit of a mess”. The Shadow Secretary


of State made a number of criticisms of the Bill, including arguing that a referendum should take place before the changes would be confirmed. He went on to say: “We have made it clear


The Parliamentarian | 2012: Issue Three | 221


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