Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform First Report


The opportunity

1. Over the past century attempts at reform of the House of Lords have failed principally because of a lack of agreement on what was needed to replace the existing House. Each attempt generated wide debate both in and outside Government and parliamentary circles; opinion ranged from complete abolition of the second House to preservation of the status quo which, until 1999, included a dominant hereditary element. That position was changed by the House of Lords Act 1999 and the announcement by Government of its intention to remove the hereditary element entirely at the next stage of reform.[1]

2. There is now much greater agreement about the role, functions and powers of a reformed second chamber.[2] Whilst there remain differences about how the reformed House should be composed, the aim of maintaining the effectiveness and enhancing the legitimacy of the second chamber has become common ground. A re-balancing of parliamentary institutions, which reform implies, is something that can only evolve over time. Nevertheless we believe that there is now an historic opportunity to enact a reform which will enable the second chamber to continue to play an important and complementary role to the Commons, with its future at last secure.

3. By identifying this wide area of agreement in our report and describing the conditions in which we consider a reformed House can realistically operate, our aim is to help the Houses consider the range of options on composition which are set out in our terms of reference. Once both Houses have had the opportunity to debate and vote on the options which we set out here, we shall, as we said in our Special Report, need to consider such differences as may exist between the expressed views of the two Houses and the means by which, and extent to which, they might be brought closer to each other, if not actually reconciled.[3] We shall then develop a full set of proposals to take the reform forward. In this report we will also identify issues which we will need to consider in more detail at that later stage, when it will be essential to develop workable proposals that command the widest possible support within and outside Westminster.


4. The Committee met for the first time on 9 July 2002, three working days after the House of Lords agreed, on 4 July, to a Resolution concurring with the Commons in the setting up of a Joint Committee.

5. At our first meeting, we elected the Rt Hon. Jack Cunningham MP as our Chairman and began to consider how to fulfil our remit. The deliberation was continued at a second meeting in the following week when we considered a Special Report, agreed to on 16 July.

6. In that Special Report of 16 July, we outlined our method of proceeding, which was to consider carefully what amounted to a library of material, including a Government White Paper and supporting documents, a Royal Commission Report, a Select Committee Report, the evidence appended to these papers and debates in both Houses. The evidence referred to us contains a very wide range of views from members of both Houses and includes opinions from outside experts as well as from the general public. We have therefore not felt it necessary to call for further evidence. Analysing it and applying our collective parliamentary experience to it has enabled us to fulfil our first task of setting in context, and presenting to both Houses, an inclusive range of options on the interrelated matters of role and composition.[4] The Committee was reappointed in the current session on 28 November 2002.

7. We have carried out our examination in a series of deliberative meetings and have been assisted in our task by our two Clerks, Malcolm Jack, Clerk of the Journals in the House of Commons and David Beamish, Clerk of the Journals in the House of Lords, both with long experience of Parliament.

Structure of Report

8. We concluded at an early stage in our deliberations that we needed to consider the roles, functions and powers of a second chamber whilst we were considering the options on composition. Accordingly our conclusions and recommendations are set out as follows:

Part 2  -  roles, conventions, functions and powers of a second chamber

Part 3  -  the kind of members needed: the issues of legitimacy, representativeness, party balance, independence and expertise

Part 4  -  considerations affecting composition, including tenure and transitional arrangements

Part 5  -  the options on composition.

The historical background to our work is described in Appendix 1.

1   Government White Paper Modernising Parliament: Reforming the House of Lords (Cm 4183, January 1999). Back

2   The Commons Select Committee on Public Administration says "There is no proposal for any major change to the role and functions of the House of Lords. This is one of the fundamentals on which there is broad agreement, and it is one of the firm foundations on which reform must build." (The Second Chamber: Continuing the Reform, 5th Report, Session 2001-02, HC 494-I, paragraph 69). Back

3   Special Report (HL Paper 151/HC1109, Session 2001-02). Back

4   In this Report we draw in particular on the Royal Commission Report A House for the Future (Cm 4534, January 2000), the Government White Paper The House of Lords: Completing the Reform (Cm 5291, November 2001), and the Report of the House of Commons Public Administration Committee The Second Chamber: Continuing the Reform (5th Report, Session 2001-02, HC 494-I, February 2002). Back

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Prepared 11 December 2002