Draft House of Lords Reform Bill - Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill Contents

1  Introduction

1. On 17 May 2011, the Government published the House of Lords Reform Draft Bill White Paper[1] which included the text of a draft Bill to reform the House of Lords. In June the provisions of the draft Bill were debated in both Houses and remitted to a Joint Committee for pre-legislative scrutiny.[2] The Committee began its work on 11 July 2011.

2. The draft Bill's principal provisions are as follows:

  • To provide for a reformed House of 300 members: 80 per cent (240) to be elected and 20 per cent (60) to be nominated (or, alternatively, for a 100 per cent elected House).
  • Election would be by single transferable vote for large multi-member constituencies.
  • Appointments would be made by a statutory Appointments Commission, which for certain purposes would be overseen by a Statutory Joint Committee.
  • Members would serve single non-renewable terms of 15 years and the membership would be elected/appointed one third at a time at each General Election.
  • 12 bishops would continue to sit ex officio; and the Prime Minister would appoint persons as members to serve as ministers, for the duration of their ministerial appointment only.
  • Transitional arrangements would reduce the existing membership by one third in 2015, 2020 and 2025 as one third of the new membership arrives at each General Election. (Two alternative transitional arrangements are set out in the White Paper but not in the draft Bill.)
  • By-elections for the current 90 hereditary peers would cease in 2015, although existing excepted hereditary peers could be selected to remain under transitional arrangements.
  • Members would be full-time; their salaries and allowances would be set by IPSA (the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority).
  • Provision is made for expulsion or suspension for misconduct; voluntary resignation; and disqualification.

3. The history of reform is a long one and summaries of the principal milestones since the passing of the Parliament Act in 1911 may be found in the First Report of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform 2002-03 and in House of Lords Library Notes.[3] Following the passing of the House of Lords Act in 1999, which removed the right of all but 92 hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords, the then Government pursued a number of initiatives to further the debate on reform. In 1998 the Government published a White Paper (Modernising Parliament Reforming the House of Lords).[4] They received the report of the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords, chaired by Lord Wakeham, in early 2000.[5] There followed two further White Papers in 2001 (Completing the Reform)[6] and 2007 (The House of Lords: Reform),[7] the consultation paper of 2003 (Constitutional Reform: next steps for the House of Lords),[8] and the White Paper in 2008 (An Elected Second Chamber: Further reform of the House of Lords).[9]

4. Backbench and cross party groups in both Houses also produced ideas for reform—the Constitutional Commission on options for a new Second Chamber chaired by Lord Mackay of Clashfern in 1999;[10] a working group of Labour Peers, chaired by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath in 2004 (Reform of the Powers, Procedures and Conventions of the House of Lords);[11] and a cross party group of MPs (Ken Clarke, Robin Cook, Paul Tyler, Tony Wright and Sir George Young) in 2005 (Reforming the House of Lords: Breaking the Deadlock).[12]

5. In addition both Houses voted in 2003 and 2007 on a series of resolutions relating to the composition of the House of Lords. On both occasions the Lords voted for a fully appointed House. On the first occasion in 2003 the Commons vote was inconclusive. The Commons decided in favour of an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected House on the second occasion in 2007, although 71 members of the House of Commons voted for both a fully elected House and a fully appointed House.

6. Many of the key features of the present draft Bill were either recommended or otherwise foreshadowed in one or other of these publications. Thus, for example:

  • The concept of a hybrid House, part elected, part nominated, was proposed by the Royal Commission in 2000 and in the 1998 White Paper. The 2001 White Paper proposed 20 per cent election. Breaking the Deadlock proposed a 70 per cent elected and 30 per cent nominated House, with election in thirds on a STV system at each General Election (it recommended STV over open lists). The 2007 White Paper again proposed a hybrid House with election in thirds. The 2008 White Paper took this further by proposing an 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent nominated House, with election in thirds at each General Election.
  • Proposals on size have varied. Breaking the Deadlock suggested 385 members, and Lord Mackay's Commission 450 members, for a hybrid House. The 2008 White Paper proposed a House smaller than the Commons without being more specific.
  • Both the 2007 and 2008 White Papers proposed that a reduced number of bishops should continue to sit. Breaking the Deadlock saw strong arguments for ending the right of bishops to sit but did not wish to upset current arrangements so proposed a reduction to 16.
  • The establishment of a statutory Appointments Commission has been consistently recommended since the Royal Commission recommended it, the exception being the 1998 White Paper which proposed the current non-statutory arrangements.
  • Election for non-renewable 12-to-15 year terms was first recommended by Lord Mackay of Clashfern's group and more latterly by Breaking the Deadlock and the 2008 White Paper.
  • The appointment of members to serve specifically as ministers was mooted both in the 2003 government consultation paper and in Breaking the Deadlock.
  • The 1998 White Paper affirmed at some length that the current House's functions and powers would be carried over following any reform and this presumption prevailed in subsequent papers and studies.
  • A lengthy transition, with current members reducing by thirds, was proposed by both Lord Mackay of Clashfern's Commission and Breaking the Deadlock. The 2007 and 2008 White Papers both foresaw a transitional period but of no specified duration.

7. It is readily apparent that many of the principal elements of the current draft Bill have been proposed before, and indeed this is acknowledged by the Government. Familiarity does not necessarily render some of them any less controversial, however.

8. At the heart of the controversy around the draft Bill lies the effect of electing a reformed chamber on current constitutional arrangements and, in particular, the balance of power between the two Houses. At present the House of Lords has a wide range of powers over legislation—it can initiate, amend and reject bills. These powers do not extend to supply and Money Bills, and are constrained in respect of other bills by the provisions of the Parliament Acts which provide that a bill may become law without the agreement of the Lords where the Lords have rejected or failed to pass it in two successive sessions. The House of Lords also has the capacity to reject delegated legislation.

9. Because the House of Lords is not elected, however, these powers are used very sparingly indeed. If the House chose to use its powers it would be one of the most powerful second chambers in the world. The restraint it presently exercises, as a consequence of its non-elected status, is expressed in the conventions which govern relations between the two Houses (see section 5 below).

10. The issue therefore is how the practice of the Lords will change once it is elected—whether a reformed house will continue exercise restraint and whether the conventions will survive in their current form. This question and the Government's arguments in respect of Commons primacy—in particular as they are expressed in the provisions of clause 2 of the draft Bill which asserts that elections to the House of Lords will not change the status, functions and powers of the House of Lords—have therefore featured prominently in the Committee's deliberations.

11. Other approaches to reform are of course possible. A number of our witnesses advocated an incremental approach, focusing on issues on which there exists a large degree of consensus: the mode of appointment, the size of the House, retirement, disqualification and expulsion. Lord Steel of Aikwood's private member's Bill attempted to address some of these issues. The Joint Committee was established to consider the draft Bill, however, and we have kept within our remit.

12. Nor does the report attempt to cost the Government's proposals. The White Paper accompanying the draft Bill contains no such costings. We asked the Minister to provide financial information, but he twice declined to do so on the grounds that there were "so many variables at the moment".[13] We assume that this information will be made available on introduction of the Bill.

13. Finally, some words of explanation. As set out in Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice, a report from a committee embodies the conclusions agreed to by the majority of its members, and members who dissent from the report may not make minority reports to be appended to it. If a member disagrees to certain paragraphs in the report, or to the entire report, they can record their dissent by dividing the committee against those paragraphs, or against the entire report, as appropriate. Members can also put on record their observations and conclusions, as opposed to those of the majority, by proposing an alternative draft report or moving amendments to the draft. Any alternative draft or amendment on which a division takes place is recorded in full in the minutes of proceedings of the committee.[14] The Joint Committee's Formal Minutes of 19, 21 and 26 March 2012, relating to the Committee's consideration of the Report, are attached in Appendix 8.

1   Government White Paper, House of Lords Reform Draft Bill, Cm 8077, May 2011 Back

2   HC Deb 27 June 2011 col 646, HL Deb 20 June 2011 col 1155 and 21 June col 1251 Back

3   HL Paper 17 Session 2002-03 Back

4   Government White Paper, Modernising Parliament Reforming the House of Lords, Cm 4183, December 1998 Back

5   Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords, A House of the Future, Cm 4534, January 2000 Back

6   Government White Paper, The House of Lords: Completing the Reform, Cm 5291, November 2001 Back

7   Government White Paper, The House of Lords: Reform, Cm 7027, February 2007 Back

8   Government consultation paper, Constitutional Reform: next steps for the House of Lords, September 2003 Back

9   Government White Paper, An Elected Second Chamber: Further reform of the House of Lords, Cm 7438, July 2008 Back

10   Constitutional Commission, The Report of the Constitutional Commission on options for a new Second Chamber, 1999 Back

11   Labour Peers Group, Reform of the Powers, Procedures and Conventions of the House of Lords, 2004 Back

12   Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP et al., Reforming the House of Lords: Breaking the Deadlock, July 2007 Back

13   QQ 14, 67 Back

14   Erskine May, 24th edition, page 901 Back

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Prepared 23 April 2012