Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

House of Lords Reform – Coalition Government proposals

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One of the items I have not yet commented on here are the Government’s draft proposals for a smaller, reformed House of Lords, to which members are elected, which were published in May 2011. The question of House of Lords reform has been debated for well over 100 years; and there have been major changes – significant reductions in the numbers of hereditary peers; introduction of life peers. But till now no elected members.

The proposals, contained in the a draft House of Lords Reform Bill  and accompanying White Paper, set out possible options for how a reformed House could look. While the draft Bill sets out firm proposals, the White Paper also considers alternative options on which the Government remains open-minded. For example, the Bill proposes that 80% of the reformed House should be elected, with 20% being appointed by a special appointments commission to sit as independent cross-benchers; the White Paper considers the case for a 100% elected body.

Key proposals contained in the draft House of Lords Reform Bill include:

  • a reformed House containing only 300 members, considerably smaller than the present House. Members would be paid a salary, rather that simply claim expenses and a daily allowance as currently happens;
  • those elected would be eligible to sit for a single term of three parliaments (i.e. roughly 15 years). Life and hereditary appointments would disappear;
  • elections using the single transferable vote (STV), electing a third of members each time with elections normally taking place at the same time as General Elections. The White Paper acknowledges that other modes of election might also be considered;
  • the franchise would be based on multi-member electoral districts, drawn up independently based on national and county boundaries;
  • there would be a continuation of the presence of Bishops of the Church of England in the House of Lords, though their number would be reduced from 26 to 12;
  • the new membership elections would be staggered over the course of three electoral cycles, which once complete would ensure that there was a continual renewal of a third of the House.

As regards the functions of the House of Lords, both the draft Bill and White Paper are clear that the powers of the reformed House of Lords should remain the same. It would continue with its legislative functions of scrutinising legislation; it would also continue its investigative and accountability functions through its Select Committee, thereby complementing the work of the Commons.

It is the Government’s intention that the first elections take place in 2015. The draft Bill and White Paper are currently being considered by a Joint Committee, composed of 13 peers and 13 MPs, before legislation is introduced next year.

Although the Bill is an important component of the Coalition Government’s programme, it has already drawn some pretty hostile reaction, both from those who think it goes too far, and those who thinks it does not go far enough. We will clearly return to the issue in the next (academic) year how far the weight that the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have put behind the proposals is able to push the proposals.

What do you think of them? Should Church of England Bishops retain a right to sit, whereas other religious leaders have no such right? Should the body be wholly elected? Should the name of the House of Lords be changed – given the new system of appointment? If so, what should be the name? Senate?

For full details of the proposals, go to http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/resource-library/house-lords-reform-draft-bill

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Written by lwtmp

July 28, 2011 at 7:22 am

Posted in Chapter 3

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