The Government has proposed in its recent White Paper a change from an appointed and hereditary House of Lords to one which is either 80% or 100% elected.
The balance would be appointed Independent Members. Hereditary peers would be phased out, the total number of members would be reduced to 300, and service would be for single staggered 15 year terms. Instead of being part-time and unpaid, as at present, members would be full-time parliamentarians, paid a salary and pension.
It has become clear that the Draft Bill will encounter substantial resistance
in both Lords and Commons, for reasons set out in the
Background Paper. We publish below an alternative proposal.
A PROPOSAL FOR A CONSENSUS APPROACH TO HOUSE OF LORDS REFORM
Version of 8.5.12.
1. There is an urgent need for reform of the House of Lords, but it is not the best use of parliamentary time to proceed with the present highly controversial Draft Bill. The public will react badly to huge amounts of parliamentary effort being expended on an issue which they regard as peripheral compared to the urgent and critical issues of growth and jobs. And if, as seems entirely possible, the present Draft Bill is blocked in either the Commons or the Lords, or is rejected in a referendum, we will end up with no reform at all.
2. Great progress could be made, with consensus and with no need for a referendum, by bringing forward a revised Draft Bill that would reconcile the requirement for democratic legitimacy with the preservation of the primacy of the House of Commons and the distinctive virtues of the existing House of Lords. It would do so by:
a. Introducing instead of direct elections a simple system of indirect election, based on the allocation of party-affiliated seats to parties exactly pro rata to their share of vote at the previous general election. Each party would publish an ordered national list of its candidates prior to the general election. Those parties that wish to do so could introduce a further element of democracy by selecting their candidates through an internal party election, for example one in which all party members can stand and vote.
b. Retaining the following features of the present Draft Bill - that the size of the House would be reduced, that 20% of Peers would be independent members appointed by a statutory appointments commission, that Hereditary Peers would be phased out, that all Peers would serve single 15-year terms staggered so that one third retire every five years, that the number of Bishops would be reduced to 12, that a disqualification procedure would be introduced, and that a transition would be phased over 15 years.
c. Retaining the present flexible conditions of service of Peers, with a daily allowance rather than the proposed full-time salaried and pensioned employment.
d. Reducing the size of the House of Lords to 450 (as proposed by the Joint Committee) instead of 300.
3. Indirect election of this kind would greatly increase democratic legitimacy compared to the present situation, but because it avoids direct elections and constituencies it would not threaten the primacy of the House of Commons. It is not novel, since there is included in the Coalition Agreement, as an interim measure, a commitment to create Ďa second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general electioní. The retention of the current conditions of service for Peers would reduce costs (due to the reduced number of Peers) instead of increasing costs by tens of millions of pounds a year. It would also avoid deterring potential members who have, and wish to retain, a serious involvement in the world outside politics.
4. This proposal builds upon Lord Steelís Bill, and reflects the widespread calls for incremental reform. It would attract a broad consensus of support in both Houses of Parliament, and would not be so revolutionary as to warrant a referendum. It would represent a major constitutional reform, and would be capable of being implemented quickly.
The Lordsreform.org website aims to inform public debate on changes proposed to the House of Lords in the 2011 White Paper. To focus discussion, it proposes some key changes to the Draft Bill regarding part-time Peers, size of House, and indirect elections. The website is edited by Dr Alex Reid.