Public Administration Select Committee

Session 2002-03

Press Notice No.5


PASC-the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee-stepped into the Lords Reform debate again today. As the House prepared to debate the issue on Tuesday, the Committee repeated its view that the House of Commons now wants a predominately elected second chamber.

Contrary to recent reports, a letter sent to all Members of Parliament says  that "it is perfectly possible to make progress on Lords reform on an agreed basis", and points out that a survey of all MP s showed a three-to-one majority in favour of a majority of elected members of a second chamber.

The letter is attached.

Dear Colleague

House of Lords Reform

In advance of the forthcoming Commons debate and votes on options for House of Lords reform, the Public Administration Select Committee thought it would be helpful to Members to be reminded of the Committee's recent report on this issue (The Second Chamber: Continuing the Reform, Fifth Report of Session 2001-02, HC 494-I, 12 February 2002).

This report has defined much of the subsequent debate, and formed part of the terms of reference of the Joint Committee.  What our report shows is that it is perfectly possible to make progress on Lords reform on an agreed basis if there is the will to do so.  After an intensive inquiry we produced a report that was unanimous, agreed by members of all three main parties with widely divergent opinions on the issue, and without having to take a single vote.  If a Committee can do this, we do not believe that it should be impossible for the House as a whole to arrive at an agreed position.

In our report we argued that:

'Reform is not a zero-sum game in which advances for one chamber are inevitably threats to the other…The real task is rather to increase the effectiveness of both chambers in holding the Government to account'

In framing our proposals, we said:

'We want a second chamber that has enough institutional legitimacy to ensure that it is taken seriously, and enough independence and expertise among its membership to ensure that it is worth taking seriously'

This led us to conclude that:

A mixed chamber, with 60 per cent elected and 40 per cent appointed, would represent an acceptable balance, at least for the next stage of reform

We were supported in this view by a survey we conducted of all Members which showed that:

75 per cent of all respondents would support a second chamber that is at least half elected

In making our recommendation on composition we say:

'We recognise that there is no magic about the figure of 60 per cent, compared with (say) 51 per cent or 70 per cent.  It simply reflects our sense that the House of Commons now wants, rightly, a predominately elected second chamber.  It is also our judgement about where the centre of gravity lies, where the arguments are best balanced, and where a constructive compromise can best be established'

Finally, our report gives a detailed timetable to show how it is possible to move in coherent stages towards a much smaller reformed second chamber of 350 members (contrary to the alarming suggestion in the Joint Committee's report that it could stay at about 600 members).  This confirms our view that it is perfectly possible to make progress with Lords reform now, if the House has the will to do so.  As we say at the end of our report:

'If the present opportunity for reform of the second chamber is not taken, it will be a lost opportunity of historic proportions.  The results of our inquiry demonstrate that there is no excuse, or need, for this to happen'

We hope this is helpful.

Tony Wright MP, Chairman
Mr Kevin Brennan MP
Annette Brooke MP
Sir Sydney Chapman MP
Mr Kelvin Hopkins MP
Mr David Heyes MP
Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger MP
Mr John Lyons MP
Mr Gordon Prentice MP
Hon Michael Trend MP
Mr Brian White MP