Lords reform options: pros and cons

St Saviour’s and St Olave’s School, Southwark, London mentored by Lord Elder – abolition option. © Parliamentary copyright

On Friday 10 December around 200 students from schools and colleges across the UK will discuss and vote on options for Lords reform in the annual House of Lords debate for young people in the Lords chamber

Four teams of students will present the options for reform from the despatch boxes: fully elected; fully appointed; hybrid; or abolition.

After debating the options, the students will vote on the options for reform. The decision of this chamber of students on House of Lord reform will be announced after the count.

The last piece of legislation on reform of the House of Lords was the 1999 House of Lords Act which removed the majority of hereditary peers, leaving life peers in the majority. This was supposed to be the beginning of a process that removed all hereditary peers but, despite much debate in Parliament, no further reform Acts have been passed.

Some of the potential positions on the options for reform are outlined below.

Fully appointed

A fully appointed House would remove the remainder of the hereditary peers leaving just Members of the Lords appointed by a body like the current House of Lords Appointments Commission which appoints the non-party political Crossbench Members of the House.

Supporters say

  • It will help maintain the current broad range of membership of the House of Lords rather than creating more professional politicians. Would Lord Sugar (Alan Sugar) or Baroness Grey-Thompson (Tanni Grey-Thompson) stand for election?
  • It doesn’t threaten the democratic supremacy of the House of Commons.
  • Appointment is more cost effective than election.

Opponents say

  • It is undemocratic to have unelected Members of the Lords involved in drafting and passing legislation.
  • The UK is the only country in the world – with the exception of Canada, that has an unelected second chamber.
  • A more democratic system is worth investing in.

Fully elected

Every Member of the Lords would have to win their place in the House of Lords through an election.

Supporters say

  • It fully addresses the current democratic deficit, giving the House of Lords a full mandate to initiate and amend legislation.
  • More people will be given the opportunity to stand for Parliament giving a greater range of representation.
  • More young people will sit in the House of Lords.

Opponents say

  • It causes more problems than it solves: with two elected chambers, the House of Commons would no longer be supreme.
  • The chamber would be full of professional politicians rather than attracting individuals with a wealth of knowledge and experience in a vast range of fields.
  • It isn’t clear how often elections should be and additional elections would cause additional costs.

Hybrid

A mixture of elected and appointed Members of the Lords, potentially through a 70% - 30% split)

Supporters say

  • It combines the best of both fully appointed and fully elected systems: addressing the democratic deficit while retaining individuals with expertise and experience in valuable fields.
  • The House of Commons would retain its democratic supremacy.
  • It would be a more straightforward system to introduce.

Opponents say

  • It is undemocratic to retain any unelected Members of the Lords.
  • It will create a two-tier House of Lords of elected and non-elected Members causing friction.
  • The system would cause additional confusion both within and without Parliament as to where power does and should lie.

Abolition

Parliament would cease to have a second chamber.

Supporters say

  • New Zealand, Denmark and other countries function without a second chamber, so can we.
  • We would save money by having only one chamber.
  • Scrutiny could be carried out in different ways such as through a strengthened committee system.

Opponents say

  • The standard of scrutiny of legislation would drop in a unicameral system.
  • The House of Commons would have too much power without a revising second chamber.
  • The bicameral system is ingrained in British political culture and has historically worked well.

Further information

For more information about the role, work, membership and history of the House of Lords visit:

Image: St Saviour’s and St Olave’s School, Southwark, London mentored by Lord Elder – abolition option. Parliamentary copyright