House of Lords debates Draft Lords Reform Bill

23 June 2011

The House of Lords completed its discussion on the proposals for reform of the House and its membership set out in the Draft Lords Reform Bill on Wednesday 22 June. The House agreed to a motion to suspend the rule that oral questions are taken first in the order of business on Tuesday 21 June in order for the second day of debate to resume early to allow for the number of contributions. More than 100 Members of the Lords put their names down to speak in the two-day debate.

The House took a break at 3pm to allow for Oral Questions, with the debate resuming afterwards.

The draft Bill was debated together with a motion, moved by Baroness Boothroyd, a former Speaker of the House of Commons, calling for the Government to bring forward proposals for incremental urgent reforms to improve the functioning of the existing House of Lords. Baroness Boothroyd’s motion describes the proposals in the draft Bill as amounting to the ‘abolition of the House of Lords’.

Issues discussed during the second day of debate included:

  • which House a draft Bill on Lords reform should start in and potential use of the Parliament Act in relation to legislating for Lords reform
  • defining the need for a second chamber of the UK Parliament and its purpose and role
  • nature and quality of the contribution of the present House of Lords makes to parliamentary democracy 
  • the legitimacy and balance of power between a reformed House of Lords with members elected for a longer term, representing larger constituencies and the House of Commons whose Members represent smaller constituencies with fewer electors
  • cost of salaries for elected Members of the Lords and their staff
  • use of the single transferrable vote to elect Members of the Lords, an alternative voting system recently rejected by the UK electorate in the 5 May 2011 referendum
  • role and purpose of a majority elected House of Lords and the impact on the scrutiny of legislation if a single political party has a majority in both Houses.

Members of the Lords who contributed to the second day of debate included (use the links to watch/listen to their contributions):

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, a former Minister and founder of the Social Democratic Party; and Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde who was part of the Wakeham Commission on Lords reform.

Two Members who supported the student teams in ‘Elect, Select or Reject: the Future of the House of Lords’ a debate for young people on Lords reform in December 2010: Lord Norton of Louth, mentored the ‘Select’ team which argued for a fully appointed House; and Lord Elder, mentored the team arguing for the abolition of the Lords.

The Marquis of Lothian, Baroness Valentine, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, Baroness Brinton, the Bishop of Winchester, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, and Lord Gilbert also took part.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, responded to the issues under discussion in the debate for the Opposition in the Lords.

Lord McNally responded on behalf of the Government.

Day one

Issues under discussion included:

  • the primacy and legitimacy of the House of Commons
  • democratic principles and legitimacy, and notions of a ‘democratic deficit’
  • the securing of ‘a place for spirituality in the public square’, and the role and place of Episcopal offices in Parliament
  • evidence for how reform would improve the functioning of the House of Lords
  • the democratic mandate of the coalition Government
  • the democratic mandate and legitimacy of elected Members of a reformed House of Lords serving for single terms of three Parliaments.

Members of the Lords who took part in the first day of debate included (use the links to watch/listen to their contributions):

Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the House of Lords, opened the debate. Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, the Leader of the Opposition and Baroness D’Souza, Convenor of the Crossbenches responded.

Other speakers included:

Baroness Boothroyd, former Speaker of the House of Commons (1992-2000); Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon Leader of Liberal Democrats (1988-99); Lord Wakeham, chair of the Royal Commission on House of Lords Reform (1999- 2000);  Lord Steel of Aikwood, who introduced unsuccessful Private Members’ Bill on Lords reform during the 2008-09, 2007-08  and 2006-07 parliamentary sessions; and Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, a historian of government.

Baroness Quin, who mentored the ‘Elect’ team which argued for a fully elected House of Lords in a debate for young people on Lords reform, ‘Elect, Select or Reject: the Future of the House of Lords’ in December 2010, also took part. 

Lord Strasburger gave his maiden speech in the House of Lords during the debate. Lord Howe of Aberavon, a former Leader of the House of Commons and Deputy Prime Minister (1989-90); the Bishop of Leicester; and Lord Faulkner of Worcester, a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords (2008-10); Baroness Thomas of Winchester, who worked in the Liberal Democrat Whips Office (1977-2005),  also took part.

Further information

A House of Lords Library Note summarises the Government’s proposals, and the statements announcing the reforms and reactions to them in the Lords and Commons.

The Government published the draft Bill and a white paper on reforming the House of Lords on 17 May 2011. The proposals are for:

  • a reformed House of Lords consisting of 300 Members
  • the election of 80 percent of Members of the Lords using the single transferable vote, with the remaining 20 percent appointed 
  • reducing the number of Bishops of the Church of England to 12
  • a transition to the new House staggered over three electoral cycles beginning in 2015.

Members of the Lords responded to the Government statement on Lords reform, which was repeated in the House of Lords on 17 May.

Young people debate Lords reform

The future of the House of Lords was debated and voted on in ‘Elect, Select or Reject: the Future of the House of Lords’, an event for young people in the Lords chamber in December 2010.

Two hundred 15-18 year olds from state schools and colleges across England and Wales discussed options for Lords reform, which were set out from the despatch boxes by four student teams: fully elected, fully appointed, hybrid and abolition.

Following the debate the students voted on the future they wanted for the second chamber of the UK Parliament. A majority voted for a fully appointed House of Lords.

Find out more:

The House of Lords

The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament. Independent from the House of Commons, its Members play a vital role: checking legislation, holding the government to account, and providing a forum for debate and inquiry. The majority of Members of the Lords are life peers appointed for their expertise gained from a wide range of backgrounds inside and outside politics.

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