COMMONS

Is the House of Lords an effective second chamber?

09 November 2016

Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) launches an inquiry into the size and composition of the House of Lords.

Strathclyde review

In October 2015, the Government was defeated in the House of Lords on its proposed changes to Tax Credits. This prompted the Government to commission Lord Strathclyde to examine the House of Lords' powers over Statutory Instruments, reporting in December 2015.

In our May 2016 report on the Strathclyde Review, The Strathclyde Review: Statutory Instruments and the power of the House of Lords, PACAC argued that the House of Lords' excessive size and unbalanced composition, rather than its role in Statutory Instruments, was the more pressing issue facing the Upper Chamber and announced that we would hold an inquiry on these subjects later this Parliament. 

Prime Minister's resignation honours list

At present, appointments to the House of Lords are the subject of Prime Ministerial patronage, with the role of the House of Lords Appointments Commission limited to vetting all nominees purely for propriety and proposing the creation of Crossbench peers. In recent years the exercise of the Prime Minister’s patronage and the ever increasing size of the House of Lords has become a subject of growing concern and controversy. Following the publication of the former Prime Minister's resignation honours list on 4 August, the Chair of PACAC, Bernard Jenkin MP, announced that he would be asking the Committee to launch an inquiry into the size and composition of, and appointments to, the House of Lords.

Since the House of Lords Act 1999, the House of Lords has grown in size from 666 members to just over 800 eligible members (840 when currently ineligible peers are included).  The pace of appointments has also increased in recent years. According to research from the Constitution Unit at UCL, between May 2010 and February 2015, 187 new peers were appointed, at an average rate of 40 per year (PDF 1.6 MB)

Largest second chamber in the world

While recent reforms (House of Lords Reform Act 2014) have enabled peers to retire from the House and provided for the removal of non-attending peers, the House of Lords remains by far the largest second chamber in the world. In fact, since the 2014 retirement provisions were introduced the size of the Lords has grown overall – thanks to the number of new appointments.

Though a far-reaching attempt by the coalition Government at House of Lords reform (in the form of the House of Lords Reform Bill) failed during the last Parliament, and the current Government's election manifesto expressly stated that a reform to introduce an elected component was "not a priority", the manifesto did commit the Government to ensuring "the House of Lords continues to work well by addressing issues such as the size of the chamber".  

Incremental reforms

This inquiry will focus on how best the Government can fulfil this pledge, while acknowledging that a more extensive reform is unlikely in the short to medium term. In doing so this inquiry builds on the work undertaken by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee during the last Parliament into possible incremental reforms. The Committee will seek to identify the “unarguable next steps” for reform of the House of Lords.

Call for written submissions

PACAC would welcome written evidence submissions addressing the following issues:

  • What function and role should the House of Lords have within the UK's system of Parliamentary Government
  • Given that successful Lords reform has generally been on the basis of incremental, small steps, what is the next most urgent reform needed in order to allow the House of Lords to perform its functions most effectively
  • How the size of the House of Lords can be most effectively managed, including whether there should be a fixed size for the House of Lords, with a phased reduction in the number of peers towards that maximum size
  • How a reduction in the size of the House of Lords can co-exist with renewal of the different groupings in the chamber
  • Whether there should be greater oversight of the patronage the Prime Minister exercises over appointments to the House of Lords
  • What role the House of Lords Appointments Commission should play in the appointment of all new peers and what additional powers and resources are required for it to play such a role
  • How it might be possible to ensure that peers, when appointed, will contribute to the function and role of the House of Lords
  • The effectiveness of the new retirement system, provided by the House of Lords Reform Act 2014, and the potential scope for reform of leaves of absence.

The deadline for written submissions is Tuesday 10 January 2017.

Further information

Image: House of Lords 2016 / Photography by Roger Harris

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