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Lords reform: What's going on?

12th July 2012

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The spotlight has recently turned on the House of Lords. Lesser talked about than the Commons, the Lords are still as prominent and are pending reform. So, who are they?

  • They are the upper house, House of Commons being the lower.
  • They are ‘independent from and [also] compliment’ the work of the Commons (thanks Wikipedia), primarily through checking Government action.
  • They have legislative functions; bills can be introduced into either House (excluding finance bills), although the Lords have less legislative authority. They are the ‘revising chamber’.
  • The current monarch (under the PM’s advice) appoints them.
  • They review and amend bills and although their powers to refuse are limited by the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949, they may delay one.
  • They are made up of life peers, hereditary peers and senior bishops.
  • Historically, members were hereditary (inherited) peers who could not resign their titles. Life peerage is now more common, titles which cannot be inherited. Since the 1st July 2011, only 92 members have hereditary peerage.
  • They are known as ‘constitutional safeguards’.
  • Currently, there are 775 members and politically a primarily Conservative bias.
Talk of reform has been rife for years, but why?

  • The majority of Lords are elderly (the average age is 70), middle class, white men; they are criticised for not being ‘in touch’ with society today. However, many Lords are civil servants and ex cabinet ministers – people with experience and knowledge that we need analysing bills.
  • The political bias has been criticised.
  • They have not been elected by voters, yet help to make decisions that shape society.
Lib Dems are pushing through reforms, dragging some Tories kicking and screaming behind them, but what exactly is being proposed?

  • A reduction in the amount of members to 450.
  • 80% of members elected, with the remaining 20% appointed by an Appointments Commission.
  • Instead of having life membership there will be time restraints imposed; members will be given a 15 year non-renewable term.
  • Those that sit in the chamber won’t be given the title ‘Lords’, although it will be retained for the House for legislative purposes.
  • Many have suggested a mix up: more doctors, scientists and young people.
On paper, the proposals are optimistic; a potential mix of appointed and elected may, admittedly, sacrifice a little experience but will make up for what it’s lost in a democratically elected house. Known as a retirement home for the rich and privileged, restructuring is required and as previously reforms haven’t been a priority, the coalition surprisingly appear to be making headway.

462 MPs supported the bill’s second reading with 91 conservative MPs opposed to the plans. Despite a large rebellion, Nick Clegg deemed it a ‘huge triumph’, leaving deputy leader Simon Hughes to speak regarding ‘consequences’ for the Tories. He threatens that if they are reluctant to be supportive, Lib Dems may respond by refusing to back plans to reform constituency boundaries. At least it’s refreshing to be reminded the main priority for our politicians is our best interests, right?  

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