C of E Statement on Government white paper on House of Lords reform

Commenting on the Government’s proposals, Rt Rev Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester and Convenor of the Lords Spiritual said:

“Some reform of the Lords is overdue, not least to resolve the problem of its ever-increasing membership. But getting the balance of reform right, so that we retain what is good in our current arrangements, whilst freeing up the House to operate more effectively and efficiently, is crucial.

If the test of any reform is that it helps serve parliament and the nation better, in proposing to replace the House of Lords with a wholly or largely elected second chamber, the case has not been made. That case would require a clear redefinition of the primary purpose and function of the Upper House.

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2 comments on “C of E Statement on Government white paper on House of Lords reform

  1. Publius says:

    Full disclosure: I am a Yank. With that disclaimer, here are a few thoughts on the proposal to reform the House of Lords:

    1. The UK’s Parliament has, in effect, a one and one-half chambers. The strong House of Commons is elected, of course. The weak House of Lords is not. I understand that much of the work the Lords does is to revise and correct, and thus improve, draft legislation from the Commons. I infer that said work is not really controversial.

    2. If the Government has a weak majority the Lords can incommode the Government by amending bills and forcing votes in the Commons on those amendments, which the Government sometimes loses. In that sense the Lords has real power and is controversial.

    3. Electing members will strengthen the Lords’ claim of democratic mandate. In most European countries where an elected weak upper chamber has been created (e.g. Germany, France) the trend has been for power gradually (over decades) to accrete to the upper chamber. Does the House of Commons really want that?

    4. Electing members to long terms (15 years!) will decrease their connection to reality and to their voters. In the States the U.S. Senate barely keeps connected to society and they have only 6 year terms. In their marble buildings with their solicitous staffs, Senators become quite detached from ordinary life.

    5. Proportional representation is the worst way to elect legislators. It guarantees that small and fringe parties will be overrepresented, and electing members at large will further weaken the connection between the members and their constituents.

    6. The UK political philosophy supporting unelected Lords has a concept quite alien to me as a Yank: that political leaders are responsible for the people, not to the people. Given that the UK accepts that concept, then it seems that a better solution would be to keep the Lords appointed and reduce its numbers; almost 800 members is too large to function, even if they don’t all show up.

    What do our UK readers think?

  2. William S says:

    As a UK reader, I would say that Publius has described the functioning of the Lords pretty accurately, and spotted the weak point in reform proposals.

    The size of the Lords ought to be reduced. The difficulty is that since appointment is for life, you never know when a particular Lord’s term of office will expire, and any government likes to create plenty of Lords from its own party ranks to ensure that the Upper House is docile. So more and more get packed in.