House of Lords should be 80% elected - MPs and peers' report

House of Lords The House of Lords is the upper chamber of the UK Parliament

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A reformed House of Lords should be 80% elected and there should be a referendum before any change is made, a parliamentary committee has said.

MPs and peers also said there should be 450 peers - down from about 800 - who would serve for 15-year terms.

But the committee was split - nine of the 26 members voted against elected peers and eight opposed a referendum.

Earlier David Cameron said he was not persuaded of the need for a referendum but would not rule one out.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats agreed in their coalition deal to set up a committee to examine proposals for a "wholly or mainly elected upper chamber" - but the issue is seen as one that is driven more by the Lib Dems.

The government's proposals unveiled last year had been for a smaller, 300-member upper chamber, with 240 elected peers and 60 appointed peers serving single terms of 15 years.

Too small

But the committee said if there were to be elections it should be to a 450-member House of Lords, with 20% of peers appointed "as a means of preserving expertise and placing its mandate on a different footing from that of the Commons".

The 15-year terms would be non-renewable and peers would also receive a salary of about £50,000 a year, rather than the existing attendance allowance.


Reforming the House of Lords is a priority for few voters. And to many it is an arcane debate that rumbles on unresolved decade after decade.

But we have reached another of those moments where the government of the day has scraped together enough political will at least to have a fresh crack at it.

The question of who sits on the red leather benches in the posh end of parliament - and how they are selected or elected - may seem an issue for political obsessives.

And yet in truth the stakes could not be higher. Reform of the Lords raises a fundamental question of where power lies in parliament.

Can the House of Commons remain the supreme authority in parliament with an elected and thus more legitimate House of Lords down the corridor?

It is also a question of political priorities. Should the government spend time and political capital on an issue that is a second-order issue for voters struggling with a sluggish economy?

This is why Lords' reform has set Tory against Lib Dem, and this is why some fear it could tear the coalition apart.

The report said a 300-member House would be "too small to provide an adequate pool to fulfil the demands of a revising chamber".

But some members of the committee released a separate report arguing that the government's draft bill "totally fails" to protect the primacy of the House of Commons and proposing a "constitutional convention" should be set up to consider the issue more widely.

The House of Lords, the "upper house" of Parliament, scrutinises legislation but can be overridden by the House of Commons using the Parliament Act.

Most members, "life peers", are nominated by the prime minister, although some are nominated by other party leaders.

Other peers, the 26 "Lords Spiritual", are drawn from the Church of England, and about 90 hereditary peers remain - 666 hereditary peers lost the automatic right to sit and vote in Parliament under previous reforms.

The committee's report agreed by a majority of just 13 to nine that a reformed House of Lords "should have an electoral mandate provided that it has commensurate powers", although it noted concerns it could mean elected peers would challenge the traditional primacy of the House of Commons.

Graphic showing proposed House of Lords changes

The committee backed the government's proposals that peers be elected by single transferable vote (STV), a form of proportional representation and that the number of bishops be reduced from 26 to 12.

It said the new peers should be introduced in three stages up to 2025 but all current peers who attend fewer than one in three sitting days in Parliament should be immediately removed in 2015.

Heated meeting

A telephone survey of 1,000 British adults by ComRes for BBC Radio 4's World at One programme suggested that 72% backed a referendum on Lords reform, 69% supported electing at least 80% of peers and just 23% supported the status quo.

Committee chairman Lord Richard said the joint committee had undertaken "a thorough and detailed analysis of the proposals put forward in the government's draft Bill" and had decided "on a majority" that the Lords should have a "democratic mandate".

But a dissenting group of 12 committee members, including Labour, Conservative and crossbench peers and MPs, said a wider "constitutional convention" was needed to consider all the issues involved.

One of its members, Conservative peer Baroness Shephard told the BBC research by Labour peer Lord Lipsey suggested there would be a "vast increase" in costs - from just under £19m a year to up to £433m over five years to 2020.

She said it may turn out to be "worth it in the name of democracy" but the public should know: "I wonder if it were put to them in that way whether they would be as enthusiastic as your polling says they are for 450 more elected paid party politicians."

But Constitutional Reform Minister Mark Harper said those costs were "completely speculative" and he did not yet know whether costs would rise, but said a referendum on the issue would cost "around £100m".

Some Conservative MPs are unhappy about the government's proposals to change the House of Lords but Lib Dem Deputy PM Nick Clegg said on Sunday that politicians from all parties should "get on with it now, with minimum fuss".

Mr Cameron told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that while the issue was "not the most important thing this government is doing", it was a "sensible, reasonable" reform and "the right thing to do".

He said he personally was not persuaded of the need for a costly referendum when the three biggest Westminster parties all backed some form of change in their 2010 manifestos, but added: "We don't rule it out."

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan told the BBC Labour wanted a 100% elected House of Lords and a referendum adding: "It's unacceptable that Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg decide who the legislators are, we believe the public should have a say."

He said the party was "very keen" to work with the government on the issue but added that other issues also needed resolving - to decide which chamber had "primacy": "We don't want gridlock, we don't want the House of Lords flexing their muscles more than they currently do."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    A constitutional monarchy based on the hereditary principle, and an appointed house of Lords - glorious British anachronisms which work - don't mess with the principle.
    Reform the numbers, turnover the membership, go to independent accessment and recomendation but leave the supremacy of the Commons so government can push through its business and be accountable to the electorate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    Does it not say something about the lack of quality of the House of Commons and its processes that we need a second chamber at all?

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    5 Minutes ago
    America with a population 6 or 7 times ours has the Senate, which is equivalent to our Lords, has 100 senators., so lets us get some prospective into this issue. 450 is just tooo many and they should stand for election midway through the Commons term, so a balance would be created.

    You assume that doing things as USA does them is the correct way. Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    The Last thing any of us want is any more elected party self interested politicians in the House of lords.

    The politicians and the BBC keep lying about the desire for an elected upper house.

    We Demand a referendum on their proposal so we can block it.

    Listen the the MPs every single time it is all about them. 'WE the parties have agreed' we want more jobs and expenses for ourselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    People know the House of Lords is a safety valve against dogmatic ideology we have seen with the NHS and Social Care Bull.

    Those proposing an 'elected upper Chamber' say reforms have been tried for a 100yrs. Actually, members of the Lords are very different today, although many don't pull their weight.

    The House of Lords appears to annoy Nick Clegg intensely - so for that reason alone - keep it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    The main reform should be to remove heriditary peers. There are pros and cons for elected or appointed and any proportional split between the two. Any appointed peers should be nominated through an independent body and approved by the Commons on a free vote. Religious organisations or other groups should have no places allocated by right. Bring it on - we've been waiting over a century for this!

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    Recent events have made clear how deep the problem of patronage and corruption runs in the commons.Big business can already buy influence on government policy. We do not need a carbon copy of the commons as a reforming chamber. What we need is a house full of the good and the great, free from the influence of the media, uninterested in collecting donations for political parties.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    Mr Clegg. You forced through a referendum on voting reform that no-one was ready for, but now you're saying that we don't need a referendum for making major changes to the upper chamber, which isn't a popular idea, even if you think it is.

    Make your mind up. Or your electorate will, for you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    And its high time to turf all those Bishops out of the House of Lords.
    Jesus said that politics and religion shouldn't mix, and that His kingdom was not of this world. John 18:36.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    Isaac Newton taught us that all motive is relative. Any step forward is better than where we stand at the moment.
    Can we also have provision for the following: Nurses, Doctors, Scientists, Engineers, Teachers, Armed forces, Police, etc…?
    Oh, and anybody who has worked for either Honda or Toyota?
    A few historians wouldn't be to bad an idea as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    The principle of un-elected is fine when experts/experienced people with no political motive can hold the purely politically motivated Commons to account. However 750+ is too many and is, in effect, just a highly paid, jobs-for-the-boys club. At present it's a joke and needs total re-organisation, but in it's present form. Less of them and more experts, not just a pre-coffin perk for many duffers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    As these posts suggest, there is nothing that appeals to everyone, so I'd leave it alone - cheapest solution for the taxpayers - democracy ie elections every n years is not free.

    If reform is needed perhaps we should look at why we give someone with an IQ of 75 the same say as Stephen Hawking in an election

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Perhaps it should be outsourced, and decisions made in China? Failing that, let us have yet another QUANGO?

    Seriously though, democracy should mean democracy. We the public should be able to keep our elected servants in check, not some unelected grandees. Then, for better or worse, at least the public get what they 'deserve'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    Go back to the Hereditary sysytem ! Real Lords , rather than fake ones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    Such a fundamental change to our (admittedly unwritten) constitution DEMANDS a referendum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    So, according to the gist of the comments on here,we the British people,favour an unelected quango of non-accountable people ?

    This is the same British public who rile against the same in 'Europe'?

    What's the difference ?

    Is it because some of the 'lords' were born on this side of the channel?

    Pull the other one

    I donìt know if this is the BBC's handy work or not

    100% genuine? I believe not

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    That your 7x great grandad won a battle isn't great basis for Gov't. But elected house isn't right solution-it'll either nod through or obtusely block lower house depending on how elections timed with lower house. 2nd house is check to elected MPs it shouldn't have to consider reelection/currying favour. A house of those showing skill/dedication in different fields (life peers) seems most prudent

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Current plans are disgrace. Democracy now, not in 2025. If there is a referendum that should include the monarchy. Genetics can not rule us anymore. We must elect the member of Royal Family every 5 years to rule us. Indeed, I see no reason why shouldn’t someone from outside of RF be a candidate in the election for head of the state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    like the idea of a rolling election system so that a longer more balanced representation of the view of society
    15 years term seems way too long (6 years with 1/3 elected every 2 years) also think 80% elected is very high would like higher proportion of experts to serve review function but minimum attendance and voting requirements. stop it being something to reward big party donations

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    The Lords does need some reforms, but this should be more power.
    At the moment they are ineffectual
    Proven by the fact that they let the NHS bill go through(or had no choice)
    Doctors don't want it, the people don't want it.
    It seems to me that the only people who do want it is the Tories and whatever Healthcare companies, who will be taking over.


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