Reform of the House of Lords

On Tuesday, the House of Lords will be debating a Government motion to take note of ‘the case for reform of the House of Lords’.   I have no problem with noting the case for reform of the Lords.  I am in favour of various reforms, not least in terms of strengthening the House in carrying out legislative and non-legislative scrutiny.  However, I am not in favour of the Government’s proposals for the House of Lords.   Its proposals are not for reform of the House of Lords but rather for its destruction.  It wants to get rid of the present House and replace it with a new elected body.  There may be a case for that, but it cannot be dressed up as ‘reform’ of the House of Lords.

The fact that the Government believes that it can be considered as reform rather reflects the failure to think through what it actually means.  It relies on terminology which it has not sought to define and seeks to bring about change without thinking through the consequences.   In answer to a question from Lord Stoddart of Swindon as to whether election of the second chamber would be accompanied by a repeal of the Parliament Acts, Justice minister Lord McNally declared: ‘The Government believes that the basic relationship between the two Houses, as set out in the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949, should continue when the House of Lords is reformed’ (by which he meant elected).   What?  One wonders what he thinks the reasons were for the passage of the Parliament Act.  If there is an elected second chamber, the rationale for the Parliament Act disappears.  One might not provide for co-equal chambers, but one cannot sustain an Act brought in to ensure that the elected House could get its way over an unelected second chamber.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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10 Responses to Reform of the House of Lords

  1. ladytizzy says:

    Do you believe that Mr Cameron really wants a wholly elected HoL? It’ll take another 100 years for a committee to come up with a new name for the chamber. Ask Lord Saville to head it up.

    • Lord Norton says:

      ladytizzy: Good question. David Cameron did once say that he thought Lords reform was ‘a third-term issue’.

      • Croft says:

        I rather think LN that Lords reform is a bone thrown for the LDs to keep help them swallow Tory policies they are being forced to vote for.

        Still one has to have a wry smile that even in those areas the LDs are actually getting what they supposedly want they are managing to go against their own stated principles. The elected house in a 5yr fixed term parliament will have less legal power to restrain the executive than before. Then again I’ve long been puzzled by the LDs notion of the purpose of election.

        Btw LOTB is now showing me:

        “This blog is protected; to view it, you must log in.”

        Of course it is probably just a maintenance page while things are being altered.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Croft: I agree, though I think I have an inkling as to the LD view of the purpose of election! On LoTB, you should be able to access the site – there have been plenty of posts recently. The alteration was completed some time ago and regulars (ladytizzy, Carl.H and others) are clearly able to access it, as they been contributing to the discussions. You may wish to contact the Hansard Society, who administer the site, as I have no idea what may be causing the problem (though some of our readers, who are rather expert in such technical matters, may). I hope an incentive may be that the weekly quiz has resumed…

      • ladytizzy says:

        Croft, you might have hit the UK test run version of this:,2817,2365393,00.asp

        (the Daily Mail give the story a more excited headline: Obama to be given the right to shut down the internet with ‘kill switch’)

  2. Lord Norton’s opening comments echo Edmund Burke in An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs:

    A spirit of reformation is never more consistent with itself, than when it refuses to be rendered the means of destruction.

    How many Conservative politicians, I wonder, will refuse to be the instruments of a constitutional cock-up?

  3. Carl.H says:

    Our system of politics which has worked to a good degree of success for hundreds of years must not be altered or indeed changed completely on the whim of a singular part of that system.

    The system is complex, the electorate for the most part do not understand it`s complexities nor are they expert in political systems. There is no evidence what is being suggested would be better. The formation of Parliament was a deliberate act of the wise at times a lot harder than we now have, it gives representation to the common man through the Commons and representation of the educated and Religious through the Lords.

    The proposal will alter the political system entirely and leave us with an untried, untested regime that maybe useless.

    The proposals are beyond the scope/expertise of most of most of the electorate. They are more important than any budget and no Government would put that to the people.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Carl.H: Well said. I think this is the crucial point which those advocating an elected second chamber have failed to appreciate. Our constitution does not comprise autonomous units which operate wholly independently of one another. Our constitutional system comprises a range of inter-related elements and changing one has implications for the others.

  4. Croft says:

    OK problem solved. My bookmark was simply the IP address which has (perhaps) changed during the upgrade from to the old site was left at the old IP.

    ladytizzy: yes I laughed when I heard about this for 3 reasons. There was a suggestion China has an internet kill switch (it doesn’t) that somehow China having it would be an argument for the US to follow (it isn’t!) and that this is needed (the law already allows the shutdown of telecommunications in the US)

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