In an earlier post, I explained some of the background to the question of House of Lords reform. But exactly what sort of reforms are proposed – and how can you find out about them? When proposed legal reforms are as high profile as these, there is, inevitably, plenty in the mainstream media – like this overview on the BBC News website. If you want to find out more – or if you are just interested to see what law, in the form of legislation, actually looks like – take a look at the text of the Bill itself. (Its progress through Parliament can be monitored here.) And if the text of the Act seems a bit impenetrable, try reading the Explanatory Notes – a plain English, but detailed, guide to the Bill – or the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform, which influenced the drafting of the Bill.
If you look at some or all of the above, you will see that the biggest proposed change that 80 per cent (compared to 0 per cent today) of members of the Lords should be elected, with the remainder appointed. I noted in my earlier post that one risk of an elected (or mainly elected) House of Lords might be duplication of the Commons and loss of distinctiveness. Note, however, that members of the reformed Lords would serve single, non-renewable 15 year terms. Perhaps rather paradoxically, this should help to ensure that elected members of the Lords are not too accountable to the public or their political masters. They would be able to act in an independent way, not having to worry about the prospect of being re-elected (because re-election simply wouldn’t be an option).
What do you think? Is this a good compromise between a democratically legitimate House of Lords and a House of Lords that is likely to remain distinctive?
Finally, it’s important to bear in mind that the current Bill might not become law – not least because many Conservative MPs appear unwilling to support it, fearing (among other things) that a mainly elected Lords might threaten the pre-eminence of the Commons. So the process of House of Lords reform that began over a hundred years ago may not yet be nearing its conclusion.