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House of Lords Reform in the 2017 Parliament

Published Thursday, June 14, 2018

A debate on a petition calling for a referendum on the abolition of the House of Lords will take place on 18 June 2018. The Government has responded to the Lord Speaker's Committee's proposals to reduce the size of the House of Lords.

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In its manifesto for the 2017 General Election, the Conservative Party said that “comprehensive reform” of the House of Lords was “not a priority”. The Government has reiterated that position, with, on 15 July 2017, Chris Skidmore, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, telling the House of Commons that:

  1. The Government have been clear, in the previous Parliament and in their manifesto, that reform of the House of Lords is not an immediate priority. However, a Lord Speaker’s Committee in the other place is looking at the size of the House of Lords and we are determined to consider its recommendations. The situation relates to legislation passed by a previous Labour Government in 1999. We are determined to ensure, above all, that the House of Lords is an effective revising Chamber.

During the 2015 Parliament, Members of the House of Lords continued to express frustration with the size of the House through questions and debates in the House.

e-petition calling for a referendum on the abolition of the House of Lords

The Petitions Committee has scheduled a debate on an e-petition calling for a referendum on the abolition of the House of Lords to take place on 18 June 2018:

  1. Give the electorate a referendum on the abolition of the House of Lords
  2. The House of Lords is a place of patronage where unelected and unaccountable individuals hold a disproportionate amount of influence and power which can be used to frustrate the elected representatives of the people.

By 13 June 2018, the e-petition had received over 168,000 signatures.

The Government has responded to the e-petition, stating that comprehensive reform of the House of Lords is not a priority. It noted the work of the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the size of the House of Lords and that following a response to the Committee’s report from the Prime Minister, the Committee had been reconvened.

Lord Speaker’s Committee on the size of the House of Lords

In a debate on 5 December 2016, members of the House of Lords called for the establishment of a select committee to explore how the size of the House of Lords could be reduced. Following that debate, on 20 December 2016, the Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, announced that he had established a Lord Speaker’s Committee drawn entirely from the back benches to “examine possible methods by which the House could be reduced in size”.

The Lord Speaker’s Committee’s report was published on 31 October 2017. It recommended:

  • The capping of the size of the House of Lords at 600 – until this is reached, only one new peer should be appointed for every two leaving;
  • Members of the House of Lords should serve a 15-year non-renewable term;
  • A proportion of seats should continue to be held by crossbenchers (approximately 22% of all seats), with the number allocated to parties determined by the seats and votes won at the preceding general election.

This would mean approximately 40 appointments per year, as the number of bishops would not be reduced but would count towards the total of 600 members in the House of Lords.

The House of Lords debated the Lord Speaker’s Committee’s report on 19 December 2017. During the debate members of the House of Lords gave the report a broad welcome.

There was a little dissent. Some peers considered that there was no problem; and others that the 15-year term limit would cause problems. A number of speakers called for a firm commitment from the Prime Minister that she would limit the number of appointments that she made.

The Prime Minister responded to the Committee’s report in a letter to the Lord Speaker in February 2018. She said that further consideration needed to be given to the mechanism proposed to maintain a steady and smaller state of the House of Lords. She welcomed the widespread call to limit the size of the House of Lords and committed to continue with restraint in making new appointments.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8137

Author: Richard Kelly

Topics: House of Lords, Members of the Lords

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