House of Lords Reform: A History

Volume 4. 1971–2014: The Exclusion of Hereditary Peers – Book 1: 1971–2001 – Book 2: 2002–2014

by Peter Raina (Author)
Monographs XXXII, 1252 Pages


Peter Raina’s magnificent history of Lords reform has already brought into the public domain a mass of original documents and thrown light on the debates they fuelled. In Volume 4 he brings his study up to the present age.
The Thatcher and Blair governments were both determined to shake up the system, and in such times the old House of Lords began to look more and more outdated. Mrs Thatcher’s inaction on the issue only increased calls for abolition or change. So the Blair government grasped the nettle. In one historic Act of Parliament it ejected hereditary peers from the House – except for 92 saved by a last-minute amendment. The negotiations and reactions surrounding this event are recorded here in lively detail.
This concluding book brings Peter Raina’s History of Lords’ Reform up to the end of 2014. It follows on from the banishment of hereditary peers from the House in the name of democracy. This was proclaimed as only the start of more sweeping change. What was to happen next?

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • House of Lords Reform: A History 1971–2014: The Exclusion of Hereditary Peers Book One: 1971–2002
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Illustrations
  • Chapter One: 1971–76. Reforms Suggested
  • Chapter Two: 1977–79. Lords Reform: Earl Home’s Review Committee
  • Chapter Three: 1979. Mrs Thatcher’s Reservations
  • Chapter Four: 1980–96. A Multitude of Proposals
  • Chapter Five: 1995–97. Party and Public Discussion on Reform
  • Chapter Six: 1997. The Lords and the Labour Manifesto
  • Chapter Seven: 1999. Exclusion of Hereditary Peers: The Labour Government Bill
  • Chapter Eight: 2000. A House for the Future: Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords
  • Chapter Nine: 2001. Completing the Reform: A New White Paper
  • House of Lords Reform: A History 1971–2014: The Exclusion of Hereditary Peers Book Two: 2002–2014
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Chapter Ten: 2002–03. The Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform
  • Chapter Eleven: 2005. Constitutional Reform: The Lord Speaker
  • Chapter Twelve: 2005. Voices From Outside and From Across the Parties
  • Chapter Thirteen: 2006. Conventions of the British Parliament
  • Chapter Fourteen: 2007. A New White Paper on Reform: Jack Straw
  • Chapter Fifteen: 2008. An Elected Second Chamber: The Cross-Party Group
  • Chapter Sixteen: 2011. A Draft Reform Bill
  • Chapter Seventeen: 2012. The Coalition Government’s House of Lords Reform Bill
  • Chapter Eighteen: 2012. The House of Lords Reform Bill: Its Fate in the House of Commons
  • Chapter Nineteen: 2014. Dan Byles’ House of Lords Reform Act 2014 and Two By-Elections
  • Chapter Twenty: 2014. A Bill Empowering the House of Lords to Expel or Suspend Members: Baroness Hayman
  • Epilogue
  • Bibliography
  • Index

← i. vi | i. vii →Preface

The withdrawal of the House of Lords reform bill of 1969 was a great disappointment for the then prime minister, Harold Wilson and for his home secretary, Jim Callaghan. Both had worked hard to force the bill through the Commons, had failed to do so, and felt humiliated. Edward Heath, the leader of the Opposition at the time, had also contributed enormously to the success of the inter-party talks that had resulted in the drafting of the government White Paper in 1968; but he was humiliated by his own back-bench MPs. Thus when Heath became prime minister in 1970, he showed little desire to proceed with Lords reform. Similarly, when Labour won the general election in 1974 and Wilson returned to the office of prime minister, he too would have nothing to do with attempts to reform the Upper House. Jim Callaghan, who succeeded him in this office in 1976, behaved no differently. Thus, from 1970, for almost a decade, successive governments left Lords reform well alone. Having devoted so much effort to reach consensus on the issue during the bout of activity in 1968–69, and then having failed, the party leaders strongly believed it was best to concentrate their efforts on other matters.

Yet reform was not entirely neglected. Sporadic attempts were made by certain individuals and groups to urge the need for change in the Upper House and to examine possibilities. One such attempt was the establishment of Earl Home’s Committee on the House of Lords in January 1977. It was formally called into existence by the new leader of the Conservative Party, Margaret Thatcher. Mrs Thatcher herself was no advocate of reform, but she was not going to hamper the enquiry. The people most deeply involved in considering the reform ideas (all men) were the Conservative grandees: Lord Butler, Lord Carrington, Lord Hailsham, the Earl of Home, Lord Soames and Lord Thorneycroft. A number of distinguished experts worked on the Home Committee and, almost exactly a year later, they submitted their report as ‘a contribution to discussion’ rather than as an official ← i. vii | i. viii →Conservative Party ‘pronouncement’. The report was of some length, and it contained the following important elements:

(i)The number of hereditary peers in the House of Lords should be limited by ‘an arrangement under which they elect some of their number to sit as their representatives rather as the Scottish peers used to choose representatives from amongst themselves to sit in the House of Lords’.

(ii)The membership could also be limited to life peers and peers of first creation by giving the right to vote to a ‘limited number selected in such a way as to reflect the Party balance in the House of Commons’.

(iii)Since the reformed Second Chamber was obliged to perform two major and independent roles – its revising role and its role of safeguarding the constitution – the report put forward a number of variants for consideration on its composition.

The report had one major drawback. It concentrated more on the composition and less on the powers of the proposed new chamber. But these two important elements could not really be separated in any worthwhile reform; and a part-elected and part-nominated upper chamber (the main feature of the Home report) could hardly have been the answer people sought, if its powers remained undefined.

Mrs Thatcher was prime minister from May 1979. Though reform of the House of Lords was not on her legislative programme, there were members of her government who urged the necessity of taking it very seriously. Their sense of urgency appears to have been spurred by declarations made by the Labour and Liberal Parties, and by hostile private members’ bills that were brought to both Houses of Parliament throughout the Thatcher era.

These two pressures on the Lords require some explanation. In its general election manifesto of May 1979 the Labour Party had announced that it intended to ‘abolish the delaying power and legislative veto of the House of Lords’, and the Liberals had put forward a plan that the Lords ‘should be replaced by a new, democratically chosen, second Chamber which includes representatives of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom, and UK ← i. viii | i. ix →members of the European Parliament’. The Conservatives, not proposing any measures at all in this area, had simply stated that a ‘strong second Chamber is necessary not only to revise legislation but also to guarantee our constitution and liberties’. They knew that change was in the air.

The second cause of anxiety among Conservatives came from the introduction of a number of private members’ bills. Bills from those dissatisfied with the status quo posed the threat that – imminently – the House of Lords might suffer drastic alteration or even be abolished altogether. Conservatives who shared Lord Hailsham’s ‘elective dictatorship’ anxieties believed that this could open the way to extremist measures being passed through the House of Commons with no check on them at all. Proposals therefore oscillated between those wanting to do away with an Upper House based on the hereditary principle (or abolish the House altogether) and those wanting in some way to shore it up.

The private members’ bills were manifold. (1) In February 1980 Brandon Rhys Williams (Conservative) tabled a motion in the Commons to ‘provide for the election of members of the House of Lords by proportional representation; and to provide that only the members so elected shall be qualified to vote in that House’. (2) In May 1980 a Labour MP, J.W. Rooker, begged that ‘leave be given to bring in a bill to abolish the House of Lords’. (3) In November 1980 Lord Alport introduced a Constitutional Referendum Bill in the Lords, to ‘make obligatory the holding of a constitutional referendum before a bill which contains provisions to abolish the House of Lords or which would deprive it of all legislative powers, thereby reducing the Parliament of the United Kingdom to a single legislative chamber, may proceed to a Second Reading in either House of Parliament’. (4) In November 1983 Lord Diamond moved that the House of Lords ‘consider its procedure on Public Bills with a view to providing that decisions on amendments in Committee should be taken only by Lords selected by the House on the recommendation of the Committee of Selection, having regard to their qualifications and to the proportion of the votes cast for the main political parties at the last General Election’. (5) In February 1984 Willie Hamilton (Labour) introduced a bill in the Commons to ‘end the practice of the creation of hereditary peerages; to make provision for the ← i. ix | i. x →ending of existing peerages on the demise of the present incumbent; and to end the custom whereby retired Prime Ministers and other senior government and parliamentary office-holders are offered peerages’.

The stream of interventions and proposals from such individuals continued. (6) In April 1984 Lord Jenkins of Putney asked the government whether it would ‘consult opposition parties with a view to setting up a Select Committee to consider whether the inheritance or grant of peerage should continue automatically to confer the right to take part in the proceedings of the House of Lords’. (7) In May 1984 a Conservative MP, Patrick Cormack, begged that leave be given to ‘bring in a Bill to make provision for electoral reform; to reform the House of Lords; to ensure that no constitutional measure shall be enacted without a two thirds majority of members of the House of Commons’.

Despite (8) Lord Houghton of Sowerby’s suggestion, made in the Lords in December 1984, that the House should be left alone, that ‘we should stop talking about reform; we should firmly reject abolition; we should brush off our detractors and get on with the job’, there was no abatement. (9) In February 1985, John Marek (Labour) introduced a bill ‘to abolish the present composition of the House of Lords and provide for a new membership based solely on an equal directly elected representation from all regions of the United Kingdom’. (10) In May 1985 Tony Benn (Labour) presented a radical bill of the sort Conservatives feared most. It was ‘to extend and entrench the democratic rights of the electors of the United Kingdom, through their representatives in the House of Commons over all legislation, all foreign and defence policy, all treaty-making and all executive powers that do not at present derive from statute, to abolish the House of Lords, to reduce the duration of a Parliament, to repeal the Official Secrets Act, and for purposes connected therewith’. (11) In the Lords, in February 1986, Viscount Hanworth called attention to the case ‘for making changes to the parliamentary and democratic systems of the United Kingdom if they are to endure’.

Many possible changes and possible ways of ensuring that the Upper House could ‘endure’ were put forward. (12) The Conservative MP Richard Holt begged to move in February 1986 that leave be given to bring in a bill to ‘amend the constitution of the House of Lords in relation to membership ← i. x | i. xi →of bishops and to make consequential provision’. (13) In February 1986 Lord Perry of Walton introduced a bill to amend the Parliament Act of 1911. (14) In December 1988, Lord Stoddart of Swindon put down an unstarred question, asking whether the government ‘will propose a restriction on the right of Lords to vote in Divisions on the basis of a given number of attendances over a specified period’. (15, 16) In October 1989, and again in January 1990, Graham Allen (Labour) introduced identical bills to ‘abolish the present composition of the House of Lords and to provide for a new membership based solely on an equal directly elected representation’. (17) Concerned that the Upper House should ‘endure’, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, in April 1990, called the attention of their lordships to ‘the appropriate powers and constitution of a Second Chamber within the British Constitution’. He thought that one Chamber alone whether by composition or by power could not perform all the ‘tasks that are demanded of it which are necessary for the performance of a parliamentary Chamber’.

By May 1991, Tony Benn (Labour) had modified his position. (18) Benn presented a bill in the Commons designed to establish ‘a democratic, federal and secular Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Wales dedicated to the welfare of all its citizens’ and to make provisions with respect to elections that would include equal representation for women. The bill aimed to establish a ‘Commonwealth Parliament consisting of the House of Commons and the House of People’. (19) In June 1992 Graham Allen (Labour) again introduced a bill in the Commons to ‘abolish the House of Lords as presently composed and to provide for a new directly elected membership based on Parliamentary constitution’.

Not all suggestions were concerned with the structure of parliament. (20) Lord Diamond introduced a bill of a different character in the Lords in November 1992. It would give power to Her Majesty to amend letters patent so that the peerage would in future pass to the eldest child, whether male or female.

However, the old themes soon returned. (21) In March 1993 the Labour MP Peter Hain moved a bill to provide for the ‘abolition of the House of Lords and its replacement by a Second Chamber elected on the basis of selections from regional party lists of candidates in proportion to the votes cast for the House of Commons’. (22) In June 1994 in the Commons, ← i. xi | i. xii →Bruce Grocott (Labour) begged to move that leave be given to bring in a bill ‘to abolish the right of hereditary peers and peeresses to sit in the House of Lords; to establish their right to vote in general elections and to stand for election to the House of Commons’. (23) In February 1996, Tony Benn again presented a bill to establish a democratic, federal and secular Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Wales dedicated to the welfare of its citizens. (24) Finally, in July 1996, Lord Mackay of Clashfern moved a motion in the Lords that the House ‘take note of the United Kingdom’s existing constitutional settlement’.

All these bills and motions had a very short life. They were debated, then withdrawn or rejected. In some instances the debates were lively, the speeches eloquent and caustic. We have quoted them briefly, not only to bring out contributions of value but to show how important the issue of the Second Chamber seemed to many people. Indeed, there were those who genuinely feared that the British constitution might come to ruin.

We also present reform proposals that came from various non-government sources. (1) A group of prominent Conservative politicians, Messrs Eccles, Drumalbyn, Boyd-Carpenter and Lauderdale, published a pamphlet in October 1980 outlining certain ideas. (2) A Labour MP, Stuart Bell, spoke against the abolition of the Lords. (3) In December 1981, the Scottish Young Conservatives described the arrangements they would like to see. (4) The group Conservative Action for Electoral Reform announced its scheme in April 1983. (5) A Working Group on the Electoral System established by the Labour Party in 1990 considered the appropriate form of elections for an elected second chamber. The Constitution Unit, a non-party organization set up in April 1995, produced papers on various other routes to reform.

The demand for something to be done about the Upper House was increasing from year to year, but there was no response from the Tory Government, which by 1997 had been in power for nearly eighteen years. The situation changed radically when the Labour Party won a landslide victory in the general election of May 1997. The New Labour election manifesto had clearly stated that the rights of the hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords would be ended by statute. Now, it ← i. xii | i. xiii →seemed, a Labour government could do the job. Earlier, in the summer of 1996, the Labour leader, Tony Blair, and the Liberal leader, Paddy Ashdown, had come to an understanding that their parties should coordinate policy on constitutional reform; they even established a Joint Consultative Committee to implement this policy. At first, the Labour government concentrated on the process of devolution: a Parliament for Scotland, a Welsh Assembly, an Assembly for Northern Ireland and an elected authority for London. Just two months after its election victory the Labour government produced two White Papers concerning Scotland and Wales. After a referendum held in September 1997 at which the Scots and the Welsh gave their approval, the government proceeded with corresponding bills, successfully establishing the principle of devolution. This was an important constitutional change.

Reform of the Lords was next on the agenda. In January 1998 a cabinet sub-committee was appointed under the chairmanship of the lord chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg. Its task was to compose a draft White Paper. At the same time the government carried on negotiations with the Opposition to work out an inter-party consensus on reform. The Conservative Party leader, William Hague, appointed his own Constitutional Commission to be chaired by Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and this commission published its report in September 1998, a month before the government made its intentions known in both Houses of Parliament. On 14 October 1998 the Lord Privy Seal, Baroness Jay of Paddington, moved that ‘this House take note of Her Majesty’s Government’s proposals for reform of the House of Lords, as set out in the Labour Party Manifesto’. The government, she said, intended to advance its plan in two stages. The first stage would be a ‘self-contained reform’ to end, by statute, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords. The legislative powers of the House would remain unaltered. In the second stage, a Royal Commission would be appointed to undertake a ‘wide-ranging review of possible further changes and then bring forward proposals for reform’. The motion was debated for two days: on the first day 64 speakers addressed the House, and on the second, 54. The proposal before them roused strong emotions. The Lords felt injured and were indignant, and their message was clear: the majority of them would reject the government legislation.

← i. xiii | i. xiv →Wisely, the cabinet paid attention to this. The prime minister advised Lord Richard, leader of the House of Lords, and then the lord chancellor, Lord Irvine, to enter into negotiation with Viscount Cranborne, leader of the Opposition in the Lords in an attempt to reach consensus. Viscount Cranborne was a devout reformer, and agreed to talk with the government without seeking William Hague’s permission. This helped. A deal was negotiated between Irvine and Cranborne on the basis of what came to be known as the Weatherill Amendment. This made provision for 92 hereditary peers to be elected by their own group.

Satisfied with the deal, the government now drafted the contents of the Queen’s ‘gracious speech’, to be delivered on 24 November 1998. Her Majesty announced that ‘a Bill will be introduced to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords. It will be the first stage in a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative. My Government will publish a White Paper setting out arrangements for a new system of appointment of life Peers and establish a Royal Commission to review further changes and speedily to bring forward proposals for reform’.

The White Paper, Modernising Parliament: Reforming the House of Lords (together with explanatory notes) was published in January 1999 (Cm 4183), and a bill to end membership of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage was introduced in both Houses of Parliament on 20 January 1999. It was a short bill, containing just two main clauses. Perhaps the government was giving heed to the advice of Sir Michael Wheeler Booth, the former Clerk of the Parliaments, and one of the architects of the failed 1968/69 reform bill. He had suggested that ‘legislation should be prepared for introduction early in a future Parliament’ and that such legislation should be ‘pared to a minimum and that a bill should be as short and sharp as possible’. The 1999 bill was certainly both short and sharp.

In the Commons the bill was presented by the president of the Council and leader of the House, Margaret Beckett. In the Lords it was presented by Baroness Jay. We cannot but admire the brilliance, the eloquence, the force of logic and (above all) the patience with which these parliamentarians carried the bill to success through all the stages of passage.

← i. xiv | i. xv →The bill passed all three stages in the Commons. It was read the third time on 16 March 1999, and passed. The next day it was sent to the Lords for approval. Here the Weatherill Amendment was tabled, and here the difficulties began. Lengthy, wearisome debates took place between March and July, then, after recess, in October 1999. The Lords although agreeing in principle to the Weatherill Amendment, introduced many amendments of their own. These were debated, then either withdrawn or rejected in a prolonged process in which whatever amendments remained in the Lords were then thrown out by the Commons.

The bill finally received Royal Assent on 11 November 1999. The House of Lords Act 1999 must be regarded as one of the most monumental constitutional reforms in the history of Great Britain.

While the government was still engaged in implementing the ‘first stage’ of this Lords reform, it was already designing schemes to complete ‘stage two’. Thus, early in April 1998 on Lord Richard’s advice, the cabinet appointed a Royal Commission to consider the matter. Lord Wakeham was to chair the Commission, which was composed of distinguished public figures. Its terms of reference were to make recommendation on the role and function of the Second Chamber, and on the methods of composition required to constitute a new House ‘fit for that role and these functions’. The Commission was obliged to report by 31 December 1999. It met on 29 occasions, held public meetings, and received over 1,500 pieces of written evidence. Its report, A House for the Future, was published in January 2000. It was 216 pages long and made 132 recommendations. It received a bad press, but was treated fairly in the House of Lords in March, and in the Commons in June. The government chose to put aside the report until after the general election due in May 2001. In that election the Labour Party retained power, having once more gained a vast majority. Reform of the Lords returned to the agenda. In November 2001 the government circulated a White Paper, The House of Lords: Completing Reform, and this strongly endorsed the vision of the Royal Commission. The government accepted the Commission’s ‘broad framework’ for composing the membership of the new House but modified these recommendations by bringing in proposals of its own: the House of Lords would remain subject to the House of Commons, ← i. xv | i. xvi →which should be pre-eminent; no group in society could in future have privileged hereditary access to the House; the principal function of the House would be to scrutinize and revise legislation; its political membership would be broadly representative of the main parties; there would be increased representation of women and of ethnic minorities; there would be a statutory Appointments Commission to manage the balance and the size of the House; the House would be largely nominated, and nominations would include a significant number of independent members. This last point was important, and the White Paper suggested specific figures: 120 independent members appointed by the Appointments Commission; 120 directly elected members; 16 bishops; 12 law lords; and ‘a balance of not more than 332 nominated political members, where the number available to each political party is determined by the Appointments Commission’.

There was little enthusiasm for the government proposals in the media. However, the government ignored the public’s reservations and instead begged parliament to take note of the White Paper. This the Houses did in January 2002, although many members expressed dissatisfaction, even discord. Only on one point was general consensus reached: that a Joint Committee of both Houses would give weight to the argument for reform. There was no choice left to the government but to give in to this demand.

A Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform came into being in July 2002. It was made up of 24 members, 12 from the Lords and 12 from the Commons. The Committee went into detail on all aspects of reform, and produced its first report in December 2002. It suggested seven options for the composition of a second chamber – that it be: (i) fully appointed; (ii) fully elected; (iii) 80% appointed and 20% elected; (iv) 80% elected and 20% appointed; (v) 60% appointed and 40% elected; (vi) 60% elected and 40% appointed; (vii) 50% appointed and 50% elected. Further suggestions were made with regard to the functions and powers of a new second chamber. Both Houses of Parliament discussed the first report in January and voted on it in February 2003. The voting must have perplexed observers greatly: the Commons threw out all the options, though they rejected option (iv) by only a tiny majority (Ayes 281, Noes 284). The Lords plumped for option (i), a fully appointed second chamber, rejecting all alternatives.

← i. xvi | i. xvii →The Joint Committee met again to deliberate on the objections raised by both Houses, and issued a second report in April 2003. The government thanked the Committee, but decided not to go further with this report. But this was not the end of the matter. Before the end of the current session of parliament, the government resolved on reform of a different kind – a constitutional change of major importance. This was the plan to establish an independent Supreme Court, remove the law lords from the House of Lords and abolish the office of lord chancellor. The proposals again stirred up violent passions. In the Lords, Lord Lloyd of Berwick stood up as the main opponent of this change. He said that he was not against reform, but must argue against the urgency with which the government was handling a question of such great constitutional significance. He insisted on the appointment of a Select Committee to analyse the issue. This was done. The government considered the views of the Committee and revised the bill accordingly. After intensive debate in both Houses, and the bouncing of the bill back and forth between the Commons and the Lords in what was described as political ‘ping-pong’, the government’s Constitutional Reform Act received Royal Assent in March 2005, just before the approaching general election. The government had achieved almost all of its main aims, except for one: the abolition of the traditional office of lord chancellor. This was maintained. But the lord chancellor would not now be a member of the House of Lords, and would be allotted other functions. In his place in the Lords, there would be a Speaker of the House – a new role.

At the general election of May 2005 the Labour Party won its third consecutive victory. Its majority was much reduced but was safe enough for the government to continue with the policy declared in its manifesto, to ‘complete the reform of the House of Lords so that it is a modern and effective second Chamber’. Here the government hoped to count on all-party consensus. Just before the election a couple of distinguished scholars and a small group of cross-party members of parliament had written a paper designed to break the deadlock and ‘kick-start the Lords process’. It did not have a good launch. When Robin Cook presented its proposals in the Commons, the House politely listened but did not even take note of them.

← i. xvii | i. xviii →A serious attempt to reform the Lords was made in June 2006. Jack Straw, now the leader of the House of Commons, mobilized a cross-party group to draft a reform scheme. Straw himself was a dedicated reformer, a staunch supporter of the hybrid system, part-elected, part-appointed. His group’s recommendations informed the main thrust of the government White Paper published in February 2007. This was debated in both Houses in March of that year. Drawing on previous ideas, the paper offered seven options for the composition of a second chamber. It could be: (i) fully appointed; (ii) 80% appointed and 20% elected; (iii) 60% appointed and 40% elected; (iv) 50% appointed and 50% elected; (v) 40% appointed and 60% elected; (vi) 20% appointed and 80% elected; or (vii) fully elected. Voting in the parliamentary debates was free. The Commons voted for options (vi) and (vii), the Lords for option (i). The White Paper did not proceed further.

Jack Straw made another well prepared attempt in 2008. He assembled another cross-party group and once more produced a fairly optimistic White Paper. Sadly, this paper did not receive the attention it deserved, a fate that caused those who had devoted so much time, talent and effort to it a good deal of frustration. Labour’s third term was soon to end. The government had not accomplished all its designs, but it had certainly brought into being two memorable pieces of legislation: the House of Lords Reform Act 1999 and the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.

At the general election of May 2010 no single party gained a majority. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats agreed to form a coalition government. In their election manifestos both these parties had given a pledge to reform the Upper House. The Conservative assurance was the more distinctly formulated: the party would ‘work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords’.

Efforts were soon made to put these words into effect. On 20 May 2010 the Coalition government announced that it ‘would establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation’. It was announced that the committee would be chaired by the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg. The committee met several times between July and December ← i. xviii | i. xix →2010 and, at the end of these discussions, it made recommendations which formed the basis of the House of Lords Draft Bill, presented to Parliament in May 2011. The Draft Bill contained 492 clauses – perhaps the longest ever included in a reform programme. A Joint Committee, consisting of 13 peers and 13 members of the Commons, was nominated to scrutinize the Draft Bill. It called for oral and written evidence, and published its final report on 23 April 2012. Because of differences of opinion among certain members of the Joint Committee, an ‘Alternative Report’, with no official binding, was also published on 23 April 2012. The House of Lords debated the Joint Committee’s report on 30 April and 1 May 2012. The Lords felt that the proposals put forward were rather extravagant, and most of them treated the idea of a wholly elected second Chamber with disfavour. But the House agreed to take note of the Report. The Coalition government studied the criticisms voiced in the Lords but largely ignored them, preparing a bill to present for legislation. Except for a few technical changes, the bill was an almost exact copy of the Draft Bill – long, complicated and equally poor in focus. It contained 60 clauses and 11 schedules, divided into lengthy sections.

The bill was introduced in the Commons on 9 July 2012, where it at first aroused strong resentment, especially among Conservative MPs. However, when given a second reading, it had the backing of Liberal and Labour members and was passed by a huge majority. Certain Conservative MPs nevertheless retained their feelings of indignation and threatened to block the bill at the committee stage. It would be rash to suggest that this threat was mere caprice, yet equally mistaken to conclude that the new generation of MPs, possessed as they were with radical views, intended to obstruct the process of reform. What appears to have been their concern was that a wholly elected or even partly-elected second chamber might seriously challenge the primacy of the House of Commons. Here, perhaps, lay a certain degree of wisdom. The Coalition government recognized their reasoning, and withdrew the bill.

The government accepted its defeat with calm dignity. It was even persuaded, later on, to support a short but modest reform bill sponsored by Lord Steel in the House of Lords, and supported by Dan Byles in the ← i. xix | i. xx →Commons. This was in March 2014. The bill made provision for resignation of members from the House of Lords and, if necessary, for their expulsion in specified circumstances. The bill passed both Houses, free from impediment. The House of Lords Reform Act 2014 deserves to be counted as a further achievement in the reform of the Lords. Equally important is the bill on Expulsion and Suspension recently moved in the Lords by Baroness Hayman. It received enthusiastic support from all parties in the House on 24 October 2014, and was, by acclamation, read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House. These bills strengthen our conviction that simple, short and modest bills are usually the more likely to achieve consensus.

In this two-book volume, we have collected almost all that was said on reform of the Lords in the period 1971–2014. With sources so varied, the reader must be patient with inconsistencies in presentation and conventions. Also, study of the points advanced can at times become wearisome because there is so much repetition. But the sheer wealth of contribution to the debate displays a certain splendour and reveals an intense and continued interest in trying to make our constitution work. Therein lies its strength.

Peter Raina

Senior Research Associate

Graduate Centre

Balliol College



Michaelmas Term 2014

← i. xx | i. xxi →Acknowledgements

The Author is hereby gratefully indebted to:

The Parliamentary Archives, Houses of Parliament, London

Rights & Images Department, National Portrait Gallery, London

Curator’s Office (Ms Therese Crawley), Palace of Westminster Collection, London

The Controller of HMSO

The Conservative Party Archive, Bodleian Library, Oxford

Nuffield College Library, Oxford

and to the following individuals:

Annabel, Countess of Ferrers

The Rt Hon. Dame Margaret Becket MP

Rt Hon. the Lord Lloyd of Berwick

The Rt Hon. Dan Byles MP

Fionna Carlisle

The 8th Earl of Carnarvon

The Baroness D’Souza

Dr Douglas Dupree, Dean, Balliol College, Oxford

Rt Hon. the Baroness Hayman

Mrs Isabel D. Holowaty (Bodleian History Librarian, Oxford)

Rt Hon. the Baroness Jay of Paddington

Mr Robin Lee-Hall

← i. xxi | i. xxii →Professor Tom Melham, Praefectus, Holywell Manor, Balliol College, Oxford

Professor the Lord Plant of Highfield

The Rt Hon. the Lord Richard QC

Most Hon the 7th Marquess of Salisbury

Rt Hon. Jack Straw MP

Sir Michael Wheeler-Booth

also to:

Mr Jon Ashby, my copy-editor

Mrs Lucy Melville, my publisher

← i. xxii | i. xxiii →List of Illustrations

The Rt Hon. Dame Margaret Becket MP by an unknown artist

Reproduced by permission of the editor of the Andrew Marr Show, BBC1

Rt Hon. The 7th Earl of Carnarvon by an unknown artist

Reproduced by permission of the 8th Earl of Carnarvon

The Rt Hon. Robin Cook MP with Tammy and Tusker by Fionna Carlisle

Reproduced by permission of the Palace of Westminster Collection, WOA 6434 www.parliament.uk/art

The Rt Hon. the Lord Irvine of Lairg by James Lloyd

Reproduced by permission of the Palace of Westminster Collection, WOA 6272 www.parliament.uk/art

Rt Hon. the Baroness Jay of Paddington by Chris Moyse

Reproduced by permission of the House of Lords, 2014

Prof. Nevil Johnson by Jane Bown

Reproduced by permission of Nuffield College Library, Oxford

Most Hon. the 7th Marquess of Salisbury by an unknown artist

Reproduced by permission of the 7th Marquess of Salisbury

The Rt Hon. Bernard Weatherill MP by Robin Lee-Hall

Reproduced by permission of the Palace of Westminster Collection, WOA 3578 www.parliament.uk/art

Professor the Lord Plant of Highfield by ActiveShot/Winchester Cathedral

Reproduced by permission of ActiveShot/Winchester Cathedral

While every effort has been made to trace copyright holders, if any have been inadvertently overlooked, the author will be happy to acknowledge them in future editions.← i. xxiii | i. xxiv →

← i. xxiv | i. 1 →CHAPTER ONE

1971–76. Reforms Suggested

The House of Lords Reform Bill that was introduced in 1969 met with failure, causing discomfort to both the government and opposition front benches. A general election was soon due and there was no time to start up reform plans all over again. In the election of June 1970 it was the Conservatives who won. Edward Heath was now prime minister. As leader of the Opposition he had contributed significantly to the All-Party Committee consensus (1968) but his efforts had not met with success. Therefore, as prime minister, he showed little interest in Lords reform.

However, though the government shied away from proposals, there was no lack of private initiatives. In the years 1971–72, for instance, Lord Brooke of Cumnor’s committee undertook to revise the 1968/69 reform draft.1

The Brooke Committee suggested certain improvements, but these were not enough to be taken seriously by the Heath government. Commenting on the report, Michael Wheeler-Booth (one of the major supporters of the 1969 Reform Bill) said that the authors of the report had not learnt from past experience: he insisted that any future legislation ‘should be pared to a minimum and that a bill should be as short and sharp as possible’.2

The instigators of various private members’ bills appear to have heeded Sir Michael’s advice.

← i. 1 | i. 2 →Voting Rights in the House of Lords: Sir Brandon Rhys Williams

On 27 April 1971 Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Conservative) begged to move in the House of Commons ‘that leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision in regard to the voting rights in the House of Lords of hereditary peers by succession; and for related purposes’.3

Sir Brandon explained that he was not seeking to ‘initiate a campaign’, and although the bill had been drawn up with the benefit of ‘expert advice’, he was sponsoring it solely on his own initiative. The bill contained ‘only one specific recommendation’. He was not trying to attack the hereditary principle – that would be futile – rather, the object of the bill was to ‘strengthen and not to weaken it’. He considered that the Second Chamber should be an ‘organ for the clear expression of informed and responsible public opinion’. In his bill he recommended that the choice of hereditary peers ‘by succession who may continue to exercise voting rights in the other place should be made by nomination’. And, if the bill came into effect, Sir Brandon hoped that ‘in the first instance the nominations of hereditary peers by succession as life peers with full voting rights would include all the 250 or so hereditary peers by succession who now take an active part in the other place’.

The question put was agreed to, and and it was ordered that the bill be printed and be read a second time on 30 April 1971. However, it did not proceed any further.

Sir Brandon presented an identical bill on 4 December 1972 to ‘make provision in regard to the voting rights in the House of House of Lords of hereditary peers by succession’.4 The bill was ordered to be read a second time on 23 February 1973, but it too was not taken up.

With the general election in March 1974 came a victory for Harold Wilson and the Labour Party. Harold Wilson had concerns more pressing than Lords reform. And when Jim Callaghan succeeded him in September ← i. 2 | i. 3 →1976, this new prime minister was still haunted by the fact that, as home secretary in 1969, he had failed to bring through the Reform Bill. Jim Callaghan would have nothing further to do with Lords reform. So again it became the domain of back bench members in both Houses of Parliament.

‘Our Parliamentary System’: Viscount Hanworth

On 22 May 1974 Viscount Hanworth [2ndViscount] moved for papers in the House of Lords to ‘call attention to the desirability of considering what changes could usefully be made to our Parliamentary system to bring it into line with present day needs and improve the functioning of our democracy’. Viscount Hanworth had in mind not only reform of the Lords but also changes in the Commons. He thought that periodic change was essential and believed it almost axiomatic that anything that had remained static for many years needed a searching review. He strongly believed that if ‘we are to preserve the best of the past we must be willing to make gradual alterations to our system of democracy whenever they seem desirable’. He proposed that the House of Lords ‘might at all times have a completely free vote’.

Surely this could only lead to much more balanced decision-making and, because of more clearly expressed views, lessen what some people believe to be an increasingly excessive use of power by the Civil Service.

It might, the Viscount hoped, be possible for a specified number of senior minister, who had previous experience as members of Parliament, to be ‘appointed without election, and a number of seats given to minority Parties on the basis of the total vote’. He therefore suggested the establishment of an all-party commission to look ‘in depth’ into these matters and to report within six months.5

← i. 3 | i. 4 →Lord Windlesham [3rd Baron] warned against the mistake of thinking that there was anything ‘very new about disenchantment with the political system’. What ‘we need to do in our present situation’, he thought, was ‘to distinguish between failures of machinery and failures of will’. And he agreed that if ‘our political institutions’ were to survive and to flourish, they needed ‘constant attention’. Their performance needed to be ‘critically appraised and they must show themselves to be open to change’.6

Lord Wade [Life Baron] was all for free votes – ‘the more the better’. He believed that parliamentarians could hold loyalties and a sense of values that overrode party interests. And so long as that was so, ‘our system has a chance of continuing to flourish’.7

Lord Deramore [6th Baron] thought that the main threat to democracy lay in the ‘ability of the minority to bend the majority to its will’. He was also convinced that the ‘disillusionment of the general public with Party politics owes a great deal to the apparent financial bondage of the two main political Parties to outside sectional interests’.8

Lord Shinwell [Life Baron] said that he would welcome more minority representation of that kind in the form of members of Parliament who, while not abandoning their ideological objectives, ‘can speak up regardless of whether it is pleasant or otherwise to those on the other side of the political fence’. One remedy to be considered was the independent MP. He did not mean the sort of independent MP who was ‘neither fish, fowl nor good red herring, and who is injected into Parliament through some by-election or some political misadventure in some locality’. He meant the MP who was democratically elected by a constituency, but who had the ‘courage to stand up and seek to correct the Executive when he believes that the Executive has been wrong. This is what is wanted.’9

← i. 4 | i. 5 →Lord Garner [Life Baron] held that it was important that ‘we should change our practices and not change our system’. He thought that any government ‘should endeavour to rule by consent and avoid confrontation’.10

Lord Somers [8th Baron] felt that the chief defect of the system was that governments were based ‘almost entirely now on Party loyalty rather than loyalty to the country as a whole’.11

Baroness Emmet of Amberley [Life Baroness] was inclined to think that a two-party system was ‘more suited to our British character: one Party in power and one Party in critical Opposition’.12

Viscount Simon [2nd Viscount] said that he did not like strong government, because strong government was ‘too often stubborn Government and insensitive Government’. He would like to see government much more sensitive to the views of the country as expressed through parliament. His real aim was to see ‘the power of Parliament over the Executive increased’, and he believed that an ordinary MP should be entitled to hear the advice given by civil servants to ministers and ‘judge for himself whether the Minister is correct in accepting that advice or in rejecting it’.13

Lord Gore-Booth [Life Baron] thought that the urge of many people in the country was towards the middle, and that a ‘good look at a complicated bill by two Houses will produce a better bill than scrutiny by one, and no further scrutiny’.14

Lord Alport [Life Baron] offered a series of propositions:

The Party system needs to be released from the grip of the Party machines and to pass through a period of fluidity and reorientation. Secondly, the complexity of modern government makes it impossible for our representatives in the House of Commons to carry out their duties as territorial constituency members, their Parliamentary duties, and if members of the Government, their proper functions ← i. 5 | i. 6 →as Ministers, without undergoing intolerable strain. Thirdly, the trend in Government, as in industry, to try to meet the increasing complexity of the problems facing them by evolving larger units of administration and greater concentrations of resources is contrary to the need to equate the scale of administrative responsibility to the capability of the manpower and leadership sources which are available. Fourthly, if there is to be a second Chamber of the Legislature with appropriate powers, it must have some representational relationship to the power basis of an industrial technological society – that is, to the representations of organised labour, of management and of the Arts and the learned professions.15

Lord Platt [Life Baron] contended that the past election had clearly shown that large sections of the public were ‘disillusioned with both Parties, and I would go further and say, with both their leaders’. He therefore urgently suggested that all the various forms of proportional representation should be studied.16

Lord Sudeley [7th Baron] favoured representation of the people ‘according to the various interests to which they belong in a corporate chamber’.17

Lord Davies of Leek [Life Baron] observed that Parliament was ‘more and more becoming an echo machine’. It echoed the wishes of the Executive. It legitimized those wishes and made them law, but it did not itself inititate legislation. He therefore felt that ‘we need more tools to make this machine work’.18

The Earl of Cork and Orrery [13th Earl] said that there was ‘too much Party – and, by a happy paradox, too few Parties’. There must be a third party – ‘a third, but no more; and if a dangerous fragmentation is not to take place, that third Party must be the Liberal Party’. And for that reason, ‘we probably need proportional representation’.19

← i. 6 | i. 7 →Lord Wigg [Life Baron] said that he believed in democracy which drew its strength not ‘from any corporate chamber but from the quality of its individual citizens’; and democracy was ‘essentially both a moral and a political principle’.20

The lord chancellor, Lord Elwyn-Jones [Life Baron] thanked the lords for their valuable contributions. It was, he said, ‘premature’ to suggest the setting up of an all-party commission at the stage reached, but discussion and consideration of the problems raised should continue.21

Thereupon Viscount Hanworth begged leave to withdraw the motion, which was duly done.

Only a month later, on 20 June 1974, Lord Willis [Life Baron] asked a ‘straightforward’ question in the House of Lords. enquiring whether the government had any plans ‘at this particular time’ for reform of that House.22 He said he was ‘unhappy about the present position’, which he found unsatisfactory, and he would like something done about it. In a way, the House of Lords was a ‘kind of lotus land, where even the most rebellious heart becomes softened’. Here the rough edges were smoothed, all was ‘sweetness, courtesy and light. Here the rebel lies down with the reactionary, the pleb with the professor and the Bishop with the business man – all in perfect harmony’. But therein lay the danger – the danger of complacency.23 He begged leave to ask his question because he wanted to see the House made more effective.

The question was welcomed by the House, and several lords spoke. Lord Denham [2nd Baron] referred to the composition of the House, which, he said, was hard to defend. One could not reform the House without making the numbers ‘on each side more fairly balanced’. The voting members in a reformed House would have to be ‘a new Type of Peer, young enough and uncommitted enough to work the same hours and to give the same priority in their lives to Parliament, as do Members of another place’.24

← i. 7 | i. 8 →The Lord Bishop of Rochester [Richard David Say] observed that the bishops were ‘immensely proud’ to have provided the House with lords spiritual ‘for several centuries’.25

Lord Shinwell [Life Baron] thanked his noble friend on the question he had posed – ‘a very important one’. The answer, Lord Shinwell maintained, was ‘simple’. The government had no plans, and ‘for a very good reason’. They were ‘concerned at the present time, indeed they have been concerned for quite a long time, and will be concerned for some time ahead, about future General Elections. That lust for power. That is what it is all about.’26

Lords Platt, Ferrier, Hale, Wigg, Longford, Sudeley, Aberdare and Strabolgi joined in the debate, expressing agreement with Lord Willis that some reform of the House was needed. It was, however, Lord de Clifford [26th Baron], a man who had sat in the House for forty-six years, who cautiously elaborated. The main advantage of the Upper Chamber was that all the members could speak ‘clearly and without hesitation’ on all the subjects of which they had great knowledge, and there was no ‘looking over shoulders, wondering what will happen at the next Election’. He did not feel that the House had ‘very much chance of reform from outside’. It had to be recognized that ‘it is here’. It ‘has to do a job, and it has to be recognized as an integral part of the legislative machine of this country’.27

The question put was left unanswered. The House was told that the government hoped before very long to frame its own reform proposals.

An Abolition Bill: Dennis Skinner

Dennis Skinner (Labour) introduced a motion on 16 June 1976 ‘that leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish the House of Lords’.28

← i. 8 | i. 9 →He took the view that many Labour Party constituencies wanted to know where their members stood on this matter. One of the main criticisms advanced was that the House of Lords, ‘a non-elected, non-democratic body’, had no place in modern society.

Nicholas Ridley (Conservative) opposed the motion, arguing that the House of Lords had always tended to improve the legislation through amendments. The House divided: Ayes, 153; Noes, 168. The question was accordingly negatived.

The Hereditary Peerage: Michael English

On 16 November 1976 Michael English (Labour) presented a bill ‘to ensure that the will of the people as expressed by the House of Commons shall prevail over the will of the hereditary peerage; and for the reformation of the House of Lords; and for connected purposes’.29

The bill proposed that the prime minister ‘should publish a list of Peers considered to be supporters of the Government. The Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons should publish a list of Peers considered not to be supporters of the Government, which should not amount to more than 80% of the total of the Prime Minister’s list. Only those Peers named would be entitled to vote in the House of Lords, and Peers not named would be able to vote and to stand in parliamentary election.’30 The bill did not proceed further.

These bills must have caused anxiety among some senior members of the Conservative Party. It was therefore appropriate that the party leadership should give some thought to legislation on reform in a future parliament. Lord Carrington was the man to be approached. He had been (and ← i. 9 | i. 10 →still was) a staunch supporter of reform. We quote an important letter addressed to him. It has not been possible to locate the author of this letter.

Reform of the House of Lords: Letter to Lord Carrington31


28 November 1976

The Rt Hon. Lord Carrington

I do not know whether you have put in train any steps to get reform of the House of Lords included in a Conservative Manifesto. If not, do you think it would be right for you to concert together with say me, and Quintin [Hogg], to see whether we could not get this on its legs and perhaps set up some small group of people using men for example like Lord Blake to refurbish the previously suggested policies and have something ready within perhaps six months.



XXXII, 1252
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (April)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. XXXII, 1270 pp., 6 coloured ill., 12 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Peter Raina (Author)

Peter Raina has been a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London, and an Associate Member of Nuffield College, Oxford. He is presently Senior Research Associate at the Graduate Centre of Balliol College, Oxford.


Title: House of Lords Reform: A History