The House of Lords
The White Paper
Chapter 1. Executive Summary
Chapter 2. Introduction: modernising the House of Lords.
Chapter 3. The present House of Lords.
Chapter 4. Role of a second chamber.
Chapter 5. Modernising the Lords: hereditary peers.
Chapter 6. Modernising the Lords: a transitional house.
Chapter 7. Modernising the Lords: longer-term reform - what should the modernised House do?
Chapter 8. Modernising the Lords: longer-term reform the compostion of a reformed House of Lords.
Back to the introduction.
MODERNISING THE LORDS:
A TRANSITIONAL HOUSE
1. The Government's intention to remove the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will radically alter the complexion and composition of the House. Proposals for further reform of the Lords will flow from the Royal Commission the Government will shortly establish. In the interim, the House of Lords will be in a transitional stage. Even so, we are determined to ensure that even in transitional form, the House of Lords is a more modern and a fairer chamber.
2. The Government said in its election manifesto that in addition to taking action over the unrepresentative anomaly of hereditary peers, it would reform the way life peers are nominated. We believe that no political party should have a majority in the House of Lords. We will make the process of appointment transparent and fair. There is no truth to the assertion that we wish to create a 'house of patronage' as an abuse of the appointments system.
3. For the transitional House:
- we presently plan to seek only broad parity of numbers with the main Opposition party; and
- we shall maintain a significant independent, cross-bench element. We will establish an independent Appointments Commission to make nominations to the cross benches and to oversee the propriety of all recommendations of political peers, so that all peers are vetted to the highest standard.
4. The complexion and composition of the Lords will be different in a transitional chamber, but the Government is not proposing any changes in the House's functions in the transitional stage. The House of Lords is, and will remain, the second chamber of the legislature. Its functions, in the transitional House, will continue to be to question Ministers and to give its consent to and, where appropriate, revise the proposals for legislation.
THE BALANCE OF THE TRANSITIONAL HOUSE
5. In our manifesto we said:
''Our objective will be to ensure that over time party appointees as life peers more accurately reflect the proportion of votes cast at the previous general election. We are committed to maintaining an independent cross-bench presence of life peers. No one political party should seek a majority in the House of Lords."
New members of the House of Lords will continue to be appointed in accordance with the Life Peerages Act 1958. There will be for the time being no changes to the conditions attached to life peerages. This means that making progress towards fulfilling the Government's pledges on the balance of composition cannot be done within the existing membership of the House; the adjustments must be largely carried out through new creations.
6. The present political breakdown of life peerages6 is:
7. If some hereditary peers remain the majority of them will inevitably be Conservatives. This will have the effect of tilting the imbalance in the House which will still exist among life peers further away from the results of the last general election. We do not seek to replace the current enormous political imbalance with a mirror image which favours the Labour Party, but with a fair balance between the parties. We set out in our manifesto the broad principle which we believe should govern the appointment of life peers but our present intention is to move towards broad parity between Labour and the Conservatives. The principle of broad parity and proportionate creations from the Liberal Democrat and other parties would be maintained throughout the transitional period.
8. It is entirely reasonable that the parties should have the major say in the selection of those who represent them in the House of Lords. After all, they also decide who to put forward as candidates for election to the House of Commons. There must be proper safeguards to ensure that corruption or undue influence are not involved, but beyond that, this must be a matter for the parties, especially as the award of a peerage continues to shift from being an honorific award to being an appointment to undertake specific duties and the concept of the 'working peer' develops.
THE APPOINTMENTS COMMISSION
9. We recognise and value the tremendous contribution made to the work of the House of Lords by the independent cross-bench peers. The Government proposes to set up an Appointments Commission to take over from the Prime Minister the function of nominating cross-bench peers. There is no reason why the Prime Minister of the day should control the nominations to the cross benches. Cross Benchers will become more important with the removal of the Conservative in-built majority. The Commission will be an advisory non-departmental public body. It will consist of representatives of the three main political parties, and independent figures who will comprise a majority, one of whom will become the Chairman. It will operate an open and transparent nominations system for cross-bench peers, both actively inviting public nominations and encouraging suitable bodies to make nominations. The general qualities being sought and the type of information required to support a nomination will be made public. It will seek to cast its net wider than the present system to achieve successful nominations.
10. The Appointments Commission will also take on and reinforce the present function of the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee in vetting the suitability of all nominations to life peerages. It will continue to include scrutiny on the grounds of propriety in relation to political donations, as endorsed by Lord Neill in his report on the funding of political parties.7 (The Political Honours Scrutiny Committee will retain its role in respect of other political honours.) The Prime Minister will have no right to refuse a nomination the Commission had passed.
11. The Appointments Commission itself will be appointed in accordance with the rules of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. It will also seek his advice about best practice in the area of attracting and assessing potential nominees.
12. Awards of peerages will continue to be made by The Queen. In accordance with the normal conventions for the exercise of the prerogative, the names of those recommended will have to be submitted by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister will decide the overall number of nominations to be made to The Queen and the Commission will be asked to forward to the Prime Minister the same number of recommendations. The Prime Minister will pass these on to Her Majesty in the same way as he will pass on the recommendations of other party leaders to fill the vacancies on their benches. Therefore, except in the most exceptional of circumstances, such as those endangering the security of the realm, the only nominations which the Prime Minister will be able to influence are those from his own party.
13. As at present, creations would take place in batches once or twice a year. The Government believes it would be better to allow more scope for considerations of balance and representativeness by enabling all parties and the Appointments Commission to consider a number of nominations at a time.
14. Taking all the Government's proposals together the Prime Minister will in future have less influence than any of his predecessors over appointments and the composition of the House of Lords. The Government is not only removing the hereditary peers. It is accompanying this with a modernisation of the way the Lords are appointed and putting in place firm measures to ensure that this is done in a balanced way with no unfair party advantage and with a clear commitment to the independence of at least a significant proportion of the members.
6. A small number of retired politicians from other parties also sit on the non-aligned benches.
7.Fifth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life: The Funding of Political Parties in the United Kingdom, Cm 4057, ISBN 0-10-140572-3.