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The House of Lords

The White Paper

Pointer Foreword
Pointer Chapter 1. Executive Summary
Pointer Chapter 2. Introduction: modernising the House of Lords.
Pointer Chapter 3. The present House of Lords.
Pointer Chapter 4. Role of a second chamber.
Pointer Chapter 5. Modernising the Lords: hereditary peers.
Pointer Chapter 6. Modernising the Lords: a transitional house.
Pointer Chapter 7. Modernising the Lords: longer-term reform - what should the modernised House do?
Pointer Chapter 8. Modernising the Lords: longer-term reform ­ the compostion of a reformed House of Lords.
Pointer Back to the introduction.



The Government set out its approach to reform of the House of Lords in its manifesto:

''The House of Lords must be reformed. As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the rights of the hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute. This will be the first step in a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative. The legislative powers of the House of Lords will remain unaltered.

''The system of appointment of life peers to the House of Lords will be reviewed. 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.

''A committee of both Houses of Parliament will be appointed to undertake a wide-ranging review of possible further change and then to bring forward proposals for reform.''

This White Paper sets out how we intend to deliver on those promises, through a step-by-step process of reform.


Parliament is the central element of Britain's democracy. Britain needs a two-chamber legislature, with a distinct role for the second chamber which must not usurp that of the first.

For Parliament to carry out its purpose, it must act with authority and integrity. Each component part must also possess the legitimacy to support its role in the process. The present House of Lords suffers from a lack of legitimacy because of its anachronistic and unrepresentative composition.

The Government is committed to improving the effectiveness and balance of the House of Lords, with the aim of it playing a full and proper part in Parliament.


As a first step in this process, the Government will introduce legislation to remove the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords.

This is a real change in the way Britain is governed ­ one of the most radical seen this century. It is a major reform of the House of Lords, and a significant step in the modernisation of Parliament.


Legislation being introduced in this Parliamentary session will create a transitional House of Lords. If, as has been proposed, an amendment to the legislation is supported to allow a small number of hereditary peers to sit temporarily in the transitional House, the Government is minded to accept this proposal at an appropriate stage. In fulfilment of the second part of our manifesto pledge, the Government will ensure that no one party can dominate the transitional House.

At present, a Prime Minister has sole power of patronage in nominating to The Queen those to be appointed to life peerages. The Prime Minister has made it clear that he is prepared for the first time ever to take steps to reduce this unfettered power of patronage in this area. The Government will establish an independent Appointments Commission to recommend non-political appointments to the transitional House. The Prime Minister will undertake not to veto either its recommendations or those of other party leaders which have received the Commission's vetting clearance.


The manifesto said that options for longer-term reform would be considered by a Joint Committee of both Houses. The Government has decided to build on this with a Royal Commission. This will allow an open and transparent deliberative and consultative process involving full and wide debate of all the issues. The Joint Committee will then be asked to examine in more detail the Parliamentary aspects of any proposed reform.

The Royal Commission is being set up immediately, unlike a Joint Committee which would have had to await the passage of the Bill on the hereditary peers. Its terms of reference allow it to examine a range of possible alternatives covering role and functions as well as composition. It is being asked to report by the end of 1999, to enable the Government to make every effort to ensure that the second stage of reform has been approved by Parliament by the time of the general election.


These important and radical changes, which are part of the Government's programme of reform of the representative institutions in the United Kingdom, will renew the House of Lords as a modern, fit and effective second chamber of Parliament for the 21st century. The Government believes these changes will command widespread support across the country.

Pointer Chapter 2.

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