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Volume 22, Number 4, April 2013
House of Lords reform: the
You can use this extension piece alongside the article, `The House of Lords: why is it so difficult to
reform?', by Paul Fairclough on p.18 of this issue of the magazine. Here, Caroline Gill examines how
the latest plans for House of Lords reform compare with second chambers around the world.
The House of Lords Reform Bill
In July 2012, Jesse Norman MP led a rebellion of 91 MPs against the House of Lords Reform Bill. An
advocate of an all-appointed second chamber, Norman explained his reasons for rejecting this
particular bill in the Guardian newspaper a few days before the debate:
`Like cowboys, parliamentary bills fall into three categories: the good, the bad and the ugly. But every
so often you come across a bill that is not good, bad or ugly, but just a hopeless mess'.
Reforming our second chamber is going to be an ongoing political battle which will most probably
continue for many years. While the legislative structure and membership reflect the uniqueness of
each nation, it is a worthwhile exercise to consider the international perspective.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) database contains information on the structure and working
methods of the national legislatures in 190 countries. Of these, 40% have a bicameral system which
includes the majority of federal states. In these countries, the second chamber is often used to provide
representation to the regions -- well known examples of this include the US Senate with two members
directly elected to represent each of the 50 states, and the German Federal Council which has
appointed representatives from each of the 16 Länders. The Reform Bill for the UK contained
proposals to use the Party Regional List system (currently used for the EU elections, except in
Northern Ireland), which would mean a significant change to the current system where peers have no
official mandate to represent a geographical area of the UK.
The House of Lords Reform Bill tried to address the three main areas which separate the House of
Lords from upper chambers in other countries. These are membership, size and terms of office.
Despite the Labour government's promise that the 1999 House of Lords Act was only the first phase of
reform to the membership, 92 hereditary peers still remain alongside the appointed Lords. Only four
other countries in the world contain a hereditary element -- Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Tonga and lastly
Belgium, where the King's children over the age of 18 are ex officio members of the Senate. The
Reform Bill proposed to change the membership to 80% elected and 20% appointed, and to
completely abolish all hereditary peers.
Philip Allan Updates © 2013 1
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With over 750 members, the current House of Lords is substantially larger than any other second
chamber and the Reform Bill proposed to reduce this to 450 senators. Half of all upper chambers
contain between 50 and 200 members, with the nearest in size to the House of Lords being France
(348 senators) and Italy (321 senators).…read more