The planned reform of the House of Lords was contained in the 1997 manifesto of the Labour Party. After victory in the 2001 election, the Labour Party continued with the process of reform to the Lords. In November 2001, the proposed reforms for a new House of Lords were released. These came about as a result of a cross-party white paper and were seen as a way of making the Lords more of a part of a democracy. The plans are broadly in line with what the Royal Commission chaired by Lord Wakeham recommended.
The white paper recommended:
|a second chamber of 600 members an end to 92 hereditary peers still in the Lords 120 members elected by the public 120 appointed by a statutory independent commission the rest would be appointed by political parties in proportion to votes received by a party at the most recent general election the second chamber would have no veto over government legislation – merely the right to delay its introduction bishops to be reduced from 25 to 16 a minimum of those in the second chamber will be female; minority groups will be represented the final tally of 600 will be met over a 10 year period|
A three months consultation period would be provided by the government for MP’s to voice their support or otherwise.
In fact, the white paper, introduced by the Leader of the House, Robin Cook, provoked a less than enthusiastic response from both sides of the House of Commons. 117 Labour MP’s signed a Commons motion backing a mainly elected second chamber. Robin Cook claimed that this would threaten the primacy of the House of Commons:
|“It is impossible to think of such a chamber accepting that it could not legislate on taxation or that it could delay legislation, not throw it out.”|
The leader of the House of Lords, Lord Williams, claimed that the proposals were fair and that Prime Minister Tony Blair had all but given up his powers of patronage.
The shadow leader of the House of Commons, Eric Forth, claimed that the proposals were a great disappointment:
|“At worst we will have a continuation and indeed an institutionalisation of Tony’s cronies, and the government should either withdraw the white paper or at the very least should refer it to the joint committee of both houses.”|
The Tory leader in the Lords, Lord Strathclyde stated:
|“These are shoddy proposals cooked up in the Cabinet Office over a decanter of port, fit only to get a divided cabinet past the end of today.”|
The planned reforms were not well received by the Electoral Reform Society or by Charter 88.
|“….to have a chamber in which anything less than a substantial majority of members are elected is completely unacceptable…….the government started the process of Lords reform in the name of democracy, but it now appears they are reluctant to give up their powers of patronage.” Ken Ritchie, Electoral Reform Society|
|During a period in which public trust in politicians is at an all-time low, these proposals send a clear message to the public that both electors and elections are regarded as tiresome inconveniences to be avoided wherever possible.” Chris Lawrence-Pietroni, Charter 88|