Lord Wakeham was commissioned by the Labour government to head a Royal Commission which was to present a report to the House of Commons on the possible second stage of reforms in the House of Lords. Wakehams’ report would be recommendations only – not ‘this will be done’.
The report was delivered to the government on December 28th 1999 and made public in January 2000. What became known as the Wakeham Report contained 132 wide-ranging proposals. Its main recommendations were:
1) That the new second chamber should have about 550 members, most of who should be appointed.
2) Those who were not appointed should be elected by the use of proportional representation in regional elections. Wakeham recommended that the number of elected peers should be 65, 87 or 195 with his preference being 87.
3) An independent Appointments Commission would ensure that the new second chamber would have a balance in gender, parties and ethnic minorities.
4) The second chamber would continue to be the highest court of appeal in England and Wales.
5) The second chamber would have fewer Church of England peers to allow for more non-Christian representatives and other Christian denominations so that the second chamber would represent all major religions.
6) The second chamber that came out of the second stage of reforms would have a fixed lifetime of 15 years.
In November 2001, the government announced that the second stage of reforms would also be the final stage. The White Paper it produced was basically along the lines of the Wakeham Report. It stated that the second chamber (its new name, if it is to get one, was not known then – and still isn’t!) would have the main function of:
To act as a constitutional checks and balance to the House of Commons.
The new chamber would have the power to delay government legislation for three months.
Wakeham’s main recommendations were:
The 92 hereditary peers should be removed.
The House should have a maximum of 600 members and this would be introduced over 10 years. Its political slant would represent the share of votes parties got at the previous general election. However, no party would be allowed to have an overall majority.
80% of the second chamber would be appointed. An independent appointments commission that would be accountable to the Commons would appoint 20% of these. The political parties in the Commons would nominate the other 60%.
20% of the second chamber would be elected using pr in multi-member regional constituencies.
A quota system would be brought in so that all parts of society were represented and that a gender balance would exist.
Existing life peers would maintain their right to life membership of the second chamber
The new members to the new second chamber would have a specified term of office but Wakeham did not specify a time and believed that consultation was needed with the government.
Church of England bishops would be reduced from 26 to 16.
Other faiths leaders would have no automatic right to be in the second chamber.
Reactions to the Wakeham Report:
The White Paper was published in November 2001. It came in for a great deal of criticism. Research showed that the Commons (dominated by Labour) had 89% of all MP’s in favour of a majority-elected second chamber. The Public Administration Committee published a report in February 2002 that called for a 60% elected second chamber in which peers served for between 2 and 5 years.
In May 2002, the government agreed to set up a Commons/Lords committee to discuss two issues:
The future composition of the second chamber
The powers that the second chamber should have.
The committee had 24 members. Its head was Jack Cunningham. The composition of the committee was announced in June 2002 and many in the Commons were angered by its make-up. The majority in the committee were known to be traditionalists while the majority of those in the Commons wanted a majority elected second chamber. Even the appointment of Jack Cunningham caused problems, as he was known to be an opponent of elections for the second chamber. This put him in line with what was thought to be Tony Blair’s belief – that any second chamber should be dominated by appointed peers and not elected ones.
Where are we now?
There is rancour that the position of Lord Chancellor is to be abolished and the traditional supremacy of the Law Lords is to be taken over by a proposed Supreme Court. This was not in the Wakeham Report and was announced in 2003. A vote in the Lords in March 2004, understandably, went against the decision. The government threatened to use the 1911 Parliament Act to force it into legislation. Their argument is that a 21st Century nation needs a 21st Century legal system and that reform is long overdue with regards to the Law Lords.
It is said that Tony Blair is still in favour of an all appointed second chamber, leading to a charge that it will be filled with ‘Tony’s Cronies’. It is generally believed that Blair wants non-political ‘types’ in the second chamber to give it an edge away from politics, so that it will represent the ordinary person.