House of Lords Reforms

House of Lords ReformsThe subject of House of Lords reforms has been continually discussed for more than 100 years. Many of us have come to believe that the possibility of any real reform is a myth. For some, the House of Lords itself is like an archaic myth – do they really refer to one another as ‘noble lord’ and ‘noble baroness’? And what work do they really do? Now the current coalition Government has decided that it wants to have another crack at reform.

The House of Lords has been an integral part of the British political system and has existed for almost a millennium. In fact, many of the conventions that are still used in the upper chamber today have been in practise for hundreds of years, since a time when the House of Lords used to comprise the Lords Spiritual (bishops of the Anglican Church) and the Lords Temporal (the aristocracy). While membership was a right of birth to hereditary peers, today only a handful of the hereditary members remain, and most members are appointed by the Prime Minister as well as a special committee.

In the Parliaments Act 1911, the power of the House of Lords was limited and more power was given to the lower chamber, the House of Commons, which consist of elected representatives of the people (the MPs). Today, the House of Lords complements the work of the House of Commons – checking the work of the Executive and making new legislation. Its main strengths are the combined specialist knowledge and life experience of the peers, and the power to do revisions on proposed bills and to suggest amendments.

The current proposed reform plan is to reduce the number of peers – currently over 800 – to 450. The plan also calls for 80% of the members to be elected representatives rather than appointed members. The remaining 20% appointed members is intended to preserve the upper chamber’s mainstay of expertise. All members would serve non-renewable terms of 15 years in Parliament.

An important argument against having elected members in the upper chamber is that it would jeopardise the primacy of the House of Commons. The House of Lords is supposed to be an independent body that can revise legislation and suggest amendments, but ultimately it can be overridden by the lower chamber. An upper chamber comprising elected members with party affiliations could undermine the power of the House of Commons, resulting in a parliamentary deadlock. This threat to the authority of the House of Commons is bound to be a controversial issue.

The debate on reforming the House of Lords is an old one, and voters have other things on their minds. Reform is not exactly high on the general population’s list of priorities. It is therefore worth pondering whether the Government should spend time, money and resources on this issue right now, when there are other, more pressing matters at hand, such as the ever-worsening economic slump.

The House of Lords traces its roots back to centuries ago and is archaic in its traditions; it may well be time for modernisation and reform, but any reform should be made only after careful deliberation. The method of appointing members to the upper house needs to become fairer than it is at the moment; that it needs to be brought up to date with modern times is not a matter for debate. But a knee-jerk reaction could be more harmful than helpful. Long-term political and financial repercussions should be closely considered before any changes are made.

Governments have been considering reform in the upper chamber for over one hundred years. If you choose to undertake the Legal Secretaries Diploma course through the Institute of Legal Secretaries and PAs, you will cover the bicameral chambers of the House of Parliament in far more detail. It is also worth having the invaluable experience of a tour around Westminster, where you are able to see where and how the laws of the United Kingdom are legislated.