Press Release: Strathclyde report could hold key to next stage in Lords reform
17 December 2015
The report published today by Lord Strathclyde into powers of the House of Lords could facilitate a wider deal on the next stage of Lords reform, say experts at UCL's Constitution Unit. The Strathclyde report proposes a reduction in the chamber's powers over secondary legislation, which is likely to prove controversial with members of the Lords, and particularly with the Labour opposition. But there are also changes that members of the Lords themselves urgently want: in particular control over the chamber's size, and unregulated prime ministerial appointments. House of Lords expert Professor Meg Russell therefore suggests that there could now be a deal to be struck.
Professor Russell said: "The Strathclyde report sets out ambitious proposals to reduce the House of Lords' powers. This would be the first such reduction since 1949, and Strathclyde's preferred option can only be achieved through legislation - which the House of Lords itself will be reluctant to agree. But peers want change too. There is widespread concern inside the Lords about the chamber's growing size, caused by excessive prime ministerial appointments. There may hence now be a deal to be struck.'
The Strathclyde report suggests three options for restraining the Lords' powers. Two of these would require legislation, which could be blocked by the Lords, causing at least a year's delay and potential disruption. The third proposal is for renewed conventions, which would only work if there was widespread agreement across the Lords. Either way, the position of the Labour opposition will prove critical to getting change agreed.
Professor Russell continued: "The opposition holds the key to what happens on the Strathclyde proposals. The government holds the key on appointments to the Lords. A bill to implement a cut in powers could have a very rough ride through parliament, with significant disruption to the government's programme. But if a deal could be struck with the opposition on a fair appointments formula, the Lords would get something it wants in return. A package comprising regulated appointments plus an agreed reduction in powers could be both attractive and very sensible, bringing an end to two long-running and bitter controversies at once."
Notes for editors
- The Constitution Unit is an independent, non-partisan research centre based in the Department of Political Science at University College London.
- Professor Meg Russell is Director of the Constitution Unit, and author of The Contemporary House of Lords: Westminster Bicameralism Revived (Oxford University press, 2013). Meg's recent publications and blogs on House of Lords matters can be found on her profile page.
- In February the Constitution Unit published Enough Is Enough: Regulating Prime Ministerial Appointments to the House of Lords by Meg Russell and Tom Semlyen, with a preface by Lord Jay of Ewelme (former Chair of the House of Lords Appointments Commission).
- The Strathclyde report.