The Constitution Unit


Reforming the House of Lords: Lessons from Overseas

September 1998 - March 2000

Sponsor: The Leverhulme Trust

Principal Investigator: Meg Russell

About the Project

Labour came to power in 1997 with a commitment to reform the House of Lords in two stages. The first stage, put in place by the House of Lords Act 1999, removed (most) hereditary peers' rights to sit in the chamber. The second stage, to make the House of Lords "more democratic and representative" would follow. The government established a Royal Commission to consider the options, and the Commission reported in 2000.

This project sought to inform the second stage of House of Lords reform, using examples from other countries with bicameral (two chamber) parliaments. Seven country comparators were included in the study. These were Canada (which has an appointed second chamber), France, Germany and Ireland (with "indirectly" elected second chambers on different models), Italy and Australia (both with directly elected second chambers) and Spain (which uses a mixed system). The second chambers concerned also varied from well-established ( Canada) to relatively new ( Spain), large ( France) to small ( Germany), and relatively well regarded ( Australia, Germany) to those considered long overdue for reform ( Canada, Ireland). The countries considered were also both federal and unitary, with some chambers clearly based on a territorial model, while others were not.

The major output from the project was a book, published by Oxford University Press in 2000, almost simultaneously with the Royal Commission's report. The project also produced a series of briefing papers, some of which were fed into the Royal Commission during its deliberations. As the second stage of House of Lords reform is still awaited, these publications remain equally relevant to today's debates.

Readers interested in House of Lords reform should also check the pages for our House of Lords reform commentaries and our current project on the working of the contemporary House of Lords.