Lords sat by reason of inheriting their titles and archbishops and bishops by reason of their rank in the church. Calls for reform of this distinctive chamber have previously been made, especially since the expansion of the franchise in the 19th century, producing a first chamber able to claim legitimacy through popular election. In 1884, after the Lords refused to pass the Franchise Bill, John Morley declared that the Lords should be 'mended or ended'. Lord Bryce declared that 'the House cannot go on as it is'.
In the event, reform came in the twentieth century but demands for further change have continued. Before looking at we could reform the House of Lords, to make it more effective, we must first understand some of their weaknesses. Firstly, the lords lack democratic legitimacy and their powers are limited by law. They have no power over financial matters, cannot veto legislation and their proposed amendments can be overturned by the House of Commons. A reform would effectively make the House of Lords become more legitimate via the removal of certain peers.
The House of Lords should have a complete overhaul and like the House of Commons, should be elected. This would make the peers in the House of Lords more powerful which would mean that they would be more effective within their role, particularly when it comes to scrutinising government policy. Only through election can members truly representative all areas of the UK, and avoid the jibes from ministers who say that they have no legitimacy to challenge the executive.
However, only through appointment will the chamber be able to attract those who are not professional politicians- and particularly those who have no strong affiliation (union) to a political party. A mixed chamber allows the strengths of both the elected and appointed models to be combined. The Lords have peers who represent a wide variety of interests and expertise, being largely exceptional citizens with considerable specialised experience. This model also helps ensure that whilst the chamber gains legitimacy, it can never challenge the primacy of the fully elected House of Commons.
Moreover, the mixed elected/appointed chamber has already been recommended by other groups that have reported on Lords reform, including the Royal Commission and the Public Administration Committee. The House of Lords currently has around 788 members. It is bigger than the House of Commons and is one of the largest parliamentary chambers in the world. Since members are appointed for life- many are elderly and unable to attend the chamber regularly. Some simply accept peerages as an honour but do not play an active part in the work of the House.
The average daily attendance in the 2009-10 sessions was only 362 members. If reformed, many of the traditional features that lead to its excessive size will no longer apply. Appointment for life should be ended and replaced with appointment or election for limited terms. A smaller chamber would mean that it would be easier to provide acceptable accommodation for members' offices, and it would potentially enhance the strength of collective mentality amongst the members in the House of Lords.
The Public Administration Committee recommended, on a unanimous cross party basis, that elected members should make up 60-70% of a reformed second chamber. When the Commons voted, a majority of those taking part supported either a 60% or 80% elected House. Therefore, a second chamber which consists of 70% elected members would achieve broad public and political support, and meet the need for both greater legitimacy and protection of the independent element in the Lords.
This will also ensure that the chamber represents the whole of the UK, and maintains a fair balance between the political parties. The inclusion of a large group of elected members will mean that the chamber is sufficiently legitimate in the eyes of the public to carry out its duties – including, at times, questioning the proposals/bills made by the government and the House of Commons. Overall, a part-elected, part-appointed chamber would have greater democratic legitimacy than the current arrangements and the fact that many members would be appointed would prevent too much party domination.