On March 7th 2007, the House of Commons voted for a wholly elected House of Lords.It appeared the most radical change to the Lord’s power since the 1911 Parliament Act which removed the right of the Lords to veto money bills and restricted the blocking of other public bills to a two year delay.
Having promised wholescale reform of the House of Lords in their 1997 election manifesto, the Labour government completed the first stage of this with the House of Lords Act 1999, which removed all but 92 of hundreds of hereditary peers in the chamber. And, after failed votes in 2003, leader of the House of Commons Jack Straw put together another white paper on Lords reform alongside a cross-party committee in 2007. The paper recommended a hybrid of a half-elected, half-appointed house, but the subsequent free vote in the commons allowed for the choice of seven options. An alternative vote system for this important vote was also proposed to avoid all options being rejected as they did in 2003, but Straw backed down on this after widespread resistance.
337-224 voted in favour of a 100% elected upper house, akin to the US Senate. However, ultimately the Lords retorted by voting for a 100% appointed chamber 361-121 just a week later. Although Labour promised to see out reform, nothing was achieved by their electoral defeat in 2010. The entry of reformist Liberal Democrats into government did provide new prospects for the next stage. However, the hesitance of the dominant Conservatives manifested when they withdrew a Nick Clegg initiated bill when it became clear that they would lose a programme motion calling for a shortened debate. Clegg accused the government of “breaking the coalition contract”.
But why is the House of Lords such a contentious institution? – Read our previous post assessing the Lords of the House