Government white paper on House of Lords reform (1968) (Cmnd 3799)
I - The Background to the Reform
1. It was announced in the Queen's Speech at the opening of Parliament on 30th October 1968 that legislation would be introduced to reform the composition and powers of the House of Lords.
2. A year ago the Government proposed that the powers of the House of Lords should be reduced and its present hereditary basis eliminated, so that it should thereby be enabled to develop within the framework of a modern parliamentary system. A Conference of representatives of the three main parties was convened, on the initiative of the Government, in the hope that an all-party consensus could be reached about the place, powers and composition of the second chamber in the present day. The Conference met first in November 1967 and continued its discussions until June 1968, when they were suspended following the Lords' rejection of the Southern Rhodesia (United Nations Sanctions) Order 1968.
3. The Inter-Party Conference had by that time reached agreement on the main outlines of a comprehensive scheme for reform, covering both the powers and the composition of the House of Lords, and much constructive work had also been done on the details of its implementation. The Government has continued and completed the work from the point at which the talks came to an end, and proposes shortly to introduce the legislation' necessary to bring the scheme into effect.
4. The Government considers that any reform of the House of Lords should be based on the following propositions:
(a) in the framework of a modern parliamentary system the second chamber has an essential role to play, complementary to but not rivalling that of the Commons ;
(b) the present composition and powers of the House of Lords prevent it from performing that role as effectively as it should ;
(c) the reform should therefore be directed towards promoting the more efficient working of Parliament as a whole ; and
(d) once the reform has been completed the work of the two Houses should become more closely co-ordinated and integrated, and the functions of the House of Lords should be reviewed.
5. The Government further believes that any reform should achieve the following objectives:
(a) the hereditary basis of membership should be eliminated ;
(b) no one party should possess a permanent majority ;
(c) in normal circumstances the government of the day should be able to secure a reasonable working majority ;
(d) the powers of the House of Lords to delay public legislation should be restricted; and
(e) the Lords' absolute power to withhold consent to subordinate legislation against the will of the Commons should be abolished.
6. The scheme which the Government proposes meets all these objectives and satisfies all these requirements. Its main feature is a two-tier House with 'voting' members who would be entitled to speak and vote, and 'non-voting' members who would be entitled to speak but not generally to vote. Membership would for the future be by creation alone and succession to a hereditary peerage would no longer carry the right to a seat in the House; existing members who sit by right of succession would lose their voting rights but would be able to remain as non-voting members for the remainder of their lives. Voting rights would therefore be confined to those on whom a peerage has been conferred but some of the peers by succession who are politically more active would be granted life peerages and so become entitled to membership of the voting nucleus. The government of the day would be entitled to secure for itself an adequate working majority over the opposition parties, although not a majority of the House as whole when members who accept no party allegiance are included. The present powers of the House would be reduced: in regard to public Bills they would: be replaced by a power to impose a period of delay of six months from the date of disagreement between the two Houses; and in regard to subordinate legislation by a power sufficient only to require the House of Commons to consider it again. There would remain a place in the reformed House for law lords and bishops, but the number of bishops would be gradually reduced from 26 to 16. The reform would not affect the judicial functions of the House or the wider aspects of peerage law, since these questions are outside the scope of a reform which is concerned with the position of the House of Lords as the second chamber of Parliament. The Government proposes that the reform should come into effect at the end of the present session.
7. The following paragraphs of this part of the paper give an account of the present functions of the House of Lords and of its composition and powers; set out the reasons why a comprehensive reform of its composition and powers is now required; and describe a number of schemes which have been considered and rejected. Finally an explanation, is given of the reasons for which the Government adopted the scheme now proposed. Part II of the paper gives the proposals in detail. Appendix I gives an account of some of the previous attempts at reform and Appendix II offers some ideas for developments in functions and procedure.
Functions of the House of Lords
8. Apart from providing the supreme court of appeal, the House of Lords at present performs the following main functions;
- the provision of a forum for full and free debate on matters of public interest;
- the revision of public bills brought from the House of Commons ;
- the initiation of public legislation including in particular those government bills which are less controversial in party political terms and private members' bills;
- the consideration of subordinate legislation;
- the scrutiny of the activities of the executive;
- the scrutiny of private legislation.....