A Directly-Elected House of Lords: A Proposal for Reform

AuthorSee Hyun Park
PositionBA in Jurisprudence '21
122 A Directly Elected House of Lords: A Proposal for Reform Vol 4
A Directly-Elected House of Lords: A Proposal for
See Hyun Park*
This article proposes a possible reform of the House of Lords, namely to its composition and
functions. By examining previous reform attempts as well a s the current criticisms and issues
facing the United Kingdom’s upper chamber, the article con tends that the House of Lords is
necessary due to the benefits of a bicameral legislature that it offers to the United Kingdom. The
article provides arguments in favour of the implementation of direct elections and addresses
criticisms of this scheme. Subsequently, this article argues in favour of a system of party-list
proportional representation; it reviews other electoral systems, examines the merits of party-list
proportional representation and offers successful examples of its current implementation by other
states. Finally, the article offers a prediction of the overall effects on the relationship between the
House of Commons and the House of Lords if direct elections are implemented.
Reforming the House of Lords (henceforth “the Lords”) an unelected
body of Parliament composed of hereditary peers, life peers as well as archbishops
and bishops has been considered a legal quagmire. Prior to the 20th century, the
Liberals and the Conservatives, the two main political parties of the 19th century,1
had debated a possible curb on the Lords’ political and legislative powers.2
Subsequent to the debate, the Parliament Act 1911 was adopted, concluding the
* BA in Jurisprudence21 (Oxon). I would like to thank Dr. Thomas Adams and Joshua Wang for
their advice on an earlier draft.
1 Peter Dorey and Alexandra Kelso, House of Lords Reform Since 1911: Must the Lords Go? (Palgrave
Macmillan UK, 2011) 16.
2 ibid 10.
most significant period of change from 1906 to 1911 in the Lords.3 The Act
imposed several restrictions on and removed certain rights from the Lords, such
as its absolute power of veto on legislation.
As an important preliminary step in the process of reforming the Lords,4
the 1911 Act was later supplemented by the Parliament Act 1949, which imposed
further limitations on the upp er house’s power.5 This period also saw the
manifestation of the so-called ‘Salisbury Convention’ in 1945, originating from
when Lord Salisbury led an initiative in which the Lords would refrain from voting
down or opposing the second reading of legislation promised in the government’s
election manifesto.6 Subsequent to the Peerage Act 1963, however, there had been
little real progress until 1997 due to a failure to agree on what further reforms
ought to be made.7 Even with further reforms enacted after 1997, touched upon
later in this article, the Lords, faced with criticisms of its functions and overall
purpose, has not been completely reformed. This article considers the issues that
the Lords currently faces and proposes a plan for its reform. It will argue for a
directly-elected Lords, with single fifteen-year terms through a proportionally-
representative system in staggered elections, so that only a third of the members
are elected every five years, in contrast to the first-past-the-post system used for
the House of Commons (henceforth “the Comm ons”).
Section I of this article focuses on the current status of the Lords, namely
its functions, previous reforms, and the problems and criticisms that it faces today.
Section II argues for maintaining a bicameral legislature rather than abolishing the
Lords. It also contends that a second chamber could legitimise the practices of
Parliament as a whole. Section III argues that direct elections would allow the
Lords to better serve the public interest and analyses how the Lords could
maintain its relative independence from party politics. It also contends that direct
elections would not necessarily mean a loss of wisdom or stability. Finally, section
IV looks into possible means through which direct elections could be
implemented and argues that the Lords could represent the people’s interest more
3 Lord Longford, A History of the House of Lords (New ed, Sutton Publishing 1999).
4 Meg Russell, Reforming the House of Lords: Lessons from Overseas (OUP 2000) 12.
5 ibid 12. An example is the limitation of the House of Lords’ delaying power.
6 ibid 13.
7 ibid 14.

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