Reform of the House of Lords

Cambridge 2000 memos

June 2000

The composition of the reformed House of Lords should be determined by the following rules.

  1. The initial composition consists of most of the current peers. This is to provide some continuity with the existing system.

  2. The term of office is for life. This is so that there is less interference from the (stronger) House of Commons and from the (even stronger) Government of the day.

  3. There is a (fixed) maximum number of members (e.g. 700), subject to rounding (see below). New members are added after every UK General Election, to bring the total membership up to the notional maximum. No new members are added to replace members who die or retire in between General Elections.

  4. Each party participating in the General Election to the House of Commons submits a list of candidates for the new House before the election. No person on any list can also run for election to the House of Commons (at the same time).

  5. In each constituency the ballot for the new House consists simply of a list of parties, and these are the same as the parties listed on the ballot for that constituency for the House of Commons. Each voter chooses one party from the list. (An alternative is to just use one ballot for both elections. Thus the party selected on an individualís ballot is the same for both seats.) This is to make the system simple and cheap to run.

  6. The number of new seats awarded to a specific party is its proportion of votes across the entire UK multiplied by the number of members being notionally added to the new House, rounded to the nearest whole number. (So, for example, if 100 members were notionally being added, the threshold for electing a single member would be 0.5% of the overall vote.) The persons elected for a particular party are chosen in order from the pre-election list (nobody being allowed to drop out in favour of someone further down the list). This is pure proportional representation.

These rules have the following advantages.

  1. The new House is subject to political choice only in determining its composition, a member is there for life, so in principle there is no further political interference. A member could change political allegiance after election. In fact, the party system in the new House could be completely abolished if desired.

  2. The overall composition is roughly in proportion to the long-term popularity of the various parties. Particular elections only affect the proportion of new members added. This makes the new House stable politically.

  3. There is no special role for the Government of the day, other parties choose their own members to the new House.

  4. There is minimal cost in determining the composition of the new House.

  5. The electorate can choose to vote tactically in the election to the House of Commons yet vote for the party they really support in the election for the new House. More people might vote in those constituencies where the election to the House of Commons is a foregone conclusion. (One way to save money and make the voting system even simpler, but losing this advantage, is to just use one ballot for both elections.)

In addition, election to the House of Commons could perfectly happily remain as now (i.e. first past the post), it is election to the new House which is based on proportional representation. Finally, the legislative relationship between the House of Commons and the new House could remain the same, or there could be some alterations to make the new House more powerful.

Cambridge 2000 memos