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Paper 11 - 4 June 1999 Meeting

ASSOCIATION OF HAMPSHIRE AND ISLE OF WIGHT LOCAL AUTHORITIES

4 June 1999

REFORMING THE HOUSE OF LORDS

Report by Policy Manager in consultation with the Chief Executive of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council

RECOMMENDATION

That members consider what representations to make at this stage to the Royal Commission on the reform of the House of Lords.

SUMMARY

Reform of the House of Lords is by far the most significant part of the Government's modernising agenda. It has far-reaching Constitutional implications for all parts of Government including local government. The Royal Commission, which is considering the potential role, functions, powers, procedures and composition of a new Upper Chamber, has been asked to report by the end of 1999. Written evidence is sought by 30 June and public hearings continue until mid-July. This paper briefly considers the consultation and the responses from the LGA, South East England Regional Assembly, and Hampshire County Council.

INTRODUCTION

1. Lords reform has been on the political agenda for the whole of this century. Starting in 1911, Parliament has from time to time debated: should the second chamber be elected? What should it do? What should be the proper balance between the Commons and the Lords? The Debates took place in 1911, 1948 and 1968. The current Royal Commission's wide public consultation potentially involves a fundamental look at the British Constitution in the light of the development of European institutions and devolution in the United Kingdom.

2. The Royal Commission's consultation paper is very open and non-prescriptive. It asks what should be the:

role and functions
powers
procedures
composition

of a reformed Upper Chamber. Whilst the basic model of a House of Commons being pre-eminent and an Upper Chamber with some reserve powers and ability to scrutinise legislation is not in question, the final form of an Upper Chamber is very much open to debate. (Copies of the consultation paper are available from HIOW).

NEXT STEPS - THE GOVERNMENT'S PLANS

3. The Government's plans were set out in a White Paper issued in January 1999. Stage one is for legislation currently before Parliament to remove the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords (effective from the next Session). This stage will leave a "transitional" Upper Chamber consisting of life peers and some 90 hereditary peers on a temporary basis (under the "Cranborne/Weatherill" amendment). The longer term Upper Chamber will follow on from consideration of the Royal Commission's report.

4. It is likely that the Government will consult widely on the outcome of the Royal Commission, or on the Government's response to it, and that a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament will consider the question. It is possible that reform of the Lords becomes an issue for the next General Election. It is also possible that the transitional arrangements could become semi-permanent if the debate is not resolved.

RELEVANCE TO LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Place of Local Government in the Constitution

5. Local government is, or arguably should be, part of the Constitution. The role of the House of Lords could be to ensure that a Government of the day, with a subservient House of Commons, does not change the Constitution (including the local government part of the Constitution) without due deliberation. The Upper Chamber could, then, have an important role in safeguarding the rights of local government.

Scrutiny of Legislation

6. Local government has a key role in implementing a great deal of legislation. It is in local government's interests that the legislature properly scrutinises legislation, keeps subsidiary legislation (Statutory Instruments made by Ministers) under control, and reviews European legislation and its impacts on this country. Local government itself frequently needs to comment on existing legislation and lobby for new legislation. Clearly the Upper Chamber could and does have a very significant role in assisting local government.

Voting and Citizenship

7. Local government operates democracy at its most local level. In running elections, local authorities are concerned to ensure adequate levels of participation. As the debate about the Constitution gets under way, concern must grow about electoral participation. HIOW resolved (in its Action Plan 1997/99) to work to improve local democracy and encourage participation. Hampshire County Council has piloted the new citizenship education curriculum. These concerns lead to the need for local government to advise on the implications of directly electing members to the Upper Chamber.

RESPONSES TO THE ROYAL COMMISSION

8. The LGA has made a detailed response which calls for a strong Upper Chamber to be partly elected, partly appointed by an independent Appointments Commission. It should be the guardian of the new Constitutional settlement including the Charter of Local Self Government. It should scrutinise legislation pre- and post-enactment. It should particularly check up on European legislation and Statutory Instruments. A Conservative supplementary Memorandum argues against using Regional Chambers in the process of appointment to the Upper Chamber.

9. The South East England Regional Assembly Executive Committee has approved a submission which argues that the reformed Second Chamber "should reflect the new, devolved, Constitutional settlement within the UK. Membership should have a strong basis in the nations and regions".

10. Hampshire County Council is planning to comment to the Royal Commission, stressing the importance of a credible Upper Chamber which can both scrutinise/amend legislation and act as a constitutional long stop.

NICK GOULDER 
Policy Manager

Last update: 11/10/2000
Author: Nick Goulder, Policy Manager

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