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House Of Lords Reforms: Now or Never?

Amid claims of expenses scandals and a shrinking House of Lords, critics say “there is overwhelming support for reforming the second chamber.”

The membership of the House of Lords (the upper house and second chamber of Parliament) consists of members who have been appointed into their position.

The fact the Lords are unelected has been widely considered undemocratic and has been a point of contention in Parliament for decades.

In contrast, members of Parliament in the House of Commons are elected into their position, through the first-past-the-post voting system when a general election is held.

“Not only is it oversized, it’s also totally unaccountable to voters and that means that when peers mess up and when they don’t do their job properly, or don’t advise legislation in the way that benefits the public, voters have absolutely no way to hold them to account.

“I think that across parties, there is real recognition that the situation needs to change, and voters need a House of Lords that fits the purpose and (that) you know that can do its job with public scrutiny too.”

The Upper House is made up of both Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal.

The Lords Spiritual are bishops of the Church of England, including the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. The Lords Temporal are members who have either inherited their position (hereditary peers) or been appointed by the Prime Minister (life peers).

David Davies MP (Con, Monmouth, South Wales), who has been vocal on reforms within the upper house, said: “I would scrap the hereditary peers immediately and I think we could manage perfectly well without any second chamber.”

The House of Lords acts as a check and balance for the House of Commons. The Lords act independently from the Commons and aims to complement the work of the government by questioning its actions through questions and debates.

The House of Lords cannot prevent bills from being passed, yet it can delay bills for up to 13 months therefore forcing the Commons to reconsider their decision/s. Traditionally, the House of Lords cannot block or amend financial bills, however in 2015 the House of Lords voted to delay tax credit cuts.

The principle for the House of Commons to be in charge of financial bills came about in 1911, but because of the Britain’s unwritten constitution there is nothing forcing the Lords from following this principle. The unwritten constitution means the powers within the House of Lords remain unclear and up to interpretation.

Gareth Thomas MP (Labour, West Harrow, London) has praised the peers but recognises the need for reform in certain aspects. He said: “Whilst I recognise the successes of peers in holding the government to account, I believe that the House of Lords should be reformed and the second chamber should be democratically elected. “In the interim period we should seek to end the hereditary principle and reduce the size of the current House of Lords as part of a wider package of constitutional reform to address the growing democratic deficit across Britain.”

Bob Blackman MP (Con, East Harrow, London) has said that there are too many Peers in the House of Lords and that their numbers need to be reduced.

Amid Brexit debates, Frank Field MP (Independent, Birkenhead) has demanded the Upper House to be abolished with the Bill he presented currently awaiting its second reading. He proposed the Peers be reduced to one third of its current membership.

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