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By Baroness Smith of Llanfaes
Press releases

House Of Lords Must "Keep Up With The Times" Or Risk "Decline", Lord Speaker Warns

Lord McFall, pictured October 2021 (Alamy)

3 min read

The Lord Speaker will use a speech tonight to call for a consensus based approach for the reform of the second chamber, warning that the House of Lords faces “decline” if it does not “keep up with the times”.

Lord McFall of Alcluith is expected to say that peers provide “significant added value to parliamentary scrutiny” and that any attempts to change the system would “need engagement” across parties and Parliament if they are to be successful.  

His intervention – which will also see calls for the number of peers to shrink – follows a pledge by Labour leader Keir Starmer to get rid of the unelected second chamber, leading to speculation over what the future of the Lords could look like.

Lord McFall will tell attendees at the Hansard Society Parliamentary Affairs Anniversary lecture:  “The House of Lords needs to keep up with the times, if it doesn’t, it will decline. And that’s bad for our politics and our democracy.

"It provides significant added value to parliamentary scrutiny and revision and is distinct from and complementary to the House of Commons.”

But he accepts that “the Lords should be smaller, more inclusive and more representative of all parts of the United Kingdom”. 

He will add that membership of the upper house is “not a reward” but instead brings with it “a duty of public service,” in what appears to nod to the number of peers whose appointment by former prime ministers has raised eyebrows. 

“We need to be clear that reform proposals, if they are to be viable, need engagement and endorsement from government, from political parties across Parliament," the speech continues.

"Previous failed attempts at far-reaching change illustrate that without agreement across parties even the most worthy proposals could be found wanting.” 

On Tuesday PoliticsHome reported that peers are keen for the Lords system to be reformed, but worry an abolition of the unelected house could lead to a loss of expertise.

Lord Timothy Kirkhope of Harrogate said that “the vast majority of people in the House of Lords would like to see reform."

He explained: “Although they may sound like crusty old folks, the truth is they actually are quite keen on modernisation, they realise that they have to be changed.” 

He worries an elected second chamber could lose their “real powers” over legislation because of a risk that it would simply "mimic the electoral balance in the House of Commons at any time”. While the Conservatives do still have the greatest number of peers, a large number of crossbench peers who are not affiliated to any party means the balance can shift more easily depending on the issue. 

Speculation over what a reformed House of Lords could look like has mounted after Labour supported a landmark report by former prime minister Gordon Brown which recommends that the “indefensible” second chamber be replaced with a new “democratically legitimate” version, dubbed the “Assembly of the Nations and Regions”.

The report isn’t explicit on what this chamber should look like, adding that its exact “composition and method of election” should be put to further consultation.

Baroness Taylor of Bolton, Chair of the Hansard Society said: “With the future of the House of Lords once again in the spotlight, it is important to think carefully about what kind of second Chamber we want: what its role, function, membership and powers should be. It’s an issue of constitutional concern to the Hansard Society so we are delighted to host the Lord Speaker’s contribution to this debate.” 

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