House of Lords reform: the Lords are speaking - is anyone listening? - Sunday 11th July 2010



On the 29th June 2010, an epic debate took place in the House of Lords on the subject of reform of the House.  The debate, which arose as a result of a motion by Lord Steel of Aikwood (Liberal Democrat), was introduced by the Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Strathclyde (Conservative), who announced that he would establish a Leaders’ Group, chaired by Lord Hunt of Wirral to consider and draw up a draft bill for reform.  Although this marks the beginning of what are arguably the most extensive set of works ever on the form and composition of the House, with potentially profound constitutional impact, the debate has been largely ignored by the press.  The significance of the issues are not, however, lost on the Lords themselves, who attended the house in large numbers to express their views, with a total of 65 peers speaking in the course of the 8 hour debate, which continued long into the night.



The principle motion under consideration ran as follows:

That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government, notwithstanding their proposals for Lords reform whose legislative timetable is unclear, to table Motions before the Summer Recess enabling the House to approve or disapprove:

(a) a scheme to enable Members of the House to retire,

(b) the abolition of by-elections for hereditary Peers,

(c) the removal of Members convicted of serious criminal offices,

(d) the creation of a statutory appointments commission.

These four issues were originally slated for consideration in the Constitutional Reform Bill of the previous administration, but were expunged from the bill as part of the many compromises reached to see pending legislation through in the ‘wash up’ immediately prior to the dissolution of parliament and the general election. 


Although the issues set out in the motion might be regarded as relatively minor in the overall scheme of House of Lords reform, it was almost inevitable that the subject of the debate would range wider and deeper, especially in view of the fact that so many peers requested to speak on the matter. 

The debate should be viewed in the context of  'The Coalition Agreement', published by the Government on 20 May 2010, which  stated that a Committee would be appointed to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected House of Lords.  That Committee, consisting only of front-bench spokespeople from the three main political parties, is to prepare a draft Bill which is to be published by December 2010.

The debate brought forth harsh criticism of a process of reform, whereby a draft bill is the starting point, even before there has been discussion as to whether and what manner of reform should be brought forward.  Moreover, the fact that the Lords’ committee to be established to draft such a bill comprises only representatives from the lead political parties drew a stinging attack from Baroness D’Souza who commented,



“I wonder what consensus means, or what kind of consensus is concerned with talking only to those who already agree to your plan. That is no way to rewrite fundamental parts of the constitution of this country.”

The issues were wide-ranging and encompassed many of the arguments arising from proposals to reform the House in general and the move from an appointed House to an elected House in particular.  Whilst there is far from a uniform consensus among their Lordships about the need for reform and the form it should take, it was manifestly clear that the majority of the House have grave misgivings about the wisdom or necessity of moving towards a wholly elected House, and the consequent strengthening of the hold of political parties and the emasculation of crossbenchers.   These may have been the first words on the proposals for reform of the House, but they are unlikely to be the last.

There are clearly profound concerns in the House regarding proposals for reform; the frustration of many was summarised by Lord Grenfell who stated,  

“I have to confess that I am somewhat irritated by the fact that we are invited to take note of the case for reform of the House of Lords,  as though that were on the coalition’s agenda. It is not. What is on the agenda is the abolition of the House and its replacement with something entirely different.” 

The debate begs the question of whether reform needs to be so dramatic, or whether we can continue the “steady incremental and non-revolutionary development of the UK’s constitutional framework” which, in the view of Lord Birt (Cross), “sets us apart from other countries” ?

To find out more about the House of Lords and reform proposals see here.

Follow these links for interviews with Lord Norton, Lord Hunt and Lord Grocott giving their views on reform.

The debate summarised:

The first step should be to go back to first principles





A number of Peers, such as Lord Rooker (Labour), Lord Waddington (Con) and the Archbishop of York (Bishop), urged us to go back to first principles, and consider what the role and functions of the House are and should be 

Lord Campbell (Con) even went as far as to call for a debate as to whether a second chamber is desirable at all (although he admitted that almost definitely people would be in support of one).

Some attempted to define this role. Lord Bilimoria (Crossbencher) described the House as  the “guardian of the nation”,

and the Archbishop of York emphasised that it should encourage freedom of expression and thus itself should be free from political pressures.

Others described it as being an advisory chamber which ensures that legislation meets the highest possible standard (Lord Grenfell, Lab).

A number of Peers sang the House’s praises, Baroness Miller of Hendon (Con) deeming it the finest revising chamber in the world.

The reasons for reform need to be established





Even if consensus on the purpose of the House can be reached, one must also establish good reasons for reform.  Some believe that because a commitment to significant reform – moving from an appointed to elected House – was set out in all three main parties’ election manifestos, there is a public mandate for reform to be pushed through.

Others, such as Lord Grenfell (Lab) and Lord Rodgers (Lib Dem), do not see this as convincing as they contend that the public don’t fully understand the consequences of change, and even if they did, reform of the House consisted of just 2.5 lines in the Conservative manifesto, and only a paragraph in the coalition document (which is 300 pages long).

Furthermore, perhaps it is not a priority for the public, who are more concerned simply about the dominance of the executive in the Commons (Lord Howarth, Lab).

Others cited a fall in public confidence in Parliament as a proponent for change (Lord Strathclyde; Viscount Eccles, Con).

Lord Kakkar (Cross) warned that reform must be implemented at the right time for the right reasons, and not simply to ease tensions in a coalition government.

Is the House of Lords ‘democratic’?





An overriding argument that persuades many that reform is essential, is the contention that the House is ‘undemocratic’ and therefore lacks legitimacy. 

The Earl of Onslow echoed the sentiments of some Peers, that since peers are unelected, the House has no legitimacy.  Furthermore, Lord Brooke (Lab) argued, as the House is not directly accountable to the public, it cannot be considered democratic.  

Lord Norton (Con) disputed both of these notions. He agreed that democracy requires accountability, but posited that the House of Lords maintains this by providing an important check on the Commons and the executive.

He also argued that the House is legitimate, by virtue of the fact that it has an especially qualified membership; the legitimacy of the House of Commons derives from elections, but this is not the only way to establish legitimacy.

The logic of this argument was neatly summed up by Lord Grenfell who said that, “our true legitimacy lies in what this House achieves”.   

Lord Higgins (Con) conceded that the House is not democratic but contended that it does not need to be, because our democracy as a nation is present in the fully elected House of Commons, and there is no necessity for it to be present also in the House of Lords.

Wholesale reform is not necessary





Lord Howe (Con) argued that there was a total lack of evidence justifying a change on this scale.

Baroness D’Souza (Convenor of the Crossbenchers) asked why the recent reforms, such as the House of Lords Act 1999 and the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which are very effective, aren’t enough in themselves.

Lord Bilimoria argued that “what is needed is further evolution, not revolution”. 

Many of their Lordships appeared to agree that shortcomings of the House could be adequately dealt with by minor reforms, such as those outlined in the motion of Lord Steel, without the necessity for wholesale reform.


Baroness O’Cathain (Con) suggested that a post-legislative scrutiny committee should be set up and Lord Goodhart (Lib Dem) proposed that titles should be abolished, along with fancy dress at state openings.

The reform which seemed most important to many Peers though, was putting a limit on numbers, as the number of peers entitled to sit in the House is rapidly approaching 800.  

Lord Strathclyde announced he would be setting up a Leaders’ Group to look at these and other suggestions, and peers suggested possible solutions such as voluntary retirement (Lord Steel), having maximum periods of service (Lord Howarth, Lab; Lord Cobbold, Cross), or simply setting restrictions on the appointment of New Peers (Baroness O’Loan, Cross) perhaps by the creation of a statutory appointments commission.

Arguments in favour of retaining an appointed House





Lord Bilimoria emphasised that appointment brings a wealth of diversity, objectivity, experience and expertise into the House, and Lord Denham (Con) gave the example that when animal lobbying became important in the 80s, they were able to bring a veterinary surgeon into the Lords and thus to expand the range of skills available on an ‘as required’ basis.  

Baroness O’Loan argued that appointment has lead to a very high standard of debate.

Lord Howe pointed to the high levels of attendance in the House as an achievement of the current system.

Other advantages noted were that appointed Members have no constituency pressures to distract their focus from the Chamber, and that they are able to consider long-term strategies where required (e.g. for climate change) as they are not subject to an electoral cycle.

Shortcomings of the House in its current form





Lord Richard (Lab) asserted that though the quality of debate is extremely high, the House of Lords is rarely listened to by the Commons as it is “capable of being ignored”, and Lord Cope (Con) argued that the “ping-pong” of amendments always ends up going in favour of the Commons, as the Lords gives way.

Lord King (Con) was quick to defend the Lords, citing the example of whe n its intervention prevented 90 days detention without trial.  


Lord MacLennan (Lib Dem) also noted that in the last 5 years 40% of amendments put forward by the Lords against the original advice of government, have been accepted.

Another criticism of the House was that it has not excelled recently in holding the executive to account, allowing the executive to spend and legislate excessively (Lord Strathclyde).

Merits and demerits of an elected House



In order to solve these perceived shortcomings,  moving to an elected House of Lords is suggested. Lord Richard simply believes that legislators should be elected by those affected by their legislation.

The Peers considered this proposition and others while attempting to ascertain whether elections would help eliminate the perceived weaknesses of the House. Lord Grenfell argued that moving to an elected house will not solve the crucial problem: a lack of power given to the Lords, in comparison with the Commons.

Lord Cope contended that this lack of power arises merely because it is not elected.

The Earl of Onslow emphasised the need to rebalance power between the Commons, the Lords and the Executive, and suggested that the House of Lords should have the power to throw out bills, but when it does so, an election should occur to let the people decide.

However, Lord Rooker (Lab) and Lord Morris (Lab) were among those who feared such an increase in power, reasoning that an elected House would use all the powers – such as legislative delay – that the current House chooses not to use.

Furthermore, Baroness D’Souza and Lord Waddington asserted that this increase in power would lead to conflict and stalemate between the two chambers (although this was contested by Lord Desai, (Lab) who pointed to other bicameral models where both houses are elected, and still manage to solve the conflicts that arise).

If elected, the House of Lords may simply become a replica of the House of Commons. Lord Low (Cross) asked, “where is the added value in a pale imitation of the House of Commons composed of people who could not get into the House of Commons?”


Lord Mayhew (Con) agreed with the idea that the Members of the Lords would be those who would rather be in the more powerful House of Commons.

A further concern was that in an elected House the breadth of expertise of the Lords will be lost, as individuals such as academics, Nobel Laureates and leaders of industry, all of whom are currently represented in the House would be unlikely to be willing to take part in electioneering (Baroness Miller of Hendon, Con).

The impact of political parties would arguably also increase considerably, as parties would be likely only to back candidates for election who act along party lines (Lord Pilkington, Con).

Baroness D’Souza also noted that this would likely mean an increase in the power of the whips

This increase in party influence would also mean that the highly valued crossbenchers would be lost (Lord Walton, Cross).  

In any case, as the Archbishop of York pointed out, the House of Commons is elected but does no better at holding the government to account or properly scrutinising legislation.

An elected House would also cost more, as Members would need to be salaried and also have offices within Westminster (Lord Steel), and Lord Wright (Cross) estimated that this cost might be 3 times higher than the cost of the House as currently constituted.  He also emphasised that all current conventions involving the Lords would be totally changed with an elected house. Lord Morris (Lab) argued that there are already too many elections for the electorate to take part in.

The process of reform





The issue of the process of reform was also at the heart of the debate. Lord Norton warned that our constitution by nature is a complex interlocking system, and we must be aware that change in one area can have serious consequences on other areas. Therefore the way that reform is tackled is as crucial in the decision-making process as the question of what reforms should be implemented.

Lord Strathclyde announced at the start of the debate that a cross-party committee on House of Lords reform has been set up by the Deputy Prime Minister, with an aim to produce a draft bill for an elected House by the end of the year.

The concerns of the Peers about this Committee were two-fold. The first was that the Committee does not include a single backbencher (as pointed out by Lord Barnett, Lab) or a single crossbencher (Lord Hannay, Cross), notwithstanding the fact that most of the dissent on matters of reform comes from these two constituencies.

Lord Strathclyde argued that the draft bill should be the product of a consensus between parties who support the principle of an elected House

Baroness D’Souza responded by saying, “I wonder what consensus means, or what kind of consensus is concerned with talking only to those who already agree to your plan. That is no way to rewrite fundamental parts of the constitution of this country.”

The second concern is that too many fundamental issues have not been decided by the House before the bill is drafted. These include reaching a consensus on the precise role of the House, whether it should be wholly- or partly-elected (Lord Steel), what transitional provisions would be put in place (Lord Richard) and whether reforms will be put to the public in a referendum (Baroness Royall, Lab; Lord Inglewood, Con; Lord Brooke).

Lord Faulkner (Lab) asked how the government could pursue the drafting of such a bill when the last vote on the subject of reform in the House of Lords saw Conservative peers voting 6 to 1 in favour of an appointed House.


Parliamentary material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO on behalf of Parliament

The verbatim Hansard report of the debate may be viewed here.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More News


Meeting of the APPG on the Constitution: A referendum on Scottish independence

Tue, 28th February 2012

The next meeting of the APPG on the Constitution will take place on Tuesday 28th February at 7pm in Committee Room 3.


Regular update on Bills before Parliament, reports and interesting news.

Mon, 20th February 2012

Bulletin for 20th February 2012


Constitution Society Seminar: Improving the Process of Constitutional Change

Mon, 6th February 2012

A summary of The Constitution Society's recent seminar exploring routes towards improved processes for constitutional change.


Judges, Politicians and the Contested Constitution - Aidan O'Neill QC

Thu, 2nd February 2012

An interesting look at the historical roots of modern constitutional law as it effects the issue of Scottish independence.


Would the Conservatives benefit from Scottish independence? - Michael Everett, Researcher, The Constitution Society

Wed, 1st February 2012

Michael Everett looks at the possible effects of Scottish independence on the balance of power between parties in the UK.


Now We’re Talking: About The Scottish Referendum - Aidan O'Neill QC

Mon, 16th January 2012

Aidan O'Neill QC (Matrix Chambers) discusses the legal issues surrounding a referendum on Scottish Independence.


The Weakest Link - Dr. Matt Qvortrup

Mon, 16th January 2012

The UK government’s legal argument for a binding referendum on Scottish independence runs counter to international and constitutional law - Dr. Matt Qvortrup


Summary of the UCL Public Seminar on the Parliamentary Boundaries Review

Thu, 12th January 2012

Answers to some key questions about the methods and effects of the Boundary Review underway.


House of Lords Grand Committee considers Report on the Process of Constitutional Change

Thu, 8th December 2011

The House of Lords grand committee met yesterday to debate the Constitution Committee's report on the process of constitutional change


Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill Hears Evidence

Wed, 2nd November 2011

The Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill met with four academic experts to hear their views on the merits of the Draft Bill.


EU debate leads significant rebellion

Tue, 25th October 2011

A backbench motion debate on Britain’s relationship with the European Union has led to a significant rebellion of government MPs.


Cabinet Manual launched

Mon, 24th October 2011

Today the government published the Cabinet Manual, heralding it as 'the ultimate user's guide to government'. It brings together a range of sources and aims to give a descriptive account of the procedural arrangements of the executive.


Debate triggered on the future of Britain's relationship with the EU

Fri, 21st October 2011

With Parliament preparing to follow the call of a public petition to debate the future of Britain’s relationship with the EU, questions about the appropriate role of direct popular influence on the political process have returned to the spotlight.


On whether or not to repeal; a briefing on the debate surrounding the Human Rights Act and a UK Bill of Rights

Tue, 4th October 2011

This week, as senior politicians from both sides of the coalition express differences in opinion regarding the future of the 1998 Human Rights Act and the prospect of a new UK Bill of Rights, we present some of the best recent writing on the issue as well as some useful background information.


Fixed-term Parliaments Bill gains Royal Assent

Mon, 19th September 2011

After 14 months, and no small amount of controversy, the government's plan to fix the duration of parliamentary terms becomes law.


The West Lothian Question: is now is the time to start looking for an answer?

Thu, 15th September 2011

As Harriett Baldwin's Private Member's Bill is defeated at it's Third Reading, the government announces plans to create a commission to find a solution to the long-standing debate.


The Boundary Commission for England publishes its proposals for revised constituency boundaries to be contested in 2015

Tue, 13th September 2011

As the Boundary Commission for England releases its revised constituency proposals, we look at the implications of its new focus on equal population distribution.


Legislation to boost Holyrood’s power reaches the Lords

Thu, 18th August 2011

The Scotland Bill faces its second reading with the Lords' return in September. But does it get to the heart of the devolution debate?


Baroness Royall on House of Lords Reform: The government’s draft bill ducks the crucial constitutional questions.

Tue, 9th August 2011

Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, and contributor to "The end of the peer show?", Baroness Royall sets out her view on House of Lords reform.

Bulletin Archive 3

Thu, 26th January 2012

An archive of all regular bulletins


Professor John Baker on House of Lords Reform: Appointment or election?

Tue, 9th August 2011

Downing Professor of the Laws of England at the University of Cambridge, and contributor to "The end of the peer show?", Sir John Baker sets out his view on House of Lords reform.


Lords committee publishes report on constitutional reform process

Thu, 21st July 2011

The Lords Constitution Select Committee concludes that the current variable treatment of constitutional proposals is unacceptable. It argues that there should be a “clear and consistent process” applied to all cases of “significant constitutional change”.


The End of the Peer show? Responses to the draft bill on Lords reform

Tue, 19th July 2011

A debate at the LSE this week launched The Constitution Society's publication of a collection of responses to the draft bill on Lords reform from distinguished academics, peers and MPs.


Mark Harper - the Government's view on House of Lords Reform

Fri, 22nd July 2011

Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, and contributor to "The end of the peer show?", Mark Harper sets out the government's view on House of Lords reform.


Lords demonstrate willingness to counter Government proposals on the EU

Tue, 28th June 2011

The House of Lords significantly amended the European Union Bill during its third reading in the Upper House last week. Peers used this last opportunity to amend the Bill to demonstrate their unwillingness to accept its controversial proposals.


Robin Archer: House of Lords reformers should look to the example of Australia

Mon, 6th June 2011

Dr Robin Archer of the LSE has explained the lessons the UK might learn from examining the history of the Australian Senate. The insights he offered, in an interview with The Constitution Society, are of particular interest in light of the government’s new proposals on Lords reform.


Government Reform Proposals for the House of Lords

Thu, 2nd June 2011

On May 17th the government introduced its House of Lords Reform Draft Bill in the Commons and the Lords. The Draft Bill suggests a move to an 80% elected upper house, with the remaining members appointed by recommendation of the Prime Minister. The new House of Lords would be made up of 300 members, with the 240 elected members sitting for 15-year terms.


What does 'no' really mean?

Sat, 7th May 2011

The electorate has resoundingly rejected a proposal to introduce a system of alternative voting. The fall out will be the deferral of electoral reform for another generation and the political manoeuvring which underpinned the referendum is unlikely to have done anything to improve public perception of the integrity of politicians and our political system.


The Constitution Society's Evidence to the Lords Constitution Committee

Wed, 18th May 2011

The Constitution Society’s evidence to the House of Lords Constitution Committee’s inquiry into Constitutional Reform was published on the 13th of May 2011 (link). The Society used agreed principles of Good Government to assess the quality of the legislative process behind the recently enacted Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Act (which led to May 5th’s referendum).


Elizabeth Truss MP Calls for More Freeedom for Councils

Fri, 13th May 2011

Elizabeth Truss, Member of Parliament for South West Norfolk, has called for councils to be “more free to take their own decisions”, warning that an excessive concern for equality between local government bodies disempowers British communities. Ms Truss made the case for a stronger localism in Britain during an interview with the Constitution Society.


Alan Renwick: Referendum offers

Tue, 26th April 2011

Alan Renwick of the University of Reading explores the arguments around the AV referendum.


Chris Nicholson: AV would give voters more choice

Mon, 18th April 2011

Chris Nicholson, Chief Executive of the liberal think tank Centre Forum, explains his reasons for supporting a move to the Alternative Vote at the forthcoming referendum.


Neil Kinnock: FPTP is fundamentally flawed

Tue, 12th April 2011

Lord Kinnock recently spoke to The Constitution Society about his support for AV and his reaction to the negativism of the no campaign in the lead up to the referendum on May 5th. Here we report his thoughts.


AV or not AV? Resources to help you decide

Wed, 6th April 2011

A collection of resources to help you make up your mind ahead of Thursday's referendum.


Baroness Hayter defends First Past the Post

Tue, 5th April 2011

Former Chair of the Labour party Baroness Hayter defends First Past the Post ahead of next month's referendum on the Alternative Vote.


Peter Hain “strongly in favour of electoral reform”

Wed, 6th April 2011

Former cabinet minister Peter Hain MP explains why he supports the yes to AV campaign.


AV referendum count underway

Fri, 6th May 2011

The AV referendum ballot papers are being counted. We show you the latest figures.


AV Briefing Papers: What it is and What the public think

Wed, 13th April 2011

Links to The Constitution Society's Briefing papers on AV. We explain what it is and how it might affect our political system? We also report on our findings when we commissioned YouGov to ask 2000 people what they thought.


Direct links to briefing papers produced by The Constitution Society.

Mon, 17th January 2011

Direct links to briefing papers produced by The Constitution Society.


The Coalition and the Lords

Fri, 25th March 2011

As more of the Government's legislative programme reaches the Lords, we consider the implications of Coalition for the Upper Chamber.


Wales faces vote as UK experiences referendum fever

Tue, 1st March 2011

In the context of Thursday's Welsh vote on broader legislative independence, we consider the genesis and implications of the wave of referendums currently planned for the UK.


Alternative Vote campaign kicks off

Fri, 18th February 2011

Cameron and Clegg have stated their cases for and against AV. The public now has 10 weeks to decide the future of the electoral system.


The AV Bill is finally leaving the Lords, and in what state?

Fri, 11th February 2011

We take stock of the changes made to the Voting System Bill during its epic scrutiny session in the Lords.


Lords Reform; more predictable in context than in implication?

Mon, 17th January 2011

We assess the progress made in a century of debate on reform of the House of Lords. Are we any closer to knowing what we want from a reformed Upper House and are we sure we know how to achieve it?


Government hits referendum target

Thu, 17th February 2011

Almost seven months after being introduced in the Commons, the Voting Systems Bill has received royal assent in time for the May 5th referendum.


Uncertain implications of the Cabinet Manual

Tue, 25th January 2011

This month's meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Constitution hosted a fascinating discussion on the Cabinet Manual. Despite broad consensus on the potentiality of the document, the merits of its implications could not be agreed.


Peers reach conclusion of marathon Bill debate

Wed, 2nd February 2011

A promised "package of concessions" at report stage has permitted the Voting System Bill to conclude its marathon committee stage debate in the Lords.


The House of Lords; political hostage or bastion of parliamentary scrutiny?

Mon, 31st January 2011

Facing their 17th day of programmed discussion of amendments to the Voting System Bill, the Lords for the first time face a guillotine on debate.


Continued controversy over EU Bill

Tue, 25th January 2011

The Government yesterday afforded the European Union Bill a further day of debate in the Commons but critics argue it that the Government continues to curtail proper scrutiny.


Scaling the Heights of Lords' Reform

Wed, 5th January 2011

The infinite questions on Lords reform left unresolved by a century of debate.


The Cabinet Manual; controversy over codification

Tue, 21st December 2010

Following the publication of the Draft Cabinet Manual, the Constitution Society talks to the experts.


Was the Black Knight a member of the House of Lords?

Fri, 17th December 2010

Reform of the House has been on the political agenda for more than a century yet the Lords stands largely unchanged. The Coalition have made the most recent pledge in the line of policy promises but what do we want from reform?


Tuition fees – the tangible impact of constitutional reform

Fri, 10th December 2010

Notoriously difficult to define, the tangible face of constitutional reform can be glimpsed in the recent debate over tuition fees. The cries of 'unfairness' and 'punishment' reignite the devolution debate amidst a continuing trend towards increasing regional autonomy.


Government legislation challenged in the Lords

Fri, 3rd December 2010

Will the dramatic pace of the Voting System Bill be slowed as it navigates resistance in the Lords?


Coalition urged to put moratorium on Lords appointments

Thu, 25th November 2010

Constitution expert Meg Russell makes powerful plea for Government to reform appointment policy or face "serious damage" to the House.


Ding dong, the Westminster bells may no longer chime

Fri, 26th November 2010

A group of new MPs have launched a bid to introduce an electronic voting system in the House of Commons.


The coalition kids are trashing Parliament

Thu, 18th November 2010

Lord Howarth's passionate response to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill is indicative of a broad appetite for continued debate on electoral reform and boundary revision.


Leading academic lambasts AV

Fri, 19th November 2010

Simon Hix, Professor in the Department of Government at the LSE, has criticised Government proposals to hold a referendum on AV in an interview with


Claims of "Hybridity" over Voting Systems Bill

Tue, 16th November 2010

A "lawyer's wheeze" or a serious matter of constitutional principle? A group of peers claimed on Monday 15th November that the Pariamentary Voting System and Constiuencies Bill is technically "hybrid" and as such should undergo a longer process of scrutiny by committee. A subsequent vote in the Lords was narrowly defeated, meaning that the progress of the Bill will not be slowed as anticipated.


Constituency boundaries - joining up the map of reform?

Mon, 8th November 2010

From the perspective of proposals to "reduce and equalise" parliamentary constituencies, we probe the ties between the Government's broader programme for constitutional reform.


Could Harriett have the Answer to the West Lothian Question?

Mon, 25th October 2010

Harriett Baldwin, Conservative MP for West Worcestershire, speaks to ReConstitution about her private members’ Bill, seeking to find a solution to the issue commonly known as the ‘West Lothian Question’, and the future of constituency boundaries.


Political reform: still a choice or new political necessity?

Mon, 1st November 2010

Following a lecture by the former President of the New Zealand Labour Party, we look for lessons to be learnt from their experience of constitutional reform.


71% think independent body should draft referendum question

Wed, 6th October 2010

Results of our specially commissioned YouGov poll on AV and the referendum. 2548 people were asked various questions about their voting intentions and their understanding of voting systems generally. They were also asked to give their reasons; with surprising results.


Briefing paper on AV: What is it and how would it affect our voting system?

Fri, 13th August 2010

Although people tend to talk about Alternative Voting as if it is a single concept, there are in fact many different variants on the AV system. Our briefing paper gives a clear explanation of the AV system currently proposed by the Government, together with worked examples.


The unseemly haste to introduce fixed term parliaments

Thu, 16th September 2010

Like the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, the Fixed term Parliaments Bill is being rushed through Parliament, with woefully inadequate time for scrutiny. Yet the Bill contains novel provisions which will have a profound impact on votes of no confidence and dissolution of Parliament - not least the abolition of one of the Queen's prerogative powers. Why the hurry?


Briefing paper on TCS/YouGov poll: public opinion on AV and the referendum.

Thu, 7th October 2010

The Constitution Society (TCS) commissioned YouGov to carry out an on-line poll to gauge public opinion on a broad range of issues around electoral reform and the government’s referendum proposal. 2548 people were asked various questions about their voting intentions and their understanding of voting systems generally. They were also asked to give their reasons. The survey produced some surprising results .


Archive - APPG on the Constitution

Thu, 21st October 2010

An archive of agendas and resources from previous meetings of the APPG on the Constitution.


AV Referendum Campaign Funding Rules

Fri, 20th August 2010

Following the Electoral Commission's confirmation of funding rules for the AV referendum campaign, we look at how this interesting campaign might evolve, and whether either camp is advantaged from the start.


The Politics of Electoral Reform

Fri, 30th July 2010

A Bill is currently before Parliament to propose a referendum on electoral reform and boundary changes. To date, none of the main political parties has given reasons why a change from our First Past the Post system of electing members to the House of Commons ought to be changed to a system of Alternative Voting. We examine the implications of a change in voting system and look at some of the, perhaps unforeseen, consequences of the changes which the Bill proposes.


Looking for that special someone: the enduring relationship between politicians and special advisers

Thu, 29th July 2010

We take a look at special advisers, often thought of as a recent phenomenon. However closer examination reveals that special advisers have been around as long as politicians.


Nick Clegg under scrutiny by the new Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform

Sat, 17th July 2010

On 15th July 2010 Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister became the first witness to the newly-formed Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform. The committee cross-examined Mr Clegg both on the timing and content of reform proposals.


Experts join calls for joined-up thinking in the scramble for constitutional reform

Sat, 24th July 2010

In a further valuable contribution to the burgeoning debate on constitutional reform in general, and the codification of the British constitution in particular, a group of constitutional experts led by Stephen Hockman QC and Professor Vernon Bogdanor have called for a holistic approach to the constitution. In a paper published by JUSTICE, the group analyses the questions which need resolution before any moves can be made towards the creation of a codified constitution.


Do we need a written constitution?

Fri, 2nd July 2010

Prompted by the recent publication of a book on the subject by Richard Gordon QC, the PR consultancy SPADA recently sponsored a debate on whether the UK now needs a written constitution. Read more, or watch a video of the debate in full.


The Speaker speaks of his plans for the future

Wed, 16th June 2010

The Rt Hon John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons outlined his vision of a revitalised chamber of the House of Commons. The new Parliament has seen an encouraging number of new faces in the House taking an active interest in the business of the Chamber. But what will it take to sustain that enthusiasm and reinvigorate debate in the House?


Fear and Lothian in Westminster. The English question is not going to go away

Mon, 7th June 2010

Both the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru have stated that they intend to exploit the hung parliament to their own advantage, once again putting the spotlight on the 'English question' - that Scottish and Welsh MPs may vote in Westminster on issues that affect only England, whilst English MPs have no say in relation to the deliberations of the Scottish parliament or the Welsh assembly. We look at whether there will ever be a solution to this problem.


British politics hits a purple patch. A look at calls for electoral reform

Sat, 29th May 2010

Amid the calls for electoral reform and the coalition government's promise to put the Alternative Voting system to a referendum, we look at what difference a change to the voting system would make. Is democracy in the voting or the counting?


EU Foreign Policy: to boldly go where none has gone before?

Tue, 18th May 2010

The European Union has been criticised in the past for failing to develop a more effective foreign policy, but the External Action Service is supposed to bring new cohesion and coherence to this area of European cooperation. However, the new High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Baroness Ashton, has already run into opposition to her plans and, although a compromise has been struck, the road ahead scarcely looks any easier.


A plea for extra time: PR should not be a political football

Wed, 12th May 2010

The negotiations leading to the formation of the new coalition government have turned, in part, on the question of electoral reform. A matter of such constitutional importance should, it is argued, form part of a wider review of the constitution and should not be used merely as a political bargaining chip. Will sufficient time be given to consider the implications of change before reforms are pushed through?


Should civil servants have the tyranny of the first draft? Peter Lloyd considers the Cabinet Secretary’s “Cabinet Manual”

Thu, 6th May 2010

Peter Lloyd questions the provenance of the recently disclosed 'Cabinet Manual'. Amid suggestions that the manual might form the basis of a written constitution, he questions whether it should be for a civil servant to generate the first draft of such a fundamental document.


Sound bites vs. quiet reflection: Better Government requires a considered approach

Sat, 1st May 2010

In a letter published in the Financial Times this week, members of The Constitution Society and the Better Government Initiative outline four basic principles of good government that could improve the legislative process. The principles are difficult to fault, and could be implemented without legislation, but the question will remain whether there is any incentive for politicians to change the way that they behave.


Crisis, What crisis?

Tue, 13th April 2010

At a debate of the Society of Cogers on 19th April 2010, Nat le Roux, Chairman of the Trustees of the Constitution Society, argued that our problem may not lie with our constitution itself, but rather with the conduct of our politicians. He suggested that the single biggest problem of contemporary democracy - is that all politicians are terrified of losing power, because the lesson of the last 30 years is that once you’ve lost power you don’t get it back for a generation.


Rip it up and start again: the only way to deal with the House of Lords?

Mon, 26th April 2010

In an article published for the first time on the ReConstitution website, Professor Dawn Oliver argues that we should resist political pressure to reform the House of Lords by making it an elected body. She proposes abolishing the House of Lords and starting from scratch by the creation of a wholly appointed Commission for Executive Scrutiny, with proposals which chime with views expressed by Lord Bingham.


Chief Civil Servant advises Brown to stay put in event of hung parliament

Thu, 4th March 2010

The head of the Civil Service is warning Gordon Brown not to leave Number 10 if it is unclear who has won the upcoming election. Sir Gus O’Donnell told MPs that it is “the Prime Minister’s duty not to resign” until a successor can be found.


Are new faces enough?

Wed, 21st April 2010

Will the problems with Parliament be solved by the retirement of many of the worst expenses offenders and an influx of new MPs? There is a perceptible mood for change amongst voters, but will altering some of the personnel be enough to restore confidence in both Parliament and the ‘constitution’ of the United Kingdom?


Reform sidelined as 'wash up' commences

Wed, 7th April 2010

Campaigners are expressing their dismay, as the government’s legal commitment to hold a referendum on reforming the electoral system looks set to be scrapped as part of the ‘wash up’.

Anti-corruption campaigner brands 'wash up' a stitch up

Mon, 29th March 2010

Legendary anti-corruption campaigner Martin Bell is spearheading a campaign to make the ‘wash up’ more transparent. Mr Bell is criticizing the process, which takes place during the final days of a parliament to try and get as many of the remaining bills finished as possible, as a “stitch-up by and for the main political parties”.


Jack Straw attacks Cameron's plans to reduce number of MPs

Wed, 17th March 2010

A senior government minster has laid into David Cameron’s plans to reduce the number of MPs should he get into power.


Libel judge defends privacy law

Mon, 15th March 2010

The controversial libel judge at the centre of a storm over the development of privacy law in the UK has hit back at his tabloid critics. Justice Eady, who rose to notoriety after punishing the News of the World for publishing intimate photos of Formula 1 boss Max Mosely’s private life, accused tabloids of having a vested interest in stunting privacy for financial gain.


Senior Tory calls for Lords Reform

Wed, 10th March 2010

A senior Tory is expressing her support for an elected House of Lords. Margot James, a vice-chairwoman of the Conservative party, made the announcement during an interview with Reconstitution where she claimed the current system was “out of kilter”.


Expert calls for Government to follow through on reform

Mon, 8th March 2010

Academics are calling for “immediate assurances” from the government that it will implement the recently agreed Wright reforms before the end of this parliament. Dr Meg Russell of the UCL Constitution Unit warned them “this is the timetable the Commons voted for and party leaders must work together to honour that.”


Controversy over whether reform goes far enough

Tue, 23rd February 2010

The parliamentary reform movement is split over whether the proposed Wright Reforms go far enough.

Better Government Initiative

Mon, 1st February 2010

Better Government Initiative launches major report.