Published on 3 March 2023
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House of Lords reform: navigating the obstacles

This paper explores what the House of Lords does, how it has evolved, what proposals for change have been put forward and what the key reform objectives and priorities should be. In doing so, it also touches on what experience from other bicameral (two chamber) parliaments can teach us.

It concludes that House of Lords reform is desirable, but very difficult to achieve. Both international and historical experiences show that designing a second chamber that is complementary to the work of the first chamber often proves controversial, and can readily fail. The ambitious Brown proposals – wanting a reformed House of Lords to underpin and strengthen the UK’s territorial settlement – would not be easy for Labour to deliver, and once fleshed out would probably (like numerous large-scale reform proposals before them) face challenge and resistance – including inside the House of Commons and the governing party.

Meanwhile, other smaller reforms are likely to prove more achievable, and it is important that the opportunity to pursue these is not lost. The current government could readily achieve this. But if it does not deal with these problems and Labour enters power, Labour should embrace such changes as a matter of urgency. These might be seen as the first stage of a two-stage reform, in a similar approach to the one adopted by the 1997 Blair government, which resulted in significant and lasting change to the chamber.

Press release: The next Labour government must focus on achievable House of Lords reform

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Meg Russell

Professor Meg Russell FBA is the Director of the Constitution Unit at University College London. She is author of two books on the House of Lords, plus numerous other papers...

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