Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The super-sized second chamber

Reform of the House of Lords is certain to be an early item in Ed Miliband’s intray as the task once again falls to Labour to sort out Britain’s constitutional settlement.

Unless action is taken to reform the House of Lords the chamber looks like more than doubling in size in the next parliament.

With the new appointments to the upper house delayed, the Electoral Reform Society has used latest polling to show the task facing an incoming Labour prime minister in 2015. In the wake of a likely collapse of the Lib Dem vote Ed Miliband would have to restore party balance around a fixed number of Lib Dem peers – potentially bringing the total number of peers to as high as 1946.

The net result would see elected politicians slump to barely a quarter of national lawmakers.

We are sleepwalking towards a super-sized second chamber. Only China will have a bigger set-up.

Nearly every poll is showing the Liberal Democrat vote share in the low teens. That will require the next prime minister to rebalance the Lords around an immovable bloc of Lib Dem peers.

Labour has remained tight­lipped on constitutional policy. There is an opportunity here to show some leadership. Ed Miliband needs to decide now if come 2015 he intends pack the House to the rafters or bring the curtain down.

This is prime example of where Labour and Liberal Democrats could be working together to make some progress. If they came up with a plan before the election it would knock vested interests for six when they try their stalling tactics.

It’s too easy say Lords reform is not a priority, but if Labour maintain their poll lead this will be in prime minister Ed Miliband’s intray marked ‘urgent’. Otherwise we are looking at future where appointed cronies outnumber elected politicians on the national stage by three to one.


The Super-Sized Second Chamber is available for download here.


Darren Hughes is a former New Zealand Labour MP and minister in Helen Clark’s government. He is now director of campaigns and research at the Electoral Reform Society. He tweets @DarrenHughesNZ


Photo: UK Parliament

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Darren Hughes


  • Reform of the House of Lords has been long delayed and often put off. To have a wholly democratic bicameral system should be the objective of all political parties. Yes it can be argued that the Lords offer a level of scrutiny of Government legislation unhindered by their term of office or the whims of the voting public. But it can also be argued that they are a relic of the past and symbolise everything that is wrong with our political system ie patronage and elitism. Many Lords do tremendous work scrutinising and debating legislation however proposals put forward Jack Straw when he was Leader of the House of Commons and most recently by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg should be reconsidered. If only 50% of the Lords were elected it would go some way to constitutional reform and opening the second chamber to true democratic accountability.

  • Who says that the House of Lords has to reflect the votes cast for the House of Commons?

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