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The Royal Commission's blueprint for reform

A Royal Commission was drafted in to examine the problem of the Lords.

But critics dismissed its work as a lost opportunity.

Lord Wakeham launches the Royal Commission's report: A House for the Future

The government's eventual blueprint for reforming the Lords was expected to draw heavily on the work of a Royal Commission, headed by the life peer and former Conservative Cabinet Minister, Lord Wakeham.

Video Clip VIDEO
BBC Breakfast with Frost, November 2001
Lord Wakeham: why I couldn't vote for the government's reforms
But, when the White Paper on reform finally appeared, even Lord Wakeham himself was disappointed with the results.

Like many other Conservatives, he dismissed it as a charter for Tony's cronies - a plan to hand too many powers of patronage to the Prime Minister himself.

The Wakeham Commission

As Westminster debated the government's plans to abolish hereditary peers, Lord Wakeham's Commission was simultaneously getting to grips with the alternatives.

The result, A House for the Future, was published in January 2000.

Quote Mark Above all, we were keen to make proposals that would produce a new second chamber distinctively different from the House of Commons, whose members were more representative of the whole of British society and who could bring a wider range of expertise and experience to bear... Quote Mark

Wakeham Commission report, January 2000
The Wakeham report promised a quiet, if very British, revolution. It ducked the question of what to call a new upper chamber; and it proposed to leave untouched the current balance of power between the Government, the Commons and the new upper house.

But it did acknowledge the need for greater regional representation, for broadly equal numbers of men and women and for a better reflection of modern Britain's diverse ethnic mix.

Key Proposals

The Wakeham Commission produced more than 130 recommendations, covering every aspect of the work of the upper chamber. These are some of the key proposals:


  • New chamber to have a total of around 550 members.

  • A "significant minority" of elected members - exact number not specified.

  • Existing life peers can become members of the new second chamber, but - to keep numbers down - they will be allowed to retire when they are no longer able to take an active part.

  • Members of reformed second chamber must wait ten years after their term finishes before becoming an MP.

  • Elected Members
    Three alternative systems:

    a) 65 regional members selected in proportion to votes cast in General Election.
    b) 87 Regional Members directly elected at the time of each European Parliament Election by proportional representation (regional list system).
    c) 195 regional members, elected by PR, at the time of each European Parliament Election.

    All regional members to serve for the equivalent of three electoral cycles.

    Appointed Members

  • To be chosen by an Independent Appointments Commission. You can get an idea of how this may work by reading the section on the People's Peers.
  • At least 30 per cent of the appointed members should be women.
  • Ethnic minority groups should be represented in proportion to the population as a whole.
  • To serve a fixed term of 15 years, renewable for another 15 years.

  • Reactions: Evolution or Revolution?

    After the fight the hereditary peers put up to keep their place in the House of Lords, the Wakeham Commission might have been expecting its report to be met by howls of protest. In fact, most critics have said its reforms don't go far enough.

    Both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are now demanding a far greater role for elected representatives in the new upper house.

    Quote Mark Change must be in a direction and at a pace which goes with the grain of the traditional British evolutionary approach to constitutional reform.. Quote Mark

    Wakeham Commission Report, January 2000
    Quote Mark A brave attempt to answer an impossible question….(but)…a second chamber made up of nominated people has no place in a modern democracy. Quote Mark

    John Edmonds, GMB Union
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