Characteristics of the reformed second chamber

The reformed second chamber should be:

· authoritative;

· confident; and

· broadly representative.

It should incorporate:

· breadth of expertise and a broad range of experience;

· particular knowledge and skills relevant to constitutional matters and human rights;

· an ability to bring philosophical, moral or spiritual perspectives to bear;

· personal distinction;

· freedom from party domination;

· a non-polemical style; and

· the ability to take a long-term view.


The reformed second chamber should be authoritative. It can and should play a vital role in scrutinising the executive, holding the Government to account and shaping legislation. It should therefore have the authority to ensure that its views and concerns are taken seriously. The Commission has proposed that it should retain the power to hold up the enactment of primary legislation and have power to delay the implementation of secondary legislation. It should have the authority to wield those powers.

It is essential that the second chamber’s authority should not be such as to challenge the ultimate authority of the House of Commons which derives directly from the electorate, through popular elections. It does not follow that there can be no role for the electorate in choosing members of the second chamber. But the greater the ‘democratic legitimacy’ of the second chamber, the greater the risk of damaging constitutional conflicts arising between the two Houses of Parliament.

It is, however, an error to suppose that the second chamber’s authority can only stem from democratic election. Other potential sources of authority include:

· the extent to which the second chamber’s members are broadly representative of the changing society which it seeks to serve;

· the breadth of experience and range of expertise which they possess;

· their individual personal distinction;

· the quality of the arguments they can bring to bear;

· their ability to exercise an unfettered judgement, relatively free from partisan political control.

The members of the reformed second chamber, both collectively and individually, should possess all these characteristics in any case. But their presence will, in addition, contribute substantially to its overall authority and to its ability to make itself heard. A second chamber drawing on such a wide range of sources of authority would be well placed to carry out effectively the roles and functions we have recommended.


The reformed second chamber should also be sufficiently confident to use its powers in what it judges to be the most effective and appropriate manner. Throughout the 20th century the House of Lords was inhibited both by its lack of authority and its lack of confidence. The reformed second chamber must be free of such debilitating inhibitions.

The second chamber should be cohesive. In determining how it should be composed and in considering its working practices, it will be important to ensure that members should be able to work well together, without being troubled by any sense or suggestion that some have a higher authority than others. Without such cohesion it would be difficult to generate the necessary confidence on the part of the second chamber as a whole.