Recommendations of the report
The Commission explicitly did not recommend a wholly or predominantly elected chamber, and also rejected the idea of random selection of members. Instead, the following recommendations were made:
- The membership of the House of Lords should be reduced to around 550.
- A majority of these should be appointed by an independent Honours and Appointments Commission, rather than by the Prime Minister; this would reduce the role of the House as a source of political patronage.
- A minority of members (between 60 and 195) should be elected on a regional basis, through proportional representation. Three different models were proposed, with varying numbers of elected members; under all three models, members were to serve for "three electoral cycles" or 15 years.
- Ministers should be accountable to the House of Lords as well as the House of Commons.
- The few remaining hereditary peers should be removed.
Goals of the report
The intention of the report was to create a second chamber that would be an effective check on government power, while simultaneously making it more accountable to the electorate. At the time the report was written, the Prime Minister recommended the appointment of life peers, Law Lords and Bishops; of these, only the Law Lords have been removed, with the creation of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in October 2009. This means, effectively, that the Prime Minister and the governing party have great influence over the House of Lords, and it can be used as a source of political patronage. (In 2006-7, this became a more significant issue, owing to the Cash for Peerages scandal.) An independent Honours and Appointments Commission would solve this problem, and would create a peerage that was less dependent on partisan influence.
The House is often also criticised because no part of it is directly accountable to the electorate; no peers stand for election, and there is no normal procedure for removing peers. Adding some elected members, and limiting members' terms in office, might ameliorate this problem.
Criticisms of the report
The report has been criticised for not addressing some crucial issues. For instance, at present, the House of Lords only has a power of suspensive veto; they may only delay legislation for one year, after which the House of Commons may pass it without the Lords' assent. The report did not address whether this situation would change, or remain the same.
The report was criticised that it proposed that the Lords' ability to veto subordinated and delegated legislation should be replaced by a three-month delaying power to make clear that the Lords is the Second Chamber.
Another important criticism of the report's recommendations is that adding some elected members to the House might create two 'classes' of members; the elected members might be seen as having greater democratic legitimacy and authority than the appointed members. This could also threaten the traditional primacy of the House of Commons within the Westminster parliamentary system. One commentator, the Liberal Democrat peer Lord McNally, wrote in January 2000: "Those who fear that a House of Lords with increased authority will challenge the status of the Commons and cause constitutional conflict - or "gridlock" as the Americans call it when the Senate and the House of Representatives disagree - will worry that the Wakeham proposals set us on just that course. On the other hand, those who believe that the second chamber must have the full democratic mandate which only the ballot box can bestow will be disappointed."
Others were dissatisfied with the Wakeham Commission's refusal to remove appointed members; according to BBC political correspondent Nick Assinder, "opponents accused the commission of failing to come up with a single, simple recommendation and allowing the creation of chamber of "Tony's Cronies"".
Some critics argued that the report would result in the Lords becoming in effect a weak advisory council for the House of Commons, which would lead to excessive conflict between the few elected members and the mainly appointed members.
Due to the lack of consensus on its proposals, the report was never implemented.
- Executive Summary of the Wakeham Report, Archive of Official Documents
- Mitchell, Jeremy, Review of "Reforming the House of Lords: Lessons from Overseas" by Meg Russell, The Political Quarterly, vol.71, issue 3, p.362-380
- Wakeham is not the answer, BBC News, 20 January 2000
- Lords report fails to satisfy, BBC News, 20 January 2000