The relationship between the House of Lords and the House of Commons has always been a delicate one. The almost inherent conflict in interests between the Houses is rendered no more apparent than in the Government's proposed reforms of the Lords set out in its White Paper of 8th February 2007. Both Houses have now voted on the subject.
In the White Paper, the Government proposed a new House of Lords comprised of elected members and members appointed by a new Statutory Appointments Commission (operating under a mandate independent of political parties). The White Paper put forward a range of possible ratios of elected peers vis-à-vis nominated peers ranging from a 100% elected house to a 100% appointed house.
On 7 March, the House of Commons backed a 100% elected House of Lords by a majority of 113. The Lords, on the other hand, rejected this on March 14 by a majority of 204, backing instead an all-appointed house. The Lords also rejected a 20%, 40%, 50%, 60% and 80% elected House of Lords.
As one journalist has remarked the result is hardly surprising- "Turkey's, after all, rarely vote for Christmas". However, the issue of an elected House of Lords (whatever the ratio) is a highly emotive and contentious topic which raises deep set constitutional issues. In particular, Baroness Boothroyd (the former Commons speaker) has warned that the arrival of elected peers could lead to a claim by the Lords to parity with the Commons and to the growing risk of gridlock.
Parliamentary gridlock is the likely result if the Government decides to press ahead with a reform bill and a heavily elected Lords. Time will tell whether there is sufficient political will in the Government to push through the reform in the near future and to finally draw a line under this long running debate.