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Electing the House of Lords: Political scientists call for a 280 seat Senate, elected using proportional representation

Published on
8 Mar 2007
Professor Helen Margetts comments on the House of Commons' vote for an entirely elected second chamber

Detailed plans for an all-elected Senate to replace the House of Lords were drawn up in 1999 by Oxford Internet Institute (OII) Professor Helen Margetts and the LSE political scientist Professor Patrick Dunleavy for the Wakeham Royal Commission on the House of Lords. The report was commissioned by the Cabinet Office, but then buried in the CD volume of the Royal Commission’s report after the majority of the Commission members recommended no change in the Lords’ composition.

Now reform of the House of Lords is back on the political agenda, after the House of Commons voted last night in favour of an all-elected House of Lords.

Professor Margetts commented: “The House of Commons’ vote means that there is now a real chance for change. An elected Senate could be set up quickly using voting systems already in operation that would be easy to use and give UK voters real choice. The report sets out proposals for an elected Senate that would have real diversity, with no dominance of any political party.”

The analysis by Professors Dunleavy and Margetts suggested:

  • An all-elected Senate with either 200 or 280 members
  • Half the members would be elected at a time, for a term of either 8 or 10 years: staggered elections would ensure a more gradual change of the Senate’s composition over time, suitable for a revising chamber
  • With members sitting for regional constituencies (as already used for the European Parliament elections)
  • And using a Proportional Representation system of voting to closely match parties’ seats in the Senate to their votes.

Two possible PR voting systems were identified as working very effectively:

  • Either an open list PR voting: similar to European Parliament elections but with voters able to endorse individual candidates, not just vote for a party list (a key step needed to ensure that members of the Senate were not just beholden to their parties for their election). Each region would elect between 5 and 18 members at a time (depending on their population size), allowing a fair balancing of seats with parties’ votes.
  • Or alternatively an additional member system of PR, as used in electing the Scottish Parliament, Welsh National Assembly and Greater London Assembly. Here voters would have two votes, one to elect 80 local members using first past the post voting in single member sub-regional constituencies (similar to counties in England); and a second vote to choose 60 ‘top-up’ members who would be added at the regional level to give fair representation of all parties.

Download the Report

Report for the Wakeham Royal Commission

Professors Margetts and Dunleavy designed the election systems used very successfully by millions of voters for electing the London Mayor and Assembly, and the voting systems used in English cities with elected mayors. They also advised the Jenkins Commission on reforming elections to the House of Commons.

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