Cutting down the Lords

Bringing the Lords in line with other second chambers means cutting hundreds of legislators

The Lord Speaker has launched an inquiry into the size of the House of Lords.

Currently, there are more than 800 members of the Lords (the exact figure depends on how you count it).

I decided to make a submission, not because I am an expert on the House of Lords (Meg Russell's eventual submission will be a million times better than mine), and not because I have anything unique to say, but because some stylised facts about the size of the House of Lords bear repeating.

Here's what I had to say:

  1. This submission summarizes recent political science research into the size of second chambers. It does not recommend a particular “target number of range”. However, most of the research described here suggests that the House of Lords is bigger than one would expect given the size of the House of Commons.
  2. Coakley (p. 550) notes that “on average, second chambers are 45 per cent of the size of first chambers”. If the size of the House of Lords reflected this pattern, it would have 290 members compared to a House of Commons with 650 members, or 270 members compared to a House of Commons with 600 members.
  3. Taagepera and Recchia have tried to relate the size of the second chamber to the size of the first chamber together with the number of territorial sub-units in a polity. (They do so because there is a strong association between federalism and bicameralism). Where S represents the number of seats in the second chamber, where N represents the number of seats in the first chamber, and where F represents the number of territorial sub-units (perhaps in a federation), then S is equal to the square root of N times F.
  4. If, for the sake of argument, we can consider Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the nine English regions as territorial sub-units, then this suggests that the House of Lords should have 85 members if the House of Commons is to have 600, and 88 if the House of Commons is to have 650 members. If instead we take the 382 local areas used as counting areas for the EU referendum, then the House of Lords should have 478 members if the Commons is to have 600, and 498 members if the Commons is to have 650 members.
  5. These two pieces of research suggest that the House of Lords is very much larger than other second chambers. Bringing the Lords into line with other democracies with second chambers would involve cuts of between 300 and 500 legislators.