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Electing the House of Lords - political scientists call for a 280 seat Senate, elected using Proportional Representation

Detailed plans for an all-elected Senate to replace the House of Lords were drawn up by LSE political scientist Professor Patrick Dunleavy| and Professor Helen Margetts| (now at Oxford University) for the Wakeham Royal Commission on the House of Lords in 1999.

Their analysis 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 Proportional Representation (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 five 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.

Professors Dunleavy and Margetts also designed the election systems very successfully used 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. Their report for the Wakeham Royal Commission was commissioned by the Cabinet Office, but then buried in the volume of the Royal Commission's report after the majority of the Commission members recommended no change in the Lords' composition.

Professor Dunleavy said: 'The House of Commons' historic vote last night should now usher in a period of real change. Our research shows in detail that a much smaller elected Senate could be set up very speedily, using tried and tested voting systems that would give UK voters real choice and be very easy to understand.

'Our report also explains why an elected Senate chosen in the way we set out would not challenge the House of Commons and would ensure a real diversity in the kinds of people who would become a Senator. The Senate in our design would almost certainly never have a majority for any one party, and its composition would be very suitable for an expert revising chamber whose primary task is to improve the quality of our legislation.'

  • Click here to view the Wakeham Report, House for the Future



  • Patrick Dunleavy is professor of political science and public policy at the London School of Economics, chair of LSE Public Policy Group and director of LSE's MPA Programme. Tel 020 7955 7178, email p.dunleavy@lse.ac.uk 
  • Helen Margetts is now professor of society and the internet at the Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University and a member of LSE Public Policy Group.

8 March 2007