It's official: the House of Lords is completely bust

16 Aug 2015

Today, we can reveal that the House of Lords is officially, well and truly bust.

We’re pleased to launch our new report on our unelected upper chamber: ‘House of Lords: Fact vs Fiction’ – where we shatter the myths on Britain’s second House.

It’s the first major piece of research on the House of Lords since the General Election. And the findings are quite shocking.

‘Fact vs Fiction’ shows conclusively that the House of Lords is growing out of control, with the government set on appointing hundreds more Peers at a cost of millions.

We’ve also shown that far from being a bastion of independence, non-partisan Crossbench Peers turn up far less frequently than party-political Peers. And it’s those Peers who vote as a bloc, with Labour voting against the last coalition government, Conservative Peers voting against the last Labour government nearly all of the time.

On top of that, we have found that over a third of Lords previously worked in politics – compared to less than 1% of the British public. This is not a chamber of experts – it’s a chamber of professional politicians. Our House of Lords looks nothing like the public whose decisions it impacts – almost half live in London or the South East, while there are just two Peers under the age of 40. This is a shockingly out of date and unrepresentative institution.

The Prime Minister said he ‘regrets’ not reforming the second House in the last Parliament. It’s time for him to act – and finally fix our broken upper chamber.

What we’ve found:

  • The cost of the Lords – In the 2010-2015 parliament, £360,000 was claimed by Peers in years they failed to vote once. In the last Parliamentary session alone, over £100,000 was claimed by Peers who did not vote at all. At the same time, Cameron’s plans for an additional 50 Peers will cost at least £1.3m per year.
  • Independence - In the 2014-15 session nearly half (45%) of all Crossbenchers participated in 10 or fewer votes - compared to an average of just 8% of party political Peers, while a quarter of appointments to the House of Lords between 1997 and 2015 were former MPs.
  • Professional politicians – Over a third of Lords (34%) previously worked in politics. Just 1% come from manual backgrounds.
  • A supersized House - to rebalance the upper chamber strictly in line with the 2015 General Election results would require the appointment of an additional 723 members.
  • Out of date - 44% of Lords list their main addresses in London and the South East, while 54% are 70 or older.

Today we’ve taken another step forward in calling the House of Lords out for what it is – an oversized, undemocratic, unrepresentative and archaic institution urgently in need of reform.

Read and share the full report here, and let us know what you think in the comments below.

Read a briefing on the report's findings


22 Responses to It's official: the House of Lords is completely bust

Andrew McGill 16 Aug 2015

Have the House of lords abolished and replaced with a second house elected at the same time as the first house in a general election.

Darren Stephens 17 Aug 2015

This is a complex issue. The instinct would be to say, "let's make it an elected second chamber". But then you have to ask: who would we be electing? The easy way to check this is to look at who has taken up the jobs of Police and Crime Commissioners in recent times. It's not pretty. Generally they are people who either have had a Westminster career and are on the down, or are never going to get there. Second raters, basically. Elections would still depend hugely on party patronage and machinery, and the vicissitudes of our existing, broken system of funding. We have enough trouble with exisitng elections and bodies without just piling another one in now.
So how about ditching it altogether? Well, yes, Israel, for example, has a unicameral system, but it is fairly unusual in the democratic world. Having some kind of damping influence on the Commons is good - look what has happened when you have a government with massive majorities, as has happened frequently in the iast 30 or so years: very bad laws, and a government that doesn't have to listen to its own ran and file because it can whip stuff through, and effectively ignore almost all rebellion 

I think that the solution might be the most counter-intuitive: keep the Lords appointed to allow the injection of specialist knowledge and oversight, but to remove the power to appoint from the executive, preventing obvious transparent political back-handing. However, a system for doing this is not straightforward, but it should at least be a starting point.

avril lloyd 16 Aug 2015

The house of lords seat 400 and this should be the maximum per DAY allowed in,they should sign in and out for the whole day.if they are not there the whole day they get there there the whole day they get nothing...and the fee should be pro rata for the distance travelled.

Sylvia reid 16 Aug 2015

The whole of Westminster, Commons, HOL etc needs completely reviewing. In fact imv this building should be sold off for development or turned into another tourist hotspot. The monies could be used to build a new centre outside of London say in Midlands, for let's call it a senate for example with a second revising/reviewing body.
Our democracy is a falsehood. Westminster is good for tourism, TV, pomp and ceremony but it is not fit for purpose building wise, process or procedure wise. I can't imagine what it must be like to try and work in, must be horrendous. Maybe that's why our politicians are seen as trapped in the 'Westminster Bubble', and they're consequently perceived to be out of touch with the people they serve.  When they're then seen on TV in what clearly is a Palace, makes them even more isolated. Such a shame really because as someone who watches debates on TV and follow the news closely, all this dissonance undermines MPs who work so hard to serve their electorate.
Let's bring our democracy into the globalised, digital 21st Century please. We cannot afford the theatrics of Westminster any longer, but we cannot afford not to upgrade our democracy either. Actually over time the changes proposed here might mean the costs actually were significantly reduced. Now that sounds worth considering.

Matt 16 Aug 2015

The second house is important for how our politics work but the lords should be abolished and replaced with a house of elected officials from the uks different trades and industries. They should not be party based or even regional based i feel having people who represent the working side of the uk would be beneficial

Dane Edwards 18 Aug 2015

I view a bi-cameral system as essential. Whatever one feels about the present House of Lords, it does serve to keep the Commons in check.
As for landed gentry and political hegemony/simony as a basis for representative democratic process, the House of Lords is indefensible as institution. My solution? I propose a division of the franchise into diverse electoral colleges, enfranchising economic, social, cultural and (tho' here I hesitate) religious groups within society, each with its own franchise, e.g. all trades unionists, all PhDs, all medics, all FTSE100 CEOs, all people on ESA, all Bishops, all retail workers, all SME managers, all military, all rural landowners, all civil engineers,etc.: in short, everyone according to their trade or other affiliation. A Royal Commission would be needed to determine the composition of each electoral college (e.g. should CofE Bishops form a discrete college, or should that particular college include all Christian Bishops? What about other denominations? etc., etc.) and the consequent distribution of colleges vis-à-vis the number of--what should we call them?--Deputies? Representatives? Senators?
The name does not really matter in my view, although I would prefer "Lord/Lady" in a "House of Lords", as a tribute to tradition. How many Lords? An arbitrary answer would be 800.
How long their term of office? Each to be determined by the particular electing college, with a suitable minimum period of at least seven years; my recommendation would be fifteen years. Re-election? A dubious possibility but, for some Lords/Ladies whose contribution is deemed worth extending their term of office, an option for supernumery appointment might be integrated into the system.
Every possible option to divorce the Lords from political parties operating in the Commons needs to be explored and exploited.

Trevor Holding 16 Aug 2015

With the commons controlled by a party who received a third of the vote, but is allowed to railroad through everything they wish, I suggest the who democracy is broken
See below:

Roz Anderson 16 Aug 2015

They should get paid pro rata depending on what they contribute and cap expenses. They should have to apply for their positions as you would any other job and have a performance review once a year.

Jack Sheldon 16 Aug 2015

I'm afraid this misses the point. The House of Lords is far from perfect. The appointments process, in particular, needs urgent attention (see Professor Meg Russell's work for some suggestions for how to go about this). However, an elected second chamber would be many times worse that what we have at the moment. Having a collection of experts able to intervene free of electoral pressures and constituency commitments is crucial in ensuring better legislation. Election would prevent this, instead creating an unwanted and expensive new group of elected representatives who would inevitably come from similar backgrounds and take a similar perspective to those in the Commons, therefore adding little to the legislative proces. The type of experts we currently have would not stand for election, those from an ever wider range of backgrounds would be even less likely to.

Anonymous 16 Aug 2015

House of Lords should consist of members elected as top of their relevant industries and professions. Community representatives from long serving councils and residents association,arts council,NHS the military ,police,teachers GPs and so on

Anonymous 16 Aug 2015

House of Lords should consist of members elected as top of their relevant industries and professions. Community representatives from long serving councils and residents association,arts council,NHS the military ,police,teachers GPs and so on

Pigeon 16 Aug 2015

Getting rid of hereditary seats was the biggest mistake.
The value of the House of Lords was that it was composed of people who were outside the party system and couldn't be kicked out for contradicting the party line, so they could vote with impunity to block looney measures that the Commons with its despicable whip system failed to get rid of. Hereditary seats made this trait stronger, whereas appointed peers who still have remaining party affiliations weaken it. 
"Cost" and "undemocratic" are red herrings. The cost is nugatory, and the Commons is not democratic either by any meaningful measure.
They should put the Lords back how it was, and concentrate on sorting out the Commons since that is by far the bigger problem. Start with abolishing whips and introducing secret ballots, so that they do *not* have to leave their brain outside and vote just as their leaders tell 'em to.

lenny marlow 16 Aug 2015

The house of commons doesnt represent the public either, all mp's should be on the national average wage, theya re commoners.

Ken Moss 17 Aug 2015

Yhe House of Lords should be abolished with immediate effect. Furthermore the House of Commons should be culled by 50%.

S Mumford 17 Aug 2015

For the fact that the numbers in Lords outnumbers MPs has to be unconstitutional and therefore for Cameron to add more must be a constitutional wrong.
It a good article that ERS has done and it now needs to make Cameron and all senior politicians tremble as they ALL turn a blind eye to this impropriety which loses integrity at every turn, ... for several reasons.  
To help and make the HoL a more pertinent organ to the rest of society the Peerage system should be ended. It has run it's course whereby they in there are not the more higher educated nor more intelligent than the people outside any longer.

Linda Hamilton 18 Aug 2015

For an institution that is unrepresentative, undemocratic, a huge cost to the taxpayer, filled with a mixture of ex-politicians and people who turn up for their 'wage' and then leave then the people of the UK need to ask themselves "whose interests is this chamber serving"?. It is clear there has to be an overhaul of many aspects of this second chamber. But is there a will by the people that it serves? Who wins? I'll be completely shocked if it is the ordinary people who are calling for this change.

Linda Hamilton 18 Aug 2015

For an institution that is unrepresentative, undemocratic, a huge cost to the taxpayer, filled with a mixture of ex-politicians and people who turn up for their 'wage' and then leave then the people of the UK need to ask themselves whose interests is this chamber serving. It is clear there has to be an overhaul of many aspects of this second chamber. But is there a will by the people that it serves. Who wins? I'll be completely shocked if it is the ordinary people who are calling for this change.

Patrick 19 Aug 2015

One essential requirement is that the Upper Chamber must be politically neutral i.e. the members must not belong to any political parties.

John 21 Aug 2015

No such thing as politically neutral

Harry Strong 23 Aug 2015

Reform the House of Lords to some kind of a Senate for the nations and regions of the UK, with degressive proportionality to ensure that areas of smaller populations can have a significant voice. 

D Hill 6 Jan 2016

I recommend that readers look at the recommendations made by  Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords,  " A House for the Future,"  which was presented to Parliament January 2000
Daphne Hill

Michael Oldman 6 Jan 2016

Democracy doesn't seem to work very well, so maybe we should try statistics. First slim the existing house down to 400 members (They can elect / fight amongst themselves for who stays initially). Second get ERNIE or some other random number generating machine to pick at random 100 electors, who will add to the rump of 400. Every year 100 of the longest serving members retire, to be replaced by a new tranche of 100. Although a very small sample, the house will be broadly gender balanced, regionally balanced, educationally balanced, ethnically balanced, age balanced and profession balanced relative to the population as a whole.
Serving would not be voluntary, although those with a very good reason for being unable to serve, could be excused and replaced by a "spare". Generous pay and allowances should be made so that the majority can serve without hardship.
Not having to seek re-election, members would be free to make decisions on concience and merit. They would not be allowed to take part in any party political activity during their term of office.
Maybe the Electoral Reform Society could do a test to see what sort of composition of such a house would be.
One beneficial side effect is to remove an element of Prime Ministers patronage and the hold he has over members of his party.

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