Reforming the House of Lords
Reforming the House of Lords
If you help decide how Britain is run, you should be elected by the British public. That’s democracy.
Whilst some members of the House of Lords work hard, the House of Lords as a whole costs far too much for an institution that fails to represent the British public.
The House of Lords isn't just an affront to voters, it's an unacceptable burden on the public purse.
While Peers are technically unpaid, they are able to claim £300 a day tax-free each day they attend, plus limited travel costs. Between February 2014 to January 2015, £21 million was spent on Lords allowances and expenses, with the average Peer receiving £25,826. In the 2010-2015 parliament, £360,000 was claimed by 62 Peers for years in which they did not vote once. In the last session of parliament alone, over £100,000 was claimed by Peers who did not vote at all.
A smaller fully elected, full time House of Lords would be simpler, more efficient and could even be cheaper.
Experts or Professional Politicians?
In the House of Lords you're more likely to have expertise in running a palace, than building one.
In the current House of Lords, 27% of Peers were representatives before entering the Lords, the majority former MPs. A further seven percent of Peers are former political staff or held senior positions in political parties. The legal professions are well represented (7%) as is business and commerce (9%) and banking and finance (6%). Two Peers worked primarily as staff of the Royal household prior to entering the Lords, whilst only one Peer has a manual trade as their former profession. Non-political Crossbench Peers appointed for their professional experience attend, and vote, far less than party-political Peers.
We have the worst of both worlds, part-time experts who rarely attend and full time peers who only have experience in parliament. Election is no barrier to expertise, in fact, with the public desire for a chamber of experts, it would be an advantage.
Super Sized Second Chamber
Only China's rubber stamping legislature, the National People's Congress is larger.
With around 800 members, the House of Lords is the second largest chamber in the world, and with fresh appointments after each change of government, it can only get larger. To accurately match the House of Commons vote share the chamber would have to increase to 1545 members, to accurately match the House of Commons seat share the chamber would have to rise to 8663 members - a ludicrous proposition.
A fully elected second chamber would have a fixed membership, with the public deciding who enters and who leaves.
The only legislature where losing an election helps you get a seat.
As independent Crossbench peers have to fit their time in the House of Lords around busy careers, the business of the house is often left to peers who are former politicians. 25% of Lords appointments since 1997 are former MPs who lost elections or resigned, these peers owe their position purely to patronage, with the result that 71% of the House of Lords votes on party lines.
A proportional chamber elected by a system such as the Single Transferable Vote would mean Peers would be held accountable by their constituents, not party chiefs.
Unrepresentative and out of Date
Second House or Retirement Home?
With the power to appoint anyone, the House of Lords could exactly mirror the social make up of society, but this is simply not happening. Only 29 peers are under 50 - Lords have only recently been given the ability to retire, but are eligible to sit in the Lords for the rest of their life. Female representation in the Lords has only recently reached 24% (199) - five percentage points lower than the Commons. The structure of the Lords works against increases in women’s membership. Hereditary peerages automatically pass to the first born son and the House has reserved places for Bishops - a position only opened to women last year. These positions make up 14% of the chamber. Moreover, the predominance of former MPs in the Lords means the under-representation of women in the Commons is also replicated in the Upper Chamber.
A fully elected house with positive measures to ensure diversity of party candidates would instantly improve the chamber.