Late on Friday, the Government slipped out its latest honours list, which will add 13 new peers to the already-heaving House of Lords. Among the newly-ennobled are the usual clutch of party donors and advisors. It’s no surprise what the public thinks should be done in the Lords, but you might not realise quite how unanimous the public is in support of elected members.
We can’t rely on restraint in Lords appointments
This latest honours list showcases the collapse of restraint we are witnessing in Westminster when it comes to peerages.
The Government and political parties are stuffing more and more of their supporters and donors into the bloated Lords, undeterred by the fact it is already at a preposterous 800 members. Before this latest batch of peers take their places on the crimson benches, House of Lords data shows it already has 818 members overall, with 784 eligible to participate in the chamber. The Lords is already the second-largest legislative chamber in the world after China’s National People’s Congress. Having so many peers places the UK in the embarrassing position of having a majority unelected Parliament, as Lords considerably outnumber the elected MPs in the Commons.
Are you old enough to be a Lord?
The list caught the media’s attention in part due to Plaid Cymru nominating their former Senedd former chief of staff, Carmen Smith, who is 27. This comes less than a year after Boris nominated two aides in their late twenties and early thirties for life-long peerages.
Now the ERS is one of the first to argue that young people need far greater representation in Parliament, so that their interests are properly considered. However, peerages are jobs for life, which means someone given one in their 20s could feasibly legislate for six decades without any accountability to the public affected by the laws they shape. This is not a system fit for the last century, let alone the modern age.
The Lords has long been an unelected carbuncle sat in the middle of our constitution, but the unrestrained way it is now being used to dish out patronage to party donors and supporters risks inflicting serious damage to the public’s trust in democracy. As people in this country endure a cost-of-living crisis and a precipitous drop in living standards, they are treated to the squalid spectacle of prime ministers and party leaders ladling out jobs-for-life in Parliament with abandon.
House of Lords reform is a rare unifier
It is clear the public has had enough of the grubby political nepotism that the Lords is emblematic of. Polling for YouGov shows that more than half of people want to see the Lords replaced with an elected or mostly elected chamber, whereas support for an appointed chamber hovers under 10%. What’s more, a chamber composed of mostly elected members is the preferred choice of those who support every major party, and both Leave and Remain voters. In these days of polarisation, it’s rare to see a policy that can bring everyone together.
The unelected, unlimited Lords is well passed its sell-by-date and now risks corroding the fabric of our democracy. The relentless stuffing of the upper chamber with new peers is not sustainable, nor is the fact the Lords lack a solid and legitimate constitutional basis. We urgently need to scrap the current chamber and replace it with a smaller, elected chamber where the number of members is set, as is the amount of time they sit in the chamber.
The only people who should decide who sits in our Parliament, making our laws, are the public who live under those laws.
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