End the patronage

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 12th February 2015

Earlier this week the UCL’s Constitution Unit released a new report titled Enough is Enough, outlining the ludicrous situation of Lords appointments.

The House of Lords is now the second largest chamber on the planet, only beaten by the Chinese National People’s Congress. All in all, 846 people are eligible to sit in the Lords. This is an increase from 666 in 2000.

The Constitution Unit projects that by 2025, at current rates on the basis of the current government’s performance that there will be between 1,354 and 2,207 peers. Even on the lowest figures this would mean the full British Parliament would have more than 2,000 legislators. These figures are similar to those we ourselves at the ERS have reached in the past.

This has a very real effect on democracy. Firstly, it is expensive. Secondly, as the Lords grows bigger it sits for longer and has more sway in our democracy. Thirdly, there are serious problems with creating this level of political patronage.

The obvious solution to this is to cap the size of the chamber. But to freeze the chamber in place would simply freeze it with the advantage of whoever last had the chance to create new peers. Other solutions preserving appointment are possible, and the UCL’s report sets out several well thought through systems.

Ultimately however, only election can truly end the fiasco of the Lords. It should be people, not politicians, who choose their legislators. Too many peers are already part of the political system. In reality the primary expertise of large numbers of Lords is ‘being an ex-politician’.

The House of Lords is a tool of political patronage. It can and is used to reward friends, allies and the well behaved. Only election, so that voters decide, can ‘fix’ the Lords.

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