Campaigners call for action as government mulls overhaul of unelected Lords

Posted on the 4th May 2020

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society for immediate release, Monday 4th May, 2020.
  • Contact Josiah on [email protected] / 07717211630

Democracy campaigners have called for the government to publish its plans for the House of Lords, after reports emerged that ministers are considering a move to an elected second chamber [1].

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“Real reform of the unelected Lords is long-overdue. The House of Lords has shown itself to be opaque and unfit for purpose [2], but it’s been clear for years that the chamber needs an overhaul.

“If these reports are confirmed, it’s welcome that the government are looking at real reform of the second chamber. Voters want and expect root-and-branch change in our broken political system. They should be able to see what the government are planning: constitutional reform should be done in the open, not in behind Cabinet Office doors.

“It’s clear that this country could emerge very different once this crisis is over. That means having conversations about how we’re governed, challenging old arrangements that no longer work. Our democratic structures must be part of this.

“We urge government to get behind a proportionally-elected senate that speaks up for the nations and regions of the UK.

“The Lords has too often felt like a retirement home for party donors and allies. With an average age of 70, this unrepresentative house has been unable to properly operate during the Covid crisis – and we all lose out.

“But really this comes down to first principles: in the 21st century, the public should have a say on who votes on our laws This private members’ club needs more than tinkering or relocating: it’s time for a fairly-elected, dedicated revising chamber we can all be proud of.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

The Lords initially failed to broadcast its virtual Parliament proceedings – holding them in private using Microsoft Teams.

When the chamber did start to live broadcast proceedings a week after the Commons, the House inadvertently published peers’ telephone numbers. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/house-of-lords-information-watchdog-uk-phone-numbers-broadcast-a9491186.html

Despite the Commons having successfully trialled online voting, the Lords is continuing to conduct all its votes in person.
See also: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/why-are-britains-unelected-lords-hiding-from-scrutiny/

[1] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/lords-are-too-old-to-sit-so-they-should-stand-down-73m5jb5rg

[2] Read the ERS’ 2019 briefing on the state of the House of Lords: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/parliamentary-briefings/locked-out-of-the-lords-the-state-of-the-second-chamber/ It showed: “The most common prior profession of peers is politics. And the House of Lords seems to be increasingly becoming a chamber of former politicians and party staffers at every new appointment round.” Just 27% of Lords are women.

54.7% of peers reside in London, the South East and the East of England, almost 20 percentage points higher than the population share for these regions (36.1%). All other regions of England, Wales and Northern Ireland have fewer than their fair share of peers.

The ERS are calling for a much smaller, PR-elected revising chamber elected by region. There are currently around 800 unelected peers and the number continues to grow.

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