Electoral Reform Society respond to PACAC report on Lords reform

Posted on the 19th November 2018

Best way to achieve smaller, more representative revising chamber is by moving to a fairly-elected Senate, says leading democracy organisation

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society for immediate release, 19th November 2018
  • Spokespeople are available for interview or further comment – contact [email protected] or call 07717211630

The Electoral Reform Society have said moves to a smaller second chamber “miss the point” unless they are part of a fundamental overhaul of how peers are chosen.  

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s new report [1] calls for far swifter progress on moving to a smaller Lords, while pointing to a need for “more radical reform to the second chamber, 107 years after the Parliament Act 1911 was passed only as a temporary expedient [2].”

The ERS is calling for a 300-member, proportionally-elected Senate to replace the Lords.

There is currently a hereditary peer ‘by-election’ underway to replace a retired crossbench hereditary peer [3]. On Friday, Lord Grocott’s Bill to end these by-elections and phase out the role of hereditaries is scheduled to reach Committee Stage [4]. It has previously been ‘talked out’ of time by hereditary peers.

The Lords has recently been rocked a series of allegations of harassment and undue lobbying [5].

Commenting, Dr Jess Garland, Director of Research and Policy at the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“As this report makes clear, reducing the size of the Lords is only one very small step towards the modern democracy that citizens deserve. Voters deserve a 21st Century democracy, with a reformed Senate that fairly represents the whole of the UK.”

Diversity

The PACAC report recommends ‘greater diversity’ and for ‘new appointments should be allocated to party groups based on the results of the previous general election’.

However, Dr Garland added: “The call for more diversity and commitments from peers to be active would be far better achieved by having a fairly-elected second chamber, not one based on patronage. For too long the Lords has been viewed as a private member’s club.”

Democracy

PACAC also note: “The issue of the hereditary peers and the Lords Spiritual highlights the fact that the proposals of the Burns Committee cannot be regarded as anything other than a temporary expedient pending primary legislation on Lords reform…

“When the cap of 600 peers has been achieved, almost 20 percent of the Upper House will comprise of bishops and hereditary peers. Such a House will not be representative of the diversity of the modern United Kingdom.”

Dr Jess Garland said: “Even if peers reach the target of 600 members as set out in the Burn’s report, the Lords will still be the biggest second chamber in the world. And would still include hereditary peers and Bishops.

“The idea of still being governed by hereditary peers and bishops in years to come is beyond absurd.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

The Burns Committee’s timeline for becoming a 600-member chamber by 2032 has previously been described by the ERS as ‘laughable’ in its lack of amition: Nasa plans to have people on Mars by then.

Britain’s unelected House of Lords is the second largest legislative chamber in the world, after China’s ‘rubber-stamping’ National People’s Congress. It is almost alone in remaining entirely-appointed.

On PACAC’s call for appointments to be allocated based on the results of the previous general election, the Lords is already so out of kilter with public opinion that it would take hundreds or even thousands of new appointments to shift that.

[1] https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-administration-and-constitutional-affairs-committee/news-parliament-2017/house-of-lords-capping-urged-report-publication-17-19/

[2] Conclusion .60 https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubadm/662/66208.htm#_idTextAnchor033

[3] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/a-so-called-by-election-is-showing-the-lords-up-as-a-disaster-for-democracy/

[4] https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/houseoflordshereditarypeersabolitionofbyelections.html

[5] See https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/fresh-sex-claims-after-peers-halt-suspension-of-lord-lester-tf0kd8kg9 and https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/calls-grow-for-foreign-powers-law-to-limit-russian-influence-5lbxfrbsn 

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