ERS challenge ‘black hole’ in accountability, as Lords on ‘leaves of absence’ cash in on their titles

Posted on the 16th July 2019

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society for immediate release, 16th July 2019. Contact [email protected] / 07717211630 for bids or more information

Campaigners have called for an overhaul of the unelected House of Lords, after revelations [1] that 17 peers are currently on extended leaves of absence – with some pursuing business interests abroad while keeping their titles and seats.

There is no limit to leaves of absence, and peers have no obligation to say what they have been doing when they return to the chamber.

The ERS say this creates an ‘accountability black hole’ that means the Lords is ‘looking more like a private member’s club than ever’.

The ERS have called on Theresa May to scrap her resignation honours and launch cross-party reform talks [2].

BMG polling for the ERS in 2017 found that nearly two thirds of voters supported moving to an elected second chamber [3].

The average age of a Lord is 70, and just 27% of peers are women. 57% attended private school, compared to just 7% of the population [4].

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

“These findings make the House of Lords look more like a private members’ club than ever – with members keeping their titles while never having to turn up. That’s no basis for a decent scrutiny chamber.

“Tightening up the rules on leaves of absence could be one option in the short term, but the real issue is the fact that none of the 800-odd peers have no obligation to turn up. That creates huge potential for conflicts of interests and lobbying on behalf of companies and other states. We have no way of holding them to account.

“It is time for a fairly-elected upper house to end the farce of unaccountable, absentee Lords. We need a fairly-elected revising chamber that Britain can be truly proud of. This has to be the start of rebuilding the public’s faith in our democracy and its institutions.”

A spokesperson for the Society added: “The House needs to look at closing this loophole – one of many in the unelected chamber. It should be a stepping stone towards real reform – or calls to scrap the Lords altogether with just keep growing.

“People who want the prestige of being a peer with none of the responsibilities shouldn’t be able to keep their titles. It’s long past time to start the journey to proper accountability.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

[1] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7246695/Fury-jaw-dropping-deal-allows-Labour-peer-dubbed-swan-Silicon-Valley.html

[2] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/may-urged-not-to-pack-lords-with-cronies-in-resignation-honours/

[3] https://www.bmgresearch.co.uk/ersbmg-poll-almost-two-thirds-public-now-back-elected-house-lords/

[4] https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/political-parties/labour-party/news/104931/labour-blasts-closed-elite-figures-reveal

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