House of Lords reform: “Warm words won’t tackle the democratic crisis” say campaigners

Posted on the 6th January 2020

  • Statement for immediate release from the Electoral Reform Society, 6th January 2020. Contact Josiah on 07717211630 / [email protected] 

Campaigners have called for ‘real action, not just warm words’ on House of Lords reform, following reports that the government are assessing options for an overhaul.

The ERS have hit out at the ‘hypocrisy’ of ministers continuing to appoint more unelected peers while setting up a ‘Democracy Commission’.

‘Senior Tories’ have briefed the Sunday Times [1] that Boris Johnson’s team are reviewing plans for an overhaul of the House of Lords based on Lord Salisbury’s Act of Union Bill [2].

However, it comes after the appointment of new peers – included defeated MPs like Zac Goldsmith – in recent weeks, and rumours of another round of appointments at the end of this month.

Over 100,000 people signed an ERS petition over Christmas calling for abolition and replacement of the House of Lords [3].

The ERS are writing to Number 10 today calling for clarity over government plans for the House of Lords. The Society are calling for a much smaller (circa 300 member) second chamber elected by proportional representation.

Willie Sullivan, Senior Director of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“There are vital and viable options for reform of the Lords on the table, which the government should now get to work on. We’ve heard repeated claims that reform will be ‘considered’ but too little action.

“It would be a gross hypocrisy for the government to say they care about improving democracy and then keep packing the second chamber with cronies and apparatchiks. We cannot afford yet more donors and party pals in Westminster’s private members’ club.

“Voters are tired of the role of unelected power in politics, with 100,000 backing our call for reform over Christmas.

“The government have said they are committed to reviewing our crumbling constitution through a Democracy Commission. This cannot be used to kick the can down the road.

“The unelected is a drain on our democracy. Support for overhauling it is a point of unity – including among many peers – in these divided times. It’s time for real reform.”

45% of peers in the Lords (who list their residence) are from London and the South East, and the primary working background of 37% of peers is politics [4]. The House of Lords still guarantees seats to 92 hereditary aristocrats – all but one of whom are men. ERS research in 2017 found that 72 peers failed to speak in the chamber, table a written question or serve on a committee at all in the whole of 2016/17, but they claimed a huge £462,510 in expenses [5].

ENDS

Notes to Editors

[1] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/lords-may-become-house-of-regions-63kxl2xsq

[2] The Bill provides for either the abolition or replacement of the Lords with an elected revising chamber https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2017-19/actofunion.html

Replacement option:
(1)After the commencement of this section the House of Lords shall consist of—
(a)5292 elected members, and
(b)100 appointed members.

(2)A Representation of the People Act shall make arrangements for the
constituencies for the election of members; and—
(a)each member shall be elected for a single term of 15 years;
(b)10elections shall be held at intervals of 5 years;
(c)the arrangements for which members are to be elected at each of the 5-
yearly elections shall be determined in accordance with the
Representation of the People Acts; and
(d)transitional arrangements shall be as set out in the Representation of
15the People Acts.

(3)There shall be a House of Lords Appointments Commission.

(4)In making appointments the Appointments Commission shall aim to ensure
that the appointed members of the House of Lords—
(a)are independent of government (including local, regional and national
20government),
(b)have no association with any political party, and
(c)are able to contribute knowledge and experience of a wide range of
commercial, professional, cultural and social matters.

(5)The members of the Appointments Commission shall be appointed by Letters
25Patent, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister made with the consent of
the leader of each political party with more than 2 MPs.

(6)Further provision about the constitution and proceedings of the Appointments
Commission shall be made by a House of Lords Act.

(7)Appointments are for a term of 15 years; and a person who has served in the
30House of Lords (whether as an elected or appointed member) is no longer
eligible for appointment.

(8)Further provision for the following matters shall be made by a House of Lords
Act—
(a)resignation of members of the House of Lords;
(b)35early retirement from the House of Lords on medical grounds; and
(c)exclusion from the House of Lords of members convicted of serious
criminal offences.

(9)A House of Lords Act may make transitional arrangements in respect of
persons who are members of the House of Lords when this Act comes into
40force.

(10)A House of Lords Act may amend the Parliament Act 1911 to ensure that the
role of the House of Lords is confined to revision of legislation and scrutiny of
the Executive.

[3] https://www.change.org/p/boris-johnson-no-more-unelected-peers-scrap-and-replace-the-house-of-lords-now-8a773851-b785-4652-9dc5-79b07a0de8d4?recruiter=1028844552&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=share_petition&recruited_by_id=ce1382d0-20eb-11ea-8758-2ba6e1fda309

[4] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/parliamentary-briefings/locked-out-of-the-lords-the-state-of-the-second-chamber/

[5] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/revealed-the-true-cost-of-the-house-of-lords/

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