Lords reforms are a start but dodge the real issue, say campaigners

Posted on the 17th October 2017

Electoral Reform Society welcome proposals to cut size of Lords, but warn ‘sticking plaster’ moves will take years to have substantial effect

  • For immediate release, 17th October 2017, 10:30
  • For more information or to arrange an interview with a spokesperson, contact mediaoffice@electoral-reform.org.uk or 07717211630
  • The ERS will be publishing new research on inactive peers and their expenses next week, ahead of a full report early next month

Commenting on leaked proposals to cut the size of the House of Lords [1], Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“It’s welcome that peers now recognise the need the cut down the size of the upper house. At around 800 members, Britain’s bloated second chamber is crying out for change, so these proposals are a start. Years of pressure and public outrage have finally forced the Lords into cleaning out their stables.

“However, these reforms avoid dealing with the real problem in the Lords – a total lack of democracy and transparency in how it is composed.

“These hyper-cautious proposals are sticking plaster politics, and would do nothing to stop Prime Ministers packing the chamber with party donors and political friends. The light-touch reforms only apply to new peerages, meaning any substantial reduction in size could take decades.

“Nor would the changes go any way to addressing the crisis of representation. Over half of peers are aged over 70, nearly half live in London and the South East, and – contrary to claims of independence – almost all vote solely along party lines.

“There is a danger to peers marking their own homework. The Committee’s remit explicitly excluded discussion of how the chamber is composed – despite electing a much smaller Lords being the most logical way of effectively reducing its size. So while it’s good they recognise a problem, they have somewhat missed the point.

“The public are not just fed up with the Lords because it is too big – they are fed up with repeated expenses scandals, allegations of cronyism and the ludicrous continuation of hereditary peers. And they are sick of the Mother of All Parliaments being viewed as a members club for a small elite.

“There is an urgent need for democratic accountability. Last month we revealed that peers who haven’t spoken in the Lords for an entire year have claimed nearly £1.3m in expenses and allowances [2]. That only happens because Lords know there is no redress – there is no way for voters to hold them to account.

“So often we see words but no action on Lords reform. So these reforms must be implemented, but as the first step towards the effective, accountable revising chamber the UK deserves.”

Notes to Editors

[1] The proposals from the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the Size of the House are for new peerages to have a 15-year time limit, and for the four main groups in the Lords (Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Cross-Benchers) to commit to reducing their size over time:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/new-peerages-get-15-year-time-limit-jcshs5jmv

[2] See the research here http://mailchi.mp/electoral-reform/13m-claimed-by-peers-who-never-speak-as-lords-expense-bill-surges-20-in-two-years

The ERS research shows:

  • Lobby-fodder Lords: £4,086,764 has been claimed by the 36% of peers who spoke five times or fewer in the past year, many of whom simply turn up to vote
  • 167 peers made 10 or fewer spoken contributions – yet claimed more than the average take-home salary
  • Couch-potato peers: peers who voted ten times or fewer claimed £1,032,653 in 2016/17
  • The ‘something for nothing’ culture: £7.3m claimed by peers who spoke ten times or fewer this past year, while 131 peers spoke and voted ten times or fewer – claiming £658,314 in 2016/17
  • The noisy minority: 10 peers – 1.16% of the total – account for over a fifth of spoken contributions, while the top 50 speakers account for 51% of total speeches
  • Supersized-chamber: Despite being the second largest chamber in the world, most of the Lords’ huge costs come from those who contribute the least: the most active 300 peers claim only half the expenses – showing the size of the Lords can be cut without significantly limiting its work

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