Moving the Lords to York is just virtue signalling if it remains unelected

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 16th July 2020

Once again, talk is bubbling that the House of Lords could be moved to York.

The Times reported at the weekend that the move was under consideration as part of a shakeup of where parts of government was located. It appears to have been confirmed by the Prime Minister himself on Wednesday.

The desire to ‘level up’ the regions is of course a noble one. The problem is: the problems of under-investment and centralisation isn’t just about where institutions are based: it’s about who’s in them, and how they’re run. And the House of Lords is, frankly, unfit for purpose, wherever it is.

Moving the House of Lords to York is little more than virtue signalling if nothing is done to change its warped composition. Nearly half of Peers live in London and the South East – compared to just 27% of the UK public. London and the South East are overrepresented by 11 and 7 percentage points respectively, compared to their share of the population.

The North West, West Midlands and East Midlands are particularly underrepresented, having around 5–6% fewer peers than their population share.

This will remain a Londoner-dominated chamber, whether it’s in York or Westminster, for the very reason that it is a private members’ club for party donors and loyalists.

Just 16 percent of the public believe politics is working well in the UK – and only 2 percent feel they have a significant influence over decision-making, according to damning BMG polling for the ERS in December. Is it any wonder why, when our political institutions are so warped?

Rather than rearranging the deckchairs, the government must get on with overhauling this unelected house. Because ministers cannot be serious about ‘levelling up’ without ensuring that the second chamber genuinely represents the nations and regions of the UK.

Nearly 200,000 people have signed the ERS’ petition calling for the House of Lords to be scrapped and replaced with a fairly-elected second chamber. It’s time for real democracy in this country – ending the scandal of unelected privilege, and giving voters everywhere a real voice.

Lords Representation by Region (Sept. 2019 figures)

Place of residence Number of peers residing in each area Proportion of peers residing in an area* Percentage of the UK adult population residing in an area Difference between peers and UK population in each area
London 130 24.20% 13.10% 11.10%
South East 111 20.70% 13.70% 7%
East of England 53 9.90% 9.30% 0.60%
South West 49 9.10% 8.60% 0.60%
Scotland 48 8.90% 8.40% 0.50%
Yorkshire and the Humber 32 6.00% 8.20% -2.30%
North West 26 4.80% 11% -6.10%
West Midlands 21 3.90% 8.80% -4.90%
Wales 20 3.70% 4.80% -1.10%
North East 17 3.20% 4.10% -0.90%
East Midlands 14 2.60% 7.30% -4.70%
Northern Ireland 12 2.20% 2.80% -0.50%
Overseas 4 0.70% N/A N/A

*As % of all peers for which place of residence is available.

As of September 2019, of the 799 peers who submitted an expense form for the period 1–31 March 2019 (the latest for which data is available), place of residence is known for 537 peers, with the remaining 262 peers failing to providing location or even a region where they are based.


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