Our unelected House of Lords is in dire need of a clear-out

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 30th July 2015

Another month, another political controversy. In the Lords however – unlike our elected Commons – there’s no way for the public to hold Peers to account at the ballot box.  

Instead, you have to hope that those who have brought our legislature into disrepute will forfeit their £300 a day expenses, accept their mistakes and resign – or go through a lengthy investigative process run by their fellow peers (excuse the pun).

Yet within days of the latest scandal, the Prime Minister announced plans to appoint a whole swathe of new party-political appointees – mostly Conservatives – to try and secure a majority in the Lords as well as the Commons. But going off the political make-up in the Commons is a big mistake; May 7th was the most disproportionate election result in British history. Do we want two chambers where seats fail to match people’s votes?

We already have the second largest upper House in the world (after China’s), and it’s the only fully-unelected second chamber in Europe. It’s expensive business, too. The Prime Minister’s plans to appoint 50 more Peers over the summer would cost at least £1.3m, we’ve revealed today. With Peers able to claim £300 a day just for turning up, our unelected upper house is a huge burden on our democracy, at nearly £100m per year.

It can’t be right that when politicians are talking about reducing the cost of politics, they’re set to stuff the upper chamber with yet more party appointees.

That’s just the financial cost, though. With over 800 Peers to just 650 MPs – soon to be 600 – unelected lawmakers already outnumber our elected representatives. What does this say about our democracy?

It’s not just that the public are sick of scandals – although they are. The fact is, the Lords is stuffed full of cronies. The vast majority of Peers have worked in politics before or are party donors and ex-hacks. And it’s no surprise that there are always more lining up waiting to join the club (including MPs voting on whether to reform it or not…).

We urgently need to sort out the House of Lords and move to a fully-elected chamber where the people who make our laws are elected by the public – and can be kicked out by the public.

The latest affair only goes to show that our democracy shouldn’t be left to the discretion of unelected Peers but should be in the hands of voters.

That the Prime Minister is considering packing the Lords with more appointees beggars belief. But Mr Cameron also said he regrets not reforming the House in the last Parliament. With a majority government now, and amidst huge public discontent with that chamber, what better time to reverse the rot before the next crisis rolls along?

This piece was first published on City AM

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