Spiralling size and cost of the Lords shows it’s time for an overhaul

Megan Collins
Author:
Megan Collins

Posted on the 13th February 2020

The House of Lords has again come under scrutiny this week as the Times reports that peers will see their daily pay rise by 3.1% to £323 per day if they attend from April.

 This development comes as Johnson is set to nominate a number of new peers to take their place in the Lords. If approved, this will likely take the total number in the house to over 800.

As the world’s second-largest legislative body, surpassed only by communist China’s National People’s Congress, the growing size of the Lords – and now spiralling cost – has come under fire. The UK’s upper chamber far exceeds that over its European counterparts, Spain (348 members) and France (348), as well as the largest democracy, India (245 members).

Despite several reforms to the Lords – such as the removal of hereditary peers in 1999 and allowing retirement in 2014 – the chamber continues to grow. Not only does this mean the number of unelected legislators in our parliament continues to dwarf the elected ones, it also has huge implications for taxpayers. In a standard year the chamber might sit for around 150 days, meaning that through their allowances peers could take home almost £50,000 tax-free.

The daily payment, designed to help pay for travel, meals and accommodation is only conditional on peers certifying that they have carried out “parliamentary work” – with no definition as to what this means. Millions of pounds of taxpayer’s cash is therefore spent on unelected, unaccountable lawmakers with little to no evidence of the work they are doing to serve the needs of the British people.

The ERS has revealed in recent years how the taxpayer has been left with bills of millions for peers who barely contribute so much as a speech in the chamber. While many Lords do work hard, voters might feel less aggrieved about paying them if they actually had a say on who sat in the chamber.

This week’s announcement reinforces the fact that the House of Lords is little more than a private members’ club for an elite few. Rather than act as an additional ‘check and balance’ to the commons, the UK’s upper chamber is remains out of touch, unelected and totally fails to represent Britain today.

If appointments were made to create a representative chamber, to make sure views lost in the commons as a result of the one-person-takes-all voting system then the Lords might have a case, but the chamber remains even more unrepresentative than the commons. As it stands, the average age in the Lords is 70 years old, and there are more peers over the age of 80 (153) than under 60 (123). There also remains a huger gender imbalance in the Lords with just 218 women sitting in the chamber compared to 575 men.

It is also unrepresentative in terms of political parties, a trend likely to continue the appointments made by Boris Johnson are set to include a number of party donors and ex-politicians. This is despite the Conservative’s commitment in their 2019 General Election manifesto to reviewing the role of the House of Lords as part of a new Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission – the details of which are yet to be published.

The ERS are now calling for a moratorium of new Lords appointments and urge the Government to bring forward proposals their plans to reform the Lords.

Voters are now facing an even greater bill for this outdated institution, instead of the modern, revising chamber this country deserves. Indeed, while Johnson may be proposing a move of the Lords to York to be closer to the people geographically proximity is not power, and more must be done to also make it closer in terms of representation of the people it serves.

It is no wonder faith in our democracy is at a record low. Voters are tired of unelected power in politics and are crying out for reform of our broken system. The government needs to step up now and put an end to this political charade.

Over 100,000 people have signed an ERS petition launched in December calling for abolition and replacement of the House of Lords. The unsustainable growth of the upper chamber, where voters will be paying more for unelected peers must end and be replaced with a fairly elected upper chamber which reflects the whole of the United Kingdom, not just a selected few.

Megan Collins is a placement student at the ERS from the University of Nottingham. 

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