Tomasina Wallman is a University of Nottingham Research Placement student with the Electoral Reform Society.
The evidence is stronger than ever. The House of Lords is a drain not only on our democracy, but on our finances too.
New research by the ERS shows how many Peers do not contribute to the House – yet still claim thousands in expenses.
But the research also shows a litany of other problems in the crumbling second chamber.
A Supersized House
The House of Lords is the second largest legislative chamber in the world behind China’s National People’s Congress, with 862 Peers serving for all or part of the 2016/17 session.
Yet only a small group of these Peers are actually doing the work of oversight – the top 300 sitting peers account for over 64% of all votes last year.
The cost of silent Peers
But many members of the Lords who are making minimal contributions to the work of the House are still claiming large amounts of money.
In the 2016/17 session, the average Peer received £22,273.69 in allowance and travel costs – more than the full-time pay of UK adult employees. That’s despite the House only sitting for 141 days.
And of the 779 Peers who were eligible for the entirety of the 2016/17 session, there were 72 Peers – nearly one in ten – who did not speak in the chamber, table a written question, or serve on a committee. This group voted in an average of just 16% of votes in the last Parliamentary session.
33 of these Peers claimed a total of £462,510 in 2016/17 – despite only voting on an average of 24% of divisions.
Left to their own devices, the unaccountable Lords are taking unfair advantage of the system.
Finally, we often hear claims that the House of Lords is the ‘independent’ house. That it acts as a non-partisan bastion of free-minded thinking. New evidence shows that’s not the case.
The majority of Peers (69.7%) took a party whip in the 2016/17 session, and few Lords vote against the party line.
For instance, of the 251 Conservative Peers who voted at least once, 78% never voted against the government last year. Only three of those Peers voted for the government under 90% of the time.
And of the 200 Labour Peers who voted at least once, 20% never voted with the government – and 100 voted against the government more than 90% of the time in the last session.
But what about the Crossbenchers? Sadly, they don’t soften this level of partisanship: they tend to vote less. 41% of eligible crossbench and non-affiliated peers voted fewer than ten times in 2016/17.
It is clear that comprehensive reform is needed. The ERS recommends the House of Lords become a proportionally-elected 300-seat upper house.
Yet the House of Lords has resisted reform, with the Lord Speaker’s Committee considering only piecemeal changes, such as reducing the size of the House to 600 in 11 years – and ruling out the notion of an elected chamber entirely.
That simply won’t cut it. There is widespread support for reform, too: polling by BMG Research shows that 88% of voters believe the Lords should have fewer than 600 members, and 63% support an elected upper chamber.
The facts are clear: this chamber of ‘couch potato peers’ needs real change. It’s time to act.
Read the report