The House of Lords needs more than tinkering

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 17th August 2016

Lords reform is back on the agenda. And given the frequency of scandals we see in the upper chamber, that’s no surprise.

A couple of weeks ago, we revealed that David Cameron’s 189 appointments to the Lords have cost the taxpayer over £13m over the past six years, and his farewell gift of 16 Peers will set us back nearly half a million pounds per year.

So it was good to see the Labour party talking about shaking things up in the second House on Monday.

They’ve called for a cut in the number of Peers, alongside a constitutional convention on the future of the Lords and a ban on members wearing ‘ceremonial robes’.

However, while it’s positive that Labour are speaking up about Britain’s constitution, these changes don’t go anywhere near far enough.

The House of Lords needs much more extensive reform than simply amending the dress code and cutting its numbers.

That’s because the cost is much more than financial or size-based – although those are big problems in and of themselves. There is also a huge democratic price to pay for packing our Parliament with donors, party hacks, and political allies.

Almost exactly a year ago we published our report on the Lords, ‘Fact vs Fiction’ – busting the myths about the upper chamber’s supposed effectiveness. We found it was unrepresentative – 44% of Lords list their main addresses in London and the South East, while 54% are 70 or older; that it was packed full of ex-MPs – over a third of Lords (34%) previously worked in politics. Just 1% come from manual backgrounds.

We also found it lacks independence – in the 2014-15 session nearly half (45%) of all Crossbenchers participated in 10 or fewer votes, compared to an average of just 8% of party political Peers, while a quarter of appointments to the House of Lords between 1997 and 2015 were former MPs. And it’s stuffed full of inactive expense claimants – in the 2010-2015 parliament, £360,000 was claimed by Peers in years they failed to vote once, while in the 2014 Parliamentary session over £100,000 was claimed by Peers who did not vote at all.

We do need a smaller Lords, and of course a constitutional convention. But we also need an elected second chamber. It’s frankly unacceptable that in the 21st century our legislators are picked on the basis of patronage and networks rather than through the ballot. Voters cannot have faith in a legislature that is so packed full of ex-advisers, party donors political allies

Instead of tinkering around the edges, we need a proportionally elected, democratic House of Lords which is accountable to the public.

It’s time for serious reform of our bloated and out-of-date upper chamber, and we hope all parties now work together to ensure voters get the Parliament they deserve.

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