Without urgent action, Britain’s super-sized second chamber is going to get even bigger
By Darren Hughes – Electoral Reform Society: It’s already the second largest chamber in the world – but it’s about to get bigger. The House of Lords will be ‘bursting at the seams’ with more than 1,000 members by 2031, if its current rate of growth continues.
The total number of Lords has now broken the 800 mark – with 818 unelected legislators voting on our laws.
That follows Theresa May’s 13 new appointments earlier this month – a move cynically timed to get buried by news of the Royal Wedding.
Membership of the Lords has grown by over 21% since the turn of the century, from 679 to its current size – despite constant pledges to reform the second chamber.
Yet despite claims that the second chamber should reflect previous election results, the appointments do little to change the political balance of the House: they are instead a tool to dish out gifts to party allies.
Going off the current party balance in the chamber, Theresa May would need to appoint 767 more peers – in addition to the new appointments – before the party balance in the House reflected the results of the 2017 General Election.
Why? Because Peers cannot be forced to resign, the size of any political grouping in the House of Lords cannot be forcibly reduced – meaning that in order to get a grouping up or down to its proportion at the General Election, the Lords has to grow dramatically.
The Liberal Democrats are currently the most over-represented group in the Lords, with 18% of the Lords. To get this figure down to the percentage of the vote they won in 2017 (7.4%), there would have to be 767 new Lords created.
It follows our analysis that The total cost of the new Peers – based solely in terms of annual allowances and travel expenses – is expected to be at least £289,558 a year.
That’s based on the average claim of £22,273.69, for the circa 141 days the chamber sits each year.
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And a response to a Parliamentary question last year suggests it could be even higher.
The average cost of a peer – looking at the total cost of the House, minus works and building costs – is as much as £83,000 per year. That mean the new appointees may have just added £1,079,000 to the overall annual bill.
Last week Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for an elected second chamber – a welcome proposal, particularly given the scale of public opposition to the house in its current form.
But a huge opportunity was missed when the party went ahead and nominated three more unelected peers as part of the latest round of appointments.
Any party refusing to nominate any peers to this bloated and undemocratic house would send a powerful message that the party is serious about reform.
The Prime Minister too has talked about the need for a smaller, more effective second chamber.
What all this shows is that there is an increasing consensus that the Lords does need cutting down to size – even if parties can’t resist packing it with cronies in the meantime.
We need action to break the deadlock. Both the PM and Jeremy Corbyn must now initiate cross-party talks to finally reform this archaic and super-sized second chamber.
The need for change is urgent – and it’s time for parties to put principles into practice.