The House of Lords
Is it time for a genuine reform of the UK’s upper house?
Within the UK Parliament structure, we have two houses. The lower house, most commonly known as the House of Commons, is where the laws and regulations are debated and voted on by the elected Members of Parliament from every corner of the UK. Yet above this is the upper house, the House of Lords. There is often confusion at its purpose and in its current form, the House of Lords is desperate for reform.
At present, it is failing in its duty. The House of Lords consists of around 800 peers, none of whom are placed there democratically. This is the first major red flag. Almost 1000 individuals are within the house and are able to have a say on the laws of the nation without having been voted in by the public.
It is also incredibly difficult to remove politicians under the current system. In 2019, ‘The Week’ Magazine ran a piece following the December General Election which mentioned two instances of how the archaic system allows this.
It read: ‘Nicky Morgan, who didn’t contest her seat in the general election and therefore is no longer an MP, is being made a Conservative peer in order to remain a member of Johnson’s Cabinet.
And Zac Goldsmith, who did stand for election but lost his Richmond seat to a Lib Dem for the second time in three years, will also enter the House of Lords so that he can continue to attend Cabinet as environment minister.’
Before 1999, members were able to pass their membership down to family members. In May 2000, a governing body was set up to assess nominations and to vet candidates put forward to join the house. In recent times, Alan Sugar and Sir Ian Botham have become the latest high profile people to become lords.
The issues with the current structure of the House of Lords are vast. Although peers don’t get paid, they can get up to £313 a day in expenses. One infamous anecdote from 2017 is that one peer told the taxi to keep the metre running outside of the chamber, suggesting that the money lost on this would not matter.
Added to this is evidence that some of the peers are seen as being undeserving of their role and the benefits they receive.
Lady D’Souza, a former speaker of the upper chamber until 2016, told BBC documentary ‘Meet the Lords’ that many of her colleagues did nothing to justify their stipend.
“There is a core of peers who work incredibly hard, who do that work, and there are, sad to say, many, many, many peers who contribute absolutely nothing but who claim the full allowance.”
There is awareness of how outdated the House of Lords is. In the last decade, proposals have been put forward to make changes. In 2015, the Liberal Democrats suggested a system which would ensure that 80 percent of peers were to be voted into the House. However, this was abandoned when an agreement couldn’t be made.
Growing concerns about what the Scottish National Party and its hopes for independence could do to the Lords could force a change which better suits those across each of England’s borders.
It is a change which is needed to inject life and purpose back into the upper chamber of the UK government.