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Monday, August 17, 2015

The cost of an unelected Lords is too high

Like it or not democracy costs money, and in many cases I am prepared to defend expenditure on support for elected members for example, on that basis. However, the growing farce that is the unelected House of Lords is getting out of hand, and it is not just the monetary cost that is causing concern, it is the reputational damage that it is causing to our democratic processes.

Yesterday's Observer revealed that a study by the Electoral Reform Society discovered that peers who did not vote in a single debate in the last parliament claimed more than £100,000 in expenses allowances. They believe that David Cameron’s expected plan to appoint another 50 peers, including a number of Tory advisers, could cost the taxpayer at least another £1.3m annually.

Clearly there is a need to get rid of this burgeoning embarrassment and put in place an elected second chamber instead. That is especially the case when the study also found that the one argument for the status quo, the active participation in making legislation of experts in their field, does not stand up to scrutiny any more.

The Electoral Reform Society study found that independent crossbenchers were the least likely to be active participants in the Lords, with 45% taking part in 10 or fewer votes, compared with 8% of party political peers.

Nor is the second chamber representative of the population as a whole. The study finds that a quarter of appointments to the House of Lords between 1997 and 2015 were former MPs and just over a third had previously worked in politics, while just 1% came from manual backgrounds. An analysis found more than half were older than 70 and 44% were based in London or south-east England.

It is time for change and we cannot wait for a non-Tory Government to implement reform. My fear though is that is what is going to happen and that even then attempts to put in place an elected second chamber will fail for lack of agreement on its function and composition as it has done before.
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