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Saturday, January 05, 2019

Yet another reason to reform the House of Lords

I put this article to one side earlier in the week, but the Independent's piece reporting the views of the House of Lords Speaker that the number of peers should be reduced to remove "passengers" who do not contribute to debates has been nagging away at me.

Norman Fowler says there are some members of the Lords who were given life peerages without understanding the requirements of the job. He wants to educe the size of the Lords from around 800 to a maximum of 600. That would involve encouraging some peers to retire and restricting the number of people being granted peerages:

Mr Blair appointed 374 people to the upper House, while Mr Cameron ennobled 260.

Lord Fowler, a cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher, said a small minority of peers had accepted their appointment without understanding the responsibilities of the role.

He said: “You do have extraordinary cases where people have come in and after a few days they’ve come to the conclusion that, actually they’re in the wrong place doing the wrong thing – or rather not doing the wrong thing - and the last thing we want in the House of Lords is passengers.”

“It’s partly unfair, because there were some good people who came in. What I think is fair to say is that on that, as with other appointments, there was no process in which they came before a commission and it was explained to a prospective new peer what was involved in the job.”

Even in the days of hereditary peerages, the House of Lords was filled with people or relatives of people, who had got there through patronage. That is doubly so today. What a way to run a country.

There is no doubt that the Lords do a good job in scrutinising legislation and holding the government to account, something that rarely happens in the Commons nowadays. But the system is flawed and it is not just the numbers of peers that are the problem. There is no accountability.

If we really want to sort this mess out then tinkering won't do it. There needs to be a fully elected second chamber, albeit with guarantees of regional and national balance, a proportional system of election and for long but limited terms. I would also favour election by thirds so as to maintain some semblance of continuity.

It is not a big ask. Other countries do it very successfully. Why can't the UK?
We are a country living in the past. As long as the Tories rule the roost they will not encourage change
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