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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Democracy in secret

There is something ironic about an unelected chamber of the UK Parliament debating the issues of the day in secret, almost as if they know they are unaccountable and just want to rub it in. That though is the intention of the House of Lords as they reconvene after the Easter recess.

The Independent reports that Lords authorities have announced that virtual sittings of the second chamber, brought in to help with social distancing, will not initially be broadcast to the public, despite there being no technical limitations to doing so:

On Tuesday both houses will return from an extended recess to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic, but voters will only be able to see what is happening live in the Commons, while the Lords will publish written transcripts later.

Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society told The Independent: “Voters across the world expect to see the legislators they are paying: it’s a core part of democratic transparency. This seems to be another sign of the Lords failing to meet the democratic standards voters expect.

“The Commons has shown that broadcasting the mostly-virtual hearings is possible from Day one. It’s vital for democracy not to simply be done, but be seen to be done. Unfortunately, any kind of democracy is lacking in Britain’s out-dated second chamber. The Lords authorities must get to grips with this rapidly.”

Despite this some peers are lobbying the House of Lords to still pay them their £323 a day "attendance allowance" even if they only attend virtually. House authorities say only peers attending the palace in person will be able to claim.

The time to abolish this anachronism and to replace it with a properly elected second chamber of the regions and nations, must surely have passed some time ago.
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