The myth of the ‘independent’ House of Lords

New research shows non-partisan peers showed up to less than half of votes last year


Over the course of the last parliament, £360,000 was claimed by Peers in years in which they failed to vote once. Ten Lords were responsible for £236,000 of this.

This is the finding of new research by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), which looks into the cost, size, independence and representativeness of the House of Lords.

Darren Hughes, deputy chief executive of the ERS said the new research ‘completely busts the myths peddled by supporters of an unreformed House of Lords.’

[The report] Fact vs Fiction’ shows conclusively that the House of Lords is growing out of control, with the government set on appointing hundreds more Peers at a cost of millions.”

According to the ERS, David Cameron’s plans for an additional 50 Peers will cost at least £1.3m per year. As to whether this is worth it, the ERS finds that in the last parliamentary session alone, over £100,000 was claimed by Peers who did not vote at all.

After China, the UK House of Lords is the second largest legislative chamber in the world. It is supposed to provide an expert, independent revising chamber.

But worryingly, the research found that non-partisan Peers turned up to vote far less frequently than party-political Peers. In the 2014-15 session nearly half (45 per cent) of all crossbenchers participated in 10 or fewer votes – compared to an average of just 8 per cent of party political Peers, raising serious questions about the independence of the upper chamber.

Partisan Peers tend to vote en bloc; between 1999 and 2009, Conservative Peers voted against the Labour government in an average of 97 per cent of votes in whipped divisions. Between 2010 and 2015 Labour Peers voted against the coalition government in 99 per cent of whipped division.

Meanwhile a quarter of appointments to the House of Lords between 1997 and 2015 were former MPs. Over a third of Lords (34 per cent) have previously worked in politics, the ERS finds. Just 1 per cent come from manual backgrounds.

Add to this the fact that 44 per cent of Lords list their main addresses in London and the South East, and that 54 per cent are 70 or older, and just two are under the age of 40. Hughes describes this ‘chamber of professional politicians’ as ‘a shockingly out of date and unrepresentative institution’.

As well as being costly, David Cameron’s appointment of 50 more Peers over the summer risks doing further damage to our democracy.

Calculations by the ERS show that to rebalance the Upper Chamber strictly in line with the 2015 General Election results would require the appointment of an additional 723 members, bringing the total House to 1545, and the ratio of elected to unelected Peers across parliament to 1:2.37.

Darren Hughes concludes:

“The prime minister said he ‘regrets’ not reforming the second House in the last parliament. It’s time for him to act – and finally fix our broken upper chamber.”

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward

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8 Responses to “The myth of the ‘independent’ House of Lords”

  1. I'm very cross about this.

    The Prudent One and Bliar stuffed the place with cronies but of course that was all the Conservatives fault.

  2. Richard MacKinnon

    We all know its the anti democratic rotten retiral home of Westminster. So why does Labour keep sending its cronies?
    Stop whinging and do something.

  3. Richard MacKinnon

    I mean, can you be more hypocritical Ruby? Stop treating the electorate as fools. Wringing of hand and the sound of garments being rent is pathetic. Is it any wonder voters are repulsed by establishment Labour.

  4. Tamerlane

    I wouldn’t be so hasty if I were you lot. Of the two chambers The Lords is the only one that reliably votes down government legislation and policy.This year alone it’s defeated the government on 10 legislative bills, one of which would (arguably) have seen a return to some form of poll tax, in the last ten years it’s voted against the sitting government on 400 occasions. Compare that to the rubber stamp of the Commons that votes against the government so infrequently you can, really can, count the number of times in the last ten years on one hand. I’ll stick with their Crustinesses thanks v much.

  5. Richard MacKinnon

    Tamerlane, the problem most people have with the House of Lords is that it is unelected. You become a lord by appointment or by birth right. I don’t know of any other country with an unelected chamber responsible for law making, possibly only Saudi Arabia, China and North Korea.
    Even die hard Tories know the HofL is an anachronism.

  6. Tamerlane

    So’s a state funded TV station, so is state owned industry. It depends on your priorities I suppose, they’re not elected but I don’t care (I appreciate I’m in a minority there) if the purpose of a legislature is to hold the executive to account then the HoL is a far better upholder of democracy, whatever that is, than the Commons.

  7. Richard MacKinnon

    I agree, both the BBC and state run industry are, because they remain under state control an anachronism ( an argument can be made in defence of this existing arrangement for certain industries e.g. utilities and infrastructure to remain within state control for reasons of state security but for the sake of this discussion lets put that aside) . The difference between the HofL and state controlled industries is that at the very least there is the pretence of a selection process for jobs within state run industry, where as some members of HofL are members of the HofL because of their genes or because they have gained a certain rank in one particular religious sect.

    If you are happy defending an unelected HofL and its role in the governance of the UK that is your prerogative. There is no point discussing the matter any further. I am content with my position that it is an anachronism and an affront to democracy. Let others decide.

    For what its worth I would privatise the BBC and for the same reason that I would abolish the HofL; a state owned broadcaster is an affront to democracy.

  8. Tamerlane

    I am happy defending the House of Lords and its role in governance, that it’s unelected doesn’t bother me. I will happily trade the experience, success, career expertise and superior scrutiny powers and track record of doing so for the usual rabble call of ‘democracy’ a term which, in my experience, means as much or as little as the activist wants and normally means the activist expects to rig it anyhow.
    I think we agree to disagree. How very civilised for the internet these days!

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