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 Hughes describes this ‘chamber of professional politicians’ as ‘a shockingly out of date and unrepresentative institution’.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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