How has the unelected chamber become Britain’s bastion of democracy?

The House of Lords is leading the fight on Brexit and voter participation


Is the House of Lords now the most effective bastion of democracy in Westminster?

Of course, many laugh at the idea that a chamber full of appointed members and those whose place is secured by virtue of a title passed through their family could in anyway be seen to be championing the people.

But that, in so many ways, in exactly what we see today.

Today the House of Lords is holding an extensive debate on a proposed amendment to the Article 50 bill to give the people the final say over whatever leaving package the government is able to negotiate with the EU.  It was an opportunity to make good on the views previously expressed by Brexit Secretary, David Davis that ‘if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy.’

Last night, the Lords went even further in seeking to provide real opposition to the Government, backing an amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill that would make it mandatory for all higher education institutions to offer their students the option of being placed on the electoral roll at the point of enrolment or re-registration.

In proposing the amendment, the Labour Peer and former Leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Royall alluded to those students who found themselves exercised by the EU referendum, but then found that they couldn’t vote because they were not registered.

According to polling carried out by YouthSight for Universities UK just a month before the referendum,  while 72 per cent of students felt the outcome of the vote would be important to their futures, just 56 per cent said that they were only registered at their term-time address and that they were likely to be at this address when the referendum took place.

In her speech, Baroness Royall argued also for this measure as a way of ensuring that when constituency boundaries are redrawn in the future they are based on a more accurate reflection of population sizes.  As the House of Commons Library has noted, while the current constituency boundary review is based those registered to vote on 1 December 2015, the number of registered voters had increased by 1.75 million by the time of the EU referendum in June 2016.

Royall concluded:

“Democracy is fragile and a healthy democracy requires democratic participation. Enabling and empowering young people to vote is our democratic duty. Here we have a real opportunity to increase participation among hundreds of thousands of those least likely to be on the electoral register.”

While the Minister, Lord Young, argued that a ‘voluntary and collaborative approach’ is best to encourage students to register to vote, Baroness Royall declared that it amounted to a ‘piecemeal list of initiatives rather than a comprehensive plan’. She went on to argue that Parliament had ‘a duty to ensure that the maximum number of students is registered to vote.’

Peers agreed to the amendment to the bill by 200 votes to 189.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward

See: Peers behaving badly: Will the ‘taxi cab’ scandal be a tipping point for reform?

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