I vividly remember sitting down in front of a newspaper about 20 years ago and thinking about the House of Lords debate, concerning their efficacy. As can happen with these kinds of arbitrary decisions, I remember thinking that maybe the House of Lords acted as a kind of buffer. In all honesty I simply thought: ‘Well, we don’t really live in a meritocracy and even democracy has its critics, so what if some Lords are able to buffer policy? As long as they are benevolent and aren’t self-serving then it is good for the country.’ (I still do have a slight concern for my country).
I get press releases. I get them a lot. I’m not sure why, as this blog is my only platform and publication. But I got added to some list and as a result all kinds of people send me all kinds of press releases. Often they are for esoteric books about strange paradigm shifts that the author’s agent wants me to advertise. And I just think ‘I haven’t even got an agent.”
But, just occasionally I get a sensible press release. This one was embargoed until this moment of publication, but I thought it interesting. It is about the legitimacy of the House of Lords. I am cynical about the House of Lords these days as they are the status quo and my conviction is that we should, as Sky say ‘Believe in Better’. The Electoral Reform Society, who sent the release are known to have an agenda, but I still thought it interesting. So I pass it on to my loyal reader for wise consideration.
I write press releases. I know a lot about press releases. Sometimes, it is nice for the poor soul who writes them to see them so lightly edited. (And won’t they be happy to see this one to be featured so prominently?)
Here then (obeying the embargo) is the release from the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) from their new report….
“The Electoral Reform Society have released a devastating analysis of the state of the House of Lords in 2017 – revealing the ‘democratic crisis’ at the heart of the Lords.
- Lords-a-claiming: 455 Lords claimed more than the average take home pay of full-time employees during the 2016/17 session – despite the house sitting for just 141 days.
- 33 inactive peers picked up £462,510 in tax-free expenses – claiming an average of £746 per vote
- Daily allowance and travel costs for the 2016-17 session came to over £19 million.
- Couch-potato peers: Nearly 1 in 10 of the peers eligible to vote throughout 2016/17 (9.2% – 72 of the 779) are inactive when it comes to scrutinising the government’s work on committees, in the chamber, or through written questions – vital roles for the revising chamber
- A noisy minority: The top 300 voting peers account for over 64% of all votes in divisions during the 2016/17 session – suggesting much of the work of the Lords is done by a minority of peers
- Not so independent: Despite claims that the Lords is less partisan than the Commons, 78% of Conservative peers failed to vote against the government once in 2016/17, while the average Labour Peer voted against the government in 90% of votes
- Meanwhile, Crossbench peers vote far less than partisan Lords – 41% voted fewer than ten times in 2016/17 (compared to 14% for Labour and 7% for the Conservatives)
- An ageing upper chamber: Nearly one in five peers (18%) are over the age of 80 – compared to just 6.6% of the over-21 population (only over-21s can sit in the upper house)
- House of Has-Beens? The House hosts 184 ex-MPs, 26 ex-MEPs, 11 ex-MSPs, 8 ex-Welsh AMs, 6 ex-London AMs, 11 ex-MLAs and 39 current or ex-council leaders, as of April 2017.
72 peers failed to speak in the chamber, table a written question or serve on a committee at all in the whole of 2016/17. 33 of them claimed a huge £462,510 (an average of £14,015 each).
The ERS is calling for a proportionally-elected upper house of 300 members.
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“The past few years have seen one expenses scandal after another, with peers turning up to claim without substantially contributing. We have seen a barrage of appointments based on patronage. And we’ve seen Peers themselves admit they treat our upper house as a retirement home, a private members’ club. This is no fit state for the Mother of all Parliaments.
“This report lays bare the rotten state of this unelected second chamber – from couch-potato peers to lobby-fodder lords. We need real reform now – not tinkering around the edges.”