David Cameron has appointed more Lords than any other Prime Minister in modern times.This week’s dissolution list will add 45 new Lords to the chamber and will bring his total appointments up to 236 peers. Once these new Lords take their seats, the House of Lords membership will swell to 826 members, despite the chamber only being able to seat around 400 members.
Looking at the list, you’ll find a who’s who of disgraced MPs, political advisors and party donors. Perhaps the most outrageous nomination is Douglas Hogg, the former MP and minister, made infamous for claiming the cost of moat cleaning on expenses. Other questionable appointments include 4 Liberal Democrat party donors and a long list of former special advisors.
One notable absence from the list of nominations is the lack of any anti-establishment peers. The SNP refuse to take part in the process, but the Green party and UKIP do suggest nominations. Despite UKIP’s by-election successes and becoming the third party (in terms of votes) in England, and the increased vote of the Greens, there are no UKIP or Green Lords.
It’s not hard to see why there are so many questionable appointments when you examine how the list is created. The list is collated through suggestions from party leaders, the final list being selected by the Prime Minister, with advice from the civil service and little to no accountability to the public. The appointments are designed to reflect work done in the last parliament and are the most political appointments to the Lords a Prime Minister will make.
This has allowed the House of Lords to be used as a retirement home for disgraced MP’s, political advisors or party donors, instead of as a serious legislative institution.
The Lords is wholly unrepresentative of the UK and a bastion of the political elite. The Sutton Trust calculated in 2002 that 62% of the House of Lords were educated through independent or private schools, while only 7% of the wider population are educated through such institutions.
According to parliament’s statistics on the Lords, the median age of peers as of 2012 was 69, with only 16% of peers being under 60 and 18% being over 80. A staggering 78% of the Lords are male, while they beat the House of Commons for racial diversity with 5.3% of members being BME.
As recent scandals have revealed there are many questionable peers in the chamber. Lord Janner, currently under investigation for alleged child abuse and who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2009, voted 203 times since his diagnosis. There’s also Lord Sewel, who was forced to resign after being filmed taking drugs. Whether he actually broke any rules of the chamber is questionable.
A recent study by the Electoral Reform Society found that between 2010 and 2015, 62 peers claimed £360,000 in expenses despite not taking part in a single vote. Looking at the operating costs of the House of Lords for a single year, the ERS found that the House of Lords costs the taxpayer roughly £93.1 million, equivalent to £118,000 per peer.
There’s very little oversight of expenses or peers behaviour. Members of the House of Lords can currently claim £300 a day, as long as they can prove they have taken part in ‘appropriate parliamentary work’ and as the figures show, many use this as their own private pension. Few Lords caught up in scandals face disciplinary measures, instead they are usually forced to resign after facing media pressure and public outrage.
The abolition of the House of Lords is long overdue. There’s no doubt that a second chamber is vital to as a check and balance in the legislative process, that’s not the issue here. The issue is that the Lords is a bloated, inefficient, undemocratic and frankly a medieval institution. If the House of Lords were any other public institution it would have been condemned as unfit for purpose and shut down long ago.
The House of Lords is beyond rescue. Our second chamber isn’t fit for purpose; it’s expensive, unaccountable, wholly undemocratic and needs to be abolished. Proposed changes, such as increased oversight of appointments are too little, too late. The Lords is already full of crooks and cronies. In its place, we need a modern, democratic and accountable second chamber.