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House of Lords Reform

One of our distinguished Bishop Auckland Members, John Brigstock, has carried out a detailed appraisal of the House of Lords and sets out his reform arguments for consideration below after securing publication on the Daliy Express website. The article on the Express website can be seen by clicking HERE or simply read the details below :-


“There will be little doubt in the mind of most people that the unelected, unaccountable House of Lords (HOL) or Upper House (UH) is seriously out of touch with the majority of people they are supposed to represent and is thus in very urgent need of reform. Apart from a little tinkering at the edge little has changed over the centuries. The main change was brought about by the 1999 House of Lords Act which restricted the number of hereditary peers which could sit in the HOL.


There is no doubt that we need a revising chamber to ensure that our laws are fair, reasonable, fit for purpose, workable and achieve what is intended, which over the years has been the main function of the HOL. The issues which need reform are:


1. The members are not elected and are thus only accountable to themselves. This has resulted in many members pursuing and expressing personal issues, opinions and beliefs, in debates and votes rather than reflecting government policy or the interests and wishes of the people.


2. The appointment of a life peer is for life; they never have to stand for election or re-election and can take part in the governing of the country for the rest of their life.


3. Most of those given life peerages are failed politicians, has-beens and yesterday's people, many of who were incompetent in former jobs.


4. Expenses paid to members are funded by the tax-payer and are far too high.


5. The make up of the HOL rarely, if ever, reflects the political colour of the elected House of Commons (HOC), which all too often means government business can be delayed or amended unreasonably by the unelected unaccountable members of the HOL.


6. The number of members in the HOL has no upper limit. With over 800 members it is the only UH of a bicameral parliament in the world which has more members than the lower house. The number of members is only exceeded by the Chinese People’s Congress. The 1958 Life Peerages Act authorises the creation of life Barons with no limit on numbers. This has resulted in the number of those eligible to sit in the HOL to grow over the years. Today, with a Conservative majority of 80 in the HOC there are only 262 conservative members in the HOL. Labour have 160 members but the Liberal Democrats with just 11 MPs, have 87 members, which is significantly higher than its representation in the elected HOC. The church has 26 unelected Arch-Bishops and Bishops accountable to themselves and the church which gives them a platform to promote personal and Church policies, which they often do.


Historically the House of Lords mutated from the medieval Great Council which advised the King. Power between the king and parliament has fluctuated over the years until the end of the Civil War in 1649, which parliament won. Then the power of the Lords was reduced. However over the years the unelected, unaccountable HOL have challenged the elected and accountable HOC. In 1831 the Lords rejected the Great Reform Bill, which would reform the corrupt electoral system, but relented when the PM Earl Grey asked the king to appoint 80 pro reform peers. The Reform Act passed into law in 1832. When Lloyd- George introduced the people’s budget in 1909 which proposed a land tax, the proposal was heavily defeated by the unelected unaccountable hereditary peers in HOL, whose members had most to lose. Following a General Election the PM asked the king to appoint enough new peers to get his legislation through the HOL, which George V reluctantly agreed to do. This resulted in the 1911 Parliament Act which removed from the Lords the power to reject or amend legislation in a way unacceptable to the HOC, but government business could still be delayed and amended. When the Fox Hunting Bill was going through parliament hundreds of unelected, unaccountable hereditary peers, with an interest in blocking this legislation, attended the HOL, many for the first time in years. Very recently we saw the fiasco caused when the unelected, unaccountable Lords rejected or amended government legislation concerning Brexit in spite of the majority of the British people voting to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.


The HOL gives members a platform from which they can express their personal opinions. For example, the unelected, unaccountable Baroness Jones who expects to be taken seriously even though she has completely lost the plot said in a recent HOL debate, that men should be subject to a 6.00 PM curfew to allow women to be safe in public. You can’t make it up. The unelected, unaccountable Lord Adonis does not agree with the democratic decision of the British people to leave the EU, and has regularly abused his public platform in the HOL to argue the case, first, for the UK to remain a member of the EU and later to rejoin. These are just a few of the many examples of members of the unelected, unaccountable HOL abusing their position.


The time has come to ask how can the HOL be fixed once and for all? First the name must change, call it what you like other than the HOL. Then remove all the current members from office. As the UH is primarily a revising chamber, some posts need to be reserved for experts who will make the new legislation work or enforce it. They will be appointed to give expert opinion on just one Bill, which will ensure, as far as possible, that the legislation will be fair, workable, fit for purpose and achieves what is intended. These experts will not have voting rights, are purely advisory and their appointment will end when the Bill on which they were advising becomes law. The party leaders in the commons will appoint the same number of members to the UH that they have MPs in the HOC and they need not be peers. All appointments to this chamber will end when a General Election is called. This will ensure the unelected members of the UH are accountable to the party leader who appoint them and will always ensure the UH reflects the make up of the HOC.


Members of the HOL are not paid but can claim £305 a day attendance allowance plus travel expenses and they have a subsidised restaurant. Peers can chose to claim the lower amount of £150 a day. There are stories of peers who keep a taxi waiting outside as they rush to sign the attendance register and claim the £305 daily expenses, without contributing to the work of the HOL. The expenses that members can claim should be conditional on them attending all day and be limited to the out of pocket cost of meals, travel and where necessary overnight accommodation, for which they must provide receipts.”





John Brigstock