Time to elect the Lords, say democracy campaigners

By staff writers
February 15, 2010

It is absurd that one of Britain's Houses of Parliament continues to consist of political appointments. It is time to ditch a feudal past and have a UK democracy worthy of the name, says a leading campaign group.

Unlock Democracy, an amalgamation of Charter 88 and the New Politics Network, is urging its supporters to ensure that reform of the second chamber gets onto the Power 2010 'pledge-card five' in the run-up to the general election.

Power 2010 is a unique experiment in getting the British people to choose the reform agenda to 'change politics for good', and voting (http://www.power2010.org.uk/votes) is open for a little over a week.

Unlock Democracy director Peter Facey said today: "The 2005-2010 Parliament has been beset with scandal but the first big outrage was over 'cash for honours' when the full extent with which political parties were rewarding their donors with seats in the House of Lords was [revealed]."

He continued: "Since then, the House of Lords appointments process has been in tatters and in some ways has got worse, with people like Digby Jones being given a life peerage for taking up a government post, only to resign from the government a few months later. Numerous peers have been embroiled in expenses scandals and controversy surrounding their work as paid lobbyists, yet they are completely unaccountable."

"Throwing out the majority of hereditary peers has made the House of Lords a much more effective chamber for scrutinising and amending legislation - mainly because no single political party has a majority in it. But it continues to lack legitimacy; we need to finish the job." says Facey.

Two weeks ago the first debate in the precincts of parliament about unelected bishops in the House of Lords took place. The Anglican Bishop of Leicester said they were there to serve the common good and the needs of the vulnerable.

But Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia pointed to the concrete evidence that the bishops support the vested interests of their Church on financial matters - and on issues like the Equality Bill, where their votes tipped the balance against provisions that would have limited the ability of the C of E and other faith bodies to discriminate against people in employed posts which do not have to be 'reserved' for promoting their doctrines.

The UK is the only democracy in the world where the non-elected, all-male representatives of one denomination have a place in the legislature, and is one of the elements of the House of Lords reformers wish to challenge and change.

In 2007, the House of Commons voted for replacing the Lords with a fully elected second chamber by a clear majority. Since then however, the pace of reform has been very slow.

The Labour government have still not published their proposals for Lords reform while the Conservatives are pledging merely to "build a consensus for a mainly elected second chamber"; of the main parties, only the Liberal Democrats are currently fully committed to actual reform.

2011 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Parliament Act which begins with the words "it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation".

Unlock Democracy says it believe that it is time to fulfill this promise.

Power 2010: http://www.power2010.org.uk/home

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