Lords appointments mean House on track for 1,000 members, says ERS

By agency reporter
May 23, 2018

The House of Lords will be ‘bursting at the seams’ with more than 1,000 members by 2031, if its current rate of growth continues, the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has found.

It follows news that 13 new peers will be appointed to the unelected chamber, bringing the total number of Lords to 818 . The announcement was ‘cynically’ timed to be buried by news of the Royal Wedding, says the ERS. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/25904)

Membership of the Lords has grown by over 21 per cent since the turn of the century, from 675 to its current size – despite constant pledges to reform the second chamber. If this rate of growth were to continue, the number of peers would move past 1,000 sometime during the 2030-31 parliamentary session, the new analysis shows.

The total cost of the new Peers in terms of annual allowances and travel expenses is expected to be at least £289,558 a year, according to ERS analysis – based on the average claim of £22,273.69 for the circa 141 days the chamber sits each year.

However, a response to a Parliamentary question last year found the average cost of a peer – looking at the total cost of the House, minus works and building costs, is as much as £83,000 per year – suggesting the new appointees could have just added £1,079,000 to the overall annual bill.

Moreover, the appointments do little to change the political balance of the House. Because Peers cannot be forced to resign, the size of any political grouping in the House of Lords cannot be forcibly reduced. This means that, given the current imbalance in the chamber, in order to get each grouping in balance to its General Election vote, the Lords must grow dramatically. The Liberal Democrats are currently the most over-represented group in the Lords, with 18.0 per cent of the Lords. To get this figure down to the proportion of the vote they won in 2017 (7.4 per cent), the size of the Lords would need to grow by 768, following the new appointments

In addition to being oversized, the House is now packed with 187 ex-MPs, 26 ex-MEPs and 31 ex-members of devolved institutions  – which campaigners say disproves the claims that it is full of independent experts.

This latest batch of Lords appointments came despite a report commissioned by the Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, proposing a ‘two-out, one-in’ system to bring the total down to 600 by 2027 at the end of last year.

In light of these findings, the Electoral Reform Society is calling for the House authorities to refuse to allocate time for the introduction ceremonies.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:  "Despite parties claiming they want a smaller second chamber, they continue to pack the unelected house with yet more unwanted appointees. That the PM tried to cynically hide the news amid the joy of the Royal Wedding shows she knows public opinion is not with her on this one. Voters are sick of this private members club growing out of control. 

"These new appointments have again reflected the unwillingness of politicians to act on this issue – and the inability of peers to regulate their own house. We’ve seen no action since the Burns’ report last year, when Peers said they’d start work shrinking the second chamber. These latest additions make a mockery of those claims – and of our democracy. 

“These new Peers will cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands every year – at a time when many public services are being cut back. The House of Lords, even at its current size, is an affront to democracy – yet politicians keep packing it with more donors and former politicians.

"Our projections show at the current rate of growth the number of peers would surpass 1,000 in little over a decade. This rate of nepotism is simply not sustainable – the House will be bursting at the seams. If the Lords are serious about reducing size of upper chamber – as they say they are – they should refuse to schedule time for swearing in these new peers. Frankly these hyper-partisan appointments do a huge disservice to our democracy.

"Rather than dishing out immense sums rewarding ex-MPs and donors, we need a revising chamber that can truly command the public’s support. Voters have had enough of the rolling expenses burden that is the second chamber – it’s time for a much smaller, fairly-elected upper house.

“It is now time for cross-party legislation to finally reform this archaic and super-sized second chamber. We’ve had years of stalling on this front – Theresa May must now act.”

The Electoral Reform Society has criticised the deeply cynical timing of the announcement which coincided with the news agenda being dominated by the Royal wedding. It also criticised Jeremy Corbyn for seemingly backtracking on his previous stance on the House of Lords.

The House of Lords is already the second largest legislative chamber in the world, behind China’s National People’s Congress. There are more peers than could ever sit in the chamber at the same time and the bulk of the work of the House is done by a much smaller group of peers.

During a debate on the size of the House in December, several peers expressed embarrassment or discomfort about the size of their chamber Lord Harries of Pentregarth, said: "I believe that our present size ... brings us into disrepute. I feel embarrassed when someone enquires about our size, even when I stress that the average daily attendance is only about 484."

Lord Selkirk of Douglas, added: "It cannot sit altogether comfortably that when legislatures around the world are listed by size, we come second only to the National People’s Congress of China."

* Electoral Reform Society https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/

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