Andy McSmith: This insidious practice has been going on for years

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The best argument for having an unelected House of Lords is that it can draw into public life the talented and the highly qualified who would be unlikely to go through the grind of standing for election.

The Commons is increasingly dominated by professionals who go into full-time politics straight from university and spend almost their entire working lives in that milieu.

Peerages can be the means of injecting people with experience of the wider world into the political system. On the red benches of the House of Lords you can see former business leaders, diplomats, scientists, lawyers, civil servants, academics, military men, health workers, social workers, and even people who have earned a living by writing.

Unfortunately, too many party leaders have succumbed to the temptation to use the Lords as a dumping ground for ex-MPs who have grown tired of the rigours of electoral politics, or for long-serving party officials and advisers who are past their sell-by date.

This problem, which has been a drag on public life for decades, is complicated further by the spectre of Lords reform.

One of these days a government will bring in legislation to introduce elections to the House of Lords. Hence the rise of a new breed of peers, aggressively loyal to the party leaders who appointed them, and who are accused of spoiling the sleepily civilised atmosphere.

The new peers are not thinking that they have entered a retirement home where membership is guaranteed for life. They are thinking that when reform comes, some peers will go, while some will be reinvented, with party backing, as elected members of the upper house. Hence their unswerving obedience to the party whips.

David Cameron intends to be the first prime minister to preside over a drastic – and many would say unnecessary – cut in the number of MPs, from 650 to 600, ostensibly because that will save money. Yet in his first 11 months in office, the size of the House of Lords has swollen by 117, to 792. That is quite enough.

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