Pam Giddy: The scandal of appointed Lords is holding up democratic reform

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The Independent Online

What is it with the House of Lords?

It seems barely a week goes by these days without some new dose of sleaze and scandal spewing from the red benches. From cash-for-peerages to cash-for-amendments to the outrage of non-dom donors, the Lords, and its system of appointments, has been one of the principal sources of corruption in British politics. Good behaviour and loyalty to the establishment are bought off with ermine and coronets in a ritual that degrades our public life. Few will have been surprised by revelations in the recent lobbygate scandal that MPs on the make see a seat in the Lords as the best place to pursue a career in corporate lobbying – "another string" to their bow, as a shameless Sir John Butterfill MP boasted.

Are there decent, hard-working people in the Lords who do a valuable job scrutinising legislation? Of course there are, but if they would like to remain let them stand for election and convince the voters they deserve to make laws on our behalf. The tragedy is Labour has had ample opportunity to sort this out. The party came to power in 1997 promising a "modern" and "democratic" second chamber, but the seduction of power and patronage proved too great.

In 2010 half of Parliament remains full of appointed cronies, wealthy donors, ex-MPs and a motley band of aristocrats and bishops. Every one of them is unelected and unaccountable.

All three main parties are going into the election committed to a full or predominantly elected second chamber. But if they want to be taken seriously by the public and prove they've learned the lesson of the expenses crisis we need to see a change in their actions, not more fine words.

That's why party leaders should call an immediate halt to all appointments to the Lords. It just isn't credible to talk about cleaning up politics whilst stuffing the Lords full of cronies who will expect to live out their retirements in the chamber or receive generous "compensation" from the taxpayer.

If the corrupting influence of the Lords is to be tackled, then the whole swamp will need to be drained. We need a fully elected and accountable second chamber without delay. Join us in demanding from this from party leaders: no more Lords!

Pam Giddy is director of the Power2010 campaign for democratic reform www.power2010.org.uk

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