Leading article: More reason than ever to reform the Lords

An unelected second chamber is an anachronism indefensible in a modern democracy

Share
Related Topics

The investigation by this newspaper into what the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has called the "murky world" of the House of Lords – and our reports on the practices of a number of its members – has highlighted the urgency of the case for reform of the second chamber of the British Parliament.

It is disturbing enough that one member of the Lords, the treasurer of the Conservative Party and hedge-fund wizard Lord Fink, may have broken parliamentary anti-sleaze rules by arranging to host a private promotional dinner in the Lords for a commercial company.

But this is not an isolated case. Other senior peers, including a former police chief, have used their position to arrange events for private companies in which they have a financial interest. Buying access to Parliament in such a way cheapens democracy and threatens to turn the second chamber into a House of Lobbyists packed with unelected, political appointees who can claim £300 a day just for turning up.

Meanwhile, the revelation that some of the Lords Spiritual claim maximum allowances, while others make no claim on the public purse, only underscores the difficulties inherent in the amateur status of membership of Britain's revising chamber. Those who make our laws should be elected and subject to the scrutiny that goes with that. It is an affront to democracy, and to the common sense of the electorate, that 21st-century Britain still has some 700 lawmakers appointed by ministers – a system which only entrenches patronage and cronyism – and another 92 who sit in the chamber on the basis of birth alone. Such a situation is an anachronism as indefensible as it is inequitable.

Reformers have been raising objections to the House of Lords for more than 100 years, to no avail. It is time for change. There is also an unusual political opportunity at hand. At the last election all three major parties included House of Lords reform proposals in their manifestos. Next week, the Cabinet will agree on the details of plans that the Coalition will put to the House of Commons, including a slimmed-down upper chamber with 80 per cent of its members elected, the rest appointed, and all sitting for a limited term. It is far from the most radical option. But it is a sensible and realistic proposal that deserves support.

Yet the signs are that the Government is getting cold feet. Reform was promised in the Queen's Speech, but only in vague terms and at low priority. Even Mr Clegg appears to have lowered his rhetorical sights, talking of introducing "a smidgen of democracy" into the House of Lords. And large numbers of Tory backbenchers insist the electorate will have no patience with Lords reform when politicians should be prioritising the economy. The argument is a bogus one. There is no reason for constitutional reform to monopolise parliamentary time, if politicians from all three parties deliver on their manifesto promises. But with the Government starting to feel the strain of coalition, political consensus is more difficult than ever.

Success is not impossible. If Conservative backbenchers can support elections for police commissioners, they should have no problem supporting elections for all politicians. Equally, Labour MPs must act with integrity, and stick with their party's stated position rather than seek temporary advantage in tactically opposing the Government. And Liberal Democrats might want to remind Ed Miliband that he may yet need their support, in the event of another hung parliament in 2015.

Mr Clegg has a once-in-a-generation chance to bring to an end a situation that makes a mockery of Britain's claims to democracy. It must not be wasted.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Professional Sales Trainee - B2B

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: First things first - for the av...

Recruitment Genius: Creative Web and UI Designer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced creative web and...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£17000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity is now ...

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive - Graduate / Entry Level

£22000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital advertising infras...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Caitlyn Jenner's first shoot is a victory - but is this really best version of femininity we can aspire to?

Sirena Bergman
The sun balances next to St Albans Church in Earsdon, North Tyneside.  

The world’s nations have one last chance to slow climate change

Michael McCarthy
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral