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I firmly believe that the United Kingdom Parliament does need two ‘Houses of Parliament’; the House of Commons, as our principal legislative body, and (for want of a better name) the House of Lords as a reviewing body.
The primary role of this ‘second’ House should be to critically and independently review and revise primary legislation originating from the House of Commons and recommend, but not seek to impose changes.
Under no circumstances should it propose changes that would subvert the intentions of either the primary legislation or the democratically expressed will of the UK electorate.
Some context is probably appropriate in this discussion.
The UK has a current population of 66.85 million people.
We have 650 MPs (1 per 103,000), which may be far too many.
Amazingly, we also have 781 ‘working Peers’, which equates to 1 per 85,600.
In India, the largest democracy in the World with 1.339 billion people, the ‘lower’ House (Lok Sabha) has 545 MPs and the ‘upper’ House (Rajya Sabha) has a maximum of 250 members. Taking a more parochial view, which is in my view equally telling, let us look at the USA with a population of 327.2 million people. The House of Representatives (the ‘lower’ House) has just 435 members. The Senate (the ‘Upper’ House) has only 100 members.
|Country||Population||‘Lower’ House per head of population||‘Upper’ House per head of population|
The House of Lords, now largely made up of Life Peers, for the most part, consists of superannuated civil servants and politicians. These people are already, for the most part, in receipt of a substantial, largely state-funded, pension.
(‘State-funded’ is slightly misleading, the State has no money thus these pensions are actually largely funded by the taxpayer)
What do Peers get paid? Technically the answer is nothing, but they do receive an allowance of £305 per day when they attend. Sometimes the Lords don’t sit on Fridays; therefore, in the interests of fairness, I’ve assumed a 4-day week.
The House doesn’t sit every week, typically about 37 weeks a year, which means that we end up with c.148 working days a year.
We probably need some context here, 148 days at £305 per day equals £45,140 per year. Peers are also entitled to claim expenses, which for those living outside Greater London include travel expenses. They also benefit from subsidised dining. In contrast, the average annual per capita income in the UK was, in 2018, £28,677 for a 5-day week.
Pro-rated to match a Peer’s typical 4-day week, this would be £22,942. This means that ‘Joe Public’ working 45 weeks a year, without the benefit of expenses and subsidised dining, gets paid marginally less than 50 per cent of a ‘working’ Peer’s allowances.
I have suggested that the House of Lords is, in the interests of our democracy, in need of fundamental reform; that suggestion doesn’t however in itself provide a solution. A few ideas to resolve the problem: