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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
India 1,339,000,000 2,456,881 5,356,000
UK 66,850,000 102,846 85,595
USA 327,200,000 752,184 3,272,000

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:

  • Get rid of the 26 Lords ‘Spiritual’. Why are Anglican bishops somehow more spiritual than their equivalent in other representative religions? Can someone/anyone please explain/justify the continued existence of the Lords ‘Spiritual’?
  • Impose a mandatory ‘retirement’ age of 80 years on all working Peers. At that point they should cease to be paid a daily allowance for attendance and any travel expenses. They would still be members of the most exclusive club in the UK. It may be worthy of note that the average age of working Peers is currently 70 years;
  • Cease the current practice of elevating superannuated Civil Servants and politicians to the Lords;
  • In the future, appoint 50% of life peers on the basis of merit, independent thought, and not political patronage, which means that recommendations to the Sovereign should be made by a truly independent body, not the Prime Minister. This should not necessarily exclude hereditary Peers, many of whom have a significant record of public service. Our Sovereign is traditionally apolitical and it might be appropriate that she could independently appoint Life Peers;
  • The remaining 50% should be elected, but their election should never coincide with a General Election and it should, I suggest be on the basis of proportional representation. There are those who argue for an entirely elected Upper House, I do not agree. To have an entirely elected Upper House creates the risk of it becoming a ‘rubber stamp’, rather than a revising chamber; and,
  • The ‘working’ membership of the House of Lords should be limited to an absolute maximum of 400. The removal of the Lords Spiritual and the introduction of a mandatory retirement date would lead to a significant reduction, as would mortality.

Your thoughts?

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