New Lords appointees- it’s not just about the numbers
Author: Zoe Stavri
Published on Nov 27, 2012
Over the weekend, the Guardian and Sunday Times reported that up to 100 new political peers could be appointed to the House of Lords.
Much of the commentary has focused on the number of new appointees, which is unsurprising given its size. The House of Lords is already vast, being the second biggest legislature in the world, behind China’s National People’s Congress, who legislate for 1.3 billion people. Increasing the House of Lords by 100 members would push its numbers ever-closer to the psychologically-significant 1000 peers.
However, by focusing on the numbers, we run the risk of missing the nub of the problem. It is unlikely that the number of new peers will be 100 in the next round of appointments. What if it’s 50? Or 20, steadily trickling towards bringing in more and more before the next election? It is not inconceivable that the rumours of 100 new peers have been deliberately started by Number 10 to dampen the level of outrage when they appoint significantly fewer in the next New Years honours.
None of the other problems with the House of Lords are going to go away. The government will still have the power to appoint members of our legislature, and one doesn’t need the gift of prophecy to see that they were going to use this power. The recent bill to reform the Lords was killed in action, falling victim to political games, and at present we are lumbered with an unelected second chamber, where more members can be added at will, and the only way to thin the numbers is to wait for them to die.
Contrary to Polly Toynbee’s analysis of the situation, this is not entirely the fault of the coalition. It was Tony Blair’s government which established the principle that appointments to the House of Lords should reflect the votes cast at the previous general election and until the “loans for Lordships” scandal in 2006, new appointments to the second chamber was a regular event. It is only because of the mass removal of hereditary peers in 1999 that we’ve had a second chamber that was anything like workable over the past decade or so. As time goes on and it grows exponentially in size, it can only become increasingly dysfunctional, expensive and elephantine.
Perhaps horror over the number of peers appointed on 1 January will provoke a reaction, but we must not forget that the real scandal is that in the 21st century we are still using political patronage as the primary means to appoint a whole parliamentary chamber. It should be every democrats’ New Year’s resolution to make progress on ending this bizarre and heinous anachronism in 2013.