The House of Second Chances?
Author: James Graham
Published on Jan 22, 2013
In 2009, the former MP Douglas Hogg became a poster child for the expenses scandal. The series of claims he submitted to the fees office included a £2,000 bill to clean the moat of his castle, Kettleburgh Hall, although he insists he did not so much as claim for the money as fail to “positively exclude” it. For it to be any more emblematic of the scandal, all he needed to do was put a few ducks on the moat and buy them a house. Rather than face the wrath of the electorate, Hogg chose to stand down in the 2010 general election.
Yet Hogg appears to be on the verge of making a comeback. As reported on the Order Order blog yesterday, he is a candidate in the by-election to select a new hereditary peer following the death of Earl Ferrers. As part of the deal in 1999 to remove most hereditary peers from parliament, 92 were permitted to stay on. Which 92 could stay was voted on by the peers themselves and each time one of them dies, they hold a new election (using the alternative vote system, naturally enough, because peers recognise that the single member plurality system we use in the House of Commons is such a hopeless system, even if they don’t approve of the public being allowed to use anything else).
Following the death of his father in 2001, Hogg now also goes by the name of Viscount Hailsham and is thus eligible to stand. He is competing with 26 other candidates to attract the votes of just 48 eligible voters (pdf of the House of Lords’ order paper here).
There is of course an ongoing debate about the exact composition of parliament’s second chamber, but how can it be that a disgraced MP can return to parliament without having to pay any regard to public opinion whatsoever? The problem in part is the anachronism of retaining hereditary peers, but it is more fundamental than that; after all David Cameron attempted to appoint Hogg to the Lords as a life peer back in 2011 only to be advised against it by the House of Lords Appointments Commission (he could have overruled them but chose not to on this occasion). With the government apparently on the verge of appointing dozens of new peers, we can expect all sorts of people with “colourful” pasts, major party donors and party suits to end up deciding our laws over the next few months.
Regardless of what you might think about crossbench peers, the majority of active members of the House of Lords are party appointed and take their party’s whip. Shouldn’t these people be subject to public scrutiny?