The unelected House of Lords has continually faced controversy for their unaccountability and excessive power. Their blocking of the Internal Market Bill recently exemplified this, where 800 peers thwarted the democratic will of the people. To regain democracy a referendum on their abolition is needed, argues Noel Yaxley. 

Our bicameral legislature – consisting of the House of Commons and the House of Lords has been revered, and venerated the world over for years. As a democratic system of governance it has often been referred to as the 'mother of parliaments'. But due to numerous examples over the last few months, its upper chamber – the House of Lords – has shown its true colours when it comes to its role as a functioning democratic political institution. So much so that it has become an antiquated relic that has no place in a modern 21st century democracy.

Yet the problems with Westminster's upper chamber are not limited to modern Britain. During the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell – who simply called it the 'other house' – abolished it in 1649. During a break in the English civil war, the Commons wished to charge King Charles I for treason. When the Lords resisted, the Commons – using an act of parliament – declared that "the House of Lords is useless and dangerous to the people of England." During this period of history, parliament was split between the democratic Commons and the feudal Lords.

The death of the Lords lasted just 8 years when, in 1657 it was revived alongside the monarchy. But it continued unchanged and continued to frustrate the lower chamber.

There are plenty of examples of the Lords going against the Commons. When the Liberal government of William Gladstone sought to extend the franchise to all adult men in 1884, it was blocked by the Lords. The intervention by the upper chamber left 40 per cent of men bereft of the right to vote. Then 25 years later, when the Commons tried to pass the 'People's Budget' in order to tax wealthy landowners, once again, the Lords blocked it.

Due to the frustration with the Lord's refusal to pass the People's Budget, the Parliament Act was passed in 1911. It limited the power of the upper chamber: it stipulated that from then on, the Lords could no longer block bills – only delay them.

Whilst the size and role of the Lords has changed since the Parliament Act, it is still an unaccountable political institution able to exert power over us. Between 2015 and 2019, the Lords has defeated Commons legislation over 150 times. It is less undemocratic and more anti-democratic.

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There can be no finer example than the fightback from the Lords over our struggle to extricate ourselves from the European Union.

With an upper chamber full of aristocratic peers it is inevitable that they will be relied upon to protect their wealth at any cost. Take Lord Grantchester- the Labour shadow rural affairs minister is a hereditary peer. He sits on a £1.2 billion family fortune and is the former chairman of the Dairy Farmers of Britain. It was inevitable that he would protect the landed gentry from any and all threats to their interests. Reminiscent of the protracted parliamentary battles fought over the repeal of the Corn Laws, Grantchester blocked an amendment to the post-Brexit Agricultural Bill. This is a free trade agreement with the United States that would've allowed for the importation of food produced using cheaper methods than our own. It shouldn't really come as a shock that a Labour peer stands against the very fundamental tenets of free-market capitalism.

Grantchester is just one of 800 peers in the Lords. In an attempt to remove much of what Thomas Paine described as "the remains of aristocratical tyranny", the 1999 Lords Reform Act managed to remove 700 hereditary peers: but 92 remain (made up of dukes, earls, viscounts and barons) and 26 are bishops, otherwise known as 'Lords Spiritual'. But where aristocratic lineage has in part declined, it has been replaced by nepotism and cash-for-access cronyism. Many peers were party donors and as such literally bought their way into the chamber.

Brexit was the focus of the Lords once again when the Internal Market Bill found its way to the 'revision chamber'. Clause 42 of the bill would grant the executive power to adjust the Northern Ireland protocol as part of the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. The Lords voted to remove it by 433 votes to 165. It is exactly what you would expect when you consider the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats have just 11 elected MP's in the Commons, but 88 unelected peers wielding considerable power sitting in the upper chamber.

Whatever people think of the Withdrawal Agreement – the question should be less about the way the Lords votes. It should be why should they even have the power to vote in the first place.

As the current system functions, 800 unelected people have the power to thwart the democratic will of 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit and hinder a conservative government elected into power with an 80 seat majority in the Commons.

Brexit is an integral part of Britain regaining sovereignty. It is a step in the right direction. But in order to truly regain democracy it is essential we – the people – are granted a referendum on the abolition of the Lords.

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