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Houses of Parliament Reflection Edited

The Lords should be abolished, even if moved North first

Ollie Lane
July 22, 2020

Having finally escaped the unelectable and unaccountable bureaucratic nightmare of the European Union, freeing ourselves of a monumental waste of money and time, it's time to consider domestic political reform, if we really wish to see the people 'taking back control', argues Ollie Lane

At first glance, the proposal to relocate the House of Lords to York is inoffensive enough, a fairly unimportant administrative decision. But consider whether this could be the first step towards its abolition, or at least total overhaul.

While immediate abolition may be too radical for the Conservatives, by moving the Lords to Northern England, it almost guarantees a reduction in the attendance of Peers, and a reduction in the amount of work undertaken by the House of Lords as a whole, reinforcing the decades old arguments against the House of Lords as it currently stands.

Why?

Because moving the Lords outside of London would require Peers to make a conscious effort to attend, and collect their £300 tax free daily allowance, which I would wager few of them would be willing to do for 'usual' Lords business. Outside of high profile public issues, debates within the Lords are sparsely attended affairs.

By moving them North, the Government is creating a test which the Peers themselves are likely to fail. As the attendance, and output produced by the House of Lords is likely to drop if the proposed move takes place, this will publicly demonstrate how the British political system derives no benefit from the House of Lords, as this reduction will have no real impact. If anything, a less active Lords will improve the legislative process, with the 900 odd members no longer able to frustrate the will of the elected Commons.

Apart from attempting to delay or revoke Brexit outright, even inside Westminster, few take much notice of the 900 Peers. Yes, that's right, 900 of them. Apart from Communist China, no other country has such an oversized upper chamber, and no other democracy has an unelected one. Even India, with a population of over one billion people, manages to make do with an upper chamber comprising only 245 members.

While, since the 1999 Lords Reform Act, the House of Lords is no longer an unelected second chamber filled with hereditary peers, I doubt I could find anyone who would argue that the Lords has become a more effective chamber because of it. Instead, the House of Lords is now stuffed full of 800 political cronies, there thanks to political patronage, totally unconnected to hefty political donations handed over. In the last 20 years, the most significant reform to the House of Lords has been to replace hereditary bloodlines with nepotism, cronyism and modern day political simony.

But while its membership may have changed, make no mistake, this remains a political body able to wield considerable power over us, when it chooses to.  Just think back to the recent ways in which the Lord's has attempted to frustrate Brexit. Over the past five years alone, the House of Lords has successfully defeated the Commons on hundreds of occasions, and has managed to 'correct' and alter legislation drafted by the elected and accountable Commons. While for 'usual' Government legislation this has no real impact (as few Lords bother to turn up) on topical issues where the Peers may be able to find themselves taking news worthy positions, the more media profile conscious Peers turn up.

While unable to block legislation outright, its ability to scrutinise, amend and delay the will of elected Governments is absurd in the 21st century, especially when it has deployed these anti-democratic powers primarily to ensure we remain as close to another unelectable and unaccountable body as possible.

Having finally escaped the unelectable and unaccountable bureaucratic nightmare of the European Union, freeing ourselves of a monumental waste of money and time, it's time to consider domestic political reform, if we really wish to see the people 'taking back control'.

Successive Governments have promised to reform the House of Lords, and the current Government is no exception. While the proposed move is limited in and of itself, at least domestic political reform is back on the agenda. With two thirds of the electorate now wanting to see the Lords abolished, and just 16% saying the Lords is working well, now is the time for real constitutional change. If the House of Lords move results in even less Peers attending, the Government should use this as a springboard to abolish the chamber entirely.

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Ollie Lane has worked for a Conservative MP, and now works in the Charity Sector
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