House of Lords fails to represent much of UK, pressure group says

The House of Lords fails to represent broad swathes of the UK, the Electoral Reform Society has said.

The ERS found that 54% of the 564 peers whose residence is known live in Greater London, the south-east or the east of England.

The north-west of England, which accounts for 11% of the UK’s population, has only 5% representation in the Lords, it said.

The ERS figures also showed that 235 of the 816 peers in the Lords were former politicians, 68 were political staffers and 13 were civil servants.

Appointments to the House of Lords

Can the government create peers at any time?

The government can create new peers whenever it likes. But there are a few conventions, agreed between all the parties, and all nominations for a peerage have to be approved. Tax dodging and criminal convictions usually rule out appointment. Outgoing prime ministers often reward old chums with a peerage. Occasionally an MP is propelled into the Lords to create a spare seat in the Commons. By recent custom, peers are created without shifting the balance of power from no overall control.

Is there a limit?

No, and famously the Lords is the second biggest legislative chamber after China’s national people’s congress. It has 750 members, of whom 150 or so inherited their titles. When one dies there is an election among other hereditaries in the same party. When the Lib Dem peer Lord Avebury died, an electorate of three voted for his successor. Efforts at shrinking it have led to a retirement scheme but not much else.

What are the alternatives?

Most democratic countries have an elected second chamber, if they have a second chamber at all. Some have a mix of appointed and elected. Efforts to reform the house of lords have foundered on disagreement on questions of scale – how big, what proportion should be elected and on what basis – first past the post, single transferable vote, alternative vote … a fresh start would make almost anything possible.  One idea gaining traction is that it should represent the United Kingdom, bringing together England, Scotland, northern Ireland and Wales in a kind of federal body. But the most contentious question is always whether an elected second chamber would have more powers, which would weaken the House of Commons

Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images Europe

The chief executive of the ERS, Darren Hughes, said: “These figures reveal the appalling centralisation of parliament’s second chamber. This London-dominated house totally fails to represent huge swathes of the UK.

“Regions including the north-west of England and the Midlands are not only under-represented, but those peers who say they live there do not represent each region’s diversity, whether in terms of their politics or otherwise.

“The Lords is looking increasingly like just another Westminster private members’ club, and it’s not hard to see why when the system is so unbalanced.

“Adding to the detachment between the House of Lords and UK citizens is the fact that so many peers are former politicians. When the PM can stuff a so-called scrutiny chamber with whoever they want, the result is that it fails to reflect the nation.

“That won’t be solved by bunging in a few more unelected cronies. Instead, a fairly elected chamber of the regions would ensure guaranteed, proportional representation and a strong voice for all parts of the UK.”

MPs will debate a petition on Monday calling for a referendum on the abolition of the House of Lords.

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