Why is the House of Lords in need of urgent reform?

Philip Smith argues that the House of Lords is in urgent need of reform.

Philip Smith
On 30 December 2019 14:37

I recently came back from a fascinating visit to the Canadian Parliament. I was hosted by the L’honorable Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, one of the 104 Senators who kindly arranged for me to sit in on a speech that he was giving in the Senate. Two things struck me, firstly that there is a mandatory retirement age of 75 and secondly that their senate is restricted to 104 members.

Contrasting the Canadian Senate to our over bloated House of Lords, its closest sister chamber, whilst not perfect, is certainly more fit for purpose. It is a running joke amongst some quarters that the only way a member of the House of Lords leaves our upper house is when they are carried out on a stretcher. Reform is drastically needed. So, what is the answer?

Of paramount importance is to reduce the number of Lords from the current bloated number of 795 to 450. Even the most stalwart of Lords supporters tend to agree that the numbers in the second chamber have simply spiralled out of control.  We often neglect to think about the support staff that work behind the scenes, it surely is testing for them to have had to continuously accommodate a greater number of members when their resources are already stretched.

Secondly, we need to do away with appointing MPs that have lost their seats from then finding their back on our television screens as a result of a stooge like appointment into the upper chamber. I would strongly advocate a rule that two years must pass before an MP who loses their seat to being able to be considered for an appointment to sit on the Lords benches.

Thirdly, an upper age limit should be imposed when sitting members of the Lords are required to retire. It is embarrassing to tune into BBC Parliament to see a dozen very elderly members asleep on the back benches. I would not necessarily set the age limit at 75 although I would think by the time a Lord turns 85 years old it is time to enjoy a well-earned retirement.

Of course, there are dozens of ideas out there about what type of Lords reform should be pursued. Personally, I am against an elected second chamber for the simple reason that it would compete with the lower house for legitimacy and I do not believe there is any appetite amongst the general public for one.

The new government should address these questions sooner rather than later or once again the opportunity for much needed reform will be lost. Let us bring back respect to the upper chamber making it more relevant to the daily lives of the British Public.

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