Lording a better democracy – House of Lords reform.

Following articles by Crispin Williams and Jeremy Wraith, Mike Swadling has written his views on how we should reform the House of Lords.  Let us know what you think of these proposals.  Write to us at Croydon Constitutionalists to share your views.

We shouldn’t give up on Lords reform.  The current home for failed politicians is simply not good enough.  I believe the proposals below would control costs, whilst providing a separate chamber closer to the people and widen representation in our democracy.


Possibly the very best solution to resolve the challenge of how to complete House of Lords reform is simply to reverse the clock.  For all its faults and failings the undemocratic house, full of hereditary peers, frankly worked quite well.  Under it we extended the franchise for men and gave women the vote.  Passed multiple Factory Acts improving working conditions, legalised trade unions, had agricultural and industrial revolutions, and built and started giving up, an empire.  We won two world wars against Germany, and arguably two more against France.  It wasn’t democratic but it was a system that, albeit sometimes rather slowly, worked.

Of course we aren’t going to return to a hereditary second chamber, but what should we do?

Article 3 of the United States Constitution starts “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.”

The Legislature chose the Senators to make them accountable to the state government rather than a party or other grouping.  Whilst in the US this has been amended with people voting directly for their Senators, as a model I like the idea for an overly London centric UK giving true regional representation in its legislature.

Alas the UK does not have the regional bodies in place to provide those senators.  The mixture of assemblies and parliaments we do have (Welsh, Scottish, Greater London, etc) are not exactly universally popular or respected.

Perhaps for all their faults we could use these bodies as an example of what we can do to build out a new house.  The Green Party and UKIP / Brexit Party whilst being diametrically opposed groups, have consistently performed well for the past decade but neither have managed more than 2 MPs.  Nationalist parties do better, but with the exception of the SNP in recent years tend to be under represented, and running or functioning as an independent candidate or member is a mostly hopeless task.  This is not so true in the regional bodies of the UK.  For instance Wales has;

  • 10 Plaid Cymru,
  • 2 Independent,
  • 4 Brexit Party,
  • 1 UKIP,
  • 1 Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party,
  • 1 Welsh National Party,

assembly members as well as the usual members from the Conservatives, Labour and the LibDems.  The Scottish parliament manages 6 Greens and 2 Independents on top of the SNP, Conservatives, Labour and LibDem members.  In Northern Ireland in addition to the main Unionist and Republican parties there are 7 Alliance, 2 Green, 1 TUV, 1 PBP, and 3 Independent members.  Finally in London the assembly includes 2 Green and 2 Brexit Alliance members.  In all these cases, the local bodies have managed more representative models of governance.  Why couldn’t we do the same for the House of Lords?

Our most recent general elections have been fought in large part on the basis that you have to vote for the Red or Blue team to block the other side, rather than because you agree with them.  After 10 years of coalition, small majority or even minority government I see no desire for a form of proportional representation for the Commons, and indeed in 2011 we rejected changes to the current system.


I propose for the House of Lords to elect members on a proportional system.  I believe this will be more popular for a revising chamber as it would not interfere with the requirement for stable government.  Importantly it would give the opportunity for more minor parties to have national figures, buildout a base, and democratically represent the people.

The new Lords would be elected using something similar to the modified D’Hondt allocation used in London.  London has a mixture of geographical super-constituencies with further members elected from a party list to make the total Assembly Members from each party proportional to the votes cast for that party.  In London a party must win at least 5% of the party list vote in order to win any seats.  That same measure could be kept for regional groupings or a lower national number could be used.  A consequence of this would be sizable groupings for the Green Party and Brexit Party.  You would also likely see a small number of Lords representing the Yorkshire Party, Christian Peoples Alliance, UKIP and even the Independent Group for Change (if you can remember them).  This would be great for democracy.  These parties have support, even when running in almost impossible first past the post elections, why shouldn’t they and others have the opportunity to build a national base?


An elected second chamber then raises at least 3 major questions.

  • How would an elected second chamber differ from the House of Commons?
  • Would it not feel it had its own mandate?
  • How much would it cost?

All three can be tackled by making the role of Lords quite separate from that of the MPs.  The Lords today has 777 members.  A new chamber similar in size to the commons at say 600 members would reduce what we have today, stop individual Lords being too powerful, and allow for a reasonably large grouping of Lords for smaller parties.  A party getting 1% would have ~6 members, a party getting 5% (attainable regularly by the Greens and revised Brexit Party) would have ~30 members.  These groups would provide a professional backbone to these parties, that could start to compete with the 3 main national parties.

600 Lords would be expensive, so I propose we make them part time.  Pay them half of what an MP is on, and reduce their hours accordingly.  A revising chamber needs time to study legislation and debate, but this is not the amount of time needed in the commons.  Have regular hours and sittings, and encourage the Lords to have outside work.  This way they will more closely represent us by working with us.  Have no expectation of constituency work.  MPs have become one part parliamentarian and one part social worker.  We don’t need Lords to undertake the same role.  They can be parliamentarians, working to set regular hours and have part time day jobs around that.

To reflect this legislative role, Lords would not need the expenses of MPs.  No local expenses beyond that to cover a home office, some travel and minimal costs for some public meetings.  Staff can work centrally and be attached to the grouping rather than individual Lords.  Additional specialist knowledge on legislation should also be available much as it is today.  Members would need to be able to claim reasonable expenses for staying in London but with dates fixed in advance these can be kept down and must not include paying for second homes.

I also propose the Lords do copy one idea from the US Senate.  That they be elected on fixed dates and terms, every 6 years with one third elected every two years.  This will ensure they reflect the changing nature of UK politics over time, rather than one snapshot.  It will give Lords time to learn the role and elections to multi member constituencies, with regional top up lists, could be held to coincide with the main local election dates to keep costs down.  Regular elections also keep parties more in touch with their voters and allow small parties opportunities to build support.


These proposals would end much of the cronyism and see a new House of Lords with elected members.  Members focused on parliamentary legislation, members who reflect the electoral wishes of voters and in doing so allow new parties and ideas a chance to grow.  The members would not be overpaid with many having second ‘normal’ part time jobs.  Expenses and overall costs would likely go up but be kept in check, and we would retain the strong government model the House of Commons generally (if not so much recently) delivers.

Main Photo by UK Parliament – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sLZBWcPklk @ 01:06, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56761114


We asked for feedback and proposals on what should happen with the House of Lords following an article by Crispin Williams on the subject.  Jeremy Wraith duly obliged.

Opinion Piece by Jeremy Wraith

1 Introduction

The three main political parties all claim to represent and help the lowest paid members of our society. The Trussell Trust reports that there are 14 million living in poverty, and 1,200 food bank centres had to provide 16 million food supplies last year. Compare this to the decadent institution which is the House of Lords (HoL).

The HoL is clearly in urgent need of reform. Life Peerages are awarded willy nilly to cronies and failed politicians by their political friends and colleagues. It is therefore  inconceivable that politicians will reform a system where they, their cronies, failed and retired politicians can spend the rest of their lives in a priveliged institution where they can rob the taxpayers daily of £305 plus expenses and subsidised meals, including vintage champagne.

In addition, the HoL is supposed to act as an advisor to parliament and is claimed to be needed to prevent bad laws being passed by parliament. However, the HoL is clearly and obviously a travesty, as the government can appoint as many life peers as it wants to support their policies. Witness the accusations that the Conservatives allegedly offered life peerages to Brexit Party candidates not to stand against them in last year’s general election. In addition, Tony Blair, when he was PM was allegedly accused of selling life peerages to bolster Labour Party funds. Hence the party in power and politicians generally must be prohibited from appointing life peers and for awarding honours.

2 Discussion

Currently, the HoL consists of 92 hereditary Peers and 734 Life Peers. They can attend the HoL on about 150 days/annum. Hence the total annual cost of the HoL in pay alone could be £38 million. Of this about half is probably a good working figure, say £20 million. The restaurant bill for the HoL is currently £60,000/week or nearly £2 million/annum. Hence, proposals for reform are as follows:

2.1 Abolish ALL current life peerages immediately. This leaves the current 92 hereditary peers.

2.2 groups of public institutions, as follows, to then appoint 10 new life peers each:

  • Trade Unions
  • The Institute of Directors/Business interests/SME’s
  • The NHS/Medical profession
  • The emergency services police/fire brigade/coast guard
  • Armed forces, navy/army/air force
  • Professional institutions such as RaeSoc, IMechE, RINA etc
  • Retail Organisations
  • Taxpayers groups
  • Transport groups MN/ALPA/Haulage Associations
  • Charities

NB Politicians of all parties, civil servants, local councillors, council employees, the judiciary and anyone in the media, i.e. newspapers, TV and religious groups etc.,

will all be specifically banned from becoming members of the HoL.

2.3 This means that the HoL would consist of only just over 200 members. This would cut the attendance cost from about £20 million to around £5 million saving £15 million. It should also cut the restaurant bill from £2 million to about £0.5 million. So the annual savings in attendance and meals should be nearly £16 million/annum

In addition, the above approach has many distinct advantages as follows:

2.4 It virtually eliminates political bias, cronyism and favouritism.

2.5 Because the emphasis will be on senior personnel being appointed it increases widely the experience and knowledge base in the HoL for making decisions.

2.6 It cuts the actual cost of maintaining the HoL by about 75%.

2.7 It obviates the need and cost of public elections.

2.8 It should more fairly represent a wider spread of the population and different careers.

2.9 By specifically banning those involved in law making on a national and local level it helps to significantly reduce the possibility of cronyism, bribery and corruption.

2.10 In future all awards must be made by the HoL, again to eliminate cronyism, bribery and corruption.

3 Result

An article in the Nursing Times, by Matt Bodell dated 16th August 2019, states that student nurses currently graduate with a debt of £54K. Newly qualified nurses are paid £24,214/annum. So, cutting over 730 current life peers who are probably seen by most of the population as vintage champagne swigging, part time, self serving, avaricious spongers and replacing them with 100 or so more dedicated life peers nominated by professional institutions would result in a momentous change in usefulness of the HoL. The money saved, rather than being used by life peers, generally seen as vintage champagne swigging leeches, could be used to improve the lot of student nurses and the many millions now living in poverty in the UK. Surely, there is no contest in this proposal!  

In addition, the HoL should then be able to operate in the manner intended, i.e. as an independent assessor of government laws, and not be subject to the votes of hundreds of life peers supporting the policies of political parties that appointed them.

What do you think of these proposals?  Write to us at Croydon Constitutionalists to share your views.

Main Photo by UK Parliament – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sLZBWcPklk @ 01:06, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56761114

House of Lords Reform – a job half done

The House of Lords developed from the Great Council that advised the King during medieval times. By 1295 the first English Parliament which included archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, and representatives of the shires and boroughs was being held.  The Lords moved from a body based largely on the hereditary principle to become all too often just a home for ex-politicians and their most favoured donors. 

Crispin Williams writes his opinion on what should happen next to complete the long overdue House of Lords reform.

“The House of Lords is the British Outer Mongolia for retired politicians”

Tony Benn

Opinion Piece by Crispin Williams

There is fairly general agreement that the House of Lords is in need of reform. It currently has more members (778) than there are physical seats in the chamber and many of these peers never do much more than turn up to collect their allowance. Furthermore, there has been a tendency in recent years to make an increasing number of political appointments, often by ‘promoting’ MPs who have lost their seats. The growth in the number of overtly political Lords lessens the one big advantage of the House: that it should be a scrutinising and revising chamber with little political agenda.

I am, therefore, vehemently against an elected House as this would just reflect the Commons and would make the Lords even more political; at least not having to worry about being re-elected Lords can (theoretically at least) speak their own mind.

My suggestion is for members of the House of Lords to be selected by an appointment committee. This committee would be composed of ‘the great and the good’ by the position they hold in public life, not by personality. Thus, the holders of specific posts would automatically have a say in selection, whoever they may be.

Below I give some examples of the kind of positions that might comprise the appointment committee. As I say, these are just examples and there can be much further debate as to the final choice.

  • The Prime Minister and, say, three leading cabinet positions
  • The Leader of the Opposition and one other Opposition position
  • The Leader of any other party with X number of seats in the Commons
  • The Speaker of the House of Commons
  • The Speaker of the House of Lords
  • The First Minister of Scotland
  • The First Minister of Wales
  • The Mayor of London
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury
  • The Prince of Wales
  • The Governor of the Bank of England
  • The General Secretary of the TUC
  • The Director-General of the CBI
  • The Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality
  • The Chair of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes

This would lead to a House of high quality people being elected by a committee with balanced views. Clearly, some of the above might also be Lords themselves.

The House of Lords would comprise 250 members, re-appointed on a staggered 10 year basis, with no restriction on the number of times a member could be re-appointed.

What do you think of these proposals?  Write to us at Croydon Constitutionalists to share your views.

Main Photo by UK Parliament – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sLZBWcPklk @ 01:06, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56761114