Sunday, 19 October 2014

Lordly Benefits

One of the recurrent themes in the referendum was that certain people would be expecting a seat in the House of Lords as a reward for winning a No vote.  How likely is this?

There are several ways of becoming a member of the House of Lords.  Since 1999, the right of hereditary peers to pass their membership down through the family was ended, but there are several ways in which membership can be obtained:
  • Recommendation by the House of Lords Appointments Commission
  • As part of a Dissolution Honours list
  • As part of a Prime Minster's Resignation Honours list
  • As part of a Political List
  • On an ad-hoc basis
  • If you are an Archbishop or Bishop (limited to 26)
  • If you are a former Speaker of the House of Commons
Of these, regular attendance is expected only of those Lords who were appointed as part of a Political List.

As you can see, there are several routes by which those involved in the No campaign could be appointed.

Why would people want to be members?

There is the tradition aspect, where becoming a Lord and getting a title is seen as the apogee of social success.  There may be people who see becoming a member of the House of Lords as continuing to serve their country, given that part of the duties involves scrutinising legislation and holding the government of the day to account.  There may also be some who see it as a means to getting an income (more information can be found here).

In principle I don't have a problem with there being a second parliamentary chamber.  It provides a necessary check on the government of the day, and is a common model of governance.  Where I do have a problem is that (a) the members are unelected and are often the result of patronage and (b) there is no limit that I can find to the number of members.  In many ways it seems to be a kind of benefit system for the political elite - the same ones who are by and large so savagely against benefits for the unemployed and disabled.

To remedy this, I would make the following changes.  Firstly I would insist that working peers are elected and are paid a salary.  The election could be done as part of the General Election, with one ballot paper for the MP and one for the Lords representative, so that we don't add to the number of elections we have to hold.  Secondly, I would still allow peers to be appointed by patronage, but these would not have voting rights and would not be entitled to expenses or daily allowances.  I'd allow this because getting a title still seems to be important to the elite, but I don't see why they should expect to be allowed to live from the public purse simply for vanity, especially since many ex-MPs go on to lucrative directorships.  Thirdly I would place an age limit on being an elected peer.  I was going to say that this could be set at 10 years past the retirement age, but the way things are going most people would be dead well before this age.

Ideally I would be in favour of abolishing titles and lordships altogether, but this would at least be a step in the right direction.

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