By Patricia Gibson, MP for North Ayrshire and Arran. Featured image shows portrait of Patricia.
In 1910, the fledging Labour Party had a bold Manifesto which committed it to abolishing the outdated, undemocratic House of Lords.
Despite UK Labour Governments in the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 90s and 00s, that ‘pledge’ was never implemented. Indeed, hundreds of retired Labour MPs, donors and supporters have enjoyed a sedate and lucrative retirement in the Lords, which currently has 175 Labour Peers.
Now, given that Labour is mirroring the Tories on so many policies from backing Brexit to opposing the right of Scotland to hold an independence referendum, we are expected to be excited by their latest ‘commitment’ to abolishing the Lords. They really do think voters are daft!
As recently as 2007 the majority of MP’s voted in favour of making the Lords 80% elected, yet the Labour Government ignored them.
The UK has 650 MPs but 780 Lords. Unlike MPs with constituencies and who must face re-election, 92 peers are hereditary and born into the Lords, while 24 are ‘Lords Spiritual’ – Church of England bishops. Of the rest, who are Lords for life, 261 are Tories. Of these, around 10% prior to their ennoblement had each donated £100,000 or more to the Conservative Party.
Lords can be appointed more or less without restraint, although there is a Commission to supposedly ‘vet’ appointments.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave 110 of his friends, supporters, billionaire donors, and those linked to foreign intelligence services peerages, including his own brother. Legislative power should not be bought, and yet the Tories seem to have sold it to the highest bidder.
In 2020, the Commission objected to the nomination of Peter Cruddas for a peerage by Boris Johnson. Cruddas had donated over £1,000,000 to the Tories. Johnson nonetheless proceeded, becoming the first Prime Minister to overrule the Commission’s advice.
No matter how each lord has obtained their seat, the issue remains that they have unelected legislative power for which they can each claim £332 daily tax free on any sitting day.
Whilst Liberal Democrats and even Greens take seats in the Lords, the SNP has always refused to appoint any peers. Nor would we.
The persistent lack of any meaningful Lords reform, or even better, its abolition is testament to the undemocratic nature of Westminster, whereby the most privileged and entitled in our society are able to gain from their connections, inheritance and – if Church of England – faith.
That the House of Lord still exists is an embarrassment to UK democracy. Those in power must be accountable to the people they govern, represented by voting for individuals who can be thrown out at a subsequent election, if they so choose.
The Lords is expensive, bloated, and not fit for purpose. It’s well past the time it was consigned to the history books where it belongs.