The House of Lords is the upper chamber of Parliament, currently composed of 805 individuals, none of whom have been elected. All these people have either been appointed by the monarch, are the current holders of a hereditary peerage or are one of 26 senior Church of England bishops.
Although it was established in the 1300s, there have long been calls for the abolition of the House of Lords, which have intensified in recent decades. But what are the arguments in favour of retaining the House of Lords and what are the arguments against?
- Peers don’t have to worry about their own popularity
As the House of Lords is not elected, some argue that this means its members are free to vote for what they think is right, without having to worry about being defeated at the next election. This leads to better decisions being made as peers are able to focus on the long term impact of a policy rather than its impact on their own electoral fortunes.
- Legislation would be of a poorer quality without it
It is often argued that the primary benefit of the House of Lords is how it allows experts in certain fields to use their expertise to critique legislation. However, if they were required to stand for election, they may choose not to, as many of them already have other jobs that mean they don’t have the time to campaign. This would lessen the quality of the legislation, as the experts would be replaced by professional politicians who wouldn’t bring as much knowledge to the debates on bills.
- The House of Lords is undemocratic
The main argument against the existence of the House of Lords is that it is undemocratic. It is an unelected body which, on occasion, forces the elected House of Commons to back down, which critics view as profoundly undemocratic. They say that anyone with a say in the legislative process should be an elected representative, which peers are not.
It is too old fashioned
Many say that the upper chamber, which is admittedly around 700 years old, has no role in modern society. They argue that the existence of a 92 strong contingent of hereditary peers is at odds with meritocracy, as it guarantees a large group of people the ability to vote on the passage of legislation because of their lineage. It is also argued that the house is an unneeded remnant of the days when people were appointed to it as a form of patronage, which is out of touch with modern society.
Reforming the House of Lords?
In the vast debate about the House of Lords, there are also those who believe that it shouldn’t be abolished, but reformed instead. The main suggestion of reform is that the House of Lords should switch from being appointed to being elected, which would effectively ‘democratise’ the chamber. Abolishing hereditary peers is another idea commonly put forward, as well as taking away the right of peers to vote on legislation, and reducing their role to simply scrutinising bills. However, although there have been many alterations to the House of Lords since 1997, the proposals to overhaul it in 2012 were eventually scrapped, as they were too unpopular to get through the House of Commons, showing how difficult it is to actually reform the chamber.