Does the House of Lords still have its place in British politics?

If you google “House of Lords” it would not be surprising if for every Wikipedia page or history website there was a scathing news article decrying the institution as unrepresentative, elitist and outdated off the back of yet another expense scandal or report of gross misbehaviour.

Yet, despite the scandals and bad press, there are people who will fervently defend the Lords until the sun goes down. Before writing this article, I had never really considered my position on the House of Lords. For me, when I thought of the Lords, I simply thought of my family friend who was a peer until their retirement in 2017 or I pictured the antiquated men tottering around parliament arguing with MPs over which tea rooms within parliament they were allowed to use and ones they were not (the great Pugin Room debate of 2018). I simply didn’t realize that their very existence was so contentious and that their place in British politics was so heavily debated.

There are a myriad of arguments for both the abolition and the continuation of the upper house. Those like Rebecca Long-Bailey advocate for the complete abolishment of the current system of hereditary and nominated peers and propose the introduction of a proportionally represented Senate. Whereas, on the other end of the spectrum we have those who ardently uphold the necessity for the House of Lords, citing tradition and the level of expertise the Lords bring to the review of non-financial bills as reasons the Lords should stay. The majority of people fall somewhere between the two views with most people accepting that the principle of the House of Lords is necessary but need some serious reform.

I was curious to see what my peers’ opinions on the House of Lords were, so I employed the use of a very scientific Instagram poll to get an idea of what my followers thought on the topic. Not surprisingly around 75% of people agreed that the Lords should be abolished. What is interesting for me is not how high the number of people that want the Lords gone is, but the fact that so many people disagree with this part of our Westminster system, yet it still prevails unreformed and with a high level of authority.

This highlights the fundamental issue of the Lords – the lack of people’s choice, especially now that the Conservatives hold a majority in the Commons. How can an institution be allowed to make very important decisions regarding the state and fate of our country when they were not elected, have no accountability, are overwhelmingly from the Conservative party and from around London (this is in part due to the refusal of Labour and SNP to put forward nominations to the Lords out of protest) and the majority of people disagree with their place in British politics?

There is a need for an upper house within our Westminster model to ensure adequate checks and balances, but there is no need for such an undemocratic institution. I am not calling for a revolution or for the guillotine to be rolled out, but a little bit of reform would go a long way.

Written by Layla Black

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