Baroness Jones AM: Lords reform isn’t sexy. But we all know it needs to be done
Green Party Peer and London Assembly Member Baroness Jones calls for reform of the House of Lords and argues: "We need an upper chamber which is fully representative".
Try to explain the House of Lords to anyone unfamiliar with the UK’s Parliamentary system and you’ll find yourself sounding ludicrous: peers are hand-picked to join the upper chamber, with no accountability to the electorate, and stay there until death - leaving us with a House ever growing in numbers and entirely unrepresentative of the electoral choices of the public.
Everyone knows that the system is a mess. For example, in spite of the Liberal Democrats losing all but eight of their seats at this general election, they are set to receive a swathe of new representation in the Lords, while both Ukip and the Green Party, who surged in popularity at this election, remain laughably underrepresented.
And it’s not as if the Conservatives, who alone have the power to fix this, are gaining from the system’s imbalance: despite winning a narrow majority in May, they are significantly outnumbered in the Lords; and while the upper chamber rarely blocks entire pieces of legislation, some peers are predicting that the overrepresentation of some parties is a ‘crisis’ waiting to happen.
Why, then, has the House of Lords remained almost entirely unreformed for over half a century? Because, in the words of those who have the power - and to an extent perhaps even the will - to change it, it’s ‘not a priority’.
The undemocratic nature of the House of Lords is not an issue over which people take to the streets; it’s not something that hits headlines; it’s not a fashionable matter. But it quietly undermines the will of the people on a daily basis and sits at the heart of the UK’s democratic deficit along with our unrepresentative electoral system, the corporate lobbying that plagues Westminster, and scandalous underrepresentation of women and black and minority ethnic people in politics. The government chases headlines with aesthetic measures like changing the definition of child poverty, but it leaves the House of Lords unchallenged, because - as is the way with so many age-old injustices - it has always been done this way.
This may not be an issue that makes many people’s blood boil - but it’s a matter of common sense that the system needs change. The upper house is designed to function as a safety net for democracy - but while its composition is fundamentally undemocratic it cannot fulfill this role properly.
We need an upper chamber which is fully representative: elected through proportional representation and accountable to the public. The first step towards this is ensuring immediately that all parties are fairly represented in the Lords, awarding the Green Party and Ukip the members our vote shares demand in order to begin to address the vast parliamentary imbalance brought in by what the Electoral Reform Society has dubbed the “most disproportionate election ever”.
Lords reform isn’t the most fashionable issue there is. But it is key to building a more democratic UK, and almost all concerned agree: the government must not brush it under the carpet any longer.
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb is a Green Party peer