Cameron, who has already created more peers than any other prime minister since 1958, intends to use his powers of patronage to create electoral parity. However, because members of the House of Lords cannot be sacked, it won’t be possible to reflect the drop in support for the Liberal Democrats that occurred at the last election. Instead, the 101 peers currently sitting on the Lib Dem benches in the Lords will have to act as a baseline for Cameron’s calculations. As the Lib Dems won 7.9% of the votes, that suggests a ratio of 12.78 peers for each 1% of support.
Under Cameron’s plan, Ukip, which won 12.7% can look forward to an extra 157 peers; the SNP 60 new members and the Greens, on 3.8%, can expect 47 Lords to join their single member. Labour will need an additional 178 peers, while the Tories require an extra 244 to reflect their support in the country. In all, a further 686 peerages will have to be created, bringing membership of the House of Lords to 1,509. (This at the same time as Cameron intends to reduce the number of MPs in the Commons by 50 in order to “reduce the cost of #politics”.) Each member of the House of Lords costs the taxpayer an estimated £115,000 per year.
This great steaming pile of patronage still won’t give the prime minister a majority in the Lords that would allow him to get his business through. To ensure that, he’d need to base his calculations on the numbers of MPs each party has in the Commons, the result of which would dwarf even the 2,987 member National People’s Congress of China – the only legislative chamber that is larger than the current House of Lords. And all this is before Cameron takes into account the 179 cross-benchers and the lords spiritual.
There is a much simpler, cheaper and more legitimate way of ensuring the membership of the upper house reflects the result of the general election: divide all the seats in direct proportion to the votes cast. Under our current first-past-the-post system, if your vote fails to elect an MP, it goes into the trash. This reform to our electoral system would give your vote for the House of Commons a second life, tallying it together with all the votes cast in your region to elect members of the new upper house from party lists – 25 from each region or nation – creating a senate of 300 members. There would be no need for an extra ballot paper and 95% of the votes cast would lead to representation at Westminster, greatly enhancing participation in the general election.
Having long been a proponent of Lords reform, I am rather surprised to find myself agreeing in principle on the issue with #David Cameron. We both believe that the makeup of the House of Lords should reflect the results of the most recent general election. However, the prime minister’s plan for achieving this balance could result in the creation of over 650 new peerages.