Sat. Sep 24th, 2022


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House of Lords: UK must follow Italy by cutting peers in ‘world’s most bloated chamber’

4 min read

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The Italian Government is pressing ahead with plans to reduce the number of parliamentarians in a move the ruling Five-Star Movement political party has estimated could save up to €100million a year. The radical plan would see the Chamber of Deputies plummet from 630 to 400 seats, while the Senate will drop to 200 seats instead of the current 315. In total, 345 seats would be eliminated, with the law coming into force at the end of the current legislature in 2023. Five-Star Movement has promised the next move will be to cut the salaries of parliamentarians – currently, an Italian deputy or senator earns €18,435 each month (including expenses), the highest remuneration of a parliamentarian in Europe.

In the UK, the latest Parliament list shows there are a huge 818 peers in the House of Lords, with 797 eligible to vote and since January 2020, 38 peers have joined the Lords, and while a handful have since left the upper chamber, more are expected to be introduced next week.

In the year to March 2019, a report from The Sunday Times found the average tax-free payment to peers was £30,827 – higher than the median salary of the UK worker, despite the House of Lords sitting for just half of the year.

The Institute for Government has said the cost of running the House of Lords surged from £99million in 2017-18 to £117.4million in 2018-19, in part due to the 27 percent rise in peers’ allowances to £23.4million, predominantly because of the House sitting on more days.

Peers claim a tax-free flat rate of £323 for each sitting day, following an above-inflation rise in April, and it is up to the individual if they want to claim the full daily allowance, a reduced rate (around £160, which applies to parliamentary business conducted away from the House), or not make a claim at all.

Speaking to, Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, an independent campaigning organisation aiming to champion the rights of voters and improve democracy in Britain, raged: “At over 800 members, the unelected Lords is the most bloated revising chamber in the world.

“Of all legislatures, it’s surpassed in size only by China’s National People’s Congress. We shouldn’t be looking there for tips on democracy.

“In comparison, Italy’s elected Senate pales in size, yet even there numbers are being cut down. Meanwhile, governments here continue to pack the unelected Lords with donors, cronies and party pals – all able to claim £323 a day tax free.

“Voters may not mind the £120million annual cost of the Lords so much if they had a say on who sat in there. The Lords is a private member’s club like no other: the rest of us pay them to attend.

He added: “While many peers work hard, the House of Lords is just too over-sized to be effective, efficient or have the public’s trust, and we have no way of kicking out those who don’t pull their weight.

“The US gets by with 100 Senators, Germany 69, and the world’s the largest democracy, India, 245 members.

“It is time for a far smaller, proportionally-elected revising chamber here – to scrutinise legislation and stand up for the nations and regions of the UK.

“Voters have had enough of the ballooning size and cost of our second chamber and want to see some real accountability.”

Patrick Sullivan, chief executive of the Westminster-based Parliament Street think tank, also echoed Mr Hughes’ fury.

When asked if the huge number of peers in the Lords strengthens the argument to scrap the upper chamber, he replied: “It certainly does.

“If you are going to cut the fat, why not start with the Lords? After all, we voted Brexit in order not to be controlled by unelected old men.”

Last month, support for the House of Lords fell lowest ever level, with a new poll suggesting more than a quarter of the British public believe the Houses of Parliament’s unelected upper chamber should be abolished completely.

The Survation poll undertaken on behalf of the ERS, via an online panel of 1,005 UK adults, indicated just 12 percent backed the current composition of the House.

By contrast, pollsters found huge support for Lords reform, with 43 percent in favour of it being partially or entirely elected and another 28 percent believing it should be scrapped.

The House of Lords has previously strongly defended its huge size, with a spokesman telling “The House of Lords is a highly effective and busy Chamber, performing a vital role of improving legislation and holding the Government to account.

“Only today the House began detailed line-by-line examination of the Immigration and Social Security Bill which will determine how our immigration system works once the Brexit transition period ends, tomorrow we start on the Trade Bill, vital issues that require the close scrutiny for which the House is known.

“In the last financial year the House considered 779 amendments to legislation and asked the Government 6,482 written questions. This is the important process of improving legislation and holding the government to account in action.”

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