The makeup of the Lords. It’s coming, we know it’s coming. The dissolution honours list should be published any day now. But, aside from whom it’s adding to the House of Lords, what is it adding to? The above graph shows the number of peers able to sit and vote in the second chamber, over the past thirty years. The figures come courtesy of one of that institution’s least controversial and most brilliant parts: its Library.
Blair’s cull. One thing immediately stands out from the graph: the great decline in numbers around the turn of the millennium. At that time, the number of peers went from around 1,200 to about 700. This was due to the House of Lords Act 1999, which removed hereditary peers wholesale. And guess which party lost out the most? Yep, the Conservatives. They had a disproportionate number of hereditary peers, so they shed 258 of them, compared to Labour’s 15. Which rather illustrates a point: Lords reform only tends to happen in ways which suit the governing party.
The Conservatives’ recovery. Would Lords reform suit the Conservatives now? David Cameron probably doesn’t think so. Not only was there that rebellion over it during the last Parliament, but the Conservative leader has only just managed to put his party in the lead again. Last year, the Conservatives’ 226 peers overtook Labour’s 216.
Over-… Cameron’s stated position is that the makeup of the Lords should better reflect the makeup of the Commons. Hence the growth in Conservatives, with around 40 more to be added in the dissolution honours list. But this merely highlights the peculiarity of the Lords. 10 Liberal Democrats are also expected to feature in that list, bringing their numbers to over 110 – or fourteen times their size in the Commons. If the Lib Dems’ proportions were similar in both Houses, they would have closer to 10 peers in total.
…and under-represented. And what about the SNP, who aren’t on the graph at all? This, of course, is because they don’t really want anything to do with the Lords in its current incarnation; yet that doesn’t really absolve the Prime Minister. As the second chamber swells to over 800 members, a 20 per cent increase since 1999, it is looking less and less like the body politic. If he’s really committed to making it more representative, rather than just making it bluer, Cameron should still press ahead with Lords reform. There are some good ideas quoted here.