Public confidence in integrity of the House of Lords is at an all-time low
The state opening, the pomp and ceremony, the ermine, the wigs, the processions, the ancient script and pledges of loyalty to Crown and country is all great telly for traditionalists every once in a while, but is there truly any point in the House of Lords any more? We have raised the question before but revelations that 15 of the past 16 Conservative Party treasurers had donated more than £3 million each to the party before being handed a peerage has brought renewed claims that the Lords is simply an exclusive club for the rich and privileged that has outlived its usefulness. As a law-making power it’s toothless, its primary purpose being to rubber stamp decisions already taken across the way in the so-called Lower Chamber. Even when the Upper House does attempt to flex its legislative muscles and actually do something, a rare example being the vote against the government’s plan to suspend the triple-lock pension, MPs simply vote their decision down and do what they planned anyway when the issue returns to the Commons. The Lords has long been a tool of the government of the day, and no prime minister has used this situation more than the current incumbent of that office. The House of Lords Appointment Commission considers the merits of proposed additions to the ranks, and recommends for or against. The commission advised against giving businessman Peter Cruddas a seat in the Upper Chamber because of a cash-for-access scandal back in 2012. But Cruddas had not only donated £3 million or more to the Conservative Party, he also gave £50,000 to Boris Johnson’s campaign for the Conservative Party leadership in 2019. The Prime Minister subsequently ignored the commission’s advice and now Lord Cruddas sits on the Tory benches.
There have been previous “cash for honours” complaints and after the latest Tory treasurers revelations, SNP MP Peter Wishart wrote to the Metropolitan Police asking for an investigation into whether or not criminal offences had been committed. He described the peerage process as corruption “plain and simple”, adding that it was “beyond all doubt that the honours system has been abused by the Tories.” The Met responded by saying there was currently “insufficient evidence upon which to launch a criminal investigation.” Then there are the hereditary peers: the Dukes, the Marquesses, the Earls, the Viscounts and Barons, who have inherited comfy seats in the Lords from their fathers, and in extremely rare cases, their mothers. Their numbers are fixed at 92, with the majority, 48, affiliated to the Conservative Party. By comparison Labour has just two. The Church is also represented; at least The Church of England is, with 26 bishops occupying velvet chairs. Isn’t that in itself anomalous in a multicultural society? Every member of the Lords can vote, for what that vote is worth, but is there still a place for the Lords, or is it out of both touch and place in the modern world? Could it be time now to bring the House down?