Saturday 27 September 2008

Where the Lords Live

The New Local Government Network has recently published a study - with recommendations for reform - on the makeup of the House of Lords. It can be downloaded at http://www.nlgn.org.uk/public/wp-content/uploads/lords-of-our-manor.pdf. The main finding is that some parts of the country are over represented, and some woefully under represented. It is a valid point, but the figures used can be misleading.

The data is taken from the annual House of Lords Register of Members' Expenses. Each Peer registers his or her "main residence" - rights to and amounts of expenses are related to that main residence. The reason that I say this can be misleading is that only the current residence is recorded. Former MPs who have lived for years in their constituency, may have moved in their (semi-) retirement to another part of the country - or kept only the residence in London (MPs pensions are not THAT generous - keeping two properties on a pension and Lords expenses alone would be difficult). Also, not all peers claim the expenses they are entitled to - or make the claims for travel which requires them to identify their main residence.

Having said all that, there is a regional imbalance. As financial; business and political capital of the UK - London has attracted the "brightest and best", the very people most likely to be appointed to the House of Lords.

I personally think that we need to have a wholly or almost wholly elected Upper House. I do though have concerns about the proposal in the NLGN paper for "a ‘regional list’ system of elections for either 80% or 100% of the House, with seats allocated on the basis of each
region’s population". I have taught European Union Law for many years - I often start by asking my group if they know who their MEP is. When we had single member constituencies (usually the size of about 7 parliamentary constituencies) - a few people - those with an interest in politics or local affairs could name them. On average 3 out of a group of 20 could correctly identify their MEP. After the move to regional lists the number slumped. Regional Lists - particularly closed party lists - do little for encouraging participation.

For other views on the report visit http://lordsoftheblog.wordpress.com/2008/09/02/where-we-live/. Lord Norton of Louth (who lives and teaches in Hull - and is a high attender at Westminster) wrote the post - and his comments have prompted further remarks from visitors to that excellent blog (Lords of the Blog - http://lordsoftheblog.wordpress.com/)