The new Conservative Government has rather unusually made constitutional reform one of its first priorities but it has had nothing to say about the House of Lords. In one sense this is not surprising as the Conservative manifesto declared that reforming the Lords was ‘not a priority.’ In another sense it is a truly remarkable silence. The election results of 2015 have once again made manifest the absurdity of the composition of our second chamber.
The House of Lords currently has 789 Members which makes it the largest second chamber in the world. If the convention to ensure that the composition of the Lords is proportional to voter share in the previous election is adhered to it is about to get bigger. Much bigger.
Of the 789 members, 229 are Conservative, 212 are Labour, 100 are Liberal Democrat and 16 are from other parties. Of those 16, 3 belong to UKIP, 1 to the Greens and 0 to the SNP.
The collapse of the Lib Dem vote and correspondent rise in vote of the smaller parties has destroyed the balance of the chamber. We can’t retire those Lib Dem Peers so the only way to create proportionality is to increase the number of Peers from other parties. Quick calculations suggest that we would need 156 UKIP, 59 SNP and 48 Green peers to balance the red benches between Lib Dems and the other smaller parties.
The problem does not stop there. Increasing the smaller parties without increasing the major political parties would also lead to an imbalance. You would need an incredible 238 Tory and 173 Labour Peers to recreate the required balance. All of this means that without even taking into account independent, cross bench and other smaller parties’ shares we would need 674 additional Peers to rebalance the House of Lords taking its total membership to at least 1462.
I am not advocating that we bloat the Lords back to numbers last seen before New Labour reforms. Nor do I think it is likely to happen. Instead we will go on with the Liberal Democrats over represented via an arbitrary quirk in history. Would it not make more sense to take this opportunity to sort out our anachronistic and undemocratic second chamber for good?
This post is part of our Great Charter Convention series, hosted in collaboration with Open Democracy, IPPR and the University of Southampton.