Thursday, 10 December 2020

The House of Lords by numbers.

 Nothing typifies the pityful state of our democracy than the numbers now associated with the HofL.

In the HofL Act of 1999 the bulk of the hereditary peers were removed and a cap of 600 set for its members.

However the current total is 794, of whom 665 are life peers which makes 84% appointees of Prime Ministers.


The size of the Lords has varied greatly throughout history with initially around 168 English peers which increased to 184 with the addition in 1707 of 16 Scottish peers. Then in 1801 28 Irish peers were added bringing the total to 212.

After the Life Peerage Act of 1958 and the Peerage Act of 1963, allowing women into the Lords, the numbers grew to an alarming 1,330 in October 1999 albeit a fair number never attended. The Lords reform of that year reduced the numbers to 669 but since then they have steadily risen to around 800.

In 2011 a cross party committee called on David Cameron to stop appointing new peers as he had created 117 since becoming PM in 2010 which was a faster rate than any previous period in history. Ironically the huge expansion of the Lords occurred while Cameron unsuccessfully tried to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600! Well I suppose as an epitath that about sums Cameron up.

At its current total, just short of 800, the chamber is the second largest legislative body after China's National Peoples Congress and dwarfs the upper houses of other democracies such as - USA Senate 100, France 348, Australia 76, Canada 105, India 250 and is even larger than The Supreme People's Assembly of N.Korea with its 687 members.

The serious review of the Lords in 2017 recommended  a maximum of 600 members (even thought the seating capacity is a maximum of 400), a fifteen year term limit for new peers and a two-out one-in limit on new appointments. This report to their credit was largely approved by the Lords.

The current total of 794 is of course well above the 600 cap and above the total of 669 in 2000.

Our current leaders manipulate democracy for their own ends ensuring thier MPs are in the main compliant 'nodding donkeys' and filling the second chamber with their cronies who have so often achieved little of worth as MPs or in other walks of life.

In our third demand 'A Separation of Power' we suggest a HofL of 100 and HofC of 300. On reflection I feel 300 and 500 would be nearer the mark. As to the 300 in the Lords I'm currently minded that a fixed term is essential with a third elected, a third appointed and the last third selected by a system of sortition. Sortition, as practised in ancient Rome, sees the selection by lottery from people who have put themselves up to do the job and a serious job of work it is rather than one senses now that it is just a glorified private members club for political has beens. 

There are many aspects of our democracy that need urgent reform but a reform of the Hof L, starting with cutting it down in size, is pretty high on the list.


  1. The HoL used to have a role whereby those senior members, with no career aspirations, were able to point out the flaws in HoC legislation, as they did in 2006 with that very flawed Religious Hatred Bill. Stuffing the HoL with partisan members seems to have destroyed that.

    Even the US House of Representatives has only 435 voting members and the Senate, 100 Senators but that is for a country that is very jealous of its States rights plus Counties and Cities, in some States, have a very considerable say in how the local budget is raised and spent. When I lived there, there was even mandatory Housing Estate Committees (HOAs), staffed by volunteers, who raised money locally for common area and road maintenance plus other expenditure, very much like the Tens, Hundreds and Thousands of Yore. The result was that democracy grew from the very lowest levels.

    Yes, there is much wrong at the Federal level and also in some States, but this involvement in the lowest levels of effective local democracy results in a politically engaged population.

    THA Demand 2 states that "there are still some vestiges of grass-roots democracy" in the USA. In some States, local democracy is far healthier than that suggests.

    "There are many aspects of our democracy that need urgent reform but a reform of the Hof L, starting with cutting it down in size, is pretty high on the list." Yes, as is Demand 2. Real local democracy high on the list.

  2. Our six demands come as a package but they will obviuosly not all be enacted together over night.