2 Mar 2010

What Ashcroft says of state of House of Lords

One subject that guarantees a yawn amongst the chattering classes, and that is more or less anything to do with the House of Lords.

Now that its unreceipted expenses system, its appointments ethics and its governance have all been exposed at various moments during the overall parliamentary expenses scandal, its reputation has slipped subtlety into the realm of farce.

The opacity of the appointments procedure and the conditions that were and still are demanded for membership of the Lords is revealed by the fact that it has taken 10 years to discover any of the terms Michael Ashcroft was set for his admission.

Even now we don’t have the precise details. It reveals too that – until the law changes (safely after the next election) – there was no requirement that in order to enter the Lords a member actually had to pay full UK taxes on all income whether at home or abroad.

Ever since the erstwhile chair of the Appointments Commission (who also Chaired HBOS when it hit the wall) declared that there was no place for hairdressers as members of the House of Lords, there has been a question mark over the whole question of who gets in and how.

And yet as we approach the election, the political classes are still desperate to get in.

And why not? As revealed in Snowblog recently, the governance of the House of Lords and the approach to expenses remains lax if not worse.

A significant, albeit undemocratic element of our legislature with nearly 800 members, why does the institution matter so little?

It may be that many people think the place no better than providing free parking, office facilities and somewhere to sleep in the centre of London.

Others may think it is no more important than providing a few old fogeys with airline upgrades and tables at London eateries.

SOME SAY that is DOES matter, that it does indeed contaminate our body politic.

That in addition it sanctifies inheritance (there are still 90+ peers who are there because of who their mother married); it gives the lie to the idea that our ‘mother of parliaments’ is the cradle of democracy; and enshrines privilege and social hierarchy that infect the rest of our society.

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