Academics warn Britain's House of Lords is full

20th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's House of Lords is full and risks becoming a "wholly dysfunctional second chamber" that is both inefficient and expensive unless its numbers are slashed, experts warned Wednesday.

Academics from University College London called for an immediate halt to appointments to the unelected upper House, after an "unprecedented" year in which Prime Minister David Cameron's government appointed 117 new members.

With 792 voting members, the Lords is the only second chamber in the world which is larger than its first chamber. The elected House of Commons has 650.

"There is now a major concern that if appointments continue, the House of Lords will simply cease to be able to function. Something must therefore urgently be done," said the report from the university's constitution unit.

The academics say their proposed moratorium on appointments would only be lifted once the number of peers fell to 750, and that should remain the cap.

To help cut the numbers, they call for reforms to allow members to retire -- currently most keep their seats until they die, which they are doing at an average of 18 a year.

In addition, the academics want to remove the prime minister's power of appointment to introduce greater control and transparency in the process.

Ex-Labour premier Tony Blair introduced reforms in 1999 which removed all but 90 hereditary members and 26 bishops, making the rest life members. This halved the numbers from 1,330 to 666.

Blair appointed 374 new members in his decade in power, but Cameron has set new records since he took office at the head of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in May 2010.

"The addition of 117 new peers in less than a year is unprecedented in recent times, and has had negative effects on the functioning of the chamber," the report said.

It warned of escalating costs from allowances, renewed pressure on office space, and the creation of a "fractious" atmosphere among members competing for speaking time in debates or seats on committees.

Ministers will bring forward legislation to make the Lords wholly or mainly elected by the end of next month, a spokeswoman for Cameron's office said.

"The current system of appointing peers will therefore remain until the government's reforms are in place," she added.

However, the report called for urgent action, saying that if numbers continued to rise, "that would leave Britain with a wholly dysfunctional second chamber, inefficient, expensive, and unable to carry out its functions."

© 2011 AFP

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