The House of Lords isn’t fit for purpose, here are five systems that could replace it

Boris Johnson announced that he will hand out 30-40 peerages to his last days of office last week. Given Johnson’s dubious record of handing out peerages to the likes of Evgeny Lebedev, the Russian newspaper proprietor subject to UK ‘security concerns’, there’s no telling who will be on his list. This feels like a new low even for the House of Lords. Boris’s peerage spree brings the very existence of Britain’s most hilariously antiquated institution into question.

The Lords are everything wrong with Britain.

They’re appointed rather than elected, 92 are literally hereditary aristocrats, and all of them enjoy a feudalistic title raising them above us ‘commoners’. It’s also potentially corrupt. Most Lords are either party loyalists and donors. Politics can be harmed by the fact that peerage exists to reward crony careers. Why speak truth when power can make one a Lord?

The Lords is undemocratic, unrepresentative, and lacking in integrity. It is completely incapable of fulfilling its role of a check on the government’s power.


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There are better options. Here are five alternative systems from around the world that could be used as replacements.

Canada is the continuity candidate
Canada has a second legislative house that’s similar to our own, but with some distinct advantages. The Prime Minister still appoints senators, but there can only 105 and all senators must retire by 75. This will allow you to avoid the absurdity of having more than 750 Lords, many who are well past their sell by date. It’s worth noting, however, that many Canadians want to reform their Senate, so if we’re looking for a solution to end the debate, this might not be the answer.

France and Germany: Let regions decide
Political theorists may tear their hair out at these two appearing in the same section, but both countries’ second chambers have a local angle. France has an electoral college that includes local and regional officials. Indirectly, senators in France are elected. In Germany, deputies to Bundestag are appointed by delegates that have been appointed by the state governments. As Britain struggles to turn ‘levelling up’ into more than just a slogan, perhaps we could learn something from our European neighbours.

America: Elected and powerful
The American senators are directly elected in a system that is similar to ours in the UK. They are as powerful, if not greater, than the House of Representatives. Each state gets the same number of senators. This can skew the balance of power towards smaller countries, which can be useful in a federation that balances competing identities (e.g. In practice, this can have unrepresentative benefits.

Spain and Ireland: Hybrid Options
Why choose one system? Spain’s 78% senators are elected through direct election. The remaining 22% are indirectly elected by regional parliaments. Ireland’s system is slightly bizarre. 72% are chosen by MPs, councillors and outgoing senators from ‘expert’ panels. The Taoiseach appoints 18%, while the remaining 10% are chosen by university graduates. Both countries should be a reminder of the freedom we have to choose a system that suits us, no matter how unconventional.

Sweden and New Zealand: Get rid of it
This is the nuclear option. New Zealand abolished its Legislative Council in 1950 because it was not adding much to the legislative process. The same decision was made by Sweden in 1970, except that they decided to merge both houses. This would result in the UK’s only legislative chamber being the House of Commons. It is worth asking the fundamental question: Does having two democratically elected chambers improve the legislative process or is it just duplicative?

There are many options available, from size and power to regionality to selection. Our decisions should prioritize transparency, accountability, and better legislation.

It doesn’t really matter which option you choose, as long as you choose something other than the antediluvian House of Lords. We have a tendency to let the perfect be the enemy the good in this country. Reading stories this week about another outgoing PM further degrading the Lords can make Britain’s politics feel like Groundhog Day except that every morning it gets worse.

More than 70% of the public wants reform of the House of Lords. It would take political effort rather than political capital to make the changes. The ball is now in the court of the next Conservative leader or Keir Sternmer if Labour wins next general election. Please pick one.

Young Voices UK’s political commentator Ben Cope is Ben Cope. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHCope