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Should the House of Lords be scrapped?

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In light of the recent 'Lords-for-hire' allegations and continued calls for its reform, former Conservative MP and regular One Show correspondent Gyles Brandreth delves into the inner workings of the House of Lords.


main_lords.jpgEffectively the descendent of the Parliament of England created by the Treaty of Union in 1706, today the House of Lords is the second house - or upper chamber - of UK parliament, after the House of Commons. As well as being involved in the law-making process, the Lords also examines the Government's work, debates current affairs and is the highest court of appeal in the land.


Members of the Lords - known as peers - are not elected by the public but chosen by the current Prime Minister and, sometimes, the Queen, under the advisement of the PM. They are made up of life peers, hereditary peers and senior bishops. But, as Gyles discovers, there is some new blood among the 700 members, including feminist Muslim Baroness Afshar and Baroness Gardner, an Australian ex dentist.


And it still really is a job for life. Only an act of Parliament, the crime of treason or death can remove them from the house. But, after it was claimed that four Labour peers agreed to accept financial inducements to help amend a bill, Justice Secretary Jack Straw is now considering tougher rules for the Lords, rules which, if implemented, would expel peers found guilty of serious misconduct.


More information:


BBC News: House of Lords explained


Official House of Lords site


What do you think? Is the House of Lords an outmoded institution? Or does it have an important role to play in the democracy of 21st century Britain? Share your views.



Comments

  • 1. At 7:11pm on 10 Feb 2009, hulatom wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 2. At 7:13pm on 10 Feb 2009, M N M wrote:

    Tony Benn said it all:

    'Ask the powerful five questions
    1. What power have you got?
    2. Where did you get it from?
    3. In whose interests do you exercise it?
    4. To whom are you accountable?
    5. How can we get rid of you?'

    In my view the second chamber should be wholly elected.

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  • 3. At 7:13pm on 10 Feb 2009, ladykimbers wrote:

    I love jerramy and giles debating by far the best one show so far. . . . As for the house of lords I think that they should be held accountable and have their title stripped if found to be corrupt, we would expect it of an MP I think that they should be aware of consequencies for their actions.

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  • 4. At 7:14pm on 10 Feb 2009, Rick wrote:

    The lords system is out of date and out of touch with the people. It's imperative every person is accountable for their actions.

    Good to see paxman on the show. Future question time presenter for sure.

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  • 5. At 7:15pm on 10 Feb 2009, gallgon wrote:

    The House of Lords must remain independent. Politicians are not necessarily the best people to make laws. Perhaps they should be paid though, though it seems that some of the political appointees are so greedy that it wouldn't make much difference!

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  • 6. At 7:15pm on 10 Feb 2009, wendywinblos wrote:

    I think the house of Lords is well past its prime.

    Hereditary peers have no place in modern government and peers appointed by the PM are bound to have some political allegance.

    Any appointed by her Madge (the Queen) will be under advisement from the presiding politicians anyway.

    Any body overseeing the work of Government should be truly independent and represent the people.

    How do you then keep their fingers out of the honey pot? Don't know. Thats the hard bit.

    Steve

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  • 7. At 7:16pm on 10 Feb 2009, garybgbutler wrote:

    The outdated laws and traditions of this country have no part to play in the modern world. What use of laws if you have the PC brigade, and the pompass idiots of the house of lords, who have no idea of life outside of Westminster.

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  • 8. At 7:16pm on 10 Feb 2009, Rick wrote:

    Couldn't agree more with the tony benn post. The man is a national treasure. The lost great prime minister of Britain.

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  • 9. At 7:16pm on 10 Feb 2009, mrrobs wrote:

    Get Paxman and Brandreth to come on every week!

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  • 10. At 7:17pm on 10 Feb 2009, tomtwed wrote:

    We're a secular country, aren't we? Why do both the clergy and the aristocracy sit in the Lords? Nothing to do with democracy - it's the weight of the Establishment - church and state - flexing their undemocratic powers.

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  • 11. At 7:17pm on 10 Feb 2009, expertboony wrote:

    The lords are like your Mum and Dad, you make a decision, they say no, but you do it anyway

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  • 12. At 7:19pm on 10 Feb 2009, KathleenQ wrote:

    The reform of the Lords under Tony Blair should have gone much further than it did. I think such an unelected chamber has no place in a modern democratic state. Government does nothing to change it because it is a source of undemocratic power that the PM can wield for his own or his Party's sake. That too is contemptible. The age range, the class profile, and the financial standing of members of the Upper Chamber (Why should we call them Lords?) is completely out of kilter with that of the country as a whole. Radical and wholesale reform is required to begin to bring the Houses of Parliament to a position where they really will be the servants of the people, chosen by the people, for the future good of the people.

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  • 13. At 7:19pm on 10 Feb 2009, missWooflets wrote:

    I'm a commoner from a working-class background. I no longer feel represented by the House of Commons; my view is that they support the new aristocracy - corporations, companies - the House of Commons isn't there for the common man anymore.

    The House of Lords, like the Queen, brings consistency and a sense of continuity to this country. The House of Lords is, quite rightly, charged with scrutinising the bills put forward by the House of Commons and provides a failsafe. Frankly, some of the childish and jeering behaviour displayed in the Commons gives me no confidence in them at all.

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  • 14. At 7:19pm on 10 Feb 2009, LiseyM wrote:

    I think that although the democratic legitimacy of the Lords is questionable, it carries useful functions such as the amendment and delay of government which provides a useful check on hastily passed legislation from the Commons. The Lords provides a significant forum for debate, partly due to the expertise of its members, and the Lords can be more openly minded and use their expertise to make decisions as opposed to voting along party lines, as well as having more time to examine issues. I don't think that is is important that the Lords are appointed and not elected so long as the Commons remains the more powerful chamber.

    Elise, age 16, Surrey

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  • 15. At 7:21pm on 10 Feb 2009, merrytonijones wrote:

    I bitterly resent the fact that an unelected chamber can change the decisions of an elected house, and get paid handsomely for doing so!

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  • 16. At 7:23pm on 10 Feb 2009, thelordsrule wrote:

    The Lords is the last remaining glorious institution that still remains in country! The pure joy of having unelected peers watching over us from their estates is just wonderful...Reinstate the Lords back to its full power and put the 'Great' back into Great Britain! God save the Queen!

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  • 17. At 7:25pm on 10 Feb 2009, bewilderingJennie wrote:

    I don't think the House of Lords should be done away with, unless it can be replaced with something equally powerful; we do absolutely need a second chamber, to at least modify the legislation that comes from the first...

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  • 18. At 7:26pm on 10 Feb 2009, Waretobuy wrote:

    Loved it when Jeremy took a wonderful shot at the beeb with the "don't worry Giles, you're not in the green room" jibe at Adrian.

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  • 19. At 7:30pm on 10 Feb 2009, returningjimmy wrote:

    I think paxman is way too sceptical! Most of the peers have given a great deal to society in soo many diverse ways, and deserve to represent the nation in the house of lords.

    A second chamber is very important, esp with such childish behaviour that happens in the the commons!

    BUT i do think hereditary peers and coruption must be completely removed!!

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  • 20. At 7:30pm on 10 Feb 2009, greggarious wrote:

    Reform of the House of Lords is an opportunity for Britain to establish an elected chamber which is not based on geographical constituencies. There could be several hundred constituencies based on professions and occupations - nursing, teaching, architects - sports - tennis, cycling - interest groups such as environemnt, heritage, and so on. Each voter would register for a constituency. Candidates could be proposed and seconded by consitiuency members. VOting could be at general election times, or electronically. We would have an elected, specialist , non-party second chamber.

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  • 21. At 7:31pm on 10 Feb 2009, Ripleyrees wrote:

    Jeremy Paxman - Finally an intelligent guest on the show. I am really sickened by Giles Brandreth's endless sycophantic monologues; he's hardly a man of the people and his concern about the working man smacks of 19th century philanthropy, which is totally patronising. I was glad to see Jeremy challenge him.

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  • 22. At 7:35pm on 10 Feb 2009, demiKangaroo wrote:

    I think the House of Lords should stay as it is and its independence should be fiercly guarded. Contrary to the beliefs of some that it is an insulated institution full of people who are out of touch with the real world, it is in fact full of people who have had long and dedicated service to a diverse variety of aspects of public life. Its members not only comment on legislation but bring to the Parliamentary debates their very valuable expertise in a huge range of fields.

    The House of Lords not only acts as a check on the activities of the House of Commons but also plays a very valuable part in highlighting issues that perhaps a very busy House of Commons has not always had the time to notice.

    They have the ability to make Government think again.

    For this reason I do not believe they should be meddled with. It is not outdated. It is a stable institution and much needed in an increasingly unstable society.


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  • 23. At 7:38pm on 10 Feb 2009, fallingboggymarsh wrote:

    For me the show has lost all its sense of fun and light-hearted entertainment since Giles ratted on Carol Thatcher. I now cannot stand his silly schoolboy questions. Please get some adults on the show. In my opinion Carol Thatcher should be in the House of Lords!

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  • 24. At 7:51pm on 10 Feb 2009, sensiblecrawford wrote:

    Jeremy Paxman is no left-winger, but we were fortunate he was on ‘The One Show’ on Tuesday night to savage the alleged reporter Gyles Brandreth after his item on the House of Lords. It was totally predictable that Brandeth would end up defending the Lords, since he’s as right-wing as Carol Thatcher. So Paxman did noble service blowing him out of the water. We really need to get round to the notion that we do not need the House of Lords. It can be abolished. If a revising function is needed, it can be carried out by the Civil Service, or if we must have one, another House could be formed, the main requirement being that it should not be called The House of Lords. The symbolism of not having ‘Lords’ is crucial, more important than getting bankers to apologise. Who serves in the new second House? Its members could be elected, independently of government, or appointed, independent of government. It’s really not that difficult. And ‘One Show’, if you are going to deal with serious issues, we desperately need more depth.

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  • 25. At 7:53pm on 10 Feb 2009, roanheads wrote:

    why have the house of lords a powerless body who answer to nobody. no let those who make the laws be prepared to stand and defend there actions at an election.

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  • 26. At 7:59pm on 10 Feb 2009, grnbox wrote:

    The “House of Lords” could be changed to elected members BUT be eligible ONLY to people that have never served in the “House of Commons” nor are members of a political party. The last thing we need are two Houses filled with the same type of person.

    That way the new House could still act as a safety valve representing the people and act as a kind of peoples jury.

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  • 27. At 8:10pm on 10 Feb 2009, paddocherty wrote:

    thank goodness for john cleese and Jeremy paxman
    cromwell died over 300years ago gyles
    come senators clergymen
    please heed the call
    don't stand in the doorway
    don't block up the hall

    the leader of the anti catholic autocratic party
    gyles explain
    i like the fact that it is so illogical it makes no sense
    2009
    grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

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  • 28. At 8:12pm on 10 Feb 2009, mmmarple wrote:

    Hello all, love the programme. Had to comment on Paxman's attitude, to the show and fellow speakers. His arms crossed, leg crossed away from fellow guest, sighing at what someone else is saying. How disrespectful. How dismissive. It reminded me of a long past TV programme with Dr Jonathan Miller, when the subject came round to homeopathy. He suddenly turned away from the person speaking and crossed his legs. I'll never forget it.
    PS Have you seen the light in the sky? best wishes.

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  • 29. At 8:46pm on 10 Feb 2009, janepauline wrote:

    New to all this but just had to say Paxman was brilliant best show for ages fight the PC army and keep it coming.

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  • 30. At 9:09pm on 10 Feb 2009, paulfromyork wrote:

    When are we going to stop pretending that this country is a democracy?

    1, Since I reached 18 in 1979 one party has always had an absolute majority in the House of Commons yet in no election has one party ever received or even got close to fifty percent of the votes cast. In other words the house of commons has no legitimacy to claim a mandate from the people.

    2, the upper house or the House of Lords, even the title is class ridden and offensive, could never make the slightest claim to represent the people. So where does an unelected elite fit into a truly representative democracy?

    3, our head of state is decided by an accident of birth totally without regard to the wishes of the people. We don’t elect them, we can’t sack them and we must show deference to them regardless of merit, ability or even basic competence.

    So please let’s stop pretending that Britain’s parliament is a democracy, it only encourages them.

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  • 31. At 9:51pm on 10 Feb 2009, RobTheMarlow wrote:

    The role of lords is very important. They prevent tyranny taking over, they have time to think about legislation and questions it and not be influence by a party. Also when they are chosen for there expertise they bring intellect to parliament and stop the house of commons pulling political stunts. The lords are essential and losing them would put us down the road to a republic, and i do not want to lose are United KINGDOM!

    Rob
    Edinburgh

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  • 32. At 10:07pm on 10 Feb 2009, mefann wrote:

    Keep the house of Lords, I trust them more than the other lot in the commons. The members of H.O.L have more the good of the country at heart than the commons who are mostly party motivated.

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  • 33. At 10:23pm on 10 Feb 2009, InvictusManeo wrote:

    Reformation of the House of Lords combined with proportional representation are issues which I have deliberated on for some time.
    Perhaps it takes a completely fresh approach: what is known as 'thinking outside the box'.

    I have decided in recent years to exercise my right of abstaining from casting my vote at general elections. Either my preferred choice will be elected or another fella', but my single vote is very unlikely to hold much sway. And in any case, for what reason would I vote someone into a job, just because he fancied it? I quite fancy the job of managing Portsmouth Football Club, but I don't see their board of directors holding general vote for the post. The hope is that they will appoint someone who they feel is most appropriate.

    "Spurn not the nobly born" (Iolanthe, G&S) I can not understand why there is so much grievance regarding those who's lives (although privileged in many ways) are pre-determined from birth to analyse and evaluate political issues and be responsible for societal judgements (as long as they are responsible). To me I would say this would be the ideal person for such a post, much better than Democracy; Meritocracy. If then members of the Upper house were sworn in as voting representatives by the Leaders/Cabinet of the various political parties, based on the proportion of the vote (run alongside the current 'constituency representative' system) you would 'kill two birds with one stone' as it were. PR & RL.

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  • 34. At 00:57am on 11 Feb 2009, ladymindtwister wrote:

    I don't believe in titles that are inherited, you should achieve your place in society by work. I have heard that lords get paid for just turning up in the house of lords, then fall asleep in the back row, correct me if I am wrong. Vi.

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  • 35. At 02:19am on 11 Feb 2009, lucraft-baker wrote:

    Do we really want another round of elections to appoint representatives in the House of Lords? Jeremy Paxman might enjoy having more programme fodder, but would the people feel better represented if, as could well happen, their MP was from one party and their Lord from another?

    Surely, what is needed is a clear role for the Lords, and a process of selection that does not entail an additional election process but does away with the exercise of bias (or even the risk of corruption!) in handing out peerages. And, as was shown by Giles Brandreth's interviewees, there is a lot of talent available both within the ranks of those chosen on merit and those who are lords by the accident of birth.

    My solution would be to permit all hereditary and life peers to speak in the House on subjects in which they had a special (registered) interest, but limit the power to vote to 800 designated Lords. These Lords would be divided into four groups of 200; one group comprised of non-political peers, created for their special knowledge and experience or hereditary peers without political affiliation, and chosen by the body of such peers by ballot amongst themselves, and three groups of political peers elected at successive general election of MPs . Each party would have prepared a list of candidates prior to the general election, and voting political peers would be appointed in succession from that list in proportion to the percentage of total votes cast for that party. To prevent a Government calling three elections in quick succession in order to pack the Lords with their own supporters, a minimum period of four years must have passed since the last election of Lords. Any general election within four years of the last would not affect the make up of the Lords. To give the Lords a clearer mandate, they should continue to scrutinise legislation coming from the Commons with the limited power they have at present, but in addition should sit as the "Courcil for the Constitution" to oversee the rights of citizens and to legislate in matters bearing upon the constitution of the United Kingdom. On such matters their power would be superior to the House of Commons.

    Such a House of Lords would retain the benefits of having a large pool of specialist knowledge at its disposal, but have a distinct limit on the number of voting peers, representative of the whole nation, not of individual constituencies. Its role as guardian of citizens rights and the constitution would curb excesses by whatever Government is in power that might be tempted to legislate unfairly in the interest of their own voters to the detriment of others, and the limit on voting peers would remove the temptation for a Government to create additional peers in order to pack the Lords with its sympathisers. Perhaps an equally important benefit would be that this form of election would not cost so much as holding separate elections for peers.

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  • 36. At 09:06am on 11 Feb 2009, aeroseptimus wrote:

    The House of Lords is an essential part of our governing body. If the members were elected, then they would be forced to follow party lines, whereas at the moment, they can vote which ever way they want. If they feel something is wrong, then they say so.

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  • 37. At 09:08am on 11 Feb 2009, JohnGoater wrote:

    No the House of Lords should remain. I always look forward to the One Show but did not enjoy Paxman. He is far too blunt and costic with his comments. But as usual Adrian and Christine did extremely well with him.

    John

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  • 38. At 09:20am on 11 Feb 2009, BucksCommonSense wrote:

    Paxman is very rude, he didn't even let Gyles finish what he had to say, but isn't that typical of him. He can be very good, but then his vanity takes over and he tries to become the centre of the show, where he is most important and that's when you turn off. I would challenge Paxman to show us any country in the world with an elected 2nd house that is any better than ours. Most 2nd houses are just as corrupt as the 1st house and just as dominated by politics, so what is the point of such a 2nd house, even if it is elected. There is nothing wrong with our system except for the corruption angle. That is all that needs to be addressed, so yes throw them out and strip them of the title. better still, don't give them titles in the first place, call it the "Unelected 2nd House", allow the Lords and Bishops their places still (for balance) and then just continue to appoint others, but don't give them titles. the House of Commons doesn't work that well, so why would an elected 2nd house work any better.

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  • 39. At 09:22am on 11 Feb 2009, CairnTerrier wrote:

    Until we get rid of the unelected House of Lords we have no right to call ourselves a democracy.

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  • 40. At 10:19am on 11 Feb 2009, Julucie wrote:

    No, the House of Lords shouldn't be scrapped, but tightened up considerably and pronto.

    On a lighter note, please, please, PLEASE consider giving Gyles Brandreth and Jeremy Paxman a slot, or even a politically slanted satire show together. We (the great British public) are sorely in need of incisive, intelligent wit and these two brilliant, grumpy brains were SUPERB together. It was like a taster of a delicious meal that I want more of, and fast!

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  • 41. At 4:07pm on 12 Feb 2009, footy2boot wrote:

    If it ain't bust, don't fix it!

    The Lords act as a perfect regulator to the parliament passing legislation. The argument that the lords aren't an elected body doesn't stand up when you consider that MPs are often forced to tow the party line in commons votes - making a mockery of MPs acting on behalf of their electorate.

    However I do think that any Lords found guilty of any impropriety should be thrown out.

    As for Jeremy Paxman - what an arrogant and obnoxious twit. I found his very biased views highly alarming for a journalist and presenter on a (supposedly independent) BBC news programme.

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  • 42. At 1:51pm on 13 Feb 2009, Ilovecans wrote:

    41. I agree footy that we need some kind of second chamber and the Lords is as good as any. I suppose they are a pretty varied bunch of people .. some got there by birth and some got there through politics but many got there through business and hard work I subscribe to the same views as Alan Sugar... make stuff, sell stuff and make money. Trouble with most of our MP's in the first chamber they are of one type. Never worked and never wanted to do anything other than get into politics. I think a couple of chambers.. one like the Lords made up of all backgrounds and another. preferably with a few smoking spliffs, who would take a more laid back view and prob less of a knee jerk reactive like approach to government would do our country just fine.

    I don't agree with you on Jeremy Paxman.... we need smart opinionated people like him on TV to ask the harder, smarter questions.

    Allan, Brighton

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  • 43. At 8:30pm on 13 Feb 2009, atseyes wrote:

    I am firmly on the side of the Lords in something like its present form. Yes, I know that we live in what is called a democracy, but for most of us, our participation in government is limited to voting once every four or five years, and I am not at all sure that the Ancient Greeks would recognise that as a democracy. For our Government and the House of Commons to be truly accountable, we need to be able to call them to account after every major decision, not some few years down the line, and on that decision, not what they are promising to do in the future. And being voted in does not mean that anyone automatically becomes an expert in government.

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  • 44. At 11:43am on 14 Feb 2009, theforceiswithyou_08 wrote:

    Hi my name is Philip I certainly think it is about time that the House of Lords should be scrapped as I very much strongly believe that members of the House of Lords are given their position because of their assosiation with friends within the House of Commons, or just because they are rich and can buy their way into anything. A good few years back I remember seeing a news broadcast showing us that a member of the House of Lords spent over I think £10,000 of taxpayers money on doing up his pad in London on wallpaper alone. They think they are above us and certainly act like they really would not care about anyone but themselves as long as they hold on to their position, and the high life that comes with it.

    so to conclude I really believe the House of Lords is CORRUPT

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  • 45. At 10:56pm on 14 Feb 2009, ladymindtwister wrote:

    I remember the scandal about the expensive wallpaper, it was a disgrace. All members of parliament should be elected, whether they are house of commons or lords, I don't believe in anyone inheriting any position of power, it should be worked for, that way, when they do get the power they have the experience to back it up, I feel the same about the royal family, oh dear!! have I just committed treason, Vi, Northumberland.

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  • 46. At 6:40pm on 15 Feb 2009, Lionel wrote:

    I do not mind if the House of Lords is kept of abolished BUT - if you get rid of the Upper House, would you be content just letting MP's decide unchallenged our way of life?
    It seems to me of the few politicians I have had opportunity to meet, that they talk a good game but I've yet to meet one who has so much as a clue about the lives of ordinary folk on the street. I think we should hold onto our Lords until such a day we realise something to replace them with.
    The idea that Lords should be elected by the populous is fine by me but then do us Brits really give a hoot who is representing us. Be honest, not even half of us vote at major elections, let alone any other votes there after.

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  • 47. At 7:50pm on 15 Feb 2009, ladymindtwister wrote:

    I looked up the word POLITIC in my dictionary the answer was GUILE, you can't trust any of them whether house of commons, or lords, they spend most of their time slagging each other off, and scoring brownie points off each other, and can they answer a question plainly and honestly? I don't think so, but they are all we have, so my points are futile, aren't they?

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  • 48. At 4:40pm on 18 Apr 2009, curryandokra wrote:

    Lords exercise power for our benefit because no matter what decision they take it does not directly benefit them. This is called 'independence' and it is a very good thing. Elected peers would entirely destroy this.

    Before you campaign for elected peers, ask yourself this: do you, as a whole, trust the House of Commons?

    I don't. We've already got 650 paid sycophantic toadies, why do we want more?

    And please stop harping on about the Lords being undemocratic. Democracy is 'rule by the people', not a few people making a cross on a ballot paper every five years to have very little effect on choosing the people that then take all the decisions. An elected Lords is hardly the democratic ideal.

    An unelected Lords works well now as it has worked well for centuries and that's the only justification it needs. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

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