Friday 31 July 2020 10:06 am

DEBATE: With Alistair Darling standing down from the House of Lords, is it time to consider term limits for peers?

John O’Connell is chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance
John Oxley
John Oxley is a Conservative commentator

With Alistair Darling standing down from the House of Lords, is it time to consider term limits for peers?

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, says YES.

The House of Lords needs to be reformed. It is too big, too opaque, and too expensive. 

With Alistair Darling deciding to stand down from the Lords, there is an opportunity to consider introducing term limits for all. It’s an appealing idea — too many peers undermine the House, clinging on to the title and turning up to claim their allowance while rarely doing much proper work. So why not serve them with a retirement date? 

It’s not the only idea on the table. What about an electoral college, with the number of peers capped and refreshed after an election to reflect party vote share? Or a German-style Bundesrat, filled with one elected individual from each council to give us a dollop of localism? Or retiring peers with a one-in-two-out system, establishing new convention and slimming down our bloated upper chamber without overhauling the UK constitution?

Taxpayers could get much better value from a tweaked system — one that didn’t require them to pay for the second largest legislative body in the world, stacked with absent appointees. It’s a question of when, not if, reform will come.

Read more: DEBATE: Should the government move the House of Lords to York?

John Oxley, a Conservative commentator, says NO.

The House of Lords is the largest repository of institutional memory in the world. Its longest serving member, Lord Denham, succeeded under Clement Atlee and has served in the cabinets of five Prime Ministers. 

Such stalwarts are a vital part of the Lords’ work.

As the senior chamber, and a reviewing chamber, the Lords should be insulated from fads and modish thinking. While the Commons must remain captive to the electoral cycle, the Lords should have its eyes fixed on the longue durée. 

Appointments for life allow for a more mature and balanced chamber, thinking of more than how to make their mark in their allotted time. The Lords should not be focused on a 15-year term, but rather the long-term stewardship of the nation.

An automatic churn of peers would only dilute the expertise therein. Lords would be arbitrarily expelled in their prime, and there would be no space for the understanding of government that can be built from a lifetime of service.

Read more: Who will the PM hire as the press conference spokesperson?

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.