The public are clear: it’s time for a fully elected House of Lords


The public are consistently in favour of reforms which have been promised for many years; with 66% of respondents in the Labour Together polling supporting a directly elected House of Lords via nationwide elections. 

Opponents of a democratically elected House of Lords claim that the benefits of appointing the Lords are greater expertise and independence from party politics. However, the reality is that the Lords is fit to burst, with 780 sitting members it is the second the largest legislative chamber in the world, does not operate as a non-partisan body and rarely appoints its members on the basis of expertise. In fact, whips and whipping is well and alive within the House, their role is slightly different from whips in the House of Commons (Whips in the House of Lords have an active role at the despatch box with the same constitutional position as Departmental Ministers) But whilst “party discipline tends to be less strong” in the House of Lords than in the Commons, as defeats can be later overruled, the Whips still aim for high turnout at votes and debates.

There were 210 divisions in 2021/2022, of those 203 were whipped and 7 were free votes. There were 744 Peers(1)  in the 2021/2022 term who were eligible to vote in every division. Of all votes cast by Conservative peers in the House of Lords, 99% were along party lines. Of the Conservative peers who voted at least once (262), 154 always voted for the government (59%). No Conservative peers only voted against the government. This trend of voting along party lines can be seen in the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, with both voting overwhelmingly against the Government in the 2021-2022 session (98% and 100% respectively). Unwhipped Peers had more variance in their voting, with 23% of votes for the Government and 77% against.

The above shows the strong partisan aspects of the upper chamber . As non-party Crossbench peers have to fit their time in the House of Lords around current careers, the business of the house is often left to peers who are former politicians. Our 2015 report House of Lords Fact vs Fiction found that 29% of Lords appointments since 1997 were former politicians who lost elections or resigned. These political peers  nearly always vote along party lines.

Not only is the House of Lords strongly partisan and far from a chamber of neutral experts, it is not trusted by the public. Recent polling from Labour Together shows that 70% of the public do not trust the House of Lords to “act in the best interest of the people”. Further polling by YouGov(2) found that only 2% of the public have a ‘lot of confidence’ in the House of Lords; and, 70% of respondents had ‘no’ or ‘not very much’ confidence. A potential factor for the lack of trust in the House of Lords is the role of unrestricted Prime Ministerial patronage, the most high profile example of which is the controversial resignation honours system. The UCL Constitution Unit research found that only 6% public support Prime Ministerial appointments to the Lords(3). The above compounded with the limited powers of the House of Lords Appointment Commission (HOLAC) has left the appointments process open to exploitation. Not only have there been Prime Ministerial appointments made against the advice of the Commission(4) but in recent years the number of Prime Ministerial appointments made vastly outnumber those made by HOLAC.

At present, voters have no choice over their representatives in the House of Lords nor do they have any mechanism for holding Lords to account, as most Lords are appointed for life. There is negligible public involvement in who enters or stays in the Lords which leaves the public powerless. Reforming the House of Lords to an elected chamber would remove the rampant patronage surrounding the Second Chamber and ensure that those who are shaping our laws are accountable to those that live under them.

The House of Lords1 is reflecting poorly upon our politics. It is failing to represent huge swathes of the UK. This is bad both for legislation and public trust. The public are consistently in favour of reforms which have been promised for many years; with 66% of respondents in the Labour Together polling supporting a directly elected House of Lords via nationwide elections.

The ERS advocates for a fully elected House of Lords via a proportional voting system, which would ensure a strong voice for all part of the UK and a fairly elected and accountable House of Lords.

This blog was written by Thea Ridley-Castle, Research and Policy Officer, The Electoral Reform Society.

  1. Figures for party groups exclude peers who swapped between groups (e.g. someone being an independent, then joining the Conservative group during the parliamentary session) and are therefore only for those peers who were only in the Conservative, Labour or LibDem group in that parliament.
  2. YouGov political tracker (August 12-14th 2023)
  3. Majority of public support House of Lords appointments reform | The Constitution Unit – UCL – University College London
  4. 2020-12-22-Chair-of-HOLAC-to-PACAC-Peter-Cruddas-peerage.pdf (