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House of Lords needs immediate reforms to bring back some Public Confidence in Politicians: Sikh Federation UK

August 4, 2015 | By

London, England: A statement by Sikh Federation UK calling for House of Lords to initiate immediate reforms to bring back some Public Confidence in Politicians reads as follows:

We support calls for the reform of the House of Lords, especially following the scandal involving Lord Sewel. The start of the reform process needs to be immediate to bring back some public confidence in politicians.

The biggest complaint is regarding the size of the Lords and this will not be helped if in the next few weeks the Prime Minister announces another fifty or so new peers, who are expected to be mainly Conservative and Liberal Democrats. There are also media reports to suggest lessons have not been learnt for the cash for peerages controversy with a number of large party donors being lined up for the Lords.

It is beyond believe that peers are not subject to a retirement age. Peers should be subject to a retirement age of 70, bringing them into line with the practice for Law Lords and bishops. If this is seen as too radical an interim measure would be to have a retirement age of 75 or 80.

A retirement age would immediately reduce the number of peers and costs as well as leave room for a large number of new peers depending on the retirement age selected. The introduction of a retirement age would not be restricted to a one off reduction, but would result in a continuous lowering of numbers over time as peers reached the retirement age. To get the buy in of the main parties where it would have the most impact and to ensure sufficient independent cross-benchers the current inter-party and independent balance may need to be maintained.

Lord Bew, the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, recently said peers over 75 should lose their £300 tax-free daily allowance. In effect those over 75 would keep their titles and their right to travel expenses if they wish to speak in the Chamber, but controversially peers living outside London would in effect be excluded. Lord Bew’s proposal would reduce costs, but a retirement age of 70 would have a much bigger impact. A further step that could be taken to reduce costs further is to reduce the attendance grant worth up to £300 a day for peers who live in London who clearly do not need to pay for accommodation costs when in London.

If the new peers to be announced by David Cameron include as reported a ‘big handful’ of large party donors this will prove to be a major mistake in terms of public confidence. The fewer the number of large party donors who are made peers the better. They should also be individuals that have proven skills and experience that will be an asset in the Lords. The introduction of a retirement age would however leave room for a large number of new peers to ensure better representation.

All the political parties are aware that Sikhs are hugely under-represented in Parliament. There are currently 41 ethnic minority MPs, up from 27 in 2010, but for the first time since 1992 none are Sikh. Sikhs are also hugely under-represented in the Lords with only three compared to 20 Hindus and 13 Muslim peers (see Sikh Manifesto published in January 2015).
A retirement age of 70 or even 80 may result in two of the three Sikh Lords having to step down. Although academic if a retirement age was introduced, both peers would also be impacted on by Lord Bew’s proposal, but as both are reasonably well-off and live in London this may be the least of their worries. On the upside, there is a long and illustrious Anglo-Sikh history and there are plenty of younger and very capable British Sikhs for each of the parties to choose from in the 700,000-strong Sikh community.

The Labour Party that has traditionally had the support of the Sikh community at the ballot box embarrassingly has no Sikhs in either the Commons or Lords. Despite all of Labour’s promises regarding the need for Sikhs in the House of Lords it would be a huge surprise if a Sikh is one of the six Lords nominated by Labour.

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