Most people agree that Lords have no place in a 21st century democracy. Indeed, there is little love for the archaic House of Lords right across the political spectrum. Former prime minister Gordon Brown has called it “indefensible”, Novara Media’s Araon Bastani “a national embarrassment’ and the Daily Mail’s Andrew Neil “a symbol of institutional corruption, bloated with ministerial has-beens.” Where there is less consensus is what should replace the Lords. But should Keir Starmer come good on his pledge to reform the second chamber in the first term of a new Labour government, Britain needs an answer.
A groundbreaking YouGov poll, commissioned by the Sortition Foundation, has revealed that the most popular alternative amongst the public is not one that politicians are talking about. Labour's drive towards installing an “Assembly of Nations and Regions” full of more politicians is out of step with the people’s preference. Instead the survey highlighted significant backing for replacing the House of Lords with a permanent rolling citizens' assembly composed of people from all walks of life: a House of Citizens. This option emerged as the most popular choice, commanding the support of nearly 1 in 4 of all respondents.
With 23% of respondents supporting the House of Citizens as a replacement for the House of Lords, those calling for democratic reform should take note and seriously consider this alternative as they navigate the complexities of constitutional reform.
Here at the Sortition Foundation, we believe that for politics to work for ordinary people, it has to involve ordinary people. A House of Citizens would make politicians answerable to people from our communities - our doctors, shopkeepers, teachers, carers, tradespeople, friends and family members rather than a bizarre mixture of their political party donors, cronies and aristocrats.
Permanent citizens' assemblies have already been established in Belgium, Paris, Newham, and Melbourne. By replacing the House of Lords with a House of Citizens there is an opportunity for Britain to be part of a wave of change and make a democracy we can be proud of.
After all, as constitutional expert Meg Russell has documented, we’ve been trying to reform the House of Lords for over 100 years, perhaps it hasn’t worked because we’ve not had the right idea? Certainly, concerns that having an elected second chamber would undermine the primacy of the House of Commons hasn’t helped get politicians on board.
As everyone agrees the House of Lords has to go, the question really comes down to who we trust to do the job instead. It’s a choice of politicians or people. It seems clear to us that you can’t restore trust in politics by creating a second chamber full of more politicians when trust in politicians is at the lowest level on record. So perhaps a House of Citizens is our only option?
For more details about how a House of Citizens would work see here.
Poll details & results:
The poll question was: "Currently, UK Parliament has two chambers, the House of Commons (1st chamber) and the House of Lords (2nd chamber). The House of Lords is made up of hereditary peers (those who inherit a seat in the House of Lords), bishops, and other 'life peers' chosen by Prime Ministers to have a seat in the Lords until they die. The Lords have the power to delay and suggest amendments to legislation passed by MPs in the House of Commons. In which of the following ways, if any, would you most like to see the House of Lords reformed?"
The results were:
- Replacing the House of Lords with a rolling citizens' assembly: 23%
- Replacing the House of Lords with an elected chamber: 18%
- Abolishing the House of Lords and whole second chamber: 13%
- The House of Lords should remain appointed but hereditary peers should be removed: 10%
- None of these - the House of Lords should remain as it is: 10%
- A house of regions with indirectly elected members appointed by regional or local government: 5%
- Don't know: 21%