Do we live in a democracy? Most people would probably agree that we do, albeit the system is far from perfect. However, because Parliament has evolved over centuries there are many anachronistic features of it that do not sit well with the concept of democracy, the House of Lords being the most obvious one. We know that they are unelected but did you know that there are several hundred more Peers (members of the House of Lords) than MP's with more being appointed on a regular basis. Once appointed you are there for life with the result that its composition never reflects the most recent election result. For example, UKIP and the SNP are significantly under-represented whereas we still have 26 Bishops and 92 Hereditary Peers (those who membership is inherited from their family, a title sometimes stretching back centuries). It doesn't sound like a particularly accurate reflection of the country and as recent research by the Electoral Reform Society showed can be open to abuse.
This study identified that some members of the House of Lords claimed £100,000 over the five-year period of the last Parliament without ever voting once. Peers can claim a daily allowance of £300 a day when they turn up, with no obligation to vote or speak, and as they have no constituency to represent I find it hard to see how so many Peers can be justified, particularly at a time when the number of MP's is expected to reduce. Despite this, the House of Lords do perform an important function as a revising chamber for all Government legislation, although at best they can delay rather than stop laws being passed. Wouldn't it be so much better if they had democratic legitimacy and more transparency? I think some sort of second chamber is necessary but it has to have a democratic mandate and its members should be accountable to the public. What form this takes has always been the stumbling block when attempts have been made at change in the past but with the current drive for devolution I believe some sort of Senate based upon regional representation may be the answer.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the latest Unite Learning Centre at Vauxhall Motors. The new centre, in conjunction with West Cheshire College provides opportunities for employees at Vauxhalls to further their education whilst remaining in work. From brushing up on English and Maths to obtaining much needed IT skills, it provides a great way to enhance an individuals skills later on in life. In a fast changing and highly competitive world it is an important resource that will help increase employability and confidence.