Article published 27 April 2013
It is indeed a great anomaly that in a vibrant democracy like ours where people are elected to govern us there is anachronism in the form of the House of Lords. There is no electoral system which decides members of the House of Lords. Some inherit the position due to accident of birth and some are awarded it by the Prime Minister. Many become Lords by making huge donations to political parties. Once they enter the Lords some of them abandon the political party which sponsored them and become independent Peers answerable to no one. This state of affairs cannot be justified in a modern democracy which is why all three political parties claimed to support the reform of the house at the last election. The joint committee on the draft of House of Lords Reform Bill recommended that the 1,000 strong Lords should be replaced by a 450 strong chamber, 80% of its members would be elected based on the Australian version of Proportional representation and 20% would be nominated to serve 15 years non renewable terms.
According to Baron Andrew Adonis, Labour politician and journalist the Lords is becoming absurdly overpopulated as successive governments seek to redress the balance in their favour. He argues that this is making the Lords one of the silliest legislative chambers in the democratic world. Some Peers rarely show up but still keep their positions for life.There have also been some disgraced Peers who have retained their status and seat within the House of Lords. There are quite a few Lords of Indian origin and it is a matter of great irritation and frustration that many of them have no real connection with the community and spend their time in getting involved in the politics of the Indian subcontinent. They often make negative comments about India and never tire of highlighting its many perceived failures. Who are these people to speak about issues that they only have prejudicial views of? They have not been elected by anyone. There is something very peculiar about Indian intellectuals abroad and those who have got in positions of power in that they never can bring themselves to acknowledging anything positive in the land of their birth. This is peculiar because you will never hear of any other nationals who rubbish the country of their birth without any balance. These Lords have an exaggerated sense of greatness and their egos are further buttressed by being treated as heroes when they visit India. Indians mistakenly think that their sons and daughters have done them proud abroad. Little do they know that they routinely find faults in their motherland and never ever defend it on any issue. When contentious issues about their motherland are being discussed they will remain silent or be absent. An example of how the Lords of Indian origin are all too willing to sign up for anything that portrays their fellow countrymen in a poor light is their support for the caste lobby. The government had set up a body to look into the alleged caste discrimination. National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) the body which did the study spoke to 30 people. Out of the 30 cases 9 were dropped by the author of the report. No cases of caste discrimination were found in the remaining 21 cases. None of the accusations of caste discrimination were verified by interviewing the alleged perpetrators. Inspite of the flawed NIESR research it came to the following conclusion: ‘‘It is impossible to categorically determine whether caste discrimination and harassment within the meaning of the Act has occurred”. Except for the two Conservative Lords all Labour Lords of Indian origin voted for the legislation.
It is a clear example of how these well paid Lords did not make any attempt whatsoever to look deeper into the issue. It is a mockery of democracy that these unelected individuals have managed to get the House of Commons to vote on the issue. It is clear that the House of Lords needs to be reformed and it is also clear that the Indian community does not want these Lords to be the self appointed judge and jury for matters that impact them. These Lords should also know that in the grand scheme of things they do not count to much. We must do away with this tendency to placate, praise and hero-worship anyone without scrutinising their record.
Nitin Mehta MBE
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