Lord Lester of Herne Hill, a Liberal Democrat peer, recently managed to avoid a record four-year suspension of the House of Lords when his fellow Lords protected him and voted against his punishment in mid November, even though he had been found guilty of sexual harassment by the Lords Committee for Privileges and Conduct.
The Committee concluded that the allegation by Ms Jasvinder Sanghera CBE that Lord Lester had groped her 12 years ago, and offered her the title of baroness for sex were true. Although found guilty, the 82-year old peer escaped formal punishment apart from having to endure embarrassing publicity around his misdemeanours.
It’s a familiar tale of human frailty, the old boys’ network system and misjustice. The newspaper headlines about ‘titles for sex’ are reminiscent of the cash for honours scandal in 2006 when there was a police investigation into membership of the House of Lords in exchange for political donations. However, no charges were ever made.
The whole Lord Lester debacle raises questions around the House of Lords, its role in a fast-changing world and the need for fresh, new talent that represents our diverse population. Unlike the House of Commons, members of the House of Lords are not elected.
A wide sweeping reform of the archaic institution has been on the cards for more than a century and the last attempt in 2014 to bring in elected peers by Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government, was abandoned after it was opposed by the Conservatives.
Thankfully having the title of Lord or Lady no longer provides an entitlement to serve in the House of Lords. The right to membership of the House of Lords was restricted to 92 inherited Lords in 1999 and most (around 700 out of the 800 or so life peers) are appointed by Her Majesty The Queen as recommended by the Prime Minister.
The best way to change things is from the inside. Did you know that members of the public can apply to become a member of the House of Lords? Applications are taken from experts in their field on a part-time basis as an independent crossbench peer or a political peer affiliated to one of the main political parties. It is a challenge like no other: only the brave need apply.