Well you are a peer, sir


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Now, let's do the math. We have four dukes, 25 earls, 15 viscounts, 45 barons and two lords. That makes a total of 91 peers in the upper house of the British Parliament. This is a lifetime or inherited title of nobility that entitles you to sit in the House of Lords. And it has been so for 700 years.

One can become a peer as the eldest son of a noble family, or one can be granted a peerage by the monarch on the prime minister's nomination. In 2020, for example, Boris Johnson lobbied for family friend Evgeny Lebedev, son of banker and foreign intelligence officer Alexander Lebedev, to be granted a title of nobility.

Evgeny became Baron Hampton of Richmond-on-Thames, and (by the way, why all of a sudden?) Baron of Siberia. Is Siberia now a British barony? Or is Evgeny a direct descendant of Yermak Timofeyevich? In any case, Baron Lebedev is a crossbencher, that is, a peer without party affiliation who sits in the House on benches standing perpendicular to the rows for the ruling party and the opposition.

In the House of Lords, the majority belongs to peers from the Conservative Party. From their ranks, Rishi Sunak has decided to draw reserves for the Cabinet. Why?

According to the Ministerial Salaries Act 1975, the prime minister cannot have more than 109 ministers in the Cabinet, with many high-ranking officials being called ministers. There are, for example, junior ministers who deal with less sensitive issues, secretaries of state and other officials.

But just since the 70s, the areas of responsibility of ministers began to expand, and there were simply not enough hands to do everything. So, little by little, they began to use the help of peers, members of the House of Lords. But on a pro bono basis.

Cameron's cabinet had 9 such ministers without a salary. Sunak already has 17, but the mobilization process has slowed down. For paid positions, if such positions are vacated, the Prime Minister prefers to take MPs from the House of Commons, but the lords are offered to serve the crown for free. There are now 126 «part-timers» in both Houses.

«More often than not, you just have to stand up on the floor of the House and read from a piece of paper a speech you didn't even write,» lamented one peer. - «Who wants to be a «talking head»? However, there are always ambitious lackeys willing to do this unglamorous hard work».

The work is indeed hard. For a day's presence in the House, a peer receives 324 pounds sterling - 414 dollars. And this is the second, and perhaps the first, reason for not wanting to become a minister. After all, if you are involved in something outside of sessions, you are removed from your allowance for that time.

«It's especially hard if you are involved in the structures of the Ministry of Defense,» says another peer. - «There, it tends to be long-term travel, and they don't even pay a per diem. We are being asked to leave a paid position and move to a free one with huge responsibility.»

Since Gordon Brown's premiership, the opposition has been proposing to disband the House and replace it with an elected body representing the nations and regions. Well, to start with, at least, to somehow reduce the number of peer heirs.

This aspiration is understandable. There are now 46 Conservative peers in the House of Lords and only 4 Labour peers. The rest are crossbenchers, Liberal Democrats and others. That is, even if Labour wins the upcoming elections, the upper house will be able to successfully annoy the new government simply because among the Tories are many rich people and hereditary noblemen who received the title by inheritance. And in general it is not very clear why the party that wins (if suddenly) the parliamentary elections will have a minority in its upper house.

Labour commissioned a survey on this issue to the Opinium research center. It turned out that 20 percent of respondents trusted the upper house and 40 percent trusted the lower house. Two-thirds believe that the House of Lords should be abolished and replaced by an elected body.

A cross-party parliamentary committee has even been formed on this issue, which has found out a lot of curious things. For example, 88 new Conservatives have recently become peers, although 57 have died or retired.

In general, the committee recommended that future governments should phase out the institution of hereditary peers, and when appointing new ones, limit their terms in the House to 15 years, otherwise the whole affair is damaging not only to the reputation but also to the effectiveness of the House of Lords.

Tony Blair also tried to take up reform. His reform project was to send all peer heirs home to their castles, but met with desperate resistance from the Conservatives, who were then in opposition. In the end, he agreed to keep a minimal number of them, and then only as a temporary measure. 

And it wasn't just Labour, it was the Conservatives who were thinking about reform. Even Liz Truss tried to move something forward, but then the powerful Conservative lobby rose up and persuaded her not to touch anything or, if we were defeated, we would be run over.

Sunak, too, had people coming to him with various proposals. Lord Forsyth, president of the Conservative Peerage Association, has been discussing options with the prime minister. One is for the party to proportionately reduce the number of peer heirs, which everyone seems to agree with behind the scenes. The second is to replace the status of an heir with that of a life peer. Thus, in case of death or retirement of one, he will not be replaced by another from the same party. Otherwise it could go on like this indefinitely.