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House of Commons Hansard
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House of Lords (Parliamentary Standards Etc) Bill
17 November 2015
Volume 602

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 to make provision for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to be responsible for determining, paying, maintaining oversight of, and adjudicating complaints relating to, the allowances, expenses and financial interests of members of the House of Lords; to amend the House of Lords Reform Act 2014 to provide for the compulsory retirement of members of the House of Lords under certain conditions; to make provision for the reduction of the number of members of the House of Lords; and for connected purposes.

The other place is too large, too political, too comfortable and too prone to political patronage. It is time to reform it. The Bill is sponsored by Members from several political parties, and it assumes that, for the time being, the House of Lords remains appointed. On behalf of at least one of the Bill’s supporters, who is in his place, I am not saying whether the House of Lords should be elected or appointed: we have had that debate for 100 years and opinion is divided. We are where we are. For the present and for the foreseeable future, the House of Lords is appointed and it needs reform.

My personal view is that an elected Chamber would cause all sorts of problems that would have to be resolved. I do not see any point in the other place replicating this place. It should not be a place for ambitious 30 and 40-somethings who want to climb the greasy pole and become Ministers. There is no harm in ambition, but there is no point in having just another whole set of politicians in the other place. Arguments will rage back and forth on that point, but I do not want to get involved in that debate today. My Bill looks at the House of Lords as it is—an appointed body.

If the other place is not elected, it cannot replicate this House in terms of political dispute. It has to be a place of experts, distinguished men and women from all walks of life and all parts of the country, and mature people who do not want to get involved in politics any more. They may have been politicians, but they should now want to use the other place to improve legislation. There is no doubt that much of the legislation that leaves this place is hurried, has not been thought through and needs improving. There is a place for a revising Chamber, and I would like the Bill to achieve an agreement by convention that the House of Lords is not there to overturn manifesto commitments, or to get involved in taxation. The House of Commons was created all those centuries ago to ensure that the king could not tax the people without the consent of the people, and therefore taxation resides with this place. I would like to see the House of Lords established as a sensible, revising Chamber.

I return to my original point. The Lords is too large, too political, too comfortable and too prone to political patronage. I must make it clear that this is not a declaratory Bill. I wish to lay down some guidelines—and Lord Strathclyde is working on these matters now—but it is for the other place to decide how it meets those guidelines. My own view is that the House of Lords is too large: it does not need to be larger than the House of Commons. I would use the size of the Commons as a guide. We have 650 Members—perhaps after the next election it will be 600. How would we reduce a House of Lords of 850 Members to 600 or 650? I would leave it to the House of Lords to determine how to do it, but my own view is that we need some mechanism to ensure that the size of the political parties in the other place reflects the size of the political parties in this place after a general election. That is for the Lords to decide—they may have another point of view or they may wish to reflect voting strengths. They would also need room for Cross Benchers, so that no one party had a majority. That is important. Just because one party gets an overall majority in this place, it should not have one in the other place.

The House of Lords is overcrowded at the moment and we should reduce its size. We should also stop the absurd race, every time we have a general election with a change of party control, whereby the incoming Prime Minister feels that he has to create another 10, 20, 30 or 40 Members of the other place to try to increase his strength. We keep getting a larger and larger body. When I started in politics, it was hard to get into the House of Lords—usually new peers were of former Cabinet rank. It is becoming too easy to get in, and that gives the Prime Minister too much power. I do not really approve of the system under which the Prime Minister can just send up loads of people from this place: we need a limit on size.

Not everyone will agree, but perhaps we will have to reduce the number of bishops. There were 12 apostles, so perhaps 12 bishops would be enough, and there are also people of other faiths. Again, that is for the House of Lords to decide.

I do not think the House of Lords should have a set retirement age, because there are people aged 90 who are making a tremendously good contribution. If they are elected by their fellows in their political party or among the Cross Benchers to go on sitting there, let them do it. But one way of solving the problem would be to say that no one over the age of 80 should draw expenses or allowances, or be allowed to vote. That system works well in the Vatican. Cardinals can join discussions with their colleagues, but over the age of 80 they cannot vote. What is good enough for cardinals should be good enough for the other place. Again, that is for the House of Lords to decide, but to force people over 80 to be on the Whip, to come in and to vote late at night is rather demeaning for them and unnecessary. If they were not receiving expenses, it would get rid of any other inducements.

Let me deal briefly with expenses. Unfortunately, the House of Lords has increasingly been liable to criticism and scandal. We have to find a way forward. I think that Members of the House of Lords should be able to choose whether to be on an expenses regime and subject to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority—allowed to claim for a hotel and travel if their main home is outside London—or to receive a modest, flat-rate, taxable allowance. That would get rid of all the scandals that we read about in the newspaper of people coming in for just half an hour or an hour to claim their £300 a day tax-free allowance. We should have the same system here, by the way, with a choice between going on the IPSA regime, with all its complications, and getting a modest, taxable allowance.

If we want to recreate the conventions about making the Lords a revising Chamber, to have a modern expenses regime and to get really distinguished people in the other place who want to make a contribution—not necessarily all the time, but coming in a few times a year because they have a particular expertise—my Bill would fit the bill. It would be a modern, revising Chamber; after all, we are all modernisers now. It would also avoid scandals and create a House of Lords of a good size. It would make the other place fit for purpose for the 21st century, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Sir Edward Leigh, Robert Flello, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Mike Kane, Mr Andrew Turner, Philip Davies, Martin Vickers, Mark Menzies, Michael Fabricant, Daniel Kawczynski, Robert Neill and Norman Lamb present the Bill.

Sir Edward Leigh accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 4 December, and to be printed (Bill 95).