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House of Lords: Membership

Volume 727: debated on Tuesday 24 May 2011


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many additional Peers from each of the parties that contested the 2010 general election are required to meet the commitment in the coalition’s programme for government to establish “a second Chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election”.

My Lords, the coalition programme made clear that, pending reform of this House, appointments would be made with the objective of creating a second Chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election. We have now published our proposals for a wholly or mainly elected House, and we intend that the first elected Members will join this House in 2015. The Prime Minister will continue to move towards the objectives set out in the coalition programme.

My Lords, that was an Answer to two questions, neither of which was the Question I asked. Can I assume that neither the Leader of the House nor anyone in the unit in the Civil Service that is dealing with these things has read the document published by the Constitution Unit of University College London, which calculates that if the coalition agreement’s plans for appointment to this House were to be met, an additional 269 Peers would be required? We have two simultaneous government policies, one set out in the coalition agreement, which provides for a House in excess of 1,000 Members, and the other in the document published last week, the draft Bill, which provides for a House of 300 Members. Will the Leader of the House explain the Government’s thinking?

I think the noble Lord is making a frightful meal of this. There is no complexity in it at all. The Prime Minister has said, as outlined in the coalition document, that we will move towards this objective over time, but we may not reach it. If we get to 2015 and have elected Members of this House, it will, of course, be unnecessary. What all the figures demonstrate is that the Labour Party is extremely well represented in this House. If anyone needs more Members it is the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.

Does the Minister agree that one of the important principles that should be preserved in this House is that no one party should ever have an overall majority within it? Does he also accept that in the House as presently constituted, 80 per cent of Members are male and 20 per cent female, with an average age of 69, and that any future appointments or any future electoral system should be geared towards improving the representative nature of this House to make it more reflective of the diversity of the country as a whole?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend’s first point. It is a matter of record that the coalition—the combined forces of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats—is no more than 40 per cent of this House, which means that it is a minority. The Labour Party does not like to be reminded of the fact that it is the largest group in the House of Lords, but that, too, is a fact. I am sure that my noble friend’s statistics on the male-female ratio are correct. We are also a substantially older House than many other assemblies and parliaments in the world, which of course is not such a bad thing. It is a good opportunity to let the House know that it is my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway’s 94th birthday today.

I thank my noble friend very much. I was wondering whether noble Lords in this House were more interested in retaining its ethos than in diversity. Does my noble friend agree?

My Lords, I am a great believer in the ethos of this House, which has served the interests of the nation over a long period of time. I very much hope that if we do get to an elected House its essential ethos will not change.

Is the noble Lord aware that the Prime Minister wrote to me last August saying:

“I do take on board what you say about the number of UKIP Peers currently in the House of Lords and I will, of course, keep this matter under review”?

Since UKIP got more than 3 per cent of the vote at the last general election, that would give us some 24 Peers by the present numbering instead of the two we now have. How is the Prime Minister’s review proceeding?

My Lords, does Her Majesty’s Government believe that the appointment of a large number of additional Peers will help your Lordships’ House to serve the people of our country more effectively, or might some of the proposals of the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, help to achieve that objective better?

My Lords, there is no intention at present to increase the number of Peers in this House. However, from the point of view of my noble friend Lord Steel’s Bill, I can inform the House that my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral’s proposition has been published in a Procedure Committee report, will be taken in the course of the next few weeks and, I hope, will be agreed by the House.

My Lords, amusing as all this is, can we not abandon the constitutional gobbledegook to which we have been subjected? Can my noble friend not recognise the worth of this House and the good sense of the Steel Bill proposals, reform this House, and abandon plans to abolish it and replace it by an elected assembly, which could only be second best?

I was unaware of any constitutional gobbledegook during the course of this Question. It is because my noble friend Lord Steel’s propositions on permanent retirement from this House are so sensible that the Procedure Committee has agreed a report which I hope will be agreed by the House.

My Lords, I am sure that many of my noble friends would welcome the noble Lord’s announcement that the Government have no intention to increase the number of Peers, thus breaking another promise in the coalition agreement, but one which we welcome wholeheartedly. Does the Leader of the House agree that, while neither the Conservative Party nor the Liberal Democrats have a majority in this House, as the coalition Benches they have a political majority, which has fundamentally changed the workings of this House since the advent of the coalition?

My Lords, there is no intention at present to increase the size of the House of Lords, but that—for the avoidance of doubt—is not a moratorium. As for the political majority, it is true that the coalition has more members than the Labour Party, but that is not the whole of the House of Lords. The Cross-Benchers play a substantial and serious-minded role in this House—one the Labour Party wishes to abolish from the future House. I am, on the other hand, entirely in favour of the Cross Benches remaining an important and integral part of a reformed second Chamber.