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House of Lords: Appointments

Volume 739: debated on Tuesday 9 October 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether further appointments to the House of Lords are expected to be made during the remainder of the current Parliament.

My Lords, any appointments will continue to be made in line with the commitment in the coalition programme for government to reflect the share of the votes secured by the political parties at the most recent general election.

My Lords, yesterday the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, made it clear that, regrettably, he and the Government will not support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in the other place. Given that, and given the size of this House, is the Minister really saying that the Government are determined to make dozens more appointments, to increase the size of the House and to shore up the political majority of the Government? Surely not.

My Lords, the idea that we are packing the House with coalition Peers is a little idiotic. Of the 122 appointments made since May 2010, nearly one-third, 39, have been Labour Peers. That is not packing the House on one side. The largest group in the House remains the Labour Benches.

One of the ways in which we wish to maintain a vibrant House is to refresh the House from time to time. The committee on retirement has proposed that the statutory retirement scheme is now available. We regret that only two Peers have so far availed themselves of it. However, 20% of this House is now over 80 and, as we know that life expectancy in this House is very good, we encourage others to consider that scheme.

My Lords, how will my noble friend explain to the voters of this country the Government’s policy to reduce the size of the House of Commons in order to save public money when they are now proposing to increase the size of the House of Lords at public expense, having previously brought forward a Bill arguing the importance of reducing it?

My Lords, the Government are not proposing to increase the size of this House. Sadly, we have lost 40 Members since May 2010; I dare say that, sadly, we may lose more over the next two years. The question of refreshing the House from time to time therefore arises.

The Minister’s Leader, the Deputy Prime Minister, has repeatedly said—and I agree with him, which surprises me—that the House of Lords, the Second Chamber, is too big. How can it be that I agree with the Minister’s Leader while he disagrees with him? Can he explain to us why he disagrees with the Deputy Prime Minister?

I am very glad to hear that the noble Lord agrees with Nick. We in this House have to be very careful about saying, “We’re all very comfortable here and we all want to stay, and no one else should be allowed to come in until there has been a longer process”. Over a five-year period we need to consider the balance of the House and the question of the occasional refreshment of its Members, and we are certainly not going to close our minds to that in an interim House. We will certainly encourage some of the older Members to consider statutory retirement or a long-term leave of absence.

My Lords, to avoid understandable suspicion, and indeed accusations, of personal self-interest, would it not be wise for the Government to give a lead and say that, as far as Ministers are concerned, no MPs who voted against the Government’s reform Bill should be nominated to this House?

I do not think that I ought to answer that question. I am very conscious that there are those who, in the Corridors of this House, have said to me, among others, that those who are asked to leave the House should be compensated for doing so. To that I would say that membership of this House is a privilege, not a right, and the idea that one has to be bought out before one leaves is not one that should be considered.

Will the Minister now answer a question about which the Government have been reticent? To which of the political parties contesting the last general election does the coalition commitment that he has reaffirmed today apply?

My Lords, over lunch I made a calculation which, even though I was unable to find a calculator, I hope was correct. If one were to be strictly accurate, the Labour Party as represented in this House is roughly in tune with the percentage that it received in the last election. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is as good as 10 people. The most underrepresented group, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, knows, is of course the Liberal Democrats.

My Lords, if the Government take this House and Parliament seriously, how can they continue to refuse to contemplate reforms along the lines of those included in the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel? My noble friend has referred to this as an interim House. Some believe that it can be a permanent House, giving permanent value to our constitution. The Government are flying in the face of that fact.

My Lords, the consensus in this House is not the only factor which has to be taken into consideration. The House of Commons voted by a substantial majority in favour of the principle of an elected second chamber. All three parties had the principle of an elected second chamber in their manifestos in the last election and the coalition programme stated that we will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. We want to achieve a consensus. I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who has laboured very hard to achieve a consensus on reforms. That is clearly the only long-term way forward.

My Lords, the noble Lord said that I tried very hard to get this House and everybody to agree that it should be an elected second chamber. Of course I did. But if the Government have decided that they are not going to go for an elected second chamber, they really must look at the size of this House. You cannot just leave it on the basis that it is going to creep up to nearly 1,000 and then pretend that somehow or other the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, will rectify it. It will not. If the Government have any sense—I am not sure that they do on this issue—they should now commit themselves actively to pursuing policies whereby the size of this House can be reduced.

I would welcome proposals from noble Lords as to how we achieve that. I have mentioned already the voluntary retirement scheme. Let us discuss off the Floor of the House the possible acceptability of a maximum age.

I am grateful to the noble Lord. Does it remain the Government’s intention that when members of the Supreme Court retire, those who are not already Members of this House will be invited to become Members of this House?

My Lords, those Supreme Court judges who were Members of this House before the Supreme Court was separated from it are currently on leave of absence. I am not aware that the Government have any definite position on what will happen to those appointed to the Supreme Court since it was separated from this House.

The Steel Bill has clearly now become extremely popular with a number of Members of this House. I am not entirely sure whether it is the emasculated Steel Bill which people wish to promote or the original Steel Bill. I have worked through several efforts to get the Steel Bill through the House, but it has not received much welcome in particular from a number of hereditary Peers.