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Business of the House

Volume 742: debated on Thursday 31 January 2013

Motion on Standing Orders

Moved by

That Standing Order 40(5) (Arrangement of the order paper) be suspended from Thursday 7 February until the end of the session.

My Lords, perhaps I may ask a couple of questions about this Motion, because it refers to starting next Thursday, 7 February. As noble Lords may be aware, I have tabled a Motion, which appears at the top of the Order Paper for debate that day, that,

“this House resolves that no introductions of new Peers shall take place until the recommendations in paragraphs 36, 47, 57, 63, and 67 of the First Report of the Leader’s Group on Members Leaving the House, chaired by Lord Hunt of Wirral (HL Paper 83, session 2010–12), have been implemented”.

We have just passed the second anniversary of the publication of this unanimous, all-party report. Nothing has been done about it and there is an increasing concern about overcrowding in this Chamber, which is why I have tabled my Motion. Can the Leader assure me that if we pass the Motion before us, my debate will not be gazumped and we shall have the chance to discuss it next Thursday morning?

Secondly, is the noble Lord aware that the Bill that passed through this House which would give effect to that report is in the Commons and has been taken up by our colleague, the Conservative MP Eleanor Laing? Last Friday she tried to get a formal Second Reading of that Bill so that it could come back here, but it was objected to by the Government Whips in the normal way. She is going to try again tomorrow, and of course, if the Government Whips do not object and she gets a formal reading, the Bill next Thursday would be unnecessary.

My Lords, further to the point made by my noble friend, I understand that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has suggested that this House should find economies of at least 2% in its budget. That seems to be inconsistent with proposals to add to the burdens on the House by appointing more Peers. This is not the moment to debate the issue, but would it not be appropriate for the Procedure Committee of this House to look at how the rate at which introductions are made is consistent with the resources available to us and the demands being placed on us by the Treasury to reduce the burden on the taxpayer, with which I very much agree?

My Lords, first, I should say to my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood that I am well aware of the concerns he has expressed for a long time on this issue. Indeed, I was glad to have the opportunity to discuss them with him soon after I took over this post. If the House will allow me, I should say for the record that I am slightly disappointed that, in bringing forward his Motion, my noble friend did not discuss it with my noble friend the Chief Whip in the way that convention suggests. It is important that we observe the conventions because that is how this House operates. I feel that I should bring that to the attention of the House.

On the matters raised by my noble friend Lord Forsyth, we will be discussing those next week and I am sure that we will have a good opportunity to hear a range of views from all sides of the House. On the Government’s position generally on this important issue, that has not changed since the last time it was discussed in this House in terms of both future legislation and the position regarding the appointment of new Peers. As it has always been, it is for the Prime Minister to make recommendations to Her Majesty the Queen. That is how it has always been done in this House by both parties and how it was done with great vigour by Mr Blair. It is the situation that exists now.

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us where the Prime Minister and the Government stand on their commitment to ensure that membership of your Lordships’ House more accurately reflects the votes cast in the previous general election? Does the noble Lord agree that that would give my party, the UK Independence Party, no fewer than 24 Peers, whereas at the moment we have three? Does the Prime Minister stand by this commitment or has he abandoned it?

My Lords, I think we all feel that the value we get from the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is worth at least 24 Peers. The position taken by the Government on this is set out clearly and has not changed. The Government’s view is that we should work over time more accurately to reflect the balance of Peers.

My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House, but further to the point made by the Leader of the House, there is a distinction between the prerogative power to appoint Members to this place and the rate at which they can be introduced. I think that my noble friend’s Motion was about having a debate that takes account of the resource constraints upon this House and the proposals that are now in the other place which would enable a sensible accommodation to be reached. However, it would be useful if, before next week, we had something from the Procedure Committee to indicate what the constraints are so that we can have a more informed debate.

I am sure that the Chairman of Committees will have heard that point. More generally on this debate, my noble friend says that he does not want to delay the House. We will be discussing it next week and I am sure that there will be plenty of opportunity to consider this and all the other points that noble Lords want to raise then.

My Lords, would we not have a more informed debate if a Government Minister was able to answer a question that I and, I am sure, others have repeatedly put in Written Questions and elsewhere: what precisely in terms of numbers is the coalition commitment to establishing the party strengths in this House on the basis of the last general result? What does that mean in terms of numbers for each of the three parties? Although the Leader of the House dealt with the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, very effectively in parliamentary terms, he did not actually answer the question, which was a valid one. If the Government are committed to their repeatedly stated objective of reflecting the last election results, surely we are entitled to know precisely in numbers, including the total number, what that would occasion. If we do not know the numbers, it is very difficult to have an informed debate.

My Lords, perhaps I could just add that I have tabled a whole series of Questions to the Chairman of Committees on this matter of availability of resources to the House against the number of Peers to be created. Perhaps the Government might take note of the answers that I am receiving, because clearly the figures do not add up.

My Lords, I can see that the noble Lord is looking forward to this debate next week. If I may follow up on the question asked by my noble friend Lord Grocott, at the moment the number of Conservative Peers is anything up to about 39% or 40% of the Peers in this House who carry a political label. Therefore the Conservative Party already has a higher proportion of Peers than of the votes cast at the last election. The noble Lord needs to clarify exactly what the Government are committing themselves to.

Before the Leader of the House answers, perhaps I may reply to him on the question of tabling the Motion. As he knows, I wanted originally to table an amendment to this Motion today, but I thought that would be unfair because the House had no notice of it. There is a better opportunity next week. So I hope that he will acquit me of any discourtesy on that point.

Secondly, as regards the point made by my noble friend Lord Forsyth, the recommendation from the committee of which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was a member two years ago was also designed to save money, and it would save money if it were implemented.

My Lords, has my noble friend the Leader of the House noted that it is possible now for Members of this House to retire permanently? Indeed, two Members have done so. That would solve the problem of the large and increasing population of the House and the difficulties that have resulted. Indeed, I wonder whether my noble friends Lord Forsyth and Lord Steel might like to take advantage of that opportunity.

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate the illogicality of the proposition that has been put forward? There are nearly 200 Cross-Bench Peers in this House who are independent minded, as the Minister will know, who may vote one way or the other. It would make more sense for the parties to try to win over, by logical arguments, the votes of the Cross-Bench Peers rather than striving to pack the House with Members already committed to one side or the other.

My Lords, I believe in deferred gratification, and I am prepared to defer some more gratification until next week when we have the debate. In the past nine minutes, we have had a good illustration of the range of views on retirement in this House. I would not want to personalise the very fair general point made by my noble friend Lord Tyler in the way that he did. However, it is true that that scheme is available for any Member of Your Lordships’ House who would like to take a permanent leave of absence. I can refer any noble Lords who might be interested in looking at it to page 22 of the new Companion. In the conversations that I have had about retirement, the views expressed to me in the Corridors and around the place have tended to be affected by the age of the noble Lord to whom I have been speaking—and the age of retirement suggested is normally a couple of years above the age of the particular noble Lord to whom I am speaking.

The point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, about membership representation on particular Benches was a slight case of pots and kettles, if I may say so. I think that he conveniently forgot the important contribution made in this House by Cross-Benchers when he looked at his percentages. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, rightly reminds us of the extremely important contribution that the Cross-Benchers make at all times.

On the specific point of numbers, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, knows probably better than I—since he is a great expert on all these matters—the form of words that the coalition Government set out. No precise figure has been set but the general intention is clear.

Motion agreed.