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House of Lords: Membership

Volume 748: debated on Thursday 24 October 2013

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the memorandum by the Clerk of the Parliaments on Membership of the House of Lords, placed in the Library of the House in December 2012.

My Lords, I am very glad to have this opportunity to raise this matter. Unlike many of our debates, which are concerned with specific issues, it is more fundamental; it relates to the way in which this House, in carrying out its duties with regard to legislation and holding the Government to account, actually does its work. Therefore, it is a different sort of issue from those that are more often debated.

I will start by putting the memorandum in context. It was produced after the Government had dropped their House of Lords Reform Bill. It was evolved in consultation with a number of groups in the House, including the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, and puts forward a number of very important suggestions and analyses them. We do not know what will happen as far as the wider issue is concerned. My own feeling is that it would be very unwise for parties to put the issue of an elected Chamber in their manifesto because I think the House of Commons has realised the dangers that would present to its position at Westminster and the position of individual Members in their constituencies. In any event, it is essential now that we do everything we can to improve the way in which the House works.

I was worried in the immediate aftermath of the other business that there would be resistance by the Government to any progress on this at all. It appears that is not now so. I am glad to see that a Bill embodying what I think we are still calling Steel Mark 2 has been taken up by Mr Dan Byles in the Commons and is apparently being given a favourable wind. I hope that is also true of the proposal made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who I am very glad to see in her place today.

This memorandum also needs to be put in context in relation to the report made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, to the Leader of the House on Members leaving the House, and the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which has reported in just the past few days on these very issues.

The danger now is that we will not make sufficient progress. Yet it is absolutely clear that the main danger we are facing is the ever increasing size of the House, which the Hunt committee pointed out very clearly as having the effect of, first, risking the reputation of the House; secondly, the difficulty of conducting business effectively; and thirdly, the effect of the additional Members on the resources of the House and their ability to do their job. Therefore, we need to take urgent action and the proposals in the report by the Clerk give us an opportunity to make real progress.

The surprising thing is that many of the proposals the Clerk makes—indeed, most of them—can be done without legislation. At this stage in a Parliament, the Government would certainly be resistant to anything that involves further legislation. But he points out very clearly that a lot can be done without legislation.

I want to concentrate on two particular points: first, the suggestion by the Clerk that the voluntary retirement scheme should be strengthened, which he does in paragraphs 19 to 21. He suggests that the scheme that exists at the moment could be strengthened, particularly with regard to taking action if people are not really acting as a full Member of the House. This, too, he says, could be done without legislation.

My particular concern is the proposal that he makes in paragraphs 36 to 38 of his report, and in appendix A, for a scheme for voluntary retirement. As has been pointed out time and time again—I think in all the reports that I have mentioned—the trouble with voluntary retirement is that there is no incentive for Members to retire voluntarily. The Hunt report suggested that the Government should look at the possibility of some form of retirement package, which it is hoped would result in a number of people agreeing to retire voluntarily.

I will make one quick point in parenthesis about a view that I believe is held by the Leader of the House. What is proposed would not affect the situation with regard to the Writ of Summons, which is regarded by some in a sort of mystical sense as something that it is important to preserve.

My concern is that of a former Treasury Minister—and once a Treasury Minister, always a Treasury Minister. The Clerk’s memorandum makes it absolutely clear that this proposal will be likely to reduce public expenditure. The key policy of the Government is to reduce public expenditure. Therefore, I am sorry that it is not a Treasury Minister who will reply to the debate this afternoon. I do not suggest that the proposal will result in a massive reduction in the deficit. None the less, it is a move in the right direction, and if we do nothing at all with more and more Members being appointed, there will be an increase in public expenditure, which is clearly incompatible with the fundamental economic policy of the present Government.

The Clerk of the Parliaments has helpfully pointed out, in fairly concrete mathematical terms, what the savings might be. They are not insignificant, and this points the way forward. I hope very much that the Government will, as the Hunt committee recommended, take a serious look at the issue. Perhaps, as the Clerk suggests, we should set up a committee to look at all the possibilities.

One particular point needs to be borne in mind. It is the question of party balance. Clearly, if all the volunteers were from one part of the House, that would give a certain amount of concern to the Whips. We will need to take that into account. Therefore, in organising this, the Whips will need to be involved. None the less, we can make significant progress. I do not believe that it is something which is impossible to sell to the public at large. The argument that we will reduce public expenditure is very strong indeed.

I am rapidly running out of time. There are a number of other proposals in the Clerk’s report that are worthy of consideration. All of them, I think, are treated in the Hunt committee report. However, the central issue on which I will focus—although by no means exclusively—is to bring to the attention of the House the possibilities of improving our procedures. All of us are only too well aware of the way in which it is becoming more difficult for the House to work in an effective way as the numbers go on getting bigger and bigger.

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, indicated—and I congratulate him on his timeliness; this is an ingenious way of tabling a debate—the central issue behind the dreadful mess that we are in is the irresponsibility of people increasing the size of the House, on this pretext or that. The connection between that and the memorandum of the Clerk of the Parliaments is palpable. You cannot go through these paragraphs without seeing that this problem would not be so acute or even here at all if we were in a sensible constitutional position. In this country we seem to have been able to make up a constitution through a so-called coalition agreement for Government, but when I lecture on behalf of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in Mozambique, the one thing I tell them they cannot do is invent constitutions as they go along according to short-term political considerations. That is what we are doing in this country and it is shameful.

To be even-handed, I blame all the three major political parties, but perhaps some more than others. I will just run through the charge sheet because it has a bearing on what we can do about it. The first mea culpa is for the Labour Party, but as my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will confirm, in response to an invitation from Tony Blair some six or seven years ago, the Labour Party wrote a memorandum, which I helped to draft, on the future of the House of Lords. It included all the elements that were subsequently picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, and sold to the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Steel. It largely became the Steel Bill. There were people in all three political parties with an answer; they were not just whingeing about it.

Now we have this absurdity, and I shall come on to the Liberal Democrats. We stopped kicking the ball in the right direction when there was a change of Prime Minister on the Labour side, but the most absurd formula, of course, is the one written as a holy writ in the coalition agreement. It says that the pattern of this House should reflect the voting in the last general election. What an absurdity; what a shameful absurdity in constitutional terms. Yet Mr Clegg and his followers, with a straight face, express the belief that it is fair. We do not need much of a crystal ball to speculate about what might happen after the next election. If, as I hope, Labour gets in with an overall majority and we were to apply that formula, what would the Liberal Democrats be supposed to do? Half of them would commit hari kari. It would be painful to watch, but that is the logical result of their position.

Finally, the Clerk of the Parliaments is someone who can look at this position dispassionately and for the long term. When he wrote the first draft of this memorandum, which a lot of people saw, it had in it a suggestion that the three party leaders ought to get together and agree a formula on this very question, but then he was nobbled. I do not think that the Clerk of the Parliaments should be nobbled by the party leaders, but the first draft had that suggestion in it, and now it is not there. It was the final paragraph, and it has now gone. I think that this is a case of the politicians getting above their station in this matter. We ought to allow the Clerk of the Parliaments to speak for the constitutional requirements that lie behind debates of this kind.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Higgins has done the House a great service in tabling this debate and I thank him warmly for it. I want to limit my remarks directly to the paper which has been tabled by the Clerk, but of course it originated in the report of the Leader’s Group entitled Members Leaving the House, which was published way back in January 2011. The group was chaired by the other Lord Hunt, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral. Paragraph 47 states:

“We recommend that a reduction in the number of members of the House should result in an overall saving to the taxpayer. We recommend that the possibility of offering a modest pension, or payment on retirement, to those who have played an active part in the work of the House over a number of years, should be investigated in detail, though on condition that this should come from within the existing budget for the House and should incur no additional public expenditure”.

I think we all agree on that, but we do not want to see ourselves pilloried in print for increasing public expenditure. The object of this exercise is to reduce it, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, made clear.

The Hunt committee went on to say, in paragraph 67:

“Whilst we cannot recommend that there should be a moratorium on new appointments to the House … we do urge that restraint should be exercised by all concerned in the recommendation of new appointments to the House, until such time as debate over the size of membership is conclusively determined”.

That, of course, has been cheerfully ignored. As we know, not only are the numbers going up but the cost to the public purse is going up. That will continue until we deal with the issue that the Clerk has very kindly put forward in the paper that has been put in the Library.

A couple of weeks ago, the Bill already passed by this House was taken up by Mr Dan Byles in the Commons. It got its Second Reading, and a pedantic Motion to put the Bill on the Floor of the House was defeated, so it has, properly, gone into Committee. We must hope that we will get that Bill back here. As we have already approved it, it should not be a problem to put it through the House. The important point is that the Bill simply confers the statutory authority that the Hunt committee said that it believed was necessary for the House to decide on what sort of retirement scheme should come into effect. The present so-called retirement scheme is nothing of the kind—it is simply an extended leave of absence. All those who think that they have retired from the House will find that, after the next election, they still get the Writ of Summons, because there is no capacity to create a retirement scheme at the moment. That is why we need the statutory provision and why I hope that the Byles Bill will succeed.

In an appendix to the Clerk’s paper, the finance director estimates that even if a voluntary retirement option was taken up by only 50% of those eligible in year 1, although it would cost £4.7 million, it would save £5.2 million. If the scheme kicked off at age 80, it would cost £3.9 million in year 1 and save £4.4 million. Whichever way you look at it, and however low or high the take-up, there would be a saving to public expenditure. We must, as a group, commend the Clerk’s report to the House as a whole and thank the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, for bringing it to our attention.

My Lords, I echo the remarks that have already been made about the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, and the value he has provided for today in allowing us to debate this subject. As the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has already reminded noble Lords, the size of the House was already a problem when the Hunt committee reported. Far from seeing a reduction in numbers, as was proposed, we have seen a substantial increase, with all the difficulties that have been referred to today, including the effects on the reputation and, indeed, the workings of the House.

I want to take up the theme of party-political balance in the House. We have no agreement about what the relative strengths of parties in the House should be. However, we do have agreement, I think, that much legislation that comes to this House is badly drafted, inadequately scrutinised or not scrutinised at all, because of timetabling in the other place. Given those circumstances, I ask the Government to think very carefully about increasing by large numbers the proportion of party-political Peers in the House. Second Chambers exist to ask first Chambers to have second thoughts. We need to do our job of pressure-testing legislation, both for policy and for drafting, and to ask the Commons to think again when appropriate. The joy of our present system, and the reason why many of us oppose an elected House of Lords, is because democratic power, accountability and legitimacy lie with the Commons, which always in the end gets its way.

I have been a Minister in this place and I know that it is very disobliging and disrupting to lose votes, but in terms of the quality of the legislation that emerges I suggest that it is counterproductive for the Government deliberately to diminish the number of times they are asked to think again in the House of Commons. That can rebound politically, as those who were involved in the poll tax legislation understand very well.

As regards the proposals for not just not increasing the size of the House through new appointments but reducing its size through offering opportunities for retirement and resignation, I echo what has been said about Dan Byles’s Bill because I have always believed that having a statutory basis on which to build in a voluntary manner is tremendously important.

The other development that I think is important is the recently published report of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. Many of the proposals in the Clerk of the Parliament’s memorandum are supported in that report and there are specific requests, not just from the Government but from the parties in this House, for the leadership to take those proposals on board and to respond to both the committee and the House as a whole. I hope that the Minister will indicate that the Government are willing to respond to that.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and I agree with everything that she said. I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Higgins for initiating this very useful and helpful debate. However, I gently take him to task on one thing: that is, these are not proposals from the Clerk. The Clerk cannot make proposals; he merely set out some alternatives which Members of the House can consider. We ought to put that on the record to defend the total impartiality of the Clerk. In fact, this paper came about as a result of an approach from the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, which was formed by my noble friend Lord Norton and I more than 11 years ago. I went to see the Clerk in the wake of the timely defeat of the very ridiculous Clegg Bill and asked him whether he could produce a paper which we could consider. He agreed but on the condition that it must be made available to all Members of the House. Naturally, we readily agreed to that, and that is why it is before us.

This is a debate in which we are rightly limited to a very short speaking time and I want to make just one or two very brief points. The Byles Bill is the filleted version of the large Steel Bill on which my noble friends Lord Steel of Aikwood and Lord Norton of Louth and I worked something like eight years ago. It is a modest proposal but it will help, above all by providing a statutory framework for retirement. However, that is not the end of the matter. Of course, many of these things would have been dealt with had that large section of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, attached as an appendix to this paper, not been dropped in the wash-up prior to the 2010 election. Therefore, we should gently remind the leaders of both parties that they were, indeed, more or less signed up to that three years ago. What they must now do is to exercise restraint. This is crucial for the reputation of the House, which stands high in the public esteem. There was a very good leader in the Times the day after our latest colleagues’ appointments were announced way back in late July or August, which said that this was a great institution but was in danger of being overinflated, or words to that effect. It is crucial that we heed that warning. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, was so right to say that party balance should not matter here.

The one disappointment I have had since I came to this House—I greatly cherish my membership of it—is that I think on occasion the whipping is too severe. I say that in the presence of at least one Whip.

We should be here to exercise our judgment because, at the end of the day, we cannot overthrow what the elected House has decided upon, but we can, and we should, say, “Think again”. That is the point and purpose of this place. This is not the overriding legislative assembly. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Norton has argued on many occasions, we are merely contributing to the legislative process.

I very much hope that following this brief debate the Government will look at the various alternatives proposed in the Clerk’s paper and consider that there is real concern in this House. We welcome our new colleagues and hope that they will be as happy here as we are, but we cannot go on increasing in this way. There has to be provision for reducing over a period the size of the House. We have to look at all sorts of retirement schemes and other things. There is not time to expand now, but I hope there will be in the near future.

My Lords, I join in the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, on raising this issue. With respect to the Clerk, who was here earlier, his note is just tinkering with the issue when the reality of what is happening is making a mockery of it. This House is being packed. We now hear that there is going to be a second list. As my noble friend Lord Lea asked, what is the purpose of this? Is it to reflect the vote at the general election or the balance of the House of Commons? Why? This is a revising Chamber. We are supposed to look at and revise the legislation, not rubberstamp what happened down the Corridor, which is what would happen if we reflected the Commons.

What is behind the Government? I can assume only that it is some kind of Marxist or Leninist theory that they want to make us look so ridiculous that the revolution will happen and we will be either directly elected or abolished. That is what they seem to be up to.

I agree that the structure of this House and the way it is constituted needs reform—I do not think there is anyone who disagrees with that—but it needs to be looked at in the long and short terms. In the long term, it needs to be looked at in the context of what else is happening in this country in constitutional terms, particularly with devolution. I favour a federal structure, which the Liberal Democrats have been arguing for. We could be a federal House representing the regions of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That would be a great step forward. That kind of indirect election should be looked at.

We need to set up some kind of UK constitutional commission to look at that and to come up with a long-term solution. In the mean time, we need to look at something more radical than the tinkering that the Clerk has put forward, some kind of retirement scheme, either through age or participation in the House, so that we can encourage people who are not taking part or who are of a certain age to move towards retirement. We need to get a House that is smaller than the House of Commons, not larger. That is outrageous. We are the second-largest legislative Chamber in the world. The only larger one is China, which has billions of people.

We need to look long term and short term. With no disrespect to the Clerk of the Parliaments, the ideas have to come from us, from our groups, from the political groups and from the Cross-Benchers. I hope I am not giving away a secret—especially with my noble friends Lord Hunt and Lady McIntosh here—but the Labour group is looking at this in the short and long terms, and we will be coming forward with some quite sensible, radical proposals. I hope they will be given serious consideration by the Cross-Benchers and by the other political groups. I hope we can use what I hope the Labour group will propose as the basis for some kind of sensible reform so that we can stop the revolution of abolition or direct election, which seems to be the only way that we are moving with the astonishing direction that the coalition Government are moving at the moment.

My Lords, I have joined the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, in this debate because I am another who believes in the modest reforms in the original Steel Bill, unfilleted. The noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, made a few comments in Dublin last month before the Irish people sensibly threw out the Taoiseach’s proposal to abolish the Senate. He said, quite fairly, that you cannot have a modern democracy in which one House of Parliament is appointed by the Prime Minister. We know that already, and we know the Lords is slowly moving away from Downing Street by means of the Independent Appointment Committee. Most people see that committee as the way out of patronage. We would like it to have statutory powers extending to party-nominated Peers and to have a better control of numbers.

The noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, has kept up our interest in Lords reform. I believe that the coalition is beginning to see the sense of incremental change. Today we are concerned only with housekeeping, with whether we can better organise our numbers and be more effective. The Clerk’s paper makes sensible suggestions, and I would like to discuss the more personal side of retirement.

This House has developed quite a range of services to Members, the sort of things you would expect from any modern corporation or institution. There is one service not offered to Members, although it is given to staff, and that is in human resources. You can talk to your party leader or convenor, you can get comfort in the Clerk of the Parliament’s office or chat to colleagues, but there is no one, apart from these offices, with whom you can discuss your future in the House.

I have worked in a number of businesses and charities, large and small. I have even been in a multinational. I have come to appreciate the role of human-resources managers in offices. I am not talking of career advice, because it might be impertinent to give career advice to a Peer, although some of the under-50s might appreciate it. Opening a small, comfortable office in an upstairs room would, I am sure, give Members a chance of opening up that they might not have elsewhere.

I tried to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Walton, to join this debate. He is unavailable today, but he knows that I am mentioning him as someone seriously contemplating retirement. He is an obvious candidate for human resources. I have spoken to others in the same situation, in which we will all be at some future date. I therefore propose that serious thought be given to the establishment of a human-resources officer, with an assistant, for Peers—not a department—who can talk to Members at any time of their parliamentary life.

This might be a suitable job for an existing Member of the House, someone of a sympathetic nature, who has been in the House for some time and already knows most of the characters. It could even be job-shared. There should not be a formal retirement age, but, like the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, I have for some time thought that the House should be able to afford a modest incentive out of internal funds. I remain in favour of the equivalent of one or, at the most, two years’ expenses. This would cost nothing because the Peer would remain for that extra year or two, and it might save the expenses of subsequent years. The Treasury does not need convincing of that mathematics. Nor does the Daily Telegraph.

I am not in favour of the enforced-attendance proposals in the Clerk’s paper, echoed in Dan Byles’s latest Bill, because it would dislodge one of the cornerstones of the House to discourage part-time attendance, especially among Cross-Benchers, among whom there are individuals with experience to offer, who can come in only occasionally. I believe part-time attendance also helps to keep down those extra numbers which come from the good concept of working Peers.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, for helping the House to go into some of these apparently minor, but important, reforms.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Higgins on raising this important and timely question. For reasons of time, I turn to the memorandum by the Clerk of the Parliament, which provides some innovative suggestions, some more innovative than others. I commend the suggested amendment of Standing Order 22 as a helpful way of addressing the problem of those who do not attend. I will focus on a proposal designed to address the problem of those who do and place a strain on resources.

As we have heard, the Leader’s Group, chaired by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, raised the prospect of some Members being offered a modest payment upon retirement. The Clerk’s memorandum examines ways in which such a payment may be made, following the comments of the Leader’s Group, as we have heard, in a way that is compatible with a saving to the taxpayer. The memorandum is thorough in identifying how this may be achieved.

Since the memorandum was first published, the Leader of the House has stated that the Government, and other parties, do not support the idea. Speaking earlier this year, he said:

“I should make clear, as I have done before, that the Government do not support making taxpayers’ money available to Members of the House to encourage them to retire. That would be wrong, and it would be seen to be wrong. I am glad to hear that my view on this is shared by all groups and all parties.”.—[Official Report, 28/2/13; col. 81.]

I have two questions for the Minister based on this statement. First, if it is wrong for taxpayers’ money to encourage Members of this House to retire, why is it not considered wrong to use taxpayers’ money to encourage Members of the other House to retire? It used to be the case that some MPs sat well beyond retirement age because they could not afford to retire. The Government introduced financial packages that, for all intents and purposes, were designed to enable MPs to retire gracefully. Not only is there now a pension, but for the past 22 years there has also been a resettlement grant. Why is this use of public money deemed right, but something similar for this House is wrong?

Secondly, why do the Government find it wrong to use taxpayers’ money to facilitate Members leaving the House, but have no difficulty using taxpayers’ money to enable new Peers to be created? I have seen estimates of how much it will cost the public purse if the latest tranche of new Peers prove reasonably assiduous in attendance. The scheme embodied in the memorandum of the Clerk of the Parliaments is designed to save money in the long term, and help to reduce the size of the House, whereas the current practice of the Government in creating new Peers achieves precisely the opposite. I look forward to the Minister justifying this state of affairs.

The Government appear to have no qualms about creating more Peers, adding to the burden on the public purse, while making no real effort to address the problem of the size of the House. I see no principled reason for the stance taken by the Leader of the House. The Clerk’s suggested scheme is a valuable contribution to the debate, and if it is not to be pursued, we need a much more considered response from Ministers.

I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. It has been an excellent debate. I have to say to my noble friend Lord Lea that I plead guilty as charged, although I hope that the Minister will also plead guilty. I notice that he left the Conservative Party office charge sheet, which rather disappointed me, but perhaps he just felt short of a bit of time.

I thought that the Clerk of the Parliament’s report was excellent, particularly paragraphs 36 and 37 in relation to a strengthened leave of absence scheme, including minimum levels of attendance and enforced leave of absence. Will the Minister state clearly what the Government actually intend to do to progress this? As noble Lords have said, the Leader of the House has already indicated that he is not in favour of it, but I think the House and the Committee are entitled to a proper explanation of why this should not be taken forward.

I also ask the Minister about the statement made by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, at Question Time this morning. She made what seemed to me to be a new statement of government policy in relation to the balance between the parties. I would be grateful if he would expand on what the Minister said in the Chamber.

Thirdly, I come to the point raised by my noble friend Lady Hayman. We have what I think is a ludicrous coalition agreement policy of saying that in one Parliament the membership of the House should reflect the votes cast at the last election; clearly, we have seen lists of new Peers being announced in order to make progress towards that. Our estimate is that the Government will shortly have a political majority in the Chamber of more than 100. What is the point of it? We are a revising Chamber; if the Government cannot be defeated, revisions cannot take place. In my own experience as a Minister, as my noble friend Lady Hayman will know—

The noble Lord is definitely my friend, but in procedural terms in this House he is not my noble friend.

My Lords, I am duly dealt with on that. The noble Baroness was also a health Minister. I would have expected to lose five or six votes on any health Bill that I took through, and I took through rather a lot. This does not happen any more, and I want to ask the Government whether they expect to win every vote. Is this the intention? If it is the intention, frankly, I do not see the point of your Lordships’ House. If the Government are not defeated on a fairly regular basis, we cannot send matters back to the House of Commons and there is no point to us. I am increasingly of the view that in that scenario the only way out is to get rid of the House. I do not think that the Government realise the significance of this. We cannot revise unless the Government are defeated a healthy number of times.

We should look at other reports, as well as the Clerk’s. My noble friend Lord Foulkes has given the game away, in the sense that there is a Labour group looking at some of these issues. The House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has produced a very interesting report, with a number of suggestions as to how we might deal with these issues. We may not agree with all of them, but I particularly draw your Lordships’ attention to recommendation 10, on determining the relative numerical strengths of party groups in the House of Lords. In the end, surely we need to have sensible discussions and reach an agreement which will enable us to get a proper balance, allow the House to do its proper job in revising, and keep the numbers at a reasonable level.

My Lords, this debate raises a large number of questions. Let me try to answer as many as I can. I start by saying that the Government remain committed to thorough reform and the creation of an elected House. This is part of the reason why we resist proposals to end by-elections of hereditary Peers. I was here when that particular concession was made by the then leader of the Conservative Peers, now the Marquess of Salisbury, on the basis that it would remain until thorough reform took place.

The Government are committed to thorough reform. However, we now have a number of proposals which I have heard described as housekeeping proposals, which are on an interim basis. We recognise that there will not be another attempt at House of Lords reform until well after the next election, when I look forward to seeing a commitment to an elected second Chamber appearing once again in all of the party manifestos. Having said that, we have to recognise that there are some real problems in the House.

The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, disappointed me enormously in his speech. I looked forward to him saying that we must tackle the question of retirement age, a topic on which I thought he was intervening the other day. I recognise that at the core of much of this are the difficulty of a retirement age or of encouraging retirement, and the balance of the groups within the House.

When I joined the House, now some 17 years ago, I was told that by entering the House of Lords I was raising my life expectancy by a further two years. It is such an interesting place and it keeps us lively and fit. As I sat listening today I reflected that, if I decide that I really ought to take permanent leave of absence when I am 95, I have only 23 more years of service to go. I will then have served in the House for 40 years. We recognise the problem of keeping the House lively and renewing membership.

Incidentally, there is also the problem of different age balances among the different party groups. The Conservatives are the oldest group in terms of appointments, because many of them were appointed in the Thatcher years. Particularly when I talk to some of the older Labour Peers, I am conscious that the reluctance to retire of those on both the Labour and the Conservative Benches is sometimes expressed in terms of, “I would be letting my side down if I retired but some of them didn’t. We would alter the age balance against us”. Anything we talk about in relation to retirements feeds back into the question of party balance. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that it is not just the party groups who vote in this House. We have a very active group of Cross- Benchers. I will check on the incidence of votes lost in this Parliament compared to votes lost in the last Parliament. I was not aware that there was a substantial difference in the number of votes lost. In the Bills that I have dealt with, the concessions which one must make in order to avoid votes being lost, and the number of votes lost, are certainly important matters. I give way.

My Lords, I am sorry to intervene, but does my noble friend really believe that the House of Lords should have a significant majority on the government Benches?

My Lords, this is for the first time a coalition Government and part of the issue is whether you count the entire coalition of both parties as one or as two. The Government do not have an overall majority in this House because we have a large number of Cross-Benchers. If I may say so, one of the first things I learnt when I entered this House was that if you want to defeat the Government, what you need is a speaker from each of the four main groups, because at that point the Government will recognise that they are about to lose. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is occasionally very good at being part of those groups which challenge his own Government. That is the way the House of Lords behaves.

With respect, my Lords, there is one Government and the numbers are clearly added together in your Lordships’ House. I should like to put a question to the Minister. What would happen in 2015 if the Labour Party were to win the general election with a majority? It would be faced with a majority of 100 Conservative and Lib Dem Peers over the Labour group in your Lordships’ House. There would then be a dissolution list, to which I assume both Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg would contribute. What advice would the noble Lord give to a Labour Government about the number of Peers they should appoint?

My Lords, we are getting into very difficult constitutional questions here. Again, I have heard discussions about this among some of my noble friends. A Labour Party that wins a majority of seats in the House of Commons on perhaps 35% of the vote and a 60% turnout raises the question of whether that is really a majority or not.

I am sorry to press the point, but is that not precisely the doctrine of the coalition agreement—the formula should reflect the results of the last general election—or is it only to suit this particular Government at this particular moment in time?

My Lords, it is that in new appointments, one should head in that direction. I speak for a party which received no nominations to this House for several years under Mrs Thatcher’s Conservative Government. Let me say—

We need some quiet discussions among the parties and I am glad to hear people suggesting that what we need is another committee. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, would love to serve on another committee looking at some aspects of Lords reform; he has a great appetite for it.

What we are talking about is not just the size of the House; we also have to recognise the issue of attendance at the House. It is the rise in the number of those who expect that appointment means regular attendance, and in some cases we have made a rod for our own back by making appointments, particularly of Cross-Benchers, who are asked whether they will be regular attenders. Our percentage of attenders among the Members has been steadily rising and continues to do so.

I thank the Minister for giving way again. That brings us back to our exchange on the Floor of the House the other day. All of these new Members are going to be working Peers. They will attend regularly. They will receive their attendance allowance and they will need offices and all the other facilities. That, we are told by the Clerk of the Parliaments and others, has to be done within a no-growth budget. How is that possible?

My Lords, the question of the overall size of the House brings me to my next point, which is that of retirement.

The noble Lord is not answering my question. How is it possible for this to be done within a no-growth budget? We are getting another 60 extra Peers.

My Lords, retirement is essential to this because unless we are going to have a House that grows older gracefully and has very little renewal, we have to have a scheme that encourages retirement. The House has been getting older. After 17 years I have just passed the average age of the House. We need good new Members because we do not entirely want to be a House that represents the wisdom of 25 years ago, and therefore we need to address the question of retirement. I have had one or two conversations with older Peers who have suggested that a more dignified retirement arrangement, in which the House recognises the service of those Members who are retiring, would be of very considerable assistance to them. I am willing to take that back and, indeed, I have already discussed it with the Leader of the House. I think that it is something which we should all attempt to progress as best we can.

On a financial leaving package, let me simply say to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, that we receive allowances in this House; we are not paid. Most of us, the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and me included, have pensions. I think that I can guess what the size of his academic pension will be when he retires. I had a discussion with an older Labour Peer who said that I did not understand how working-class people like him would survive without their allowances. I reminded him sharply that I knew roughly what his academic pension was, and that if he could not survive on a professorial pension there was a real problem.

My point had nothing to do with pensions because there is no salary, so it was not premised on that—that was the analogy that I was drawing with House of Commons. The resettlement grant has absolutely nothing to do with pensions.

My Lords, let me simply say, because time is short, that service in this House is a privilege which we should not expect to have to be bought out of. That is the view which I and a number of others hold. The Government remain unconvinced that we should attempt to buy older Peers out. I recognise that there is a substantial problem which older Peers think about in terms of party balance. I think that it is also the recognition issue that we are concerned about and very much want to continue.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked whether the Government would respond to the PCRC’s proposals for all-party talks. We will certainly respond to that report.

Before my noble friend leaves his previous point, is he saying that service in the House of Commons is not a privilege?

My Lords, Members of the House of Commons earn their keep and are much more often in the prime of life. Most of us who come here have earned our salaries elsewhere and have pensions from elsewhere. That is part of the distinction that I am making.

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked about human resources. My noble friend Lord Gardiner remarked that that is partly because Cross-Benchers do not have Whips. Whips in this House see themselves not as enforcers but as very much a human resources department for their own party groups.

I take that response as a deep vote of confidence in the consultative role and psychological support which Whips provide.

We will of course take back all the points made in this Committee. The Government are willing to give a fair wind to the Dan Byles Bill, which I hope will come to this House in good time and provide for some of the housekeeping measures which noble Lords are calling for. We hope that that will assist. We will take further the question of providing dignified recognition for those who wish to take permanent leave of absence for the service which they have given to this House—and some of them, earlier than that, to the other House. However, I am very sorry that I cannot entirely provide the reassurance that some noble Lords are looking for in terms of a financial retirement scheme.

Sitting suspended.