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House of Lords: Appointments

Volume 762: debated on Thursday 25 June 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have for constitutional reform and the appointment system to the House of Lords.

My Lords, in asking the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I make it clear that my Question is not born of political opportunism or malice, but of a matter of principle.

Okay, then! Appointments to this House remain a matter for the Prime Minister. On constitutional reform, we have set out in the Queen’s Speech and our manifesto a range of measures, including those on delivering our commitments to the nations and regions of the United Kingdom and for a referendum on our membership of the EU. Noble Lords will be able to discuss those issues in full in the debate later today.

My Lords, just for the record, both Labour and the Conservatives increased their share of the poll at the last general election. How can we justify adding to the existing 101 Liberal Democrat Peers, who already form 21% of the whipped party-affiliated membership of this House, when their party secured only 7.9% of the poll, winning only eight seats on a collapsed national vote at the general election? Surely, if we are listening to the people, even UKIP and the Greens have a greater claim on new peerages—otherwise, we bring this House into disrepute and, indeed, ridicule.

My Lords, I certainly understand the point that the noble Lord makes in his Question, and his view is shared by many noble Lords around the House. I shall make two points in response. If and when a Dissolution Honours List marking the end of the previous Parliament is published, it would be surprising if it did not reflect the fact that there were two parties in government. More importantly, the message I want to direct to all noble Lords is that, regardless of party balance, this House has a very important role in the legislative process, and in doing our work, this House is not, and should not become, an alternative platform for party politics.

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that, had the coalition agreement proposal on appointments to this House—which was that it should be proportionate to the result of the previous election—been carried out, the number of Liberal Democrat Peers in this House should be 42? Has she had applications for retirement from 60 Liberal Peers?

My noble friend refers to what was in the coalition agreement. I stress that it was in the coalition agreement; it was not in the Conservative Party manifesto in 2010 or 2015. One of the things we were able to introduce in the previous Parliament is the facility for permanent retirement from this House, which is now a route we can all consider for departure at the right time.

My Lords, the Childcare Bill was introduced in this House last week. It applies only to children in England. It will have the benefit of full scrutiny by this House and the other place and its committees. At the same time, primary legislation passed by the Parliaments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has no such second examination, consideration or scrutiny. Is it not time for us to have a federal United Kingdom second Chamber, wholly elected, and dispose of this place altogether?

No, I do not agree with the noble Lord. The proposals that my party made in our manifesto at the election for constitutional change and greater powers for all parts of the United Kingdom are the mandate on which we are governing and are what we are getting on with delivering.

My Lords, the question is whether the Prime Minister stands by the document he signed, which said that appointments to this House should be,

“reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election”.

If the Leader of the House is saying that that system no longer applies, will she explain what principle the Prime Minister now intends to abide by in making recommendations for appointments to this House?

This Prime Minister will follow the same principles he followed in the previous Parliament and the principles that his predecessors followed in making appointments to this House. There is always an acknowledgement of the results of general elections but, historically, this House has never reflected party balance. This House has an important role and all Peers are doing the country good service if we focus on that role.

My Lords, the Leader of the House said in her original Answer that appointments to this House are a matter for the Prime Minister. The Conservative Party manifesto said that they would,

“ensure the House of Lords continues to work well by addressing issues such as the size of the chamber and the retirement of peers”.

When will we hear details of how those manifesto commitments will be implemented?

On the size of the House, it is worth our being aware of two points. First, since permanent retirement was made available to Peers last August, 27 noble Lords have retired. That is a far greater number than people expected when we brought in that provision. To me, that shows a good direction of travel; I am sure that a trend is now being set and more will follow. Secondly, the statistics for attendance in the previous Session show that the numbers are starting to go down.

My Lords, in opposition David Cameron pledged to cut the cost of politics, including by cutting the number of Members of Parliament in the other place. The noble Baroness talks about the numbers in this House, but is she aware that each year in government the Prime Minister has appointed more Members of your Lordships’ House than any Prime Minister in my lifetime, with more from the government parties than any Prime Minister in my lifetime? How does that contribute to cutting the cost of politics? How many more new Conservative government Peers does she expect on her Benches?

I remind the noble Baroness that the peerages created in the previous Parliament by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister included 47 Labour Peers. I remind her and all noble Lords that the cost of this House in the previous Parliament went down by about 13%. As individual Peers, we must not forget that we cost four times less per head than Members of the other place.