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House of Lords: Membership

Volume 764: debated on Tuesday 21 July 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce the number of Peers eligible to sit in the House of Lords.

My Lords, our manifesto recognised the importance of addressing the size of the House. While we cannot continue to grow indefinitely, the measure most relevant in my view is the average rate of attendance. My first concern as Leader is making sure that Members attend and contribute when their expertise is needed and relevant, so that, as a House, we fulfil our purpose of giving the public confidence in what Parliament decides.

My Lords, I thank the Leader for those remarks. She knows that there is strong feeling on this issue in and outside the House. If a cross-party group such as the one convened by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, were to come up with workable proposals, and maybe a consensus on the balance of the parties and a gradual reduction in the number of Peers in this House, would the Government give it their fullest consideration?

Because we have made it clear in our manifesto that we do not intend to pursue comprehensive reform of the House of Lords, this provides a period of stability when, alongside the priority that I have outlined which is to assist Peers in their decisions about when to attend and when to contribute, if there are other proposals that noble Lords want to put forward that are workable and where a consensus can be reached, clearly I am very interested to hear them.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, produced a perfectly acceptable solution. Will the Leader of the House consider that proposal? In the interim, why do we not avoid public ridicule, bite the bullet and ask the Prime Minister to freeze the size of the House by adopting a new formula: one retirement or one death equals one new appointment?

The noble Lord refers to my noble friend Lord Jopling’s proposal, which was among those debated when we debated the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, earlier this year. Many different proposals are out there. As I have said, what is important is that any of them needs to be both workable and attract a consensus. The Prime Minister, as all Prime Ministers do, has at his disposal the facility to create Peers. We ourselves need to reflect on our role here and on what measures we can take to ensure that we continue to be effective. It clearly sounds as though that is what all noble Lords want to do.

My Lords, do you want me to take control of this and answer the questions? It sounds like the House is calling for the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, first and then I am sure we will want to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Tyler.

My Lords, I am most grateful. Since the Liberal Democrats have 59 more Peers than they should have under their policy of appointing Peers in proportion with the votes cast in the previous general election, would a solution not be for, let us say, 40 of them to stand down? Instead, is there any truth in the rumour that another 11 Liberal Democrats are about to join us and would that be helpful?

The noble Lord is persistent in pursuing his point about what action noble Lords from the Liberal Democrat Benches might take in light of the recent election result, but I am certainly not going to respond on their behalf to his request. What is really important is that we are all mindful of the result of the last election in the way we do our work in this House.

My Lords, does the Leader recall that the coalition Government of which she was a very distinguished member introduced a Bill to sort out this little problem back in July 2012? It had a majority in the other House of 338 at Second Reading and the support of a majority in each of the three main parties. Indeed, it would have progressed to the statute book had it not been for some silly party games of the Labour leadership with Conservative Back-Benchers. This problem would have been resolved by now.

But the Bill did not succeed in making its way out of the House of Commons. The manifesto that we stood on at the last election said that we would not seek to introduce comprehensive reform at this time, and it was on that manifesto that we won the general election.

The Question came from the Cross Benches.

I am sure we appreciate the thoughtful way in which my noble friend has sought to answer these questions. I have the honour of chairing the group to which the noble Earl referred. We hope to produce a report that the House can consider later in the year. Will the Leader give an assurance that that will be taken seriously into account by the Government if it makes constructive proposals?

I say to my noble friend and the House as a whole what I have already said: we should take advantage of this period of stability. If proposals come forward that are workable and attract consensus, I am all ears and will listen very carefully to what noble Lords put forward.

The Leader will be aware of the speculation about the size of the list of new Peers. Unfair it may be, but the size of your Lordships’ House is often used to attack its effectiveness. If we continue to grow at the same rate in this Parliament as we did in the previous Parliament, by the time of the next election we could have more than 1,000 Peers.

The Leader has rejected a constitutional convention so may I seek common ground with her on two points? How do we promote the role of your Lordships’ House as an essential revising and scrutinising Chamber, and what is the impact of the ever-increasing numbers on our effectiveness? Will she agree to some honest, thoughtful consideration over the Summer Recess and come back in September with some thoughts on how to progress, and perhaps even look at having a Leader’s Group to look into this issue?

I do continue to consider these matters. However, while there was an increase in the number of Peers during the last Parliament, there was also a reduction. People have retired. When I was last in front of your Lordships answering questions on the topic, I said that 27 Peers had opted for retirement. Now we are up to 30 and I believe that, with those who are already committed to retirement, that will increase to 32. I will reflect very hard over the summer on a range of different things and will continue to listen very carefully to what proposals might come forward.