Skip to main content

House of Lords: Membership

Volume 764: debated on Monday 7 September 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to limit the size of the membership of the House of Lords.

My Lords, our manifesto recognised that the House cannot keep growing indefinitely, but we must refresh our expertise and experience. My first priority is promoting the purpose of the House and enhancing our accountability to inform our individual responsibility as Members. I also intend to make every effort to build cross-party support in finding the right solution to addressing the size of the House.

Does the Leader of House agree that there should be a moratorium on further appointments to this House until sensible measures are agreed to reduce its size and that seeking consensus through a constitutional convention, involving all parties, is the best way forward for reform of this House in the long run?

I find it a little surprising that the noble Lord suggests—particularly from his Benches—that there should be a moratorium on appointments to this House. It is very important that we continue to refresh the membership of the House, and the new Peers who will be joining us over the next few weeks will add greatly to the work it does. I do not agree with the way forward proposed by the noble Lord: radical reform was tried in the last Parliament. We stood on a clear manifesto and I am now looking forward to talks with other party leaders, informed by things like the debate on this topic scheduled by my noble friend the Chief Whip for next week.

My Lords, the Question is very similar to one I already have down on the Order Paper. I am looking for brevity and accuracy. The brevity applies to the Minister as much as it does to the questioner. Can the Minister, as well as those who are asking questions, be more brief in future?

Does the policy which the Government outlined in the last Parliament—having membership of this House in proportion to the popular vote in the country—stand? If so, does this imply a moratorium on any particular group?

The noble Lord points to something which was in the coalition agreement. We are no longer in coalition; this is a Conservative Government and we therefore stand by what was in the Conservative manifesto. I have already made clear my view on the size of the House. The noble Lord directs an interesting point to the Liberal Democrat Benches.

My Lords, could not the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and his colleagues lead by example? Believing, as they do, in proportional representation, and having just been inflated into the most unrepresentative party in this House, if he and 40 of his colleagues took retirement, under the advantages of the 2014 Act, then the problem would at least begin to be addressed.

My noble friend is using me as a channel to ask questions to the Liberal Democrat Benches. He is quite right that we are all responsible for the effectiveness of this House and making sure that that happens.

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Leader of the House to act as a channel to the Prime Minister from this House, initially to tell us whether he was accurately reported when it was implied, at least, that he felt that the political majority in the Commons should in one way or another be reflected as a political majority in the Lords. If that is the case, will she ask him to reflect on the fact that in 1997 when the Labour Party had a majority of some 170 in the House of Commons, it was in a significant minority in the Lords; ditto in 2001 after the 2001 election; and ditto after the 2005 election? It was not until 2006 that the Labour Party became the biggest single group in the House of Lords, which was quickly reversed of course by the coalition after 2010? Will she at least make sure that the Prime Minister is aware of those facts?

I can certainly reassure the House that the Prime Minister is not seeking in any way to make a government majority in this House. We recognise that the importance of this House is that it holds the Government to account and that the party in government should not be in a majority. The House should also understand that, even after the introduction of the new Peers announced the week before last, the Government still face a combined opposition of 80 Peers, which is twice the size faced by the last Labour Government when they were in power.

Will my noble friend clarify the position in respect of the appointments of new Peers who are also special advisers to the Government and, in particular, whether it is correct that they will be appointed to this place but not able to speak? That surely would make a nonsense of the importance of the role played by Peers on both sides of the House.

There is a convention that if a new Peer is a special adviser, they will be able to participate in the Division Lobbies but not contribute to debates. We do not necessarily know what decisions those individual special advisers will make as far as when they will make changes that will allow them to make a contribution, such as the most recent special adviser to join your Lordships’ House, my noble friend Lady Helic, who I am sure all noble Lords will feel has been a very welcome addition to our ranks.

My Lords, given that there are now many more people who favour the total abolition of your Lordships’ House than support its retention on an appointments basis, do the Government recognise just what a dangerous game they are playing by resisting all serious democratic reform? Do the Government also recognise that the previous Government succeeded in getting a Bill through Second Reading in the House of Commons with a very large majority? Does the Leader of the House think that the Prime Minister, who says that he regrets the lack of progress of that Bill, has the guts now to reintroduce it?

The noble Lord and I had exchanges on this matter only recently just before the Recess, when I reminded him that the Bill to which he refers did not succeed in leaving the House of Commons. In our manifesto, we made it clear that that is not a priority for this Parliament. We see it as a priority to address the size of the House, and that is where we will focus our energies

My Lords, the noble Baroness will have heard the views expressed from across your Lordships’ House about size. I have to say that it is not enough to suggest, as she did in her recent article, that Peers should turn up less often. If we are effectively to address this matter, which we believe we should, it cannot be against a backdrop of more and more appointments. This Prime Minister has appointed more Peers per year than any other Prime Minister, with a greater proportion of Peers to the government Benches and fewer Opposition and Cross-Bench Peers. What discussions has the noble Baroness had with the Prime Minister on this issue? Did they discuss the constitutional convention? Does he recognise that if meaningful change is to be made, he cannot continue with the scale and number of his appointments?

The noble Baroness knows my party’s position on a constitutional convention. We do not feel that that is a priority at this time. For me, as Leader of the House, it is important that we are an effective Chamber and that we make a very important contribution to the legislative process. It is right to focus on attendance rather than absolute numbers because the average rate of attendance is under 500. As effective Peers, we make our contributions when our experience and expertise are relevant to the matter at hand.