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House of Lords: Composition

Volume 773: debated on Tuesday 24 May 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to make the composition of the House of Lords more representative of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, Members of your Lordships’ House come from all corners of the United Kingdom, but we do not represent those nations and regions. We all work on behalf of the United Kingdom as a whole. Any change in that respect would be fundamental. As is clear from the Conservative manifesto, comprehensive reform of this House is not a priority in this Parliament.

Did the Leader of the House not see the Answer that I received from her colleague in the Ministry of Justice which stated that out of 808 Writs issued to Peers to attend this House in this Parliament, 385 were to Peers living in London, with very few in Wales, in the east and West Midlands, in the north-east and north-west of England and in Yorkshire and Humberside? To reflect all those interests properly, is it not better to have people from all quarters of the United Kingdom? Will the Leader of the House look at ways in which this terrible imbalance can be rectified?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that certain parts of the United Kingdom are better represented than others. I believe that for us to be effective as a House it is important that we all offer a range of backgrounds, experiences and expertise. However, because we are unelected and do not have responsibility to represent any parts of the United Kingdom, it is not an easy question for us to remedy, but it is certainly one that I shall reflect on.

My Lords, does the Leader of the House recall that all her colleagues in the Cabinet of the coalition Government supported the 2012 Bill which would have rectified the problem to which the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, referred? Does she also recognise that the House of Commons gave that Bill a huge majority, of 338? Does she further recall that the colleagues in the other House of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, played party games and prevented that Bill proceeding?

The noble Lord is absolutely right that it was in the House of Commons where the Bill failed and did not proceed. In light of that attempt having been made and not succeeding, this party in government has made it clear that it is not something that it wishes to attempt in this Parliament.

My Lords, the Secretary of State for the Home Department warned us about an increasing threat from dissident IRA, yet when I lobbied each Member of this House from Northern Ireland I learnt that not a single one had been contacted by either the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Does it really matter where we come from if we are treated in that fashion?

The Government take seriously their responsibility to consult people about serious and important matters of policy, and that includes consulting Members of your Lordships’ House. I am sad to hear what the noble Lord said but this is usually something that we do very well indeed.

My Lords, I have the figures here. Can the noble Baroness confirm that we have almost as many Members whose main residence is overseas as we do Members who come from the east Midlands? Is it not time for a moratorium on the appointment of new Peers from London and the south-east so that we can rebalance the membership? Come to think of it, should we not have a moratorium on all appointments? Can she confirm that it is her and the Prime Minister’s intention to pack her Benches with yet more Conservative Peers in the next few weeks?

New appointments are a matter for the Prime Minister and I am not going to speculate on that. However, this is more complex than just a question of where we come from and where we live. One interesting thing in the data from which the noble Lord is quoting is that there are more Labour Peers than Conservative Peers with London addresses. As an example, I live in London but am from Beeston, just outside Nottingham. Although I do not represent Beeston, I like to think that I bring some knowledge and experience of where I was born and brought up, and I hope that that adds to my contributions in this House.

My Lords, the noble Baroness the Leader pointed out that the Conservative manifesto said that there would be no comprehensive reform of this House during this Parliament. In so far as that is shorthand for not introducing a Bill for an elected House, it is very welcome to some of us. However, will she make it clear that it does not rule out sensible, incremental reform of your Lordships’ House, which means taking decisive action to reduce the numbers in this House?

I agree with the noble Baroness about incremental reform. As she knows, and as I have said before from this Dispatch Box, one of the great achievements in the last Parliament was the incremental reform which we brought in and which she led through her Private Member’s Bill. The other important reform was the facility for Peers in this House to retire—an approach that I very much support. Regarding further steps along that track, if there is broad consensus and we are able to attract cross-party agreement on further incremental reforms, I shall be interested in supporting that. Lady Perry is the most recent example of retirement, and her speech yesterday was a very good illustration of the power of retirement from your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that there is an assumption by my noble friend Lord Foulkes that all of us who live in London now come, like the noble Baroness, from the north-west of England, where we spent most of our lives, and we obviously bring the experiences that we have had there to this House? We may live in London now because it is convenient but our whole background is very different from a background in London.

I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness. One of my noble friends who is sitting next to me is a former leader of Trafford council. We bring experiences from all over the country, and I am pleased that we do.