House of Lords: Size
My Lords, when I was introduced to the House in 1999, there were more than 1,000 Members, and if all the hereditary Peers entitled to claim membership had done so, the size of the House might have been as high as 1,400. There should, therefore, be proper perspective in these debates about the fact that the House now comprises an actual membership of 809, of whom about 500 are active. This figure of active Members is not much higher than the figure of 450 proposed for a reformed House in the 2012 House of Lords Reform Bill. That figure was agreed by a Joint Committee of both Houses as the minimum number in a reformed House that would have enabled the House to function and to provide proper representation of political opinion in the nations and regions of the UK. So how have we got to a point at which the reputation of the House now suffers as its absolute membership has grown from not much more than 600 when most of the hereditary peers departed in 1999 to more than 800 today?
Apart from the obvious failure to achieve fundamental reform of the House, as advocated by my party since the days of Asquith, I would draw attention to two particular issues. The first is the failure to end the process of electing replacement hereditary Peers. I have compared these by-elections before to the fictional by-election called by Edmund Blackadder, in which he was the only elector and his sole vote resulted in the election to Parliament of his servant Baldrick. Ending the embarrassment of these by-elections won the approval of the House of Commons during consideration of the last Labour Government’s Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. However, this sensible measure did not survive the so-called wash-up when the general election was called in 2010.
Subsequent attempts by my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood to end these by-elections were then frustrated by the threat of filibuster. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, will have more success with his Bill. The fact is that Tony Blair may have promised a temporary reprieve for some hereditary Peers pending further reform of the House, but no Prime Minister or Parliament can bind their successors. The ending of the by-elections for hereditary Peers is long overdue and must be at least part of the solution to the issue that we are addressing today.
The second and more significant reason why the House has become so large, as so many Peers have said in this debate, is simply that recent Prime Ministers have made so many appointments. David Cameron was responsible for the creation of 261 Peers, at a rate of 43 per year since 2010. This figure has far exceeded the rate of resignations or deaths, so the size of the House has risen by more than 100 in six years. The problem now is that, save for proper public elections, there is no sensible way to reverse that increase by a significant margin and no real reason to do so if the patronage of Prime Ministers and party leaders simply allows many more people to be appointed instead.
Many arguments would be made about age discrimination if an age limit were proposed. That proposal, in my view, is unlikely to succeed in a body where the average age of Members is 69. Nor do I think that there is an easy remedy to be found in the imposition of party quotas involving internal elections to determine who should remain. That would just lead to a tea-room offensive, in which Peers attempt to arrange who would vote for whom. Successful candidates would generally require just the vote of one other Peer in order to succeed—the kind of election of which Blackadder would have approved. So if we are to reduce our size and increase public credibility for the crucial role that we play, the public must have a proper say in the composition of the House.
My Lords, a common comment on the deliberations in this House is that, while everything has been said, not everyone has yet said it. This time, almost everyone is going to say it because we want the message to be heard loud and clear, both within and without the Chamber. It is after all worth advertising the fact that there is now a high degree of consensus, if not on fundamental reform at least on transition, which is a rare thing.
I want to underline the four issues we have all talked about: that the Lords should be no more numerous than the House of Commons, which means, in the context of electoral reform, less than 600; that the independent or Cross-Bench Peers should remain at all times at 20% of the total number of Peers; that the political balance in the House should broadly reflect the average number of votes cast in, say, the last three general elections and that no political grouping has an overall political majority; and, finally, that there be a statutory body in due course to vet both the propriety and potential contribution of nominees.
Given that today’s debate is not, and cannot be, about mechanisms, we request that a Select Committee be set up within the next couple of months to review mechanisms and put forward realistic recommendations to the Government. We ask also that the resulting recommendations be implemented by the time of the next general election.
History shows that the Lords fares best when small, incremental changes are introduced and allowed time to bed down. We have, for example, introduced voluntary retirement, the possibility of expulsion for serious misbehaviour and a host of other procedural changes in the past few years. The reforms most urgently needed now fall well within the category of moderate adjustments.
Quite simply, the House of Lords is unnecessarily inflated. Much work has been done on what might constitute an appropriate size—for example, the thoughtful report by Labour Peers, which suggested that 450 Members would be adequate to fulfil all the functions of the Lords. Other proposals have put the number as low as 300. In this context, the principle that the Chamber’s current size should be reduced by the next general election to no larger than the House of Commons—that is, 600 Peers—is a modest proposal.
It has of course not escaped any of our notice that we are addressing the patronage power of the Prime Minister of the day and also the authority of the royal prerogative. It is the royal prerogative that allows Prime Ministers to appoint Peers. Royal prerogatives may be ancient powers, but that does not mean that they should be treated as sacrosanct. The issue should not be insurmountable. The royal prerogative has, after all, been overridden in the past several times. The constitutional principles that govern our democracy insist that Ministers are constitutionally responsible to Parliament for the discharge of all their functions and the exercise of all their powers. Over time, legislation has limited the extent of the prerogative power, including, in some case, abolishing it: for example, the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 covers a range of situations where previously the royal prerogative might have been used; there is the Fixed-term Parliaments Act; and, although not codified, the power is now constrained by convention in matters concerning the deployment of the Armed Forces. Hence, should Parliament wish to curtail the Prime Minister of the day in his or her exercise of patronage, it could do so.
This House acting together has considerable influence. In the long history of House of Lords reform, our downfall has been, in large part, the disagreements based on party politics and the ever divisive issue of an elected versus appointed House. This debate is not about that. It is about relatively modest, sensible and consensual change to allow this House to be effective and, with luck, to regain a measure of public respect through choosing to reform itself. Both Peers and the Prime Minister should now make a commitment to preserving the integrity and effectiveness of Parliament as a matter of public interest and public duty.
My Lords, there are people who think it is quite unnecessary for us to do anything at the present time—not many of them are in this Chamber. There are others in this Chamber who do not recognise the urgency of the situation we find ourselves in. I say that not looking inwards at Parliament, or even narrowly through the pearlised bubble of Westminster at our own electorate, but at the electorates of the western world, who increasingly are changing the question they are asking. In the past it has been, “Is this lot more likely to do me good, or is that lot?”. Now it is already changed into, “Well, none of those is much good, so we must look at people with more extreme views”. It worries me deeply how the centre is weakening in Europe and the extent to which both ends of the political spectrum are getting stronger. Being a little older than some, but not many, in this House, I remember the overtones of the Spanish Civil War. We are going on a dangerous course, and we are in a way affected by it. We realised that with the Brexit vote and the electorate discovering that the parliamentarians did not know what they, the electorate, were thinking.
In those circumstances, we need to analyse a little more what is going on. In this country, the new question that I believe is about to be asked—it is being asked in some places and anticipated on both wings of the political spectrum—is not, “Is democracy working for me?”, but, “Can democracy ever work for me?”. That is fertile ground for extremists, it is fertile ground for intellectuals and it is fertile ground for irresponsible politicians. It puts before the organised ones what they would call a great opportunity to recruit and establish in the public mind a doubt as to the efficacy of democracy and of Parliament, and indeed, where possible, to infiltrate Parliament. Where there is a constituency of a political colour not so bright but of the same of their own, and where there is a weak executive, the opportunity is plainly there and desirable to them to deselect and get their own man in.
This is not over the horizon yet, but in dangerous times it is as well to be pessimistic so that one is prepared for the worst. I see very dangerous times ahead. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, and my noble friend Lord Forsyth, who echoed his view, that the effectiveness of Parliament—he said of this House—depends on its reputation. Where there is a disaffected majority in the political spectrum of the electorate, it is open to extremists to start teaching it that Parliament is not their refuge but a laughable obstruction on the road to their betterment. Those operators do not believe in democracy at all, but in power on the streets and violence to implement their views.
I know I sound rather extreme in my views, but I have read history and seen what has happened before, and how apparently stable democracies can be rocked to their foundations and even toppled by the most unexpected upsurge of anti-democratic discontent. We do not now have the same population as we had in my youth. We are not so stable in our views; we are not so united as a nation. We have therefore to take great care over where we go next.
The first thing we have to do is to restore the reputation of Parliament. We who are here can restore the reputation only of this House of Parliament and undertake only the simplest step, because of the difficulty of legislation at such a pressured time. We must not absorb too much legislative time, so we need to agree in advance what the legislation shall be. I have tried exactly that on a micro scale as an amateur with a Private Member’s Bill. It is laughable that the first, simplest and most obviously necessary step in reform should be urged by an antediluvian, hereditary Peer washed up on the Back Benches in 1999; it needs to be undertaken with the strength and majesty of the whole House and entrusted to a Select Committee, which should have the remit certainly to deal with size but I hope with more. Size will not be enough; we have to return to being the arbiters of the voice of the nation, the protectors of democracy in this country, and not merely the laughable obstruction which the opposition outside Parliament would like us to be.
My Lords, a great deal of what needs to be said has already been said, and repetition is inevitable. It is also quite daunting to come on to the stage after so many star actors have already done their turn, but I shall press on. I do so speaking as a member of the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, so ably and consistently led by the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Norton, without whose tireless advocacy I think it is fair to say this debate would not be taking place. We have much to be grateful to them for.
I speak also with experience of membership of the Labour Peers’ Working Group, to which my noble friends Lady Taylor and Lord Dubs referred and whose 2014 report has already been mentioned. I have also been a member of several other informal groups during what is now getting around to being nearly a decade. Over all that time and with all that talking, thinking and writing, the emphases of conclusions may have been different from time to time, but the issue of numbers has been increasingly prominent, especially since 2010.
As has already been said cogently, most recently by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, but also by others who preceded him, we live in dangerous political times, both here and elsewhere. There are huge challenges ahead. It is vital that our institutions are able to meet those challenges robustly. They must be trusted. At the moment, the House of Lords is particularly vulnerable. It is true that the issue of numbers is partly a practical matter, but it is so only partly—although the growing cost of the House is not insignificant. We in the House know what the realities are: probably that no more than 500 of us are regularly active. But the continuing ability of hostile commentators to portray us as bloated, self-serving and unrepresentative—all adjectives which we have already heard today—severely undermines that precious thing, our reputation, and allows the vital scrutiny, committee and other work that we do to be either overlooked or wilfully misrepresented, which happens a great deal.
The Government have made it clear that they have no intention of embarking on parliamentary reform on any scale any time soon—which is no surprise given everything else they have in front of them. However, we should not let this Parliament go by without doing what we can to address the concerns raised here today and elsewhere. I support the aim of this Motion and ask the Leader of the House, when she comes to reply, to support the establishment of a Select Committee as soon as possible to investigate how numbers can be reduced and then capped at a manageable level, taking as a framework the key criteria of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about—as we have heard many times already—the essential primacy of the Commons, this House not being larger than the Commons, the 20% of Cross-Benchers and no one party having an overall majority.
Much work has already been done, including by the Labour Peers’ Working Group and others, that would assist such a Select Committee. It ought not to need to sit for a protracted period. I really hope that by the end of this debate there will be enough support shown—I believe a consensus is building—for it to be obvious to the Leader that she should take that particular project under her wing.
I will say one brief word about a matter that I do not think has yet been raised in this debate, and I do so with a certain amount of trepidation: it is the issue of restoration and renewal. I have been around a few restorations and renewals of iconic buildings, not ever on this scale but some of them with enormous controversy attached. When you undertake a project of that kind, particularly where public money is involved, controversy is almost inevitable. How do you overcome that? You do so by demonstrating through the creation of a better building that you will also create a better institution. Such an opportunity is before us now. I know not everyone agrees with exactly how the restoration and renewal project should be undertaken; indeed, we have not yet had a chance to debate that. However, it is pretty obvious that the building needs it—so does the institution. Let us take this opportunity to get ahead on the institution so that it is in good shape before the building catches up.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for securing this debate and for the indefatigable work of his group, along with the noble Lord, Lord Norton. I add a word of thanks to the Leader for permitting this debate. Her presence here is a very good omen.
Shortly after the last election, David Cameron kindly came to speak to a meeting of Cross-Benchers and I asked him what he thought was the optimal size of the House of Lords. He laughed and said, “A lot smaller than it now is; it is up to you to fix it”. Some of us then pointed out that a bath may still overflow even when the plug is removed if both taps are turned full on. He laughed again—and of course had the last laugh in his Dissolution Honours List, about which my noble friend Lady Boothroyd said all that we need say today.
Mr Cameron was half right: we can fix it. We do not need legislation. It would be good, once we have reform, to have legislation to underpin and consolidate that reform but we can do it ourselves. We can amend our Standing Orders; we can do it by resolution of this House. That is what we must do. I agree with all four principles put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and repeated by my noble friend Lady D’Souza and others. It is clear that we are too big, that we must go on recognising the primacy of the Commons, and that, as a revising Chamber, we need an independent element. It is probably right that we should be no larger than the House of Commons. That is enough as a framework for reform.
I do not think we should attempt today to put forward our own formula or systems for bringing about that change. We need to call for a Select Committee—as others did—and then tell it to get a move on. If I have a quarrel with the Motion, it is that it merely says that “methods should be explored” by which our size should be reduced. We want not just exploration but a recommendation to come forward from the Select Committee—a single recommendation and the one most likely to command consensus in this House.
I strongly support the Motion but would merely add one personal point of my own. We must take care, as we shrink, to leave room for those underrepresented or not represented here. It is not right that UKIP, with all those votes at the last election, should be represented by only three Members in this House. Of course, it is a pity that none of them is taking part in this debate. One would hope that UKIP Members of the House of Lords would not emulate their friends in Brussels and miss most debates and Divisions, as they do in the European Parliament. But it is democratically wrong that there are so few of them here. It is also unfair that we ask so much of the single representative of the Welsh nationalist party—superman though he is, he could do with some reinforcement. Most seriously, the Scottish National Party needs to think very hard about whether it is fair to its voters that its voice should not be heard at all in this Chamber. It is a matter of dogma, but dogma that is self-harming needs ditching.
My Lords, notwithstanding the Elton and Grocott Bills that are before us, we have our annual debate on the size of the House. The previous one was in September last year. It seems to be our annual navel-gazing. I was deeply saddened by the way in which my noble friend Lord Cormack introduced the debate because he said that he was speaking on behalf of his campaign group. I hope that none of us here speaks on behalf of a group. We speak for ourselves. The group might agree with us but if we start speaking on behalf of groups we will fundamentally change the reason for us being here.
We are talking again about the size of the House. In overall numbers, which is one way of measuring it, we are down to 64% of the size the House was at its height, some 19 years ago. In actual attendance numbers, we are up about 10% since 1999 but that still makes us about 20% smaller than the House of Commons. Limiting the size of the House will have a detrimental effect on the number of Peers who can come here on a part-time basis. In saying that, I look at history. Your Lordships have only to study what happened to the Scottish Peers after the Acts of Union 1707, when the number of Scottish Peers was reduced to 16 and the influence that the Whips and the Governments had immediately after that on the selection process is a lesson that we should take note of. It will be equally relevant to this House. Indeed, the elections in 1999 following the dismissal of most of the hereditary Peers showed that those who were elected were not the part-time ones but the ones who attended on a regular basis. If we believe that working part time is a function of this House, limiting the size is not the way to do it.
If we are going to limit size, we must also limit the power of patronage of the Prime Minister, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and my noble friend Lord Tebbit said. That cannot be allowed to continue unabated. But size is just one of the problems of this House and if we focus on size alone, we will be doing ourselves a disservice. We need to look at the function of the House. We have been told that we need to have a bicameral system in the United Kingdom. That is only partly true. We do not have a bicameral system in the whole United Kingdom. Look at Scotland and Wales: a lot of their legislation is not considered by a bicameral parliament and we do not have a say in it here. The British constitution has adopted a bicameral system but we need to look also at how we function and, indeed, how the House of Commons functions.
We ought to remain a revising Chamber. If we look at what has happened with the Policing and Crime Bill, in the House of Commons there were 112 clauses and 12 schedules; there were amendments to only 25 clauses and five schedules—a quarter of the clauses and fewer than half the schedules. We have important work to do and in order to do that work we need the right composition. My noble friend Lord Elton said how important it was that the reputation of the House was upheld. I believe that a key part of our reputation is our composition.
Is our age structure right? Is it right that the average age in the House is 69, in an unelected Chamber, or that only 26% of the House is women? These are areas of criticism. Is it right that a quarter of those Peers appointed to Parliament since 1999 have been former politicians and that a further 7% have been linked to a party either in senior positions or as working for it? When Members of Parliament are held in such low esteem, perhaps we ought to look at that as well.
On a regional basis, the present House is tilted entirely towards the south-east—here I know that I will get support from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. It is extremely difficult to operate effectively in this House if you live in a remote area of the country. The business of the House and the decisions of the party Whips make it virtually impossible. I repeat that when I lived in the north of Scotland, in order to guarantee being here for a Monday afternoon I had to leave on Sunday evening. That is not an effective system; it is open to abuse and criticism. Let us not believe that solving the size problem is going to solve our reputation. It is not.
My Lords, I too thank the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip for allowing this debate in government prime time, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for kicking it off. I have heard all the speeches and the one I really want to applaud is that of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean—if only because he touched on a theme which I want to mention, which has so far not been used to much effect. I accept that the Lords is far too big; so, I have to say, is the Commons, notwithstanding the fact that its membership is to be reduced. However, we need to be clear on our functions and powers.
I always start the Peers in Schools sessions, as I will on Friday in south Bromsgrove, by saying that the Lords is in effect a very large sub-committee of the Commons. We are not equal Houses of Parliament because the Commons can force legislation upon the Lords, but the Lords cannot force legislation upon the Commons. We are the thinking Chamber that thinks for itself and, from time to time, we request the Commons to think again on some issues. The Government’s defeats here are only a request to the Commons to think again. They have the final say; we simply ask them to have another look. We of course need to check on the material sent to us from the Commons because they do not check much of it themselves. I agree that the Lords should be about two-thirds the size of the Commons. This should not be rigid but it should be less than the Commons. By the way, I would not start legislation in the Lords and that way, all Bills would be subject to the Parliament Acts.
I come to what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said and I will make a couple of small points. The Peers in Schools programme needs extending to peers in Whitehall and peers in the Commons. We need to confront the ignorance about our function and powers. From my experience in Whitehall—two departments while in the Commons and four in your Lordships’ House—civil servants are fearful of the Lords. They do not understand the Lords because they are ignorant about it, which causes problems within the departments. Not enough civil servants, even the senior ones, have worked in Lords Ministers’ private offices. There is massive ignorance in those departments about the Lords so they become fearful of us, which need not be the case.
I fully accept that I was ignorant before about this place. When I was in the other place as a Minister, I paid not the slightest attention to my noble friends Lord Donoughue and Lady Hollis when they said at departmental meetings. “I’ve got a Starred Question” or “I have to stay all night”. I never paid any attention to what they said but I soon found out when I came here what they were on about. However, I will never forget the day when I, as a humble Minister of State, went with my noble friend Lord Grocott, who was the government Chief Whip, to attend the senior Cabinet committee in charge of legislation. We were merely explaining the rules and processes here in the Lords but the chair wagged their finger at us and said that we had gone native, based purely on ignorance about what we were trying to explain. So far, that person has not arrived in your Lordships’ House.
Ministers also need the odd information session. This is especially the case—I say this of one in retrospect and the other with experience—for senior Ministers who have never operated at junior level. That was the case in 1997, when I did not pick it up, but in 2010 I certainly did. We are not a threat, but there was something missing in the corporate memory of those Ministers and those teams at that point in time when they had never operated in respect of the Lords. We are here to help.
We are also here to stop an Executive takeover of Parliament—not enough is made of that. I can tell you this: every move that is made across the road is bit by bit seeking to get Executive control of Parliament, and we should stop that. We should insist on the rule of parliamentary law. Sometimes we have to stiffen the backbone of MPs. The example that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, gave was about tax credits. That was a classic example. It should have been a Bill. We all know that if it had been a Bill the Commons and the Government could have had their way because they get the last word, and they were getting around the parliamentary rules. We can carry out our function and exercise our powers a lot better with fewer Peers, and we should get on with it.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, even if it means that my own humble efforts are likely to be put in the shade. I begin by declaring my interests as a member of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, but I make it clear that anything I say today is said in a purely personal capacity.
The size of the House should certainly be reduced. There are three reasons for this. The first has to do with the character of its membership and its relationship to the House of Commons. Its membership is open-ended, uncontrolled and spiralling out of control. From 666 Members in 1999, membership rose by about 50 in the 11 years to 2010. Since then, it has grown by approximately 150 more to more than 800. It is one-third bigger than the Commons and will be more than that when the number in the Commons is reduced to 600. The UK is the only country in the world with a bicameral system where the second Chamber is larger than the first.
Secondly, the rapid rise in numbers has made the House dysfunctional. Has any noble Lord tried getting on the internet lately? The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, spoke of overcrowding, inefficiency and the enormous burden on both the administration and the taxpayer. In the past five years, the average daily attendance has risen from 388 to 483, an increase of 95. That is up to £28,500 a day more in allowances—which, if the House sat for only 100 days a year, would come to nearly £3 million annually.
The third reason concerns the reputation of the House. Our newspaper editorials used, on balance, to be positive about the Lords, but they have become increasingly negative of late. During the 2010 to 2015 Parliament, negative editorials outnumbered positive ones by three to one. I think the House of Lords is often respected by the general public as the conscience of the nation for the way it holds the Government to account and mitigates the worst features of legislation. But this good work is increasingly being obscured by stories about excessive appointments, anachronism, cronyism and sleaze. On account of all the good work the House does, I have heard people say that such unfavourable comment is just perception inflamed by our detractors which bears no relation to reality and that we do not need to worry too much about it. But such perceptions from influential quarters, especially if they come to predominate, can easily influence wider perceptions of reality, and the growing size of the House can come to pose a serious threat to its reputation and hence to its effectiveness, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, has said.
I am therefore certainly in favour of the first part of the Motion, that the size of the House should be reduced—I would think by about 250 to something like 550 or 600, so that it is no larger than the House of Commons, even if that body’s numbers are reduced to 600 with the boundary changes. I do not think that this debate can get to the bottom of the question of how, precisely, that is to be achieved. For that, I think we need the Select Committee that so many noble Lords have spoken in favour of—a Select Committee that can go in detail into all the pros and cons of the various methods that have been suggested, such as fixed terms, a retirement age, a minimum attendance requirement, elections in groups, and so on.
The much-respected authority on the House of Lords, Professor Meg Russell of the Constitution Unit at University College London, in a recent blog post, has outlined four key elements which need to be part of any package of measures if it is to succeed. The first is an initial cull to effect the required reduction, using age limits, attendance requirements or elections as deemed appropriate. The second is a cap on the size of the House at somewhere round about the number reached as a result of the cull. That is essential if the initial cull is not to unravel as a result of the Prime Minister’s use of their unfettered power to make new appointments. As Professor Russell wrote in an earlier blog covering her 2015 report, Enough is Enough:
“Because each Prime Minister appoints more of their own, each change in government results in tit-for-tat action by the new Prime Minister to catch up. This has a continuous upward ratchet effect on the size of the chamber”.
Thirdly, and following directly from that, there needs to be a restriction on the number of new appointments that can be made. The Prime Minister would only be able to appoint to fill vacancies. This is the system that prevails in relation to the Canadian Senate. Finally, it will be necessary to have some fair principles covering the sharing out of new appointments between the groups.
We have no time to lose. I said over a year ago that publicity hostile to the Lords had reached a tipping point. It is important that we are seen to be proactive in addressing this question of numbers. We need the Select Committee and we need it soon, with a specified date by which to report.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the wise remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston. I join other noble Lords in congratulating the Government on making time for this debate today and my noble friend Lord Cormack on securing it and on the content of his remarks, which, as usual, I find myself in substantial agreement with. I salute, too, the work of the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, which he and my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, together with others from all sides of both Houses, have worked hard in for a number of years. They have done extremely valuable work, which we are beholden to build on.
The Leader’s Group, chaired by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, set out the various options for reducing the size of the House of Lords. Most noble Lords have their own views on their preferred choice for how that should be achieved, as does almost everybody in the country. They are not of one mind—“quot homines, tot sententiae”. The Second Reading debate on the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Elton—a Bill which he imaginatively and wisely designed, after very wide consultation, to be uncontentious, proved beyond peradventure that there is at present no consensus in this House, far less unanimity, on the best way forward. If proof were needed, the remarks of my noble friend and chieftain Lord Caithness would underline that.
As the old saying goes: when in doubt, set up another committee. I do not think that on this occasion there should be a collective sigh of resignation. Select Committees in this House have a record of coming up with recommendations and, as others have said, I hope there will be recommendations that lead to practical outcomes. The basis for such recommendations is already there: a House no more numerous than the other place; no party or grouping to have an overall majority; a substantial proportion of the seats to be Cross-Benchers; and the primacy of the other place to be preserved.
The very welcome decision by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee of the other place to take evidence and produce a report on this subject suggests that it might be timely to consider setting up not only a Select Committee of this House but a Joint Committee of both Houses to make recommendations about the best way forward, because we have to take the other House with us and it might save time in the end. Still, that is perhaps for another day; I would not expect my noble friend the Leader of the House to respond to that. Either way, a decision to establish a Select Committee of this House or indeed a Joint Committee would have my wholehearted support.
My Lords, as a member of his committee, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for his excellent speech and for his kind words about Geoffrey, who I am quite certain is listening intently to all that is said today.
Change is, of course, inevitable in a parliamentary democracy. From what we have all heard so far, we are all clearly of the view that the time for change to downsize the numbers in your Lordships’ House can no longer be ignored. I arrived in 2001 via a new system for selecting Cross-Bench Members, and we brought with us a slightly extended role for Cross-Benchers. At that time there was ample seating for everyone. Today, though, the relentless—I would even say cynical—increase in your Lordships’ numbers by successive Governments to over 800 has become intolerable. Indeed, if you want to be seated in the Chamber for the start of Questions, you must be there for Prayers by 2.15; no doubt this is good recruitment for the Church.
How best can we achieve this universally desired objective, particularly, as stressed by Meg Russell’s analysis, a total membership of your Lordships’ House no bigger than that of the other place? I suspect we all have our own views of the preferred route to achieve this objective but surely that suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—to appoint a Select Committee for this purpose—is the right one, and I fully support it.
I end with an additional suggestion that the Select Committee might consider alongside other proposals. Today, as your Lordships will have noticed, working patterns have changed considerably. In the past, people often worked for just one employer during their working lives and then retired with their well-earned gold watch, but they seldom do this now. Today during their working lives they often work for a range of different employers. I suggest that, for some of them, one of their occupations could be as a Member of your Lordships’ House.
When everyone has spoken tonight, I hope everyone will support the establishment of a Select Committee—as soon as possible, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has said.
My Lords, I shall begin with three preliminary remarks. First, I have been debating House of Lords reform in Parliament since 1979. As a consequence, both my expectations and my aspirations have become fairly modest.
Secondly, and differently, I have the minority view here: I believe that the authority of the second Chamber should be commensurate with that of the House of Commons, with powers equal to it. I know full well that that would mean a wholly or largely elected Chamber. That is my belief. I equally know it is not going to happen, at least not in the near future, although it may happen as we move away from a unitary state.
My third point echoes what the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said: I agree fundamentally about the importance of the bicameral system, for all the reasons that the noble Earl outlined. We do our job very well.
I turn to the reasons advanced in support of the Motion. I agree that this House is too large, but I also happen to think that the principal reasons advanced are second-order reasons. Yes, we are laughed at—the risibility factor, as identified by my noble friend Lord Cormack—and that is bad news. The facilities are overstrained, as identified by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Low. They are right about that too, but that is also a second-order issue. Actually there are some advantages of a very large House: you broaden and indeed deepen the pool of noble Lords here. That is an advantage when it comes to debate, in reports and on committees. I agree again with what the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said about that. I believe, as does my noble friend Lord Forsyth, that we do our job very well. So there are powerful reasons for reducing the size of the House but they are second-order reasons, and that is important when determining the scope and the depth of what we have in mind.
Before I touch on what I think should happen, I shall say what I think should not and what will not happen. First, on what will not happen, I agree with my noble friend Lord Wakeham—no one knows more about the House of Commons than he does—that the idea of a big bang reforming Bill going through the House of Commons is for the birds. It would have to be conducted on the Floor of the House; it would be a Christmas tree on which any Member could hang his or her favourite bauble; and, incidentally, as you came towards a general election Members of the other place would be looking at their post-election prospects and would rather like to sit here. So that is not going to happen.
What I do not want to happen is the electoral college, notwithstanding the advocacy of my noble friend Lord Tebbit. I fear that the parties would get a grip on those elections and we would end up with the clubbable, the companionable and the compliant. I speak on behalf of the awkward squad: this place without my noble friend Lord Forsyth would be impoverished. We need the awkward squad in this place, and electoral colleges do not do anything for that.
So what should we do? I shall make a few brief suggestions. First, I entirely agree with the Select Committee. Secondly, we need to agree progressively to reduce the size of this House, which means self-restraint by the party leaders—maybe one in for two out, something like that. Thirdly, I think it would be useful if life Peers were nominated for fixed terms. Fourthly, although I touch on this with caution, there is a need for a retirement age. I look back on my own family and know that people can stay here too long. I think 80 may well be appropriate.
Then I favour the resignation of non-participating Peers. I recognise, too, that that could be bad news because the non-participating Peer could change his or her habits and participate overmuch. But there is a case for non-participating Peers to stand down. I appreciate the allegations of humbug and sour grapes that are about to be levelled against me, but I am pretty cautious about by-elections for hereditary Peers, as they are very difficult in principle to justify.
There are powerful reasons for reducing the size of the House, but I think, too, that they are second-order reasons. That being so, we should be cautious about going too fast or too dramatically. In any case, it will not happen because there will not be a Bill. Let us focus on gradual and modest changes, focusing on those matters where it is most difficult to defend the status quo. If the public perceive that we are getting a grip on it, much of the criticism based on size will begin to fall away.
My Lords, not for the first time this House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for his continuing interest in House of Lords reform.
In a country that prides itself on being the standard bearer of democratic institutions, a visitor from Mars would find the size of this House hilarious—not to mention the number of Liberal Democrats, which bears no relation to the democratic last general election. In concentrating on numbers of this House, I fear that the noble Lord is putting the cart before the horse. It is the functions of this House as a component of Parliament that should be determined first, and it is only secondly that we should move on to numbers. We should decide whether this House should be only a reviewing Chamber, or whether its role should be a wider one than this—a full-blooded legislative Chamber. I doubt it—although that may be a minority view.
Governments in the past had no compunction in clipping the wings of this House—in the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949. In the absence of a constitutional convention and a Bill of Rights, I believe that the way forward is a simple amendment to the Parliament Act 1949 to remove altogether the existing, although reduced, power of delaying legislation by this House. If that were done, the only function of this House as regards legislation would be a reviewing one. There would be a time limit for such a review. During that time the House could debate and express its views in the form of amendments. The amended Bill would be returned to the Commons for any second thoughts it might have. If the Commons stood its ground and rejected the Lords amendments, it would be the end of the matter and consideration of legislation here would come to an end. The Commons could send the Bill, unamended, straight to Her Majesty for signature.
This House would have had its opportunity to carry out its reviewing role, which could be important, and it would have offered its views to the Commons for its further consideration—but that would be all. The amendment to the 1949 Parliament Act would be simple, and on the lines that the 1949 Act amended the 1911 Act, but in this case abolishing all powers of delay rather than limiting them. Once our functions had been determined, the question of the number of Peers required would, I believe, be solved more easily. It would be open for discussion how many would be needed in a reviewing-only Chamber—probably in the low or mid-hundreds. I hope they would be appointed for their expertise.
When I was at school, I grappled with the arithmetical problem of working out the time it would take to empty a water tank that was still being filled with water. There is a touch of Alice in Wonderland about a debate on exploring methods of reducing the numbers of this House while at the same time Prime Ministers continue to exercise unlimited powers to make more and more recommendations to reward friends and/or help the Whips to get legislation through, by repeatedly refilling the water tank with more Members.
The machinery for appointments goes to the heart of the problem. I would add that if this House became a reviewing-only Chamber, the case for an elected House would be considerably weakened, if not destroyed, and the paramountcy of the Commons would be reaffirmed. I was in Washington at the time of the colossal gridlock between the House of Representatives and the Senate. I have no wish to encourage a scenario of two elected Houses, horns locked with each other.
My Lords, I have been in the House for 26 years. When I arrived here I was the only Asian in your Lordships’ House, and I had this idea—quite incorrectly, as I realised afterwards—that Mrs Thatcher put me here because she thought I would be useful and that I might be able to help the Conservative Party to make contacts with the community, and so on, as I was very active in the community at that time. I waited and waited, and when the Conservatives lost the election, I realised that that was it—so I started doing things outside. I am pleased to say that I have done something that not many people have been able to do. I have been a catalyst for a memorial to the Indians, Africans and West Indians who supported Britain in two world wars. In that way, I suppose it was good that nobody gave me any work to do here.
I have been thinking a lot and have been listening very carefully, and I totally agree with one of the things that has been said. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, referred to the scrutiny of the people who are brought here. When I came here, I was under the impression that even political appointees were put through interviews at least by the Leader of the House, checked out a bit by central office, et cetera—but I do not think that is done any more. If you are a Conservative or a Labour appointee, that is what you are. I could not agree more with the idea that every person who comes to this House should go through scrutiny that is similar to what the Cross-Benchers go through. I totally agree with that and I cannot understand why it is not done
It has been said again and again that every time we speak to anybody they say, “There’s just too many of you”. We know that, and we are talking about it today. They also say another thing, which people are too polite to say—English people are very polite. They say that people in this House have cheated. They have taken money that they should not have done; they have gone to prison, which is disgraceful. Someone working in any company or organisation would not be kept there if they had gone to prison or if they had cheated—not just gone to prison. So I would add that to the list of things that we need to work on to make sure that anybody who cheats even for a small amount should not stay in this House because that ruins the reputation of all of us, not just that person. It is one of my pet peeves that we allow Peers to come back and be Peers again. It is not acceptable to me.
Another idea, mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, was a fixed term. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, was talking to me earlier. He said that when somebody is appointed, we should offer them an age limit and/or a fixed term, so they can choose whether they leave after the fixed term or the age they have arrived at, perhaps on the basis of whichever is the earlier. We will have to have an age limit—it is not going to work if we do not.
On that issue, we are not very kind to people who have been here for many years—and they keep coming. Do we know why they keep coming? Do they need help? Do they need financial support? Do we ever ask them how they are doing and how they are managing? Why should people who have given 40 years or something to the House of Lords have to skimp and scrape and then come in here for £300? It is not right. Some element of help for those Peers who need financial help should be put into the system, because that will help people to leave. They will not want to just keep coming because they need the money—because that is the worst reason to come.
I thought that what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, said about commitment was a very good point. People should be asked right at the beginning, “What is your commitment to the work of the House?”. They will obviously say “Yes” at the time, because they will want to come in.
I see that I am running over time, but I shall just bring in one more point that I heard and liked a lot. I am sorry, I have lost it now. I am not in favour of appointed Members. I am sorry, I seem to have lost my point.
My Lords, I want one simple message to go out from the House of Lords today—that it wants to reduce its size so that it is no larger than the House of Commons, and it wants that change to take place no later than the beginning of the next Parliament. The Lords are not the obstacle standing in the way of this essential constitutional reform. That is a message that needs to go to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee of the other place as it starts its inquiry into the size and composition of the House of Lords.
The Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, with its large and broad representation from both Houses, has during the 15 years of its existence effectively acted as a Joint Committee of both Houses, leading to recommendations that could very easily and quickly be used to prepare a draft Bill ready for pre-legislative scrutiny. I personally am firmly of the view that the proposal for a non-elected House with a membership based on a combination of votes cast and seats won in a general election is the best way in which to ensure the widest possible range of expertise in commenting on the great issues of the day, scrutiny and improvement of legislation and preparing Select Committee reports on many important topics, without challenging the unambiguous electoral mandate of the House of Commons. It is also the best way in which to ensure that parties that gain significant support in a general election are not under-represented in this House, while those that lose support are not over-represented.
However, while the campaign group, led so ably by my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Norton of Louth, has prepared the ground very thoroughly, we clearly need a more formal mechanism to initiate the next move, and I therefore support the suggestion that we should appoint a Select Committee to consider the options and report by a specified date. The Select Committee should be chosen and put in place before the end of the year with an instruction to report within three or four months. Speed is of the essence, because we will be told that Parliament will be too busy with Brexit to deal with the Lords; but if Brexit is about taking control and restoring democracy, reform of the Lords should be an essential element. I do not completely agree with my noble friend Lord Wakeham that early reform is impossible. I believe that it should be an essential element of Brexit, preferably by legislation; but if that is impossible, then by change in our statutory rules. We can do that quite effectively and quickly.
Finally, I refer to the crucial point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that we need to resolve the problem of those coming in and coming out. The report produced by the committee so ably led by my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Norton of Louth contains an important proposal—that the right to nominate by the Prime Minister and other party leaders should be preserved, but limited to 10% of seats. The report says:
“In the event of any death or retirement during the parliament a one in, one out principle would apply, any new member being nominated by the Prime Minister in consultation with the independent appointments Commission. We would favour that Commission becoming statutory and enjoying the same powers for all new nominations as it currently enjoys for cross bench nominations”.
I warmly support the comments made on that topic by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, with all his experience.
I have one point to make to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, who suggested that the Clegg Bill was stopped by unscrupulous action by the political parties in another place. It was not stopped by that—it was stopped because a significant number of Members of the House of Commons realised that, if you had another elected Chamber, you would undermine the authority of the House of Commons. That is the reason for the defeat of the Clegg Bill.
My Lords, this country is year by year becoming more federal in character, if not in practice. It is right that the committee in the other place that is going to look at more fundamental reform of the House of Lords should dust down the report of the commission that Prime Minister Asquith appointed after the passage of the Parliament Act, which recommended that a new senate could be elected by the House of Commons. Now that we have all those other legislative bodies in the UK, the opportunity for having a new upper Chamber here on the basis of a democratic election but not threatening the House of Commons is one that I would hope the committee would consider. It could include also the right to elect Members who are not involved in political parties, thus retaining in a new Chamber the Cross Benches, which are so valuable, and severely limiting the number of prime ministerial appointments. But that is for the long term and not for the debate today.
The point that I want the Leader of the House to consider is that the appointment of a Select Committee should lead to quick action because we do not actually need more legislation. Now that we have retirement on the statute book, anything more can be done by a resolution of the House. We are a self-governing House, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, have already mentioned. We can do it ourselves; it does not need more legislation and does not need to take up parliamentary time. I hope that the Select Committee will consider that carefully.
I hesitate to disagree with my dear friends and colleagues my noble friends Lord Tyler and Lord Rennard, but I do not regard an age cut-off as ageist. When you look at life outside, judges after all have to retire at 70, while the police retire, depending on their rank, at 60 or 65. The oldest age group that I know of for retirement are Lord Lieutenants, who have to retire at 75. Let us say that at the end of every Parliament those Peers who have reached the age of 80 or above, as the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, said earlier, should leave—80 and above is a very generous cut-off point. It is not ageist at all, in my view.
If that were to happen at the next election, 221 Members of this House would disappear, including me. I am therefore able to say, with some conviction, that this is a good idea. Also, since there is a clear-out at the other end of this building at every election, the end of every Parliament could also be the right time for a clear-out here. If you wanted to add to the 221, you could take into account those who appear very rarely. I am told by the Library that, in the previous Session of Parliament last year, 85 Members attended for less than 10% and 51 for less than 5% of the sittings of the House. There is scope for reducing the numbers by resolution of the House and I hope the Select Committee will take that into account. If there is a Select Committee, I would put forward these ideas in greater detail.
It is very rare in this place to be asked to repeat something one has said before, but various Members asked me to retell the story about the difficulty older people have with new technology. I did not make it up, it was actually a letter in the Oldie magazine, and this is what it said:
“I haven’t got a computer, but I was told about Facebook and Twitter and I am trying to make friends outside Facebook and Twitter while applying the same principles. Every day I walk down the street and tell passers-by what I have eaten, how I feel, what I have done the night before and what I will do for the rest of the day. I give them pictures of my wife, my daughter, my dog and me gardening and on holiday. I also listen to their conversations, tell them I ‘like’ them and give them my opinion on every subject that interests me … whether it interests them or not. And it works. I already have four people following me: two police officers, a social worker and a psychiatrist”.
I repeat that only because I believe the time is long overdue when we collectively insert a use-by date on ourselves.
My Lords, it is a problem to have to follow that superb story. I put on record my strong support for the work of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and for the Motion today to promote reform to achieve a reduction in the size of the House. I will speak very briefly, noble Lords will be glad to know, because everything has been said that needs to be said. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, himself said that a little bit of repetition might be helpful on this occasion, but I will keep it brief.
In particular, I support the proposal that this House should not be any larger than the House of Commons—that seems common sense. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and other noble Lords have said, the public have become all too aware, through the media’s constant reports, that this is the largest second Chamber in the world and they do not like it. We have reached the point where it is very difficult to convey to the public the very useful work done by this House because they think we are a laughing stock. They do not take us seriously because of the size of the House and their image of vastly too many of us in red and ermine gowns. We have to try to retrieve public support and the only way we can do it is by getting on and reducing our own size.
We all know that the root of the problem is that successive Prime Ministers repeatedly appoint far too many new Peers to this House. I am worried about the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that we can do all this ourselves, without legislation. I am not sure that we can cap the Prime Minister’s powers without legislation, in fact I am jolly sure that we cannot. We need the support of the whole House, and for all parties and their leaders to agree in principle that we shall not appoint more Peers than would be allowed to arrive at the size of the House of Commons. This would, of course, require us first to reduce the size of the House well below 600 so that Prime Ministers can then appoint some Peers year by year.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said that there is more support for abolition of this House than there is for any kind of reform. There will continue to be support for abolishing this House until we sort out the size problem. I am not, of course, talking about the need to eliminate Prime Ministers’ patronage. No Head of State has no patronage—they all do—and we would have to respect that, but this needs a cap on it. Otherwise, whatever we do with retirement ages or length of service does not matter: Prime Ministers will simply pile in new Peers and we will have achieved very little. If in this debate we can convey the very strong support of this House for a reduction in the number of Peers entitled to attend it would be an incredibly invaluable message to the public and do a tremendous amount to restore public confidence in this House. However, we have then to follow through on our commitment. I therefore also strongly support the establishment of a Select Committee to consider how best to achieve an appropriate size for your Lordships’ House. I hope that that committee would also address the really tricky issue of Prime Ministers’ patronage and how it could be dealt with so that the rest of the reforms would have meaning.
I also support the three principles which should guide such a committee: that the House should not be any larger than the House of Commons, as I have already said; no one party should have an overall majority; and Cross-Benchers should comprise at least 20% of the membership. There is overwhelming support in this House for the Motion. I hope this will ensure that the committee is set up and progress can be made.
My Lords, this debate has shown that I am not alone among your Lordships in being unable to justify the number of Members of this House. This inability to explain the status quo comes to the fore when speaking publicly, or privately, about our role. However, like the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, I disagree with my noble friend Lord Cormack when, in a typically forceful speech, he said that he felt that the second half of his Motion was the least important although, like all noble Lords, I agree with his analysis of the first half. As we all know, we have made a few tentative steps to restrict our numbers. The possibility of retirement springs to mind, as does the expulsion of Peers who seriously transgress our rules as set out in Standing Orders. This is good, but it is not enough. The time has surely come to be radical and I would like to see an attack from both ends of the spectrum—the ever increasing appointments and the further reduction of existing members—but still limited.
Patronage is, as we know, very powerful and over the last 20 or so years we have seen a constant and very large increase in our numbers. Successive Prime Ministers and, in one instance, a deputy, have had resignation honours, as well as mid-Parliament lists. This is virtually the only way that a senior honour is available to be bestowed, the other being the Companion of Honour, which could perhaps be used more. But—and it is a very big but—this would inevitably devalue it. Like my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, I would like to see newly appointed life Peers not necessarily having a seat in Parliament. There are many for whom it would be appropriate; others for whom perhaps it would not be. There are down sides to this. First, it would need the Queen’s approval; secondly it would need an Act of Parliament which, in this particular case, should only come from the House of Commons. My noble friend, with his customary diplomatic skills, would no doubt be able to square this rather inelegant circle.
It has been suggested to me that a knighthood might suffice, but that would certainly annoy the existing holders. The other day, one of my noble friends said: “What about a baronetcy?”. I do not believe that would wash either, given the current attitude to inherited honours. Prime Ministers could, I suppose, have a self-denying ordinance, limiting their appointments to two or three at a time, normally at the beginning of a new Parliament, to go straight on to the Front Bench. But the Government of the day would very naturally be afraid of losing many more Divisions than they currently do, so taking up a lot of very valuable time in another place. Therefore, I do not believe that will wash.
I rather like the Canadian example given by the noble Lord, Lord Low, although “one in, one out” will not solve the problem before us. The suggestion of my noble friend Lord Hailsham of “one in for two out” would certainly help but both suggestions would be pretty well de minimis in their effect.
At the other end of the spectrum is the idea perpetrated by my noble friend Lord Cormack and others, and, I suspect, is about to be by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, not forgetting the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, whose Bill we will consider in Committee shortly. There is nothing wrong with using primary legislation to reduce our numbers still further. There is, thanks to the party opposite, a precedent for this in the House of Lords Act.
Much to the annoyance of some of my hereditary colleagues, I have come to the conclusion that by-elections to replace hereditary Peers are no longer appropriate, although when 800-odd were excluded, they obviously were, as some of the good ones were thrown out. The by-elections eased the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999, but they have now become an anomaly—a point which some of my noble friends have been good enough to accept. I am well aware of the deal struck between my noble friend Lord Salisbury—as he is now—and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, that hereditary Peers would remain here in limited numbers until there was a proper reform of the whole system, so pertinent to the thoughts of my noble friend Lord Caithness, although I do not think that he uttered them just now. Indeed, we may soon be voting on the whole matter. Be that as it may, no one has ever explained to my satisfaction what would constitute such a reform—reducing the House to 600 Members overnight perhaps? I hope that we will not see such a sweeping change as we did in 1999 ever again.
Grateful as I both am, and was, to be allowed to retain my seat after 1999, the problem of my, or, indeed, any of my fellow hereditary Peers’ replacement existed then as it does today, since there has never been any certainty about who will take our seats. Certainly, it has become even more uncertain as the electorate and the candidates have become further and further apart. Given the Government’s current intention, the only way to solve this knotty problem is to do it ourselves. I therefore agree that a Select Committee would be the best way of doing that. I hope that the committee which chooses which sessional Select Committees are picked for our general discussion will take careful note of that item.
My Lords, with no disrespect to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who I count as a friend, I fear that this debate is largely a diversion from the real issue of the urgent need for radical reform. I personally favour replacing us with an indirectly elected senate of the nations and regions, which would have the advantage of some democratic legitimacy but without challenging the primacy of the directly elected Chamber. I would like this suggestion to be looked at by a UK constitutional commission. However, realistically, I recognise that that will not happen very soon. Therefore, I accept the need for more immediate reform to modernise the Lords and to make it more acceptable to the public. However, a change in size is only one of the many changes needed. Our archaic procedures need reforming, as does the wearing of robes, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, alluded, the swearing in procedure and the endless ceremonial. All these things make us look ridiculous and need revising.
The debate about size has concentrated on removing some existing Peers. We must agree that the retirement provision has already sensibly achieved a modest reduction. However, as my noble and learned friend Lord Morris and many others have said, before we go any further we need to stem the tide of new appointments or our efforts will have been in vain. The method of appointment needs radical reform and its procedure ought to have greater transparency. The Prime Minister tells us that we are not allowed to know about the procedure, as have previous Prime Ministers. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, there need to be clear criteria for appointment. I also argue that power should be transferred to a statutory appointments committee. I do not think that anyone has yet had the courage to make my next suggestion—namely, an end to the automatic appointment of heads of the Civil Service, the Armed Forces and other bodies. That point is conveniently overlooked by the establishment but I do not think that such appointments can be justified given what we do.
Once all that is done, current Members might be more sympathetic to, and agree to, a reduction in our number. In fact, we might make it a prerequisite that these changes should be introduced in advance of any recommendations that we make. However, any changes need to be introduced on the basis of logic, not just simple arithmetic. This second Chamber is here for a purpose. We are part of the legislature. We go through every Bill. As others have said, we all know this but people outside do not. We go through Bills line by line, often in more detail than the House of Commons. Therefore, we need working Peers. We need people to do the job in the House and in committees. As I say, we are here for a purpose. We should therefore argue in favour of keeping working Peers, not those who just covet the title or see it merely as a passport to lucrative appointment to outside bodies. That is why I favour as the main method of cutting existing numbers an assessment of past performance, including attendance, voting record, and service on committees. Like others, I support looking at removing the voting rights of those who fail to attend on an agreed percentage of days over, say, the past two or three years. If one looks at the figures, one sees that some Peers attend less than 10% of the time, a lot of whom I could name. In fact, the worst attenders are the Cross-Benchers and the Bishops. They are hardly ever here compared with others.
Noble Lords should look at the statistics and they will find out that is the case. If we had a criterion of 40% attendance over the past couple of years, that would reduce the number substantially. A criterion of 30% attendance would also reduce the number to well below 600 Members. If we structured the criterion carefully on attendance, we could achieve the requisite number.
It has been suggested that each political group, and the Cross-Benchers, should agree to vote to reduce their numbers by an agreed percentage. I hope that is not taken up by any committee that looks at this issue because it would be both unfair and destabilising. It would cause terrific problems within all our political groups and, I suggest, within the Cross-Bench group as well. If there is to be a group reduction, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, rightly predicted, it should be done on the basis of reducing the number for London and the south-east region. In a Chamber of the UK legislature, London and the south-east, with 27% of the population, has now more than 45% of the Members of this House, whereas the east Midlands, with 7% of the population, has only just over 2% of Peers, and the West Midlands and the north-west of England are equally underrepresented.
If we cannot achieve a sufficient reduction with these measures, although I think that we could, I would agree that we should look at a retirement age of 80 at the end of the Parliament in which the relevant Peers turn 80, as proposed by the Labour working party of which I was a member. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, agrees with that. However, I do not think we should look at that initially. There are other more sensible ways in which to reduce our number.
I note from the number of people who regularly attend the meetings of the group of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that he has very cleverly managed to get a momentum going behind his proposals. I hope that noble Lords will excuse the word “momentum”. Some of my colleagues may not excuse it. I do not agree with all of his proposals, although I agree with some of them. It would be unfortunate if a Select Committee was set up which pursued that momentum and kept it going through to the House. I am therefore a bit worried about a Select Committee of like-minded people. However, if our Chief Whip and the Leader of the Opposition were to twist my arm and say, “We really do need one of the awkward squad on this committee”, I might be persuaded.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to be able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, that this is not my annual appearance on these Benches. It is also a pleasure to join in the deserved chorus of congratulation to the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Norton of Louth, for their hard work, persistence and determination in bringing this issue before your Lordships’ House. It has been a pleasure to work with them on the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber—if the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, does not regard that as too sinister a remark.
There is a perfectly respectable argument to the effect that reducing the size of the House will be difficult, contentious and may have unforeseen consequences. But we can no longer indulge ourselves in the luxury of that argument, and we cannot ignore the widespread perception that this institution is losing its claim to be an effective part of this sovereign Parliament. That perception is unfair, but powerful. That view is held in the media, it is held by some—possibly too many—Members of the House of Commons, and it is held more widely by many people outside this place who do not know what this House does.
In his book The English Constitution, published in 1867, Walter Bagehot said—or rather, he put the words into the mouth of a stooge—that,
“the cure for admiring the House of Lords was to go and look at it”.
Nearly 150 years later, we may reasonably amend that to say that the cure for criticising the House of Lords is to go and look at it: to see exacting scrutiny of legislation, not just of primary legislation but crucially, and uniquely, of the huge body of secondary legislation; exploration of subjects that the House of Commons, for very good reasons, does not have the time to debate—the debate initiated by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on Friday is an excellent example of that—authoritative examination of policies and issues through an energetic and respected Select Committee system; and the ability to ask the House of Commons to think again without challenging the primacy of that House. However, for so many people outside this Chamber, those roles are seen through the prism of size, and the value of those roles is thus obscured or dismissed. We therefore need to deal with this issue, and we need to be seen to be dealing with it ourselves.
This Chamber is not the place to explore the complexities of competing solutions, although I hope that there would be—there certainly seems to be—widespread agreement on the basic principles that have been enunciated. To examine the detailed issues, taking account of a wide range of views and proposing solutions, is a classic task for a Select Committee. I have a strong preference for a formal Select Committee rather than, for example, an informal Leader’s Group. This is not to undervalue the excellent work which Leader’s Groups have done on other issues, but in this case only the transparency and authority of a Select Committee inquiry will answer. Moreover, when a Select Committee reports, there is a more formal expectation that this House will take decisions on its recommendations.
Incidentally, with a thought for the typically wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, I suspect that quite a lot could be done without legislation, although for some heavy-duty things—perhaps a cap on appointments—legislation would be necessary. But legislation can be quite hazardous, because depending on its scope there might be the possibility of Commons amendments arriving here, which would be to an effect that many of us would find unwelcome.
To deal with the size issue is, as several noble Lords have said, only the first step in making the work of this House better understood and so better valued, but it is a vital preliminary. If we do nothing, we shall still be wringing our hands and saying, “Something must be done” a decade hence. The difference may be that the longer the problem goes unsolved, the greater the temptation for others to force possibly unwelcome solutions upon us.
My Lords, I believe I have a reputation as a realist, and I will try to take such an approach this evening. First, I thank my noble friend Lord Cormack and my noble friend the Leader of the House—most particularly the latter, for giving us the time to debate this extremely important subject.
I have put down my pluses, or the things I am in favour of. I very much support the idea of reducing the size of the House but from experience I caution against going too low, not least because of the duties on the committee work of the House and the officers of the House. If we get too low, the committees would find themselves pushed for numbers. The appointment of a Select Committee is an extraordinarily good idea, which I warmly support, and I support the view, which I think was expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that the functions of the House should not change.
I will put down one or two markers for the Select Committee. I take the point that this is not the occasion to propose one’s views at length, but markers might be helpful. I certainly concur with 20% Cross-Bench representation. Interestingly, of course, that is almost exactly what it is at the moment, so there is no change there. I have to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock—I almost called him my noble friend—on the way to achieve the reduction in numbers. Although the experience of 1999 was hurtful to a number of people, it was extremely practical and worked well, and it is probably the prime way to reduce the numbers group by group. Once one has set a number, one can easily have a vote within each group. However, that raises the problem of “others”, and, as has been raised, the representation of factions that are not represented at the moment: UKIP; the SNP; the Greens, of which we have only one; and the Welsh national party, of which we have only one. Therefore that is a problem area.
I go along with what was said about the non-attendance criteria. That is an important point: those who do not pull their weight in the House should not stay. On retirement age, I disagree with the proposal of, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and other noble Lords. I am not in favour of wisdom and experience going out with the bath-water. That point of age would be covered by the elections within each group, and the group would make the decision whether a person was worth keeping on.
The Liberal Democrat overrepresentation has already been mentioned; that is clearly a major problem area. The hereditaries are also a problem area if the agreement made by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, is to be adhered to. The question for the Select Committee is whether this is the final reform of the House of Lords. I suggest that it is not, in which case that undertaking should be adhered to. On reduction, the inevitability of numbers increasing over the length of a Parliament could be dealt with by having further elections at the beginning of the next Parliament to bring the numbers back down again.
On my final point, I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, would steal my thunder. When R&R comes to fruition—I am taking a flyer at 2021—there will be a very large natural attrition of Members of this House. The Select Committee might like to hold on to that.
My Lords, cynicism ill becomes me but I note that the last serious reform of this Chamber was in 1999, and I wonder how many of us seriously expect a similar radical change over the next five or even 10 years.
We regularly debate reform—it has become almost a convention of this House—and size has now become the main focus. But today surely there is something of the air of a university debate on the Motion: “the size of the House of Lords has increased, is increasing and should be reduced”. But this is not a university debate; this is about serious politics. The size of the Chamber is becoming increasingly absurd, particularly now that the House of Commons will shortly be reduced to 600 Members—a point made very well by the Lord Speaker when he began his tenure on 5 September.
Perhaps there is little prospect of serious movement. The Government seem determined to block even the smallest change—even things which are eminently sensible, such as the proposal of my noble friend Lord Grocott to remove the by-election system for hereditary Peers, which is to be debated on Friday. Mr Cameron, of course, massively added to the problem.
There is at least, as shown by this debate, one consensus—the House is too large. But, alas, there the consensus ends. There is no consensus on the ways and means of reducing our number—and herein lies the dilemma. If we are to wait indefinitely, will the status quo continue or will the situation get worse with more appointments? There is no shortage of proposals for reform and throughout this debate noble Lords have set out many of them. Perhaps in addition to the principles put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Cormack, Lord Hunt and Lord Tebbit, I may add the following: any movement must be by small steps towards an agreed goal; there must be a transition period; and the party balance must broadly be maintained. Currently, one problem is that the age profile of Labour Peers is higher than that for the other parties.
Controversially—realistically, we must say this—there must be greater incentives for voluntary retirement. There must be a soft landing for those who choose to retire, including club privileges in the House and—wait for it—pace the Daily Mail, cash incentives: a bronze handshake. The Clerk of the Parliaments has demonstrated that such a scheme would pay for itself. Many ingenious schemes have been proposed, including a waiting list, a one out/one in principle, a title as a mark of distinguished public service without carrying the right to sit in your Lordships’ House, a retiring age, which modestly I suggest should always be two years higher than the age I have reached, and membership for a limited number of Parliaments after appointment, and so on. But to those and other proposals there is a well-rehearsed argument—there would be a loss of talent, which comes with any change.
In short, our absurd numbers will increase, following the temptation of all Prime Ministers, unless there are curbs and a cap on numbers, and debates such as this one will be repeated regularly. The eventual report of the House of Commons Committee may trigger a more realistic response by the Government. But, as we all look at the Select Committee, I remind your Lordships that in classical Greek tragedy, at the point where an impasse was reached, what was called a “god out of a machine” was brought on to the stage—a deus ex machina—to solve the relevant problems. Is it for us now to devise a deus ex machina—a Select Committee? Are we confident that any Select Committee will reach a consensus? There could indeed be a minority report. It may be as fanciful a notion as the deus ex machina in classical tragedy. So when we all rush to agree that there should be a Select Committee, let us ponder that it may not be the solution and that the problem may continue.
My Lords, I fear that I may be about to be branded as awkward but an old joke asks, “What do you call 40 lawyers on the bottom of the ocean?”. The answer, of course, is, “A good start”. You can make the same joke with 400 or 4,000 lawyers because the issue is not the number but the public perception of lawyers. Lawyers—we have them here aplenty—say that they are a useful but simply misunderstood part of our society.
Exactly the same applies to us. There is a silly chattering-classes soundbite going around that compares this House to the National People’s Congress of China, and I am sad to have heard it repeated by Members of this House. It is an absurd point but the cheap jibe is a symptom of the real underlying problem of poor public understanding of what we do here. It is not that we are many but that we are still perceived, including by Members of the House of Commons, as a fuddy-duddy gentlemen’s club for men in ermine drinking port and thwarting democracy. The soundbite about numbers has simply been added to that list.
Organisations that offer expertise, as we do, typically like to boast of the number of people on their books, not get rid of them. Those who know us appreciate that we draw on a great range of people who have successfully dedicated their lives mainly to activities other than winning elections. The public value this depth and breadth in our House.
There is also a suggestion that our numbers should be the same as those in the House of Commons. Why? Where is the logic in that wholly false symmetry? We are different in so many ways and, again, we seem to be concerned with the superficial—the cosmetic. Do we suppose that the public would like us to imitate the Commons? Most people whom I speak to value the very differences between us and the House of Commons.
The thing that I dread most is a gradual remaking of this Chamber into a smaller cadre of semi-professional politicians who can trade soundbites on almost any subject, rather than specialists, a wide group of whom may speak only occasionally but really know their subject. That would be to ape the Commons in a way that would do a disservice to the people and Parliament alike, and it would remove one of the most unique and important contributions of this Chamber.
I have asked proponents of shrinking this House what problems they are seeking to solve and very often I have been surprised by the answers. Rather than office space, cost or crowding—at least, for 30 minutes every day—I have been told that the numbers are indeed a cosmetic issue and that we must cut them as a fear-based PR exercise. Further, I am told that the typical level of participation is around 450—well below the 600 touted as matching the Commons. Most surprising of all is that those apparently targeted for removal are the Peers who seldom turn up—in fact, the very people who make almost no impact on the effective numbers but who in some cases make occasional but very valuable specialist contributions rather than anodyne speeches on almost any issue.
Party balance, reflecting the Commons, has also been raised by a number of speakers today. Are we to have a Peers’ hokey-cokey, where Peers go in and out as elections reconfigure the party balance of the other place? That is just not a workable system—not least determining who goes in and who goes out on each occasion. Symptoms are being muddled with causes. If this House defies rather than advises the other place, which is certainly the greatest bugbear one hears from Members of the Commons, perhaps we need to revisit that—or has the recent announcement put that particular dog back in its basket for now?
Coming back to numbers, I recognise that if ever more Peers are appointed and attend, which not all do, as some have pointed out powerfully tonight, there must be an attendance overload point—not because of silly comparisons with China but for the House to be capable of functioning. I can only echo what others have said about inflow and outflow: if you want to lower the level of your bath-water, there is no point bailing out one end with the taps full on at the other. That is our current situation and a swathe of sackings would achieve only a temporary reduction.
Detailed solutions are for another day, so I am not going to go there. However, to conclude, if only as a dissenting voice in the debate, I believe that we are running scared and addressing the wrong issue. We need to focus on representing ourselves far more effectively, so that both our contribution and our value for money can be properly understood. After all, if people do not understand what we do, how can they possibly know whether we are too many—or, indeed, too few?
My Lords, I begin by echoing the congratulations to my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Norton on the huge amount of work they have put into this subject. I hope that a Select Committee will be established, bearing very much in mind the words of the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, who I thought made a very good argument as to why it should be a Select Committee.
I have a certain amount of sympathy with the previous speaker. If our daily attendance is around 497, we clearly may have a problem with numbers, but the problem is not that we are far ahead of the House of Commons in numbers—quite clearly we are not.
Mention has been made of a relentless and cynical Prime Minister creating far too many Peers, so I suppose I must own up to being one of them. I happen to be a great admirer of the last Prime Minister. I spent five years converting him to the good points about trade unions, and when he asked me to serve in the House of Lords, he asked me two questions. He said, “Will you be a working Peer?”. I said, “What does that mean?”. He said, “You will have to go at least two-thirds of the time—that is what we expect”. I said, “Fine”. Then he said, “Apart from that, I’m fed up with Labour having all the people who talk about trade unions on their Benches. I think it’s about time we had someone on our Benches defending good, honest trade unionists”. So I came here at least with a partial mission.
I can see that we have a problem, and this is why we need a Select Committee. Today, we have 60 of the solutions on offer. There are probably another 437 from the other Members who regularly attend here. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is not in his seat at the moment, but I have a lot of sympathy with him. There has to be some protection for the awkward squad. There has to be some protection for the small minorities: our one Welsh nat and our one Green Peer and the like. Also, in looking at retirements, I think we have to be very careful. Clearly, there is a need for there to be a reflection of balance between the parties. But we will get nowhere until we first have an agreement from the Prime Minister—indeed, it will have to be an all-party agreement—on creations. People have quite rightly made allusions to bathtubs with the plug out and the taps on. Unless we can have some sort of agreement, we are, frankly, wasting our time. That is my first point.
The second point is that in an age of rising longevity—that is one of my specialities in life—we need to look at time-limited peerages. The good news is that, at the moment, people are living longer and longer; but the bad news is that that means peerages last longer and longer. A limit on serving time, but with a capacity to renew the mandate, would be something that it would be worth the Select Committee looking at. I also take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, made about a “soft landing”. That is also something that the committee needs to look at.
If you construct—and you certainly can—a mathematical model, you could predict what the size of the House would be if you had a certain number of peerages coming in, and the current membership of the House, with a fairly rigorous retirement schedule based on attendance rather than age. I have a few years yet until I get to 80, but we have abolished age discrimination in society and I do not think that it has a place. But what I do think has a place is a combination of time-limited life peerages and strict attendance at the House, combined with retirement and a soft landing, which could give us a package.
I have to say something nice about the Liberals. Let us remember that they did promise in 1911 that they would come forward with a final reform of the House of Lords. We are probably not going to get a “final” reform—it will carry on evolving. But I believe that we can now evolve ourselves forward and take our time. The noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, talked about not being hounded by the press. If it took us two or three Parliaments to get down to the numbers that are right, that would be far better than reacting to the pressure of the press and running scared. Let us make sure that we get it right, rather than get panicked into a solution and then have to say, “Oh dear, we didn’t get it quite right”.
My Lords, I start by apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the House. I arrived five minutes late, but that did not stop me hearing the eloquent and forceful nature of the noble Lord’s introduction, with which he set the tone for the debate. Like most people, I agree with the supremacy of the House of Commons and, as probably everyone has already said, with a smaller House of Lords—I support the number being around 400 or 450. However, I also agree with a number of speakers who say that numbers, by themselves, are not going to solve the issues that many noble Lords have raised in the Chamber tonight. We are talking about a symptom and not the cause of the problem. I agree with a lot of what the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, said, in that we need much more radical solutions to the problems that face this House. The issue is not just reputation, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said. The issue is also relevance in a modern democracy. Would a reduction in numbers deal with the real issue of how people not only perceive this House but see it as relevant to their everyday lives? I do not believe that it would—it just scratches the surface.
I have been very disappointed that there has been little discussion about the people outside this House. Some noble Lords mentioned them, but there has been very little discussion about our purpose of serving the people outside this House. There has been a lot of navel-gazing about what the systems and structures of the House could be like with reduced numbers. To be clear, I completely disagree with what a number of noble Lords have said—that somehow the public do not understand us and it is their fault that we have a bad reputation. That is condescending and patronising to the people outside this House who do understand. A lot of people see us as distant, irrelevant and a club. To some degree, we play up to that image. So let us not say that it is people outside who somehow do not understand the workings of this House. They feel that it is like a game of Monopoly, and, to some degree, some of today’s debate has reinforced that: we will shake the dice to decide our own numbers and rules, as if somehow that will solve the problem. In fact, I have been following the conversation on Twitter, where somebody said that, “The Lords tonight are blowing their own trumpet of pomposity”—that is somebody who understands this House.
Let us think about it. What democratic legitimacy do we have to decide whether this House has a majority of government or not? What legitimacy do we have to decide whether the independents have 20% of the seats in the House? Why are the Bishops given a privileged status in this House, given that we are a multicultural country? As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, also said, why is it that former heads of the Civil Service and the military get a place in this House? What relevance does that have in a modern democracy? Many people have spoken about the age issue.
Regardless of what the Select Committee looks at, the democratic deficit is the real issue here. I have been amazed at how many noble Lords talk about this Chamber reflecting the votes at a general election but then would deny the people the vote to decide in reality what the political make-up of this Chamber should be like. We should trust the people to decide whether the House should have 20% of independents or a government majority, rather than some of us deciding in a cosy club what the make-up will be. Those who want to do that will give more power to the political parties. They will decide who sits in here. It will be people who have worked their way up the greasy pole rather than those who have been difficult and have caused ructions within their party.
We can tinker with changing the numbers and of course that would be a first step. However, it would be tinkering. Basically we would be changing the seats on the deck of something that many people do not see as relevant to their everyday lives. We need a thorough root-and-branch change if we are going to be relevant and improve our reputation. That would also mean not only reducing numbers but having elections to this place.
My Lords, I have written many notes and listened to 39 speeches. I do not know where to begin but I will begin at the beginning. We are bloated. That is not only a matter of public perception but is a fact. Public perception matters nowadays and you ignore it at your peril.
I suggest it can be seen in this way. What is our responsibility? To scrutinise and advise. What is the responsibility of the House of Commons? To legislate; to produce laws subject to listening to us, if it wishes to, and if it does not wish to, to ignore us. Yet for us to perform our function we have about 200 Members more than it has to perform its functions. There is no sense in it, no logic, and we have to address it both as a matter of perception and as a matter of fact and proper governance. We have to recognise the disproportion between our numbers—vast, huge and bloated—and our powers, which are relatively small.
The result of the perception and the fact is that we are commonly derided for the work that we do and for being what we are. If it was understood fully how attentive we are to the interests of the public when we examine legislation, the criticisms might be more moderate. However, we are derided for what we are—a bloated House.
We need a Select Committee. I agree with about 29 of the speeches which have been made so far. If I listed every noble Lord with whose speech I agreed I would take up all my time, so I shall not. We need a Select Committee to look at this to find the mechanics for dealing with the problem which most of us have identified today. With great respect to the Leader of the House, anything less than a Select Committee may convey the impression that we are taking this matter less seriously than we intend to take it and than the majority of the people who have spoken today wish it to be taken.
Once we have got our numbers down to a sensible, common-sense number, we then have to consider input and the appointments system. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, referred to how the influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished. Substitute for those words spoken in 1780 the words “Prime Minister” and you have identified the problem. The influence of the Prime Minister has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished.
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, reminded me that the creation of Peers is unparalleled since the Scottish King James arrived in England in 1603. He created 60 knights within three months. So munificent was he in his creation of knights that one of those he knighted wrote how the office had been prostituted. He did not tell the King that and he did not refuse the knighthood. In 1611, King James created the great new rank of baronet, which was sold. One hundred people paid £1,000—which was big money in those days—to secure the baronetcy and the inheritance of a title for their family.
We have had a vast increase in the number of Peers created. Why can we not face it? Let me remind your Lordships of what happened to the Stuart kings. When they exercised their prerogative, Parliament stepped in. Ultimately, Parliament has to control the unwise use of prerogative powers. We have to persuade both Houses to do it if we have to. Obviously much better would be a convention and understanding and no suggestion of dividing the two Houses. However, that is the ultimate weapon of control of any prerogative power.
My Lords, in thanking my noble friend Lord Cormack for introducing this debate, I should make it clear at the outset that I do not agree with the premise of his Motion, or with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who has just spoken. I see the size of the House as a perceived problem and do not therefore agree that we must reduce the numbers.
I am tempted to say, “Hands up anyone who has seen 850 people struggling to sit in this Chamber”—or 750, or 650, or even 550. On an average day, as has been said, we see between 300 and 400 people, and even after much activity in the various Whips’ offices we may see only 500-plus. So in practice we are considerably smaller than the House of Commons. If the overall size were reduced to, say, 300 or 400, would that be in the expectancy of everyone turning up every day or on the expectancy of the experience we have had that only more or less half the numbers turn up on a daily basis? Unless, of course, it is proposed to pay a salary. That may make things different.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and others who have said that there is much ignorance about how this House works. I agree with my noble friend Lord Wakeham and others who have underlined the fact that this is a part-time House, which is part of its value. These facts have to be made clear to those who may criticise its size because they are looking only at the total numbers and do not realise what happens in practice. I agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, on this. I may add that I do not seem to meet all of those people who criticise the size of the House of Lords and think we are a laughing stock. If I did I would try to correct the false impression which they have obtained—maybe from the media—and I certainly would not agree with it.
The point about the way in which the House of Lords has evolved over hundreds of years—as a hereditary House and a mixed hereditary and appointed House before becoming an almost entirely appointed House—is that Members attend and participate if they have something useful to say, usually in their own area of expertise. Hence the reputation that your Lordships’ House justifiably holds for serious and informed debate and for rigorous scrutiny of legislation. Do we want to change that?
That we are not paid a salary should be made clear. It seems to surprise people when they learn that, if we do not turn up on a sitting day to claim an attendance fee, it does not cost anyone anything. The taxpayers can relax on that score at least.
When I first entered your Lordships’ House in 1985, there were, I think, some 1,400 people entitled to sit, many of whom never came and many of whom came but rarely. The perception of an in-built Conservative majority was also not justified. Even in those days, a Conservative Government were frequently defeated. In fact, the active Members were roughly similar in number to the numbers I referred to earlier and which apply today. Although it certainly did not seem a cumbersome institution, I suggest it operated effectively and efficiently as a pool of talent, with people participating in the main not as generalists but in their areas of expertise.
In those days, the appointment of life Peers was a mere trickle, not the steady stream of newcomers we see today and which has been referred to. So much has already been said that it does not need repeating, but I certainly agree there is a need for a better, more transparent system for the appointment of new life Peers—rather like the immigration issue, in a way.
I therefore suggest to the powers that be that, instead of moaning about the size, they go out and justify it, and educate the media, if need be, and the general public and that, instead of persuading the valuable and experienced veterans of the House to retire early, they should be encouraged to remain. They certainly should not be made to feel surplus to requirements just because they have reached a certain age.
We should rejoice in the fact we have in the House of Lords an historic and traditional institution that does a great job at relatively low cost. It should not be tampered with or changed unless it is clearly a change for the better. I agree that the setting up of yet another committee to look at the future of the House of Lords may be appropriate, but let us look at the function and composition as a whole, not just at a reduction in size.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the many already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for the Motion he has put before us, and a very sincere thank you to the Government, in particular the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip, for granting us the time to debate it. I dislike disagreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, but the reality is that we would have a higher reputation if people did not think we had 800 people here on any one day, but thought we had something more appropriate, such as the 550 who actually come. Perception is an important ingredient in modern politics, which, somewhat regrettably, tends to be pretty well instantaneous in its reaction to things.
There is a consensus around this House that we could do with fewer Members. It is not the sole problem we have, nor by any means the biggest, but it is one. I share the analogy used by many other speakers: if I came home one night and found the bath overflowing, the first thing I would make sure is that the taps are turned off. Any settlement we put forward has to be conditional on agreement from the Prime Minister and likely Prime Ministers of the future that they will moderate their appointments to fit in with the overall cap. That in turn depends on everyone reaching agreement on what a fair allocation of seats would be. The only point of consensus seems to be that everyone, with perhaps one exception, thinks 20% for the Cross Benches is a very good idea. I echo that.
Beyond that, it is easy to see where the problem comes. Successive Prime Ministers have sought to replicate the effects on the House of Commons of MPs leaving by simply increasing the numbers in the House of Lords. That inevitably, mathematically certainly, leads to more and more Peers coming each day because there is not a system for removing them. That is what we want the Select Committee to look at.
What system we go for to bring about the cull that will bring us down to a more reasonable number is very much a matter for the Select Committee. I just urge people to beware of solutions that look to be simple and attractive. A year ago, I freely confess, I endorsed the idea put forward by the Labour group of a retirement age of 80. I then realised it would further increase the disproportionately high representation of the Liberal Democrats, which is one of the problems this House faces. It is an embarrassment to defeat the Government at the moment because it is mathematically too easy. If Labour and the Lib Dems line up, the Government are defeated. It is as simple as that. There is a great sense of achievement in defeating the Government of the day—not just the present one—if you do it with the support of the Cross Benches and feel you have won a moral victory. There is no sense of achievement in defeating it by sheer force of inflated numbers.
We have to find a formula. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, put forward one. The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, made a sensible suggestion that it should be the average of not just one election, because the electoral pendulum can swing quite violently, particularly at the moment, but maybe the previous three elections. Surely the role of the House of Lords should be to temper and modulate excessive swings of public opinion rather than exaggerate and amplify them. We could go back to what ancient Athens did and do it all by lot. That might give us a result that is not totally unattractive, particularly if you had a manual override where, if somebody clearly had lost out in the raffle, they could be appointed by a committee to ensure that their contribution was not lost.
That would at least stop people electioneering, and that is the great problem about what was referred to as the democratic deficit—there is also the democratic dynamic. That is, if I stand for election, I make promises to people to secure their votes and I will then demand the powers to deliver on those promises. If that conflicts with the House of Commons, so be it. You would end up with gridlock, as you have in quite a lot of other situations.
Above all, the important thing is to leave it to a Select Committee. A Select Committee will command the support of the House, which will be a vital ingredient when we are persuading rather a lot of turkeys to vote for Christmas.
It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, who as ever was brimming with logic and wisdom. I too thank the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Norton, who have not only used hard work to get the debate going, but been responsible for educating a very large number of Members of the House in many of the issues around this complex and important problem. I also thank the Leader of the House.
I will make three points. The first concerns numerical facts about the net change in our numbers as supplied by our ever precise Library. I am afraid I do not apologise for repetition because, as others have observed, it is important. In the 16 years between 2000 and 2015 inclusive, the net change was plus 196 in our House in the aggregate, or just over 30% of our House. In the six years between 2010 and 2015 the net change was plus 125 in the aggregate. In other words, about two-thirds of the massive increase in the last 16 complete years has been in the last six. Thus, one could well argue that the rate of growth is accelerating. Certainly there is no evidence from the Prime Minister’s Office to suggest that this is not the case.
My second point concerns the drivers of that growth. Obviously for the Bishops and hereditaries there is no growth. The Appointments Commission, with its wonderful record of success, is now rationed to just two people a year, which is not enough to keep it going. Sixty-two Members have come through that route; people are not going to live long enough. That is a problem. In other words, the Appointments Commission route is in “shrink mode” in the House—something that patronage of Prime Ministers, as so many have observed, is very far from being in. I agree with everyone else about the negative consequences of this enormous growth. I am not going to go into that, but I would ask the Leader of the House, if she were here, whether she might comment on my analysis of the Appointments Commission being in shrink mode.
My third and final point relates to our committee system and builds on a point made earlier by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-Under-Heywood. I had the great benefit of being on the Trade Union Bill committee, so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Burns. At the beginning of what would be a very intense month, we had, as one can imagine, a room full of strident people with very strong views, covering all three parties, with two of us from the Cross Benches. I could not have been alone in thinking that we would have quite a problematic time in reaching consensus. However, the process over the month was extraordinary. We took lots of evidence and spend a lot of time chatting about things, sometimes in little corners and sometimes as a team of 12.
A month later, we produced a unanimous report. Later, we persuaded the House of the wisdom of that report and, later still, the Government. That report is now, effectively, the law of the land. Accordingly, I feel very confident that a Select Committee of this House can tackle this area successfully. I sincerely hope that such a committee will be formed in 2017.
I had intended to end there, but I was reminded earlier on by another speaker of an old business adage: if your business is evolving less rapidly than the world outside, then you are a dinosaur and you will be extinct. That is a business adage, but it is something that we might ponder successfully.
I echo comments made on many previous occasions in relation to this debate. I do not intend to duplicate them—at least I hope not to—and shall instead pick on two or three points made during this debate, particularly about the numbers. I ask my noble friend Lady Hooper and others who have made such comments to consider how they would react, from a Tory point of view, if the RMT said, “Oh, we’ve got 800 people, but we actually only need 450”, or the Labour side to consider how they would react if a bunch of bosses said, “Well, we’ve got a board of 800, but we only need 450”. It would be laughed out of court. We have to recognise that we are too big to undertake the role that we do. We are not representative. A lot of change could be undertaken in those fields, but we must, as per the British constitution, do things by stages. If we try to do everything at once, we will achieve absolutely nothing.
I welcome the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth and others concerning the Appointments Commission. There is no doubt that there is a need for a change and it has to be made very clear from this House. Associated with that, everybody has talked about taking people out at the top end. The noble Lords, Lord Morris, Lord Whitty, and others are not here today, but they might give consideration to the suggestion of last in, first out. Rather like the noble Lord, Lord Steel, I acknowledge that that affects me—like my noble friend Lord Balfe, I am one of the most recent appointments to the House, but that idea should certainly be given serious consideration. I say that because of one fact in particular: this House serves a great purpose in improving ever worse legislation from the other end by virtue of the expertise that it can offer. If everybody concentrates on taking people out at the top, one loses that expertise from all parts of society.
I welcome the idea of a Select Committee. Like the noble Lord, Lord Steel, I would want it to be time-limited. As the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, said just now, it may not come to agreement. We should give consideration to how one overcomes a lack of agreement on certain elements at the end of a time-limited Select Committee. I proffer—it is merely one idea and I am an inexperienced Member of this House—the suggestion that if the Select Committee fails to come to a conclusion on certain elements, such elements might be put to a group of the leaders of the different groups in this House, chaired by the Speaker, again with a time limit, at which point it would have to respond. The thought of the leaders of each group being locked in a room for four or five days and being obliged to reach a conclusion may not be greeted by them with great pleasure, but it is one solution that I would offer to finding an end to this whole process, because an end to it is absolutely necessary.
I do not believe that an election process is the right route for us to follow. As I said earlier, we are experts in this House in some field or another. We should recognise that and build on it. I must admit that if the Lib Dems wanted to subject themselves to some form of election, I would welcome the almost Macbethian solution proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit:
“If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly”.
That view was echoed by a number of other people. I wonder whether we might in modern parlance go down an “X Factor” route, with the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, competing with the noble Lord, Lord Steel, or others in a vote-off every Saturday night on some channel, but I leave it for them to decide.
We are too big; we have to find a solution. We cannot tackle every constitutional problem all at once, so let us tackle the question of size and send a clear message, very quickly, from this House to the other House, to government, to the leaders of parties and therefore to the public that there is need for change. By doing that, we would no doubt enhance the reputation of this House and of government in general.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, that we need to reduce the size of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who is not here at the moment, had the most interesting proposal of all, which is that those who decide to retire should retain their title and those who stay here should lose it. On the basis of that, we would be a totally empty House.
I can hardly think of a more important time for the Lords to rise to the challenge and to take a lead on the question of size, particularly against a background of a growing mistrust of Governments and of Parliament as a whole. We can also acknowledge that Ministers in this Government have given us encouragement by saying that the Lords is too large but that it must be for the Lords themselves to lead the process of reform, provided that there was a consensus, and that they would be prepared to work with Peers to take reasonable measures which could be implemented in this Parliament.
This is a challenge and an opportunity for the House of Lords. I agree with those such as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that there is a sense of urgency about this. At the same time, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, that we are at our best when we are pragmatic and incremental in our approach. There are some who have said that other things should have priority, such as composition of the House—of course, that can be tackled pragmatically as well—but, generally speaking, we have worked on the assumption in this debate that we retain our role in this Chamber, which is to accept the supremacy of the House of Commons and to have a complementary role.
To my mind, the key question is what numbers we need in order to fulfil this role effectively. That needs some coherence. Many say that it is just a problem of perception. I suggest that it is a problem not only of perception but of reality. If we face the fact that this House is steadily getting larger and that, by 2020, on past projections, we would probably reach 1,000 Peers; if we accept the extraordinary imbalances between groups and parties in this House, where UKIP has hardly any representation, the Liberal Democrats are overrepresented and the SNP, of course by its own choice, is not here at all; if we accept that we are the only country with a bicameral Parliament where the second Chamber is larger than the first, that other second Chambers around the world contain fewer Members—Canada has only 105 and the United States Senate only 100—and that there is a growing disparity in size between the House of Commons and House of Lords, all this points to a serious problem that needs to be faced.
Now, I will not repeat the parameters suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and others. They are there and they make absolute sense as the kind of framework to pursue. We clearly need a Select Committee to get into the practicalities and we must accept that whatever idea is pursued as to how to make the reductions—whether retirement at 80, a 15-year term or internal elections, the latter of which I tend to favour on balance—each of those arguments has strengths but also major flaws. This issue requires a will in this Parliament to do something about it, and that in turn requires give and take. If we have that will and the willingness to give and take, a Select Committee can achieve a result which will enable us to say that we have done something to restore public faith in our parliamentary system.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Luce. I place on record my thanks to my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Norton, and to the noble Lord, Lord Steel. To that I add my thanks for the work that Professor Russell has done as an academic.
We should not regret the progress made so far—or indeed forget it. Retirement was a major step forward. Making sure that those guilty of wrongdoing could not attend and will not be able to attend in future is progress. Then, of course, we have challenged the number of those who are on leave of absence. So there has been progress and there were wise words from my noble friend Lord Wakeham earlier that we should recognise that this is not something where you set up a Select Committee and as a result the whole thing is answered. It is not done that way; it is incremental.
In terms of numbers, all I am interested in is how many men and women we need to ensure that we improve performance in terms of the legislative demands that are put on an upper House. That is our primary purpose and what we should be looking at. I will make two points in relation to that. First, on the ill-fated tax credit fiasco, my friend the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, is sitting on the Cross Benches. As she will know, when I was Chairman of Ways and Means I used to have meetings with the Leader of the House to look at a Bill and see whether it was a money Bill. If it was and somebody suggested that it should go to the other place, I would talk it through with the Leader of the House and say, “Why on earth is this going to the Lords?”. We came to an agreement that it should not. I can think of a couple of instances on the margin—yet it is on the margin that people must show leadership. That is what it is about, so that whole fiasco should never have come to your Lordships’ House.
Of course, at this time, looking at the other place, every Bill is guillotined—so is it any wonder that we in this House must work more and try to improve pretty rough, shoddy work on many occasions? I am not surprised that the Liberal Democrats move certain amendments at certain times: if we get shoddy work sent up here, then we have a challenge, so part of the answer to this problem lies in another place.
Secondly, I suggest—as certainly my noble friends will recognise that I was bound to—that we might look at what Cromwell did when he abolished the House of Lords in 1649. He then discovered that actually it was a mistake and he needed to think again. He then decided that it needed replacing so, under the terms of the Humble Petition and Advice in 1657, he started the other House. The number there is interesting: only 61. Yet the range of those 61 is also interesting. Every single one of them, then and thereafter, was a life Peer, so long as that particular House existed. He had a range of experiences there: some hereditary Peers, just there for their lives, and 15 out of the 16 privy counsellors. He had ordinary former MPs and, really interestingly, there was a set mix of people from the regions. We need to think about that and the bias we have at the moment towards the southern half of the United Kingdom.
Those points are absolutely crucial, but the one message coming out to me is that Cromwell set up life Peers who had no Writ of Summons. Someone who had done wonderful work somewhere that justified the award of an honour did not automatically have to come to the House of Lords. They were made a Lord but they had no Writ of Summons. I suggest that if the last Prime Minister, who appointed 261 Peers, had either thought about or seriously considered having Lords without a Writ of Summons, many of our problems would not have arisen.
To conclude, there does need to be a Select Committee. I want a House performing in terms of vetting and improving legislation. But there must be some understanding at the other end, in the other place, that it must reform itself a bit, too. Above all, I—of all people—believe that we must maintain the supremacy of the Commons. The people there are elected, unlike those in your Lordships’ House. I do not want to be the Lord for Northamptonshire; I want to keep my seven Members of Parliament. Finally, I repeat my advice for the Prime Minister: Peers without a Writ of Summons should be seriously thought about.
My Lords, a second Chamber of more than 800 is grossly excessive and is seen by the public to be so. The House of Lords needs, I would think, around 500 Peers committed to the work of the House if it is to do its job of holding the Government to account, providing close scrutiny of legislation, debating the great issues of the day and examining policy through its array of committees—in all this complementing the different emphasis of the House of Commons.
Aside from the partial removal of the hereditary Peers in 1999, successive Prime Ministers have casually increased the size of the House while failing to think carefully enough about their appointments. No party leader in my recollection has systematically sought to build a coherent and formidable party group with the range of experience and skills appropriate for a Chamber of the legislature. Why is this?
One reason is that neither the Executive nor the House of Commons wants an effective second Chamber. They seem not to understand that the role of the House of Lords as our constitution has evolved is now only advisory. The House of Lords does not make the law. It seeks to improve policy and proposes amendments—but, after offering its advice, sometimes indeed quite insistently, it always defers to the democratic authority of the elected House. Those at the other end have nothing to be frightened of so long as we do not have an elected second Chamber.
Of course, our advice sometimes extends to saving the Government from themselves and giving them time to think again when they set out to do something really misguided, such as bringing in super-casinos or taking away people’s tax credits. Naturally, Ministers resent having their poor judgment exposed; they get huffy and sometimes lash out, as with the Strathclyde review.
Another reason is confusion between peerages as honours or rewards and peerages as conferring membership of the legislature. When the public are persuaded by the media that a party leader is dishing out peerages just to cronies, courtiers and fat-cat funders, it intensifies cynicism about politics. People view our bloated House in an even more jaundiced light as a facility for giving political favours. However unfairly where individual appointments are concerned, Mr Cameron’s lists might have been designed to bring the House of Lords into terminal derision and disrepute. Some animadversions have also been made on Mr Blair’s lists—I was on one of them. Meanwhile, many former MPs, including senior Ministers, might give very valuable service to this House but, through the caprice of patronage, have not been appointed.
A further factor in the disproportionate growth of the House has been the misconception that the Government are entitled to a majority in the House of Lords. That is to misunderstand the nature and value of this House. The practice of packing the House to stack up party numbers not only compromises the ability of the House to perform its advisory role by passing amendments but leaves only meagre room for appointment of the Cross-Benchers, who give special distinction and independence to the House.
The Government, after barking so futilely up the wrong tree in their attempt to create an elected second Chamber, and with Brexit as well as Scottish nationalism on their hands, now have no appetite for Lords reform. They have, however, given us to understand that, in what they perhaps see as the unlikely event of the Lords reaching consensus on desirable reforms, they will consider them. Let us startle them by reaching that consensus.
How are we to do so? The House has gone round and round in circles for years, agreeing on the easy proposition that its size should be reduced, but all over the place when it comes to specific, painful choices. Should there be a cap on numbers? If so, what should it be? What principles should determine the respective sizes of the parties and other groups within the House? How should departing Peers be identified? Should there be an age limit or a limit on tenure? How do we deal fairly with Peers who joined the House when relatively young, sacrificing another career? Should there be renewable terms? Should we finally end the hereditary principle for membership of the legislature? Over what timescale should the existing membership be reduced? Should new appointments be made in future to two classes of Peers: honorary Peers with the title but not sitting in the House, and legislative or working Peers? Should there be a limitation on prime ministerial patronage? If so, how should it be effected? Should there be a statutory appointments commission? What should be its duties and powers?
We could continue to talk interminably about these and other such difficult questions. In the absence of a government Bill which puts a pistol to our collective head, how can we bring ourselves actually to answer them? I agree that a Select Committee should be set up to examine the issues. This committee should, I suggest, formulate a series of questions about options—precise questions with no wriggle room—to be put to the House. The usual channels should then arrange for debates and votes on all the questions, in government time. In that way, the House could reach its conclusions and could present its consensus—or at least its decisively expressed majority view—to the Government. After that, if the Government do want reform—a big if—and if reform is not seen as threatening by the House of Commons, the Government could introduce legislation. We can do some things ourselves but legislation will be needed—and they could introduce it with a real prospect of carrying it.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, invited me to join his group very soon after my election to these Benches two years ago, and I have become very interested in what I have heard in his meetings, so I am delighted that he has secured this debate for us tonight. Mostly, we seem to concur that this House is far too large in its composition but that the problem lies in how to reduce it. I agree with many that its optimal size should be equal to that of the Commons, or perhaps smaller. I say smaller because, post-Brexit, the need for so many European committees away from the Floor of this House may well vanish, or at least diminish.
What I feel this country really needs of a second Chamber is an efficient mechanism to revise and scrutinise legislation emanating from the other place, while acknowledging its supremacy as the elected Chamber, as so many have said. To my mind, the continuing logic of this, I hope many noble Lords will agree with me, means that we should be thinking in terms of a full-time House that operates along business norms and whose work is carried out by politicians and worldly, experienced men and women appointed to the post. That House should project more strongly the image of what it does—what we do so well at the moment.
Having more than 800 Members is embarrassing but not, I submit, of pressing concern to the people outside, as so many have said. They are more concerned about what we manage to achieve. However, if we were in a position to broadcast a positive story of reform and improvement, I believe that that would be well received. Therefore, I am suggesting that reform could be holistic and all-embracing—the opposite of the gradual and incremental reform put forward by many today, including the Government, I believe. One can think of improvements to many aspects of governance in and beyond this Building—to the Civil Service and to the Privy Council, as well as to the way we conduct our business in this Palace.
The political world is being shaken by seismic shocks, as we well know. We have the ability to head one off by acting soon. We are doing our best, as this debate shows, and we are aware that we need government help. We have heard many solutions offered and perhaps after this debate a consensus will emerge but, for me, not having the experience of a time spent in the other place or from a political party, the obvious difficulty is the patronage of Prime Ministers and their prerogative to appoint any number of Peers for any reason.
To my mind, the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, pointed to the way forward. While I acknowledge the caveats of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, I am still attracted by the notion of holding party electoral colleges immediately after each election. In this scenario, 600 working Peers would be elected by the parties and Cross Benches in proportion to their results in the recent election. Indeed, I would like to see the 20% reserved to the Cross Benches that so many have mentioned. The rest would still be Peers but would not be eligible to take part in proceedings in this House for that Parliament. A statutory appointments commission would produce new Peers, including suggestions from the Prime Minister, who would join the general pool to stand as candidates in future if they wished to be working Peers. This would overcome the Prime Minister’s ability to increase our size but also distinguish the new Peers who had no intention to contribute.
A typical attendance is around 500. However, at normal times the Chamber is populated by many fewer. What are the other 400 doing while they are waiting to vote? They cannot all be researching speeches. Surely this is a waste of the extraordinary talent in our midst. I, for one, feel uncomfortable being here in receipt of an allowance when I am not contributing directly by making a speech—something one cannot do every day. I recognise that my suggestions for a wider reform of governance may be a step too far at this time—as ever. I thoroughly support the Motion and hope it will lead to a Select Committee, not least because so many of today’s contributions have induced second thoughts on preconceived ideas, not least my own.
My Lords, I join all those who have paid tribute to my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Norton and the work that the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber has been doing and continues to do. They have set out the parameters within which reform ought to operate; in effect, a manifesto for further incremental change and reform, which to some extent has already been carried through over a number of years.
There seems general agreement that your Lordships’ House is presently too large. This does not result simply in public concern, and to some extent, perhaps, disdain; it has very real problems in terms of costs, the resources available to Members, and so on. One point that has not been made but which is very important is that it also tends to result in a limitation on the length of speeches. The effect of this is that it is virtually impossible to take an intervention. We are not a lecture theatre, we are a debating Chamber and therefore this is a considerable disadvantage.
My Lords, I agree with everything that the noble Lord has just said.
I am most grateful. The noble Lord and I are not always in agreement so it is a happy coincidence that it should be so at this moment.
The situation with regard to reducing the size of the House changed quite radically once the law and the set-up were changed so that Members could retire. As has been pointed out, a considerable number have already retired. However, this is a pointless exercise if, the moment there is a reduction, the Prime Minister goes on filling in with new Members. Almost everyone is agreed on that. The royal prerogative has been heavily criticised in this respect. It is interesting to note that it is not only in this Chamber that the royal prerogative has been challenged today; it is being challenged on the other side of Parliament Square as well. Perhaps we ought to look at this really rather fundamental thing.
Part of the problem, as has also been pointed out, is that the creation of a peerage is both an honour—which of course it is—and a job. We need to distinguish between the two. What has emerged rather clearly is that we are short of a different honour. Perhaps it should be rather the same as it is for those who have retired from this House—an honour could be created which gave people that sort of facility within the Palace of Westminster. The confusion of the two roles which we in this House have is certainly very damaging.
I want to refer to something that I think was mentioned only briefly by my noble friend Lord Goodlad. We have a sudden development at the other end of the Building with regard to the House of Lords. I have always rather understood that we at this end do not interfere in their affairs and they do not interfere in ours. Then suddenly the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in the other place, chaired by Mr Bernard Jenkin, is apparently looking at the very issue we are debating. I view this with mixed feelings because one could say, “If they’re going to do that, we ought to have a committee looking into why the House of Commons introduced programming so that legislation arrives here not properly debated, and why they have abandoned their primary role of legislating”. We need to look at this rather carefully but they may come up with some useful ideas. If so, they will certainly have to take lots of evidence.
I am sure that if we carried out a survey of the membership of that committee at the other end, the number who have ever appeared at the Bar of this House during Question Time would be very small, and still fewer would have stood there through a debate to have some idea of what we are doing. I hope that if they carry out this inquiry, they will jolly well come and find out what it is all about. They will be surprised, as indeed the public at large would be, at the valuable work that we in this House do in improving legislation which, if it has been debated at all, has not been scrutinised as it used to be in previous years.
I must conclude. This debate has been extremely useful and we must carry it further. We have not been dealing with any of the detail and perhaps we should have a further debate after Christmas so that we can set out rather more clearly what the Select Committee should look at. That would give it some form of overall guidance as to what would be appropriate. None the less, we are making progress on this and if we are to do our job properly, it is very important that further progress should be made.
My Lords, unlike the majority of my fellow Liberal Democrats, I have never believed in an elected second Chamber. However such a Chamber might be constituted, it seems self-evident that two elected Chambers in the Palace of Westminster would be asking for trouble—a guaranteed recipe for conflict. People argue that an elected House of Lords could simply continue to perform the same important role as the existing one, which seems like saying that you are going to exchange your dog for a cat, and that the cat is expected to do exactly what the dog did. It is as fatuous as that.
However, we all accept there are many flaws in a totally—or almost totally—appointed Chamber too, and one of them is the subject of this debate. We have built up a membership a third as large again as that of the House of Commons and there no seems no way of making substantial reductions without causing much bitterness and feelings of injustice from those who are unwillingly ejected. The problem of this House’s excessive size is not the result of being an appointed House as opposed to an elected one. The fault lies, as others have mentioned, with the person or persons responsible for doing the appointing. Apart from the Bishops, hereditary Peers like myself and some of the Cross-Benchers, who are chosen by the Appointments Commission, appointments to this House are nearly all made or approved by the Prime Minister alone. He or she hands out peerages to distinguished friends, powerful political supporters and ex-Ministers whom no one else knows what to do with. To justify this, he or she also offers a number of peerages to leaders of the other parties, to deal out as they think fit. There seems no limit to the number of peerages that can be handed out. In this respect, I am in total agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd.
I propose that a powerful new body should be created, responsible for not only appointing new people to the House of Lords but for managing the House’s affairs and regulating the behaviour of its Members. One of its immediate responsibilities would be to reduce the size of the Chamber to something slightly less than that in the House of Commons, and then to maintain it at that level. By limiting the number of new peerages and, possibly, compelling existing Peers to retire at the end of a Parliament if they are over the age of 80, it should be possible to achieve this objective within the life of two Parliaments. That is surely not too long to wait. This proposed body, which I rather clumsily call the House of Lords appointments and regulatory council, would also have the power in special circumstances to extend the term of individual Peers beyond the age of 80, allowing them to remain for another Parliament or perhaps more.
The Prime Minister, and other outgoing Prime Ministers, could still continue to make a limited number of appointments to the Lords, but the vast majority would no longer be in his or her prerogative. This new body would thus not only be responsible for controlling the size of the House; it would also ensure that its appointments represented the widest spectrum of British interests. The most important function of the House of Lords, as now, would be to review and, where appropriate, improve Bills passing through Parliament and to highlight and debate important issues that are not necessarily part of government policy.
The need to balance the House on party-political lines would be less important than now. Here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell: party politics is the job of the Commons. Although party-political balance must be a consideration when making appointments, the need to fill the House with loyal party Members would be much less necessary than it is deemed at present. Any power or influence that the Lords might have should come from the weight and experience of its Members, and the fact that it represents the largest possible number of professions, regions, classes, sexes, ethnic groups, religions and special interests. I am advised that no present or future Prime Minister would ever willingly agree to relinquish their power of appointments to the House of Lords. Maybe not, but now is a good time to try when everything—constitutions as well as many other things—is up in the air.
My Lords, I extend my thanks to the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Norton, for sustaining the effective second Chamber group, of which I am a keen member. I strongly support the proposals in the title of this debate. Membership of the group also means that I subscribe to all the tenets of the Steel Bill, including making the independent Appointments Commission into a much stronger statutory commission. The noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell, Lord Jay and Lord Forsyth, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and many others have emphasised this. The noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, just talked about a similar commission.
I mention this first because the group recognised early on that the Prime Minister’s patronage has to be tackled at some stage of reform. I heard the warning given by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, about legislation. There has always been resentment of royal patronage, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, reminded us, and it is clear that in reducing our numbers to the size of the Commons we will have to have a cap on new appointments.
I am also encouraged by the decision of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee to continue its previous work on reform and ensure that,
“the House of Lords continues to work well by addressing issues such as the size of the chamber”.
This chimes in very well with us. It intends to identify the “unarguable next steps” for Lords reform. What are they? Having read the call for written evidence, I conclude that the committee will focus a strong light on patronage and methods of appointment, and I welcome that as a measure which will certainly command public support.
My old friend the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, used the term “self-restraint”. That might perhaps avoid the need for legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, made a similar suggestion, and the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, spoke of moderation. Inevitably, the question of honours and rewards should be part of any discussion of future peerages which, in many people’s view, should be firmly separated from appointments to this House. Today’s Peers who have been rewarded may even feel happy to be released from taking part in the legislature when they come in only very occasionally.
I do not support a proportional cull with an election such as happened with Scottish Peers and as I experienced in 1999 with my 89 colleagues. That was all very well with hereditary Peers, most of whom hardly came into the House, but today it would be very divisive and would be influenced, perhaps even monopolised, by Whips and factions.
Naturally, I reassert the requirement for at least 20% of the House to be Cross-Bench Peers. In the past, that figure was 25% or more because of the Law Lords, but it has fallen to 22%. Cross-Bench life Peers are a unique feature in this Parliament. They are highly respected by the public, and I would even say that they are a cornerstone of our current democratic system. I dare to add that it happens that many, if not most, hereditary Peers can also claim similar expertise in various fields.
I have been pondering the special problem of Cross-Bench Peers, which is that they were given different instructions on arrival about attendance. Most independent Peers feel they are obliged to come only for subjects of which they have special knowledge or expertise, while those chosen by the Appointments Commission are required to attend as working Peers.
The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and others spoke about the concept of the working Peer. It may be a good principle, but it has contributed largely to the increase in the visible size of the House. The only reason that attendance has not risen faster—it has actually gone below 500—is that some Peers still do not feel under any obligation to come in regularly and, as experts—the noble Lord, Lord Cromwell, spoke of this—they may well have, and should have other, occupations. May that continue. Those Peers include a smaller number among the political parties and those who feel they received a peerage as a reward and an honour. There is a possibility that those Peers, both those rewarded and those making an occasional contribution, could be classified differently in future, but that is a subject for another day.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, said in a previous debate,
“we must recognise that the gap between our headline size and our average attendance adds to some of the misunderstandings”.—[Official Report, 15/9/15; col. 1749.]
Before that, we must do more about retirement. That will be a little easier for the committee when it is set up. I have long felt that there should not be an age limit, but that Peers approaching 80 should be asked to talk to their Whip or Convenor about their contributions in the future. This might act as a gentle brake and a reminder that Peers cannot go on for ever. Of course, we all know that there are a few exceptions who not only go on for ever but make a real contribution even in their 80s and 90s.
We need to come up to date. It is fairly normal these days for human resources departments to interview and review staff on a regular basis. Most Peers are likely to have some direct experience of that. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, said there are Peers in need of help and advice. We could appoint a human resources manager to oversee the process while keeping the responsibility within parties and groups. I shall be 74 next birthday. I feel relatively active now, but I am beginning to feel able to forecast my retirement in a few years.
Finally, I repeat that I fully support the principle of a cap on numbers. I strongly recommend that a committee is set up in the new year, not later, under the noble Lord, Lord Burns, I hope, as was mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, to sort out those solutions that will in the end achieve unanimity.
My Lords, it is difficult at this late stage of the debate, when so many have spoken so well and covered the ground so extensively, to say anything new, so I shall make a few comments to add my support to points already made.
First, like others, I pay warm tribute to and thank my noble friend Lord Cormack for the extensive work he has done over the years on this issue and to my noble friend Lord Norton, who has wide academic and forensic experience from which we all have greatly benefited.
Secondly, does it matter that we are so large, larger than the House of Commons, and the largest second Chamber in the world? Some say that it does not because we should take into account the nature of this House and that the daily attendance reflects the fact that many Peers have outside expertise and experience, which is partly why they are appointed and why they come mainly when that knowledge can be put to good use. They say that the daily attendance of just under 500 is the figure to use. My noble friend Lady Hooper mentioned this point. I am afraid I have to say that I disagree with her. I cannot accept that argument. Now that the elected Chamber discussion is not on the agenda, I believe size is a big issue for us. It is easy for the media to attack us and create unfavourable public impressions, which are made even worse when Prime Ministers appoint even more Peers because the Government have far from a working majority in this place, so this is now our most vulnerable point. Moreover, the last Conservative manifesto committed the Government to tackle the size of our Chamber and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in the House of Commons is about to embark on an inquiry, so size is back on the agenda big time. We must make our views known.
Thirdly, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral referred to the Association of Conservative Peers, of which I was chairman for some years until earlier this year. The executive of the association produced a unanimously agreed paper which was put to the whole ACP at the beginning of this year and certainly seemed to get wide acceptance and support. Some of the main conclusions were that the Lords should have as an objective a membership no larger than the Commons and that the composition of the House should be responsive to any major changes in support for political parties in general elections.
We had two main recommendations: first, we agreed with the proposal of the working group of the Labour group of Peers—the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, spoke about this earlier in the debate—that there should be compulsory retirement at the end of the Parliament in which a Peer reaches 80. That was agreed by all of us. Like me, many of us will be affected by that in this Parliament, but I still believe that it is right, and I would happily accept it. I have always supported the measure that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, introduced about retirement, but the number of Peers who have taken up voluntary retirement does not match the number of new Peers coming in, so it is not a big contribution to the size question, however necessary and desirable it is. We must move on. We hear this proposal criticised on grounds that so-and-so, in his-or-her 80s, still makes a good contribution. But so what? Nearly every other profession has a retirement age at, or more usually well below, 80. One’s experience becomes outdated and mental faculties not always so quick as they used to be. I certainly know that some of my experience of working in industry and other areas, which I gave up three or four years’ ago, has become outdated. I do not think this is a very powerful argument, and unless we have this measure, we will reduce the number of new Members with more recent experience and freshness who can come in. Every vibrant organisation needs to have that, and I believe that quite a consensus, in different parties, is now developing for that proposal.
But here is the rub. As the House stands as present, there would be disproportionate effects between the parties from that age proposal. We wanted to avoid that being addressed by the Prime Minister of the day simply approving new Peers, which is the way of dealing with it at the moment, thus adding to the size problem. So we proposed in our paper a system that would keep the size of the House at 600, assuming the number of Lords spiritual stayed the same, allocating a fixed proportion for Cross-Benchers and—this is the key—allocating the remaining 80% to the political parties, with their share of the seats reflecting general election results. This would be achieved, importantly, by internal party elections.
I will just add one other point on the voluntary retirements of Peers at the moment. There is currently a disincentive under this proposal to retiring for many, particularly in the governing party, because another Peer retired is another vote lost and the threat of more Divisions being lost. That is a disadvantage which causes some of us not to undertake that voluntary retirement.
I conclude on this note. We pride ourselves on being a self-regulating House. If we do not address this issue, others, such the Commons Select Committee, will do it for us. I believe there is a compelling case, and I strongly support setting up our own Select Committee to cover all these issues.
My Lords, when I became a life Peer, my children told me that being an unelected parliamentarian was a contradiction in terms. This is why outreach is such an important activity for me and for us. I have found that after explaining to schools, universities and other organisations the work that we do in holding Governments to account, in scrutinising and improving legislation, and in protecting the rights and lives of our fellow citizens, as well as our committee work, especially when the primacy of the other place is explained, most people support what we do. They are less concerned that we are unelected, that we have hereditary Peers and that some are part-timers. But the one thing that is not understood is our number and the cost—that rankles, and it tarnishes the work we do. That is why I think that the time is long overdue to do something about it. I welcome the debate and support the Motion.
It is not as if we are short of ideas. We have had a royal commission—in April 1999 I made a submission to it—four White Papers, draft Bills, and reports from Select Committees, academics, think-tanks, our own Clerk of the Parliaments and our own parliamentary groups. Generally, when it comes to numbers, what it boils down to is that we should be no larger than the other place—which is looking to reduce its numbers. Other noble Lords have detailed the mechanics, and I do not need to go through them, but as the noble Lord, Lord Low, and others have said, at the same time as we are reducing our numbers, the Prime Minister and the Appointments Commission must appoint only when there is a vacancy. There has to be a formula fixing the balance between the groups, perhaps relating to the result of the last three elections, but with no political majority and with some 20% to 25% on the Cross Benches. The important thing is that these measures should all happen together.
I too might add that much of the detailed work and analysis has already been done by Professor Meg Russell and her colleagues at the Constitution Unit at University College London. Conceivably, your Lordships could take things into their own hands, for example by introducing new Peers only when we think there is a vacancy. In a way, this happens with the Bishops. In addition, a move to the QEII Centre during R&R could force us to reduce our numbers by virtue of insufficient space.
I agree with other noble Lords that, to preserve our reputation, we have to get our own house in order, otherwise others will do it for us. We know that a large part of our population are discontented with mainstream politics. Some are discontented with us. Even the Prime Minister has called us bloated. Has the Leader googled “bloated House of Lords” recently? It is very instructive: there are pages of entries headed by the Prime Minister’s use of the phrase on 8 August, which can lead to fake news websites and a hashtag #CutTheBloatedLords, directing ridicule towards us. This can only damage our work and our reputation. Is this something that worries noble Lords? It does me. All the more reason why we have to get on with reforming our numbers. Let a Select Committee put a proposal to us, and soon.
My Lords, I have a variation to suggest to the incentive proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for Members of your Lordships’ House to retire. If life Peers retire immediately, their Peerages should be converted to hereditary ones carrying no right to a seat in this House. It would cost nothing, and I believe it would be effective.
I will make four brief points. First, I have to say to my noble friend Lord Cromwell and the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, that it really is not sustainable to say that the size of the House does not matter on the grounds that it is a pool from which Members contribute when they have relevant expertise. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, has said, we have substantially more Members than we need to do our job. Not only that, but there is substantial number of Members who do not contribute to the work of the House, whether by attending, speaking in debates or serving on committees. To add to the statistics that the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, gave, I say that well over 100 Members of the House attend fewer than 15% of the sitting days. Others attend only when whipped by their parties to vote. We have a long tail which could substantially be reduced, with benefit to our reputation but without reducing our ability to do our work.
My second point is that the problem of our size is now more urgent than it has been in the past. As the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, said, the opposition political parties in the House now have a substantial majority over the Government, and when they act together they can defeat the Government at will. There are only two ways in which this can be dealt with. One is by the Prime Minister making further appointments to the House on a scale which would damage public perception of the House even further. The second is by the opposition parties showing self-restraint, which, to their credit, they do, at least most of the time. However, this is not a satisfactory basis on which to run a House of Parliament.
Thirdly, I want to deal with the issue of the Prime Minister’s exercise of patronage. When I worked in government, I had the privilege of sitting in on discussions between the then Prime Minister and Leader of this House when appointments were to be made. The Prime Minister would ask the Leader what areas of expertise needed to be reinforced to help this House to fulfil its scrutinising role. That meant people with expertise in science, business, medicine or cultural activities, and many others. With no disrespect to any of those appointed recently, it is difficult to believe that this happens with political appointments today; the main concern appears to have been simply to get the Government’s voting numbers up.
Fourthly, and I say this with great temerity, I venture to be less pessimistic than the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, about the prospect of getting effective action taken, subject to one condition: that any legislation must be introduced first, and debated and passed, in your Lordships’ House. I believe it will pass through this House, even if it does not give the Liberal Democrats what they want, if, however painful, it is fair. If it is passed by this House and does not threaten the position of the House of Commons, I think there is a good chance that it will pass that House as well. So I believe we should go forward with determination and with confidence.
My Lords, I entirely agree with a good deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, said. I believe that an Act of Parliament is ultimately necessary. It is true that we can do quite a lot, but a Select Committee examining this would find that some essential aspects require to be dealt with by an Act of Parliament. The most important of these, of course, is the prerogative of the Prime Minister in appointing Peers to this House.
I entirely agree with the view that, for various reasons, including very irrelevant ones, the size of this House has become an obstacle to the fulfilment of our task with the degree of acceptance in the community that it should have. Our fundamental task is to revise legislation that has been passed by the House of Commons. It is true that, from time to time in the past, and indeed this year it has been so, some Bills have started in this House. That is a perfectly reasonable way of proceeding in some cases. For example, I had responsibility for the embryo Bill that came here, and which was discussed by eminent experts who knew all about these matters, before it went to the House of Commons. I am glad to say that on the essential issue—namely, when embryo research should be allowed—the House of Commons accepted the view that had found favour here. If you go for a completely free vote, as we did on that Bill because of its nature, you are always risking that the House of Commons and the House of Lords might take different views. But that worked extremely well, and it is a very important piece of legislation in an area that is outside the ordinary scope of legislation that we have to pass.
The fundamental job of this House is the revision of legislation, with the exceptions that I have just mentioned. Over the time that I have been here, which is now a long time—I would immediately pass any retirement age that could reasonably be thought of so I would not object to one being suggested, although I think it is for someone else to do so rather than myself—the House of Commons, which I was never in, has found itself more and more subject to very heavy tasks arising in constituencies; so many people have problems that Members have to deal with. One of the results of that, I think, judging from afar, is that they do not have so much time or possibly so much inclination to revise the detail of Bills in Parliament. After all, those of us who do this know that it is not a particularly attractive task; in fact, it is rather a grind. But it is mightily important, because if legislation goes out of here wrong, it can do terrific damage to a lot of people.
I think we have found a way to try to deal with that, and often with quite contentious matters. As I say, I was never in the other place, but there is an atmosphere in this House of trying to get the right answer irrespective of any sort of political consideration. I have relished the atmosphere here since I came here a long time ago, and that atmosphere continues in an attempt to find a satisfactory answer that will do right for all manner of people. Even if we are not judges, we still try to do right to all manner of people in accordance with the usages of this realm. And it seems to me very important that that role is preserved, and that the people who are willing to undertake it, and to do so in a fairly comprehensive use of their time, are here to do it.
My noble friend Lord Caithness talked about coming from a distance. I live in Inverness, which is quite a distance from here, but it is possible if one is devoted to it that one should come and try to carry out one’s responsibilities. When one has a certain amount—a little, maybe—experience in this area, I find it a responsibility to come for as long as I can come: not every day or every week but as often as I possibly can, and certainly to matters which seem to be on something I know about, such as the universities Bill tomorrow. It is extremely important that we should have people here who have that mission, and I believe that a lot of people here do have it. I do not wish to show myself as unwelcoming to the people who have recently come; on the contrary, many of them may be much better than me at doing just that.
I want to mention just at the end that if we are to succeed in reducing the membership of this House we have to have a statutory cap on that membership; that is the only way in which we can control the size after it is reduced. It is one thing to reduce it and another to keep it reduced. I believe that a statutory cap is necessary. Of course there are complications about that, and I think it would be appropriate for a Select Committee to consider them. There are statutory complications: for example, when people in this House change their religions. Occasionally they move from being in the Conservative Party to the Cross Benches—more often, perhaps, from some other parties.
These are difficulties, but I do not think that they should be obstacles to our carrying out this fundamental task of having the House reduced in a permanent way to a size that is accommodating to the important task that has to be undertaken.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and I respectfully agree with absolutely everything he said. It is very helpful to have this debate today. When I was interviewed as a Cross-Bench candidate, I was asked whether, if I got it, I would attend. I said that of course I would; it was a great privilege to be able to take part in legislation, having been interpreting legislation for the preceding 35 years.
I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, was asked by the Prime Minister whether he would attend. It seems to me that it is a question that should be asked of every possible Peer: otherwise, what on earth is the point of coming here, other than possibly the honour that other noble Lords have referred to, which should be treated in a rather different way? I have to say, remembering what the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said, that I attend nearly every day and I am not alone in that. I bitterly resent what he said about the Cross-Benchers not attending. Most of us attend very regularly and I hope that he might want to retract that, as it really is not a fair comment on the work that we do.
May I intervene to say that I was certainly not referring to the noble and learned Baroness or to the large number of people who do attend regularly? But if she looks at the figures I got from the Library, she will see that of the three political groups and the Cross-Benchers, the Liberal Democrats have the highest attendance, Labour next, Conservative next and Cross-Benchers least. That is just the statistics of it. There are a number who, perhaps for good reasons, are unable to attend, and I think we should take account of that. I meant no insult whatever to the noble and learned Baroness, for whom I have the greatest respect.
I thank the noble Lord and withdraw what I said, because I understand what the statistics are. However, there is a hard core of Cross-Bench Members who attend very regularly and consider that our duty is to do the work of the House among other Peers.
I have to say that, being now 83, I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Steel and Lord MacGregor, that it would be a very sensible compromise that those who were 80 at the end of a Parliament should go. It would have the effect of immediately reducing the membership to not all that far above 600—so it would be a good idea.
There is, of course, another point: when this House is relocated there will be a lot of retirements, so it may be that by that stage a lot will be done. But this will be in 2022 or whatever it may be, and I entirely agree with other noble Lords that we absolutely have to get on with it now because the suggestion by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, that 800 does not matter is quite simply not true, as many other noble Lords said. We are seen as ridiculous by many people and the word “bloated”, referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and which others have pointed out, is undoubtedly true.
Consequently, we have to move to the next stage, which obviously is the Select Committee. There is considerable unanimity on that. It should take evidence and make recommendations, and it should be done in months, not years. It should and could consider what steps this House could take by resolutions within our own procedures—but I recognise, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said, that at some stage there may need to be legislation.
The Select Committee must identify what it is that we cannot do ourselves. Then, as the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, said, acting together we are actually very influential. We should use our influence, so long as this House is unanimous, to put considerable pressure on the other House to deal with patronage, which is an open sore, and other matters that we cannot deal with ourselves. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Butler, that we could get a lot done both in our own work and in persuading the other place that we could have a Bill that would start in this House.
My Lords, this has been a very good debate, and an important one. It is not an exercise in navel-gazing; it matters because this House matters. Addressing size is only part, but a necessary one, of what needs to be done to protect and enhance the role of this House as a valuable—and, I would argue, invaluable—second Chamber. This House adds value and, contrary to what some have said, is justifiable in democratic terms. Democracy—demos kratia—is about how people choose to govern themselves. In a representative democracy, the choice of who is to govern is fundamental. In the United Kingdom, we choose a Government through elections to the House of Commons, a Government who are responsible for a programme of public policy and accountable for that policy to the electors at the next election. There is core accountability. We have the benefit of a second Chamber that fulfils tasks that add value to the political process without challenging that core accountability. As my colleague Professor Colin Tyler, a specialist in democratic theory, put it in evidence to the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill, if you “divide sovereignty within Parliament”, you undermine the capacity of Parliament to give effect to the will of the people.
We have a Chamber that draws on experience and expertise to complement the work of the elected House. By general consent, this House does a good job. Debate about Lords reform focuses primarily on composition, not on functions—there is a general agreement about the functions of a complementary second Chamber. The House of Lords Reform Bill in 2012 was premised on the House continuing to do its existing job. But of course composition and functions are intrinsically linked; who is in the House determines how effectively the functions are fulfilled. We are a legitimate Chamber, but whereas the Commons takes its legitimacy for granted through election, our legitimacy has to be earned through the work that we do. We therefore need to ensure that we are working effectively and efficiently; we need to ensure that the quality of what we do is maintained.
We know from the Ipsos MORI poll of 2007 that electors considered the two most important factors in determining the legitimacy of this House to be trust in the appointments process and in considering legislation carefully and in detail. Seventy-six per cent considered trust in the appointments process to be very important, while 73% thought the same for considering legislation carefully and in detail. Some element of election came way below.
It is three years almost to the day since I initiated a debate on the size of the House. It was clear then that there was a problem; the problem is even greater now. As we have heard, of legislative chambers that meet regularly throughout the year, we are the largest. It is true that the Chinese National People’s Congress has more Members, but it meets for only about two weeks each year. It is true that we have a smaller membership than existed prior to the 1999 Act; the difference is in terms of activity and perception. There is a justified expectation now that those created as Peers should contribute to the work of the House. The level of activity places a burden on the resources of the House, and on the public purse. Any inactivity reflects badly on the House, since we appear to be carrying passengers. So either way there is a problem.
We need to address size, which necessarily entails not only reducing numbers but also, as we have heard, controlling future appointments. That is where public perception becomes important. Some noble Lords appear to say that this is not too important: it is only perception. We do not exist in a vacuum. The more we grow in number, the more the media draw attention to our size, whatever good work we do. Indeed, as we have heard, that coverage masks the work of this House: that is the reality. New creations will be pored over by the media to see if someone has been a party donor. It only takes one for the media to generalise about the whole. Whatever we say, that will remain the case. We therefore need to move from deprecating such activity—or simply ignoring it—to doing something practical about it, hence this Motion and the recognition that action needs to be taken.
It is quite clear from this debate what that action needs to be. We need to establish a Select Committee to address the various options for reducing the size of the House. As has been stressed, we cannot resolve what the precise action is in a single debate such as this. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, seemed to think that the committee may not reach agreement and that was, therefore, an argument for not having a committee. If there is going to be a committee with a majority and minority view, I would rather have that than no committee at all. It can come forward with recommendations. The sooner we get under way and the sooner the committee reports, the better. It need not be a lengthy exercise. It may not succeed, but it is an essential start. I am delighted that my noble friend the Leader of the House is to reply. I trust that she will acknowledge that this is not a parochial issue. It is about ensuring that this nation’s constitutional arrangements benefit it. I end as I began: addressing size is only part of what needs to be done, but it is a necessary part. Let us get on with it and then address what else needs to be done.
My Lords, I have no difficulty in agreeing with the Motion before your Lordships’ House. I am therefore extremely tempted to follow the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and sit down now. Sadly for him, and for the House, he is not going to be so lucky.
I start with an admission. In a previous incarnation I was responsible, albeit to a modest extent, for increasing the size of your Lordships’ House. When I was chief of staff to Charles Kennedy, we got a proposal from the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, about a very modest increase in the number of Liberal Democrat Peers. We objected to it, on the grounds that it was modest, and we would rather like a few more. We tried to find out what the other parties were getting but were told that that was completely improper and we could not be told. We said that unless we got a few more we were not going to agree to anything. There was a great deal of huffing and puffing but, to cut a long story short, we ended up with 60% more than had been on the original note. This was haggling about the composition of a legislature in one of the world’s largest countries. This process was, and remains, ridiculous and unsustainable in the long term.
As my noble friends Lord Tyler and Lord Rennard have set out, my party has had a long-standing policy to elect people to your Lordships’ House and, in the process, reduce the number of Members. We believe that in a democracy legitimate power and political authority ultimately derive from the people. In the 21st century, and in a modern innovative country such as ours, it is simply wrong that the public never have the opportunity to vote for Members of this House or to hold us to account on our record. Members of this House are, individually and collectively, legislators. It is straightforward that we should be accountable, through elections, to those whom we expect to follow the laws which we enact. A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, have made a point about regional representation in your Lordships’ House which strengthens this argument. As long as we have the current system there will be a predominance of people from London and the south-east in your Lordships’ House. There is a lot of talk about rebalancing the economy and the northern powerhouse, but the northern regions are not fully represented in your Lordships’ House. Until they are, any sense of political rebalancing in terms of the balance of arguments in Parliament simply will not happen. Regional elections would help to redress that balance.
It is also worth pointing out that every other second Chamber in the world, I think, except possibly the Council of Elders in Papua New Guinea, is elected. Although they may all be wrong, and we may be—
Sixteen Chambers are wholly appointed.
I stand corrected. I had better be careful because the noble Lord will correct what I am about to say, but I believe that many countries have more than one Chamber and that a minority, at best, have a non-elected second Chamber.
That is true of wholly elected Chambers; they are in a minority as well. No one model is in an absolute majority.
One of the great strengths of your Lordships’ House, which would undoubtedly disappear were we all elected, is that this kind of seminar would probably not take place. I stand corrected on the point I made about second Chambers but do not resile from the point that an elected House, or a predominantly elected House, would be superior to the current House. I strongly supported the attempt by my colleague in another place, Nick Clegg, to bring about such a change under the coalition Government. If such a change had been brought about, the exasperation of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, and others over the number of Liberal Democrats in your Lordships’ House would already have been largely assuaged because we would have had elections. We wanted that and we would still like it. We may not always do desperately well in elections but in principle we are happy to contest them.
Much of today’s discussion has concerned the need for consensus as we move forward. There is considerable consensus around the role of your Lordships’ House, notwithstanding some of the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, on this issue. I think there is near consensus, if not total consensus, that there is a strong legitimate role for a second Chamber to scrutinise and revise the Government’s legislative agenda; to hold the Executive to account through Questions, debates and the work of Select Committees; and, from time to time, to ask the House of Commons to think again—in short, to ensure that a sober second thought is built into the process of creating laws in this country.
Collectively, the House takes its role extremely seriously. We spend the vast majority of our time picking over the fine detail of legislation, continually asking the Government, “Have you got this right?”, “Did you consider this different aspect when this policy decision was taken?”, and, “Does it do what you want it to do?”. My experience as a Whip in government was that when the Government lost a vote, it was usually because we had lost the argument. This was a very difficult thing to accept at the time but it was the case. In my view asking the Commons to think again in those circumstances greatly benefited the development of legislation.
Since 1999, the Chamber has become much more professional in the carrying out of its important role and has already taken action to improve itself in a number of ways. We have taken measures to strengthen the Code of Conduct and ensure that the Nolan principles on standards in public life are observed. We have legislated on the initiatives of my noble friend Lord Steel and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to ensure that those who are convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to more than a year’s imprisonment cease to be Members of the House, and to strengthen our ability to take action when necessary to expel or suspend Members. These changes have been achieved by consensus. There is consensus that the size of the House should be reduced, and on the other principles that a number of noble Lords have mentioned: that it should be smaller than the Commons; that we should retain an element of Cross-Benchers; and that no political party should have a majority. However, here consensus begins to break down, as the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, pointed out in his typically wise speech. This lack of consensus applies to matters great and small, all of which could in theory enhance the credibility and reputation of the House. One such measure, which could be quickly implemented, would be for the House to agree the recommendation in the report of the Committee for Privileges and Conduct entitled Undermining Public Confidence in the House, to strengthen the code of conduct with a “disrepute” provision. However, there is no consensus to do that, so it probably will not happen.
Another measure—it was initially proposed by Lord Avebury in 2006 and was in the initial draft of my noble friend Lord Steel’s Bill—would be to end the system of hereditary by-elections in this House. That has now been taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who can certainly be assured of my support for his Bill. When it was introduced, the by-election system was supposed to be a temporary measure until the then Labour Government’s “second stage” of Lords reform was completed. As a junior Whip on the 1999 Bill, I remember the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, then Leader of the House, at her most imperious, slapping down people who said that the system of by-elections for hereditary Peers with an electorate of under 10 was a nonsense, on the grounds that it might not have been perfect but it would never be enacted because there would be a second phase of reform—so why was anybody worried? We have seen what has happened.
Another measure that could be considered is to reduce significantly the role of patronage in the appointment of Members to the House by giving a stronger role to the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission—the burden of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Jay—and by ensuring that the commission is placed on a statutory basis. The issue of scrutinising the suitability and commitment of potential Members has near unanimity in your Lordships’ House, and we should go ahead and do that.
All the more substantive proposals put forward clearly have major strengths and weaknesses. I have a lot of sympathy with my noble friend Lord Steel’s proposal on retirement age, although I know that that makes me unpopular with some members of my group, and there is certainly no consensus to do it. I have some sympathy with the suggestion that there should be an automatic retirement if a certain percentage of attendance is not reached in a Session. However, given that a number of noble Lords who make good contributions here are doing things outside and cannot be here all the time, we would have to set the bar significantly lower than the 30% or 40% suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. I do not agree with the other suggestion, that we should have a moratorium on appointments. While the tap should certainly be turned down, it would be a mistake to turn it off, as we would just get an ever-older House.
On that point about having time to come here, when I was appointed by the Appointments Commission, rather like my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss, I was extremely worried, because I had composing and broadcasting commitments and I felt that I could not give the House what it might need. The chairman at that time, who is sitting here today, said, “If you have a commitment to come, that is what we need”. I cannot come at every moment of the day but I try to come, as with this evening. I was interested to hear that more interventions would be welcomed, because that would mean that people could come and participate even if they could not be here at the beginning of the debate.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes my point. I realise that my time is virtually up. I conclude, in looking at all the suggestions that have been discussed, that any further work that is undertaken will need to look at both sides of all those suggestions, both the upsides and the downsides. The lack of consensus on just about all the suggestions demonstrates that none of them is unambiguously without problem.
I am a proud Member of your Lordships’ House. I think that it plays a significant and positive role but fully accept that, in the minds of many people, this role is devalued because of the size of the House. I and my colleagues are therefore willing to look at methods by which a change in its size might be achieved short of the elections that we would prefer, but which I recognise we will not get in the foreseeable future. However, after today’s debate, and despite some consensus, we are under no illusions that this will be easy.
My Lords, this has certainly been an interesting debate and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for instigating it. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip for providing government time for it.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part for me was the exchange between the noble Lords, Lord Norton and Lord Newby, on the facts of the issue. I welcomed the comment from the noble Lord, Lord Newby, that, despite the inevitable impact that elections would have on his Benches, he would still prefer to go forward on that basis. It was perhaps our first seasonal mention of turkeys voting early for Christmas.
The large number of speakers today reflects not only a concern about this issue but the fact that we are a self-regulating House and that we take that role seriously. We are ourselves seeking solutions and looking at how to move forward—and indeed, many other areas of Lords reform have been initiated in your Lordships’ House. If there are to be changes in how this House operates, including in its size, it will be helpful to proceed if not with consensus then certainly with broad agreement.
Labour Peers have been considering these issues for some time, and noble Lords will have seen our 2014 report. It is perhaps worth noting its title: A Programme for Progress: The Future of the House of Lords and its Place in a Wider Constitution. We have not had much debate tonight about its place in the wider constitution, but that has to be taken into account in areas of reform.
During this debate there have certainly been points with which I have agreed and others with which I have disagreed, and there have been a number of views and suggestions which I think are worthy of serious reflection and consideration. My noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling, who is very experienced in these matters, said that it is difficult and complicated but that we can make a start. Tonight we have made that start. We have heard differing views on what the problem is and how it can be resolved, but there was broad agreement that we could be a more effective and better-understood Chamber, and perhaps be held in higher regard, if we had fewer Members.
However, the first principle should be that form follows function, and the role of this House has to be the central part of our debate. We have been clear about what we do and how we can best do it. The role of a scrutinising and revising Chamber is, as we have heard from many noble Lords, valuable—but, as we have also heard, it is often misunderstood.
The Canadian Senate has had some similarities with our Chamber, although I appreciate that it is very different at the moment. The first Prime Minister of Canada described the Senate as a Chamber of “sober second thought”. I think that that is a good description of how to approach matters. However, I also have no doubt that Governments have become less tolerant of that sober second thought, and indeed of more independent thought. I do not know whether noble Lords have been following the news today. The current political crisis in Italy started with a referendum on reducing the size and power of the Senate—the second Chamber. The Prime Minister was accused of attempting a power grab by trying to reduce the Senate’s powers, and there was a populist campaign in defence of the second Chamber. We should look at what is happening there.
This Parliament has been difficult for the Government. It is the first time ever that a Conservative Government have not had an automatic majority in your Lordships’ House. Both the Government and the Opposition parties have had to manage that—and, despite some transitional hiccups, I think that as a House we have managed the process well. Being a responsible Opposition does not mean that the Government get their own way every time, but nor does it mean that the Opposition can deny the right of an elected Government to implement the programme on which they were elected. As we have also heard, every Government have tended to appoint more of their own party Peers and fewer opposition Peers. In 1997, when Tony Blair became Prime Minster, there were 477 Conservative Peers and 117 Labour ones. But, even then, it was only after eight years and two electoral landslides that the Labour Party became the largest party in your Lordships’ House in 2005. Yet the pace then, from 2010, certainly gathered. The Conservative Party, despite there being two parties in government—the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats—became the largest party in your Lordships’ House after just three years.
Part of the problem is the short-term decisions that have been taken in recent years and a lack of understanding of the role of your Lordships’ House. David Cameron appointed more Peers per year and at a faster rate than any other Prime Minister since 1958 when life peerages were introduced—and more were from the Government parties and fewer from the Opposition. That then became further complicated because a significant number of those Peers were appointed to the Liberal Democrat Benches—which used to be on the other side of the House—meaning an extra 45% in their number, bringing them up to 104 from 72. However, when they went into opposition on this side of your Lordships’ House, the Prime Minister felt he had to appoint more Conservative Peers to try to balance the numbers—“ratcheting up” was the expression used by some noble Lords—to compensate for his former party of government moving into opposition. That is not the sole reason, but it is part of the reason why the size of the House has grown.
In addressing size, we have to look at two issues. One is reputational and the other is practical. When I first came to your Lordships’ House six years ago, we did not have an overflow seating area for Members of this House who were not able to come into the Chamber during Questions. That is something new that has come about with the increase in the size of the House. We should also recognise the reputational issue. A number of noble Lords commented on the difference between the number of Peers who attend and those who are entitled to attend. However, I do not think it is enough to say, “It’s okay because they don’t turn up very often”. It is almost as though we were suggesting to other Peers who do turn up that we could manage that bit better if they did not turn up very often, either. That is not acceptable. Every Member of your Lordships’ House is an equal and is entitled to be here and to vote. I am sure it was not just me and those in my party who winced when we heard one Member of this House complaining that he was appointed as an honour and did not like being called in so often to vote with the Government. That is not a party embarrassment but an embarrassment for this House.
Although I was interested in a lot of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, I have to say that I disagree with him that this is a part-time House. It is not a part-time House; we often sit longer than the other end. What we do have, however, is the fact that Members of this House do not have to be full-time professional politicians to engage in the work of scrutiny and holding the Government to account.
How do we achieve reducing our size? We can agree that we think there is an issue and we can agree on the principle, but how do we make it happen? The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, very helpfully said that we were talking about principle and not detail—but, inevitably, in talking about principle we have to look at some of the detail. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Newby, although I do not feel quite as negative about it as he does, that every proposal will have its downside. But they will also have benefits, and that needs to be taken into account and looked at.
On the issue of a retirement age, I feel very uncomfortable with my great and noble friend Lord Dubs, who introduced me into this place, sitting behind me. I know he said that he would be happy to go but we would not be happy for him to go. Whatever age we suggest, we can all identify noble Lords of that age or older who make an amazing contribution to this House, and name a few others who are younger than them who do not. I think we would find that, although most noble Lords would favour a retirement age, they will choose an age that is five years above the age they are. Therefore, although I am sure that retirement will be looked at as part of the criteria, we cannot look at that solely. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, made the important point that some Members of this House—not just those on the Cross Benches—come in once they have retired from their profession because they want to use their expertise in the work of this House.
If we were to look just at attendance, it would disproportionately affect the Cross Benches. We should expect a basic level of activity and commitment to this House from all noble Lords. Having said that, we need to recognise the contribution of those who do not attend very regularly, but who, when they do, add experience, expertise and value to the work that we do. It is about getting a balance between those two issues so that we can do justice to our colleagues, whom we want here, but with the expectation that people are here not just as an honour but to play a role in legislation and the work that we do.
Another issue is whether we should in some way tie numbers here to a general election. It needs careful thought. I am totally opposed to using the previous election alone as a marker for numbers and proportions of the different parties and the Cross Benches. We should perhaps look at the trends over three elections, as Professor Meg Russell has said. To have this House bouncing about from one side to the other because of one election result would undermine the very essence of what we are about. We are not a reflection or a mirror of the House of Commons; we are a distinct and separate body. We complement and work with the House of Commons but we are different. The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, made a similar point about three elections. We have to take care about how we look at that.
What are the guiding principles when looking at size? For me, the one that is non-negotiable—this has been mentioned many times—is a cap on numbers. It does not have to be an absolute number; it can be a band of numbers. I have previously been told—the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, will remember the many discussions we had on this matter—that it was totally unacceptable to the Government as the Prime Minister has to have the right to make appointments and cannot be fettered in any way. However, I am not talking about removing the patronage of Prime Ministers—I am not against Prime Ministers having patronage and making appointments to this House of people who have worked for their parties and their Governments—but there are limits. Unless a cap is agreed there will be no value in—and perhaps more importantly there will be no agreement on—reaching a reduction in the size of your Lordships’ House. If over a period of time—perhaps five, 10 or even 20 years—the numbers grow back, that will happen only through more government appointments. I have had colleagues on my side of the House say to me, “I would retire but, if I do, all I do is create a government vacancy”. That is not what this House should be about. I am not talking about an exact number but there should be a band with a top level on it.
Another point I have made before is that form should follow function. The Labour Peers’ report suggested 450—a working number—but the reason they came to that figure is because they looked at the committee work and the scrutiny that this House does. It is not only about legislation. We work on EU legislation and on statutory instruments—which we do so much better than the other place—and with Brexit coming along there may well be increased activity in your Lordships’ House. As we progress through the Brexit process we need to ensure that the Government are given advice by this House and can address all issues.
We agree that, whatever the number is, it is likely to be lower than the size of the Commons. However, relative size to the Commons is not the driver. The work that we do and how we do it should be the driver. However, it is inevitable that we will be smaller than the House of Commons.
I have two final points. Another point made by Professor Meg Russell, which I feel strongly about, is that we have to take into account the political balance of your Lordships’ House. There is an Official Opposition and Government in the other place and in this place and that must be recognised. The 20% or thereabouts that we have talked about for Cross-Bench representation does not seem unreasonable, but we are a political Parliament with an Official Opposition and a role for political parties and that has to be recognised. I would not go down the Canadian route of all Members now being appointed as independents—that would be a step too far—but we want to ensure that political recognition is taken into account.
Finally, if we are reduced in size it is inevitable that a spotlight will be shone on the appointments process and we need greater transparency in how appointments are made. Again, I am not trying to stop Prime Ministers and the leaders of the Opposition and other parties making their political judgments on who they want in here, but there has to be openness about the criteria used. The Appointments Commission has five Peers and two independents. Should we look at a greater role for independents to get a more widespread and diverse approach to how we appoint Peers?
We have made an important start today. I make one further plug to end the absurdity of the elections of hereditary Peers. The whole House recognises that the time has come to do so. That is not in any way to cast aspersions on the hereditary Peers who play a full role in this House, but it should be done to show that we understand and share the public’s concerns. There is an opportunity here. Although there is not a complete consensus there is broad agreement and we want to move forward.
My Lords, I am grateful to everyone for their contributions to the debate and to my noble friend Lord Cormack for securing the opportunity for us to discuss this important matter. Today’s debate has shown that across the House there is a strong desire to ensure that we continue and, indeed, improve the way we perform our critical scrutinising and revising role. What has also come across loud and clear is the concern noble Lords have about the public’s perception and understanding of the work of this House. This evening has reinforced to me that many noble Lords believe that the size of this House presents problems on both counts.
As Leader, I want to be clear at the outset that I have heard the strength of feeling on this issue. I also add that I am strongly of the view that any action we might take on the size of the House must at heart enhance our ability to perform our vital role of revision and scrutiny. Any reform cannot and must not be simply about numbers; it must result in this House working better in fulfilling our role effectively, as well as serving the public at large.
What has been encouraging about today’s debate is that there is a strong desire for us to work constructively together across the House to make progress on this issue. Indeed, I am strongly of the view that that is the only way progress can be made. However, as noble Lords will no doubt expect me to say about a topic that has occupied your Lordships’ House for many, many years, this is not something we will be able to make decisions on immediately and implement reforms overnight.
As noble Lords said earlier, today is not the day for me directly to address the merits and demerits of each and every proposal suggested during this interesting and extremely well-informed debate, but I will of course read Hansard and reflect further on the detail of noble Lords’ contributions. What I will do is set out my approach. In doing so, I remind noble Lords that this is a subject I will consider with two different roles to play.
First, as Leader of the whole House, it is my responsibility to ensure we remain able to perform our role as a scrutinising and revising Chamber as effectively as possible, complementing the work of the elected House, and that any changes we make are consistent with that purpose. It is also my role to listen to the concerns raised by noble Lords across the House and to work to see whether solutions can be found to address them. This debate reflects the fact that one of the most frequent issues noble Lords have raised with me since I have become Leader is concern about the negative public perception of this House, and the view that our size is one of the contributing factors to this. I understand these concerns and agree that we must reflect upon how we can better command public confidence in the excellent work we do.
Secondly, I am also Leader in this House of the Government Benches—a Government elected with a manifesto which acknowledged that size is an issue to be addressed, but also made clear that comprehensive reform is not a priority for this Parliament. As a number of noble Lords have acknowledged, that must be right when there are so many pressing legislative priorities to deliver over this Parliament, not least around the UK’s exit from the EU and our ambitious social reform agenda.
I am sure noble Lords will not be surprised that I will not set out a stall at this stage and propose specific changes. I think that today’s debate has, despite consensus, shown there is further work to do to reach a broad consensus on the precise way forward. However, neither am I suggesting that we should simply set ourselves in aspic. It is right that we collectively seek a solution to address concerns about the size of this House raised today while ensuring we continue to refresh and renew our expertise and our outlook so we remain relevant to the Britain of today and the future. Whatever reforms might be implemented, it is essential that this House continues to be able to draw on the invaluable breadth of expertise and experience of Peers as we do today.
Over the past few years, we have shown what progress can be made when we come together to make this House work more effectively, as a number of noble Lords have mentioned—whether in enabling Members to retire from the House, in legislating so that Members are removed when they do not attend at all or in giving this House the power to expel Members for serious misconduct. These may have been incremental changes, but the sum of their parts has been significant and led to tangible changes in the culture of this House. I know that many noble Lords who have spoken today are impatient for more wide-reaching reform, but we should not underestimate the importance of what has already been achieved and the value of taking steps forward together.
In light of today’s debate, I sense that noble Lords want to bring that same spirit to moving forward. While it will not be possible, either practically or politically, to achieve everything that has been raised this evening, I hope that it will be possible for us to examine and consider what ideas might be able to command support across the House in relation to our size. If, in the light of that consideration, there are ideas or proposals that are able to command broad consensus, I would welcome working with noble Lords, both as Leader of the House and as a member of the Government, to explore taking them forward.
Following today’s constructive debate, we have an opportunity to make progress. It is clear that there is strong feeling across all Benches that the size of the House is an issue of concern and that noble Lords want to continue discussions about how we might address this, although I think it is also fair to say that there is not currently clear agreement on what a solution might be. In further discussions about our size, it will be important that we reflect on the work we do and how we can do it more effectively. As I have said, I am clear that any further reform must enhance our role as a Chamber of scrutiny and revision and that we must continue to be able to draw on a wealth of expertise and experience. I will reflect on the comments made this evening and consider how best to take matters forward. I will of course want to speak with my fellow leaders, the Convenor and the Lord Speaker, to consider the best approach.
As I have made clear, if we are to make any progress on this issue, we have to do it together as a House. The way forward will not be instigated, led and imposed by government alone. A number of noble Lords have suggested a Select Committee as their preferred way forward. As the House will know, we have a Liaison Committee which oversees Select Committees and is currently seeking submissions for next year’s ad hoc committees. That may well be a route that some of your Lordships wish to pursue. I would also like to consider whether a more immediate, practical step could be taken in convening a small, Back Bench-led consultative group whose work could be overseen, for instance, by the Lord Speaker. Such a group would be well placed early on to look at pragmatic options for progress on this issue, analyse their implications and identify the important questions that need to be resolved so that we can go further. Obviously, I will discuss this further in light of today’s debate, and I will bear in mind the strong desire that noble Lords have expressed for this to be a process led by Members. As the noble Baroness said, for any proposals for reform to have a chance of success, they will have to command broad consensus around the House.
I have heard the clear call from today’s debate and from the broader discussions that I have had in my time as Leader for a renewed momentum to have constructive discussions about our future on this issue. Although I come to this debate afresh, I am struck by the strength of feeling across the House on the need to try to make progress. I am encouraged that the debate today has set us on our way in a welcome spirit of partnership.
My Lords, it falls to me, briefly, to wind up this debate having introduced the Motion. I begin by thanking, once again, the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip for making this time available to us. I also very much admired the spirit in which both the Leader and the shadow Leader of the House responded to the debate. The Leader, in particular, showed that she has within her the stuff to make a considerable and perhaps great Leader of the House. She clearly understands what the House is about and what its duties and role are. I was encouraged by what she said.
Two things came through this debate very strongly. First, 49 of the 56 Back-Bench speakers backed the Motion, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Some were totally enthusiastic but only seven did not feel able to associate themselves with the Motion. How you define consensus I know not, but certainly that is an overwhelming majority. Secondly, with regard to the second half of the Motion, to which I attach—in spite of what was said by one colleague—equal importance, there was a desire for a Select Committee.
The Leader, in a very constructive way, acknowledged that. The best thing she said was that she clearly wants to continue discussions. She talked about a possible committee convened by the Lord Speaker, and clearly that idea deserves serious consideration. That does not in any sense rule out a Select Committee referral, nor does it mean that we must creep at a snail’s pace. The other thing that came out of this debate was the sense of urgency in many speeches, most notably in the excellent wind-up speech from the Back Benches by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, and in the speech of a man who has more experience of the workings of Parliament than perhaps anyone else—the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane. He said that we are in danger of losing the claim to be seen as an effective second Chamber unless we take some action.
Clearly, throughout the House, Members of all parties and across Benches—two of the five Liberal Democrat speakers were warmly in support of the Motion—recognise that size is an impediment to enhancing our reputation and the understanding of our role, and that we have not got an enormous amount of time. We need in the months ahead not a publicly announced but a privately practised self-denying ordinance on the part of the Prime Minister so that we do not see another procession coming to the Box to take the oath. Everyone who has entered this House since I came here has been made as welcome as I was—and that is our duty always. But if we overload the Benches we create problems for everyone. That has come across time and again in the speeches we heard today.
We are fortunate in having a Lord Speaker who, the moment he took office, made his own concerns publicly plain. We welcome that. We have a Leader of the House, supported by a shadow Leader of the House, who recognises the importance of these issues. I hope that this will prove not just to have been a fairly long pre-Christmas day but the beginning of a campaign that will result, in the course of the next year or so, in concrete and positive steps being taken.
We must show that we have the collective will to take the initiative here. We do not want to have a solution imposed upon us. We do not want a House in which so many of us take great pride to be in any way endangered. I have great confidence in what the Leader of the House has said. In conclusion, I thank everyone who has taken part in a very constructive debate—and it is remarkable that we have got through 61 speeches and it is still only a quarter past nine.
Motion to Resolve (Continued)
House adjourned at 9.15 pm.