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House of Lords: Appointments

Volume 818: debated on Monday 24 January 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the balance in the House of Lords between members taking the Government whip and members taking the whip of the Official Opposition as a factor when considering future recommendations for appointments to the House.

My Lords, the Prime Minister makes nominations in response to the needs of the House for expert and specialist knowledge and experience and to maintain its political balance. This ensures that the Lords continues to fulfil its role in scrutinising and revising legislation while respecting the primacy of the Commons and the conventions between the two Houses.

Can the Minister confirm that, when Labour left office in 2010, the number of Labour Peers exceeded the Tory Opposition by 26 and that, under this Government, the number of Tory Peers exceeds the Labour Opposition by 89? Can he also confirm that Tory Peers now constitute a third of the Members of this House and 50% of those taking the party whip—far higher than in any recent Administration? Is the scale of Tory appointments in recent years not at best a disregard of normal conventions and at worst a clear abuse of prime ministerial power?

No, my Lords, I do not agree with that. Obviously, it depends what base you take for your statistics. The noble Lord opposite referred to the political House, which is now 32.1% Labour; the Labour vote share at the last general election was 32.1%.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell me whether the Prime Minister has read, marked, learned and inwardly digested the Burns report, which has been twice endorsed by your Lordships’ House and points a sensible way forward?

My Lords, I cannot comment on the reading matter of the Prime Minister. However, I have told the House that neither his predecessor nor the current Prime Minister have committed themselves to the specific proposals on the size of the House.

My Lords, pending any further constructive and radical reform of the House, can the Government not at least agree that the appointments body should become a statutory body and that a set of principles, comparable to the Dissolution principles we will discuss tomorrow, could be drawn up by the Government in co-operation with all other parties represented in the House of Commons to form the basis for a common understanding of the principles by which appointments to this House should be made?

My Lords, the House of Lords Appointments Commission performs an important role but, as I have told the House before, there are no current plans to alter its remit. Following the opening Question from the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, one thing I think we could agree on is that the Liberal Democrats are at least very well represented in this House—I do not use the term “overrepresented”, preferred by my noble friend behind me.

My Lords, the Minister said that neither this Prime Minister nor his predecessors had committed themselves to implementing the Burns report. That, of course, is factually accurate, but what the right honourable Member Theresa May did do was exercise discretion in the number of appointments that she made to take forward what was then an approved government policy of reducing numbers in this House. Do we not need to get back to that situation?

My Lords, the House today is much smaller than when I first came to work in it in 1997. I think your Lordships’ House works well and should perhaps agonise a little less on these matters. So far as these matters are concerned, another factor is the number of defeats inflicted on the Government. Frankly, they have not been in short supply lately, which does not suggest that there is a great imbalance.

My Lords, another startling statistic for the House is that the average age of Labour Peers is now 74 years and three months while that of Conservative Peers is 68 years and six months. So, actuarially, the numbers gap will increase over time. When this is coupled with the Prime Minister’s ignoring of the Burns report recommendations and allegedly selling Peerages and blocking my noble friend’s Bill, does this mean that the Prime Minister is now trying to ensure, as in the past, an overall majority for the Conservative Party?

My Lords, the allegation that the Prime Minister is selling Peerages is a disgrace and should not be made in this House. So far as his broad point is concerned, it is true and fair to say that all Benches in this House need to be considered and that the refresh of the House should go on. My right honourable friend—in addition to a number of distinguished former Labour MPs whom he has sent here—has appointed 11 new Labour Peers since 2019. That is as many as were sent here by Gordon Brown.

My Lords, does my noble friend not recall that, back in 1999, the then Labour Government removed about 600 Conservative supporters in a single Bill on a single day? A one-clause Bill to repeal that Bill would solve the Chief Whip’s problems.

My Lords, I return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about the Burns report. When the Lord Speaker’s committee on the size of the House reported on 31 October 2017, it made some judgments on what the relative size of the political parties would be in 2022. It suggested that the Official Opposition Benches should have about 166 Peers as the number in the House reduced, while the Conservative Benches would have around 210. Today, we see the Labour Benches at 167—roughly right—but the Conservative Benches are 47 Peers higher than anticipated in the normal reduction of the House, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Burns. That might not have been evident in Monday evening’s votes, perhaps because the Official Opposition are punching above their weight and a number of Conservative Peers just went home. However, is it not the case that the Burns report was accepted by all parties in your Lordships’ House as being a way forward? Is this not another example of the Government thinking that the rules apply to other people but not themselves?

No, my Lords, I do not agree with the noble Baroness opposite. I note that the Labour leader has said that he wants

“a democratic second chamber representing the nations and regions of the UK.”

I am sure that that gets fervent support on the Benches opposite. I repeat the point that I made: there is a factor in the way that this House operates. The Government have suffered 164 defeats in this House in two years—well over twice as many as were inflicted on Gordon Brown’s whole Government and more than in the first five years of Sir Tony Blair’s Government.

My Lords, in view of the climate emergency and the huge problems facing the world, in which Greens are extremely well versed, will the Minister please suggest to the Prime Minister that in his resignation honours he could perhaps put a few Greens into your Lordships’ House ?

My Lords, I think the Greens are very capable of making their voice heard in your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, the Minister has twice referred to the number of defeats. There is no point in having a second Chamber if we always agree with the first Chamber. The whole point is that we have different views here. We ask the other House to think again. But sort of threatening the numbers because we defeat something that the Government have done and ask them to think again is surely not the right way to consider the role of this House.

My Lords, I made no such threat—I do not threaten your Lordships’ House. I am merely drawing your Lordships’ attention to some empirical facts: 14 defeats in one night were more than in the whole of the last Session of the Gordon Brown Government.

My Lords, is that not perhaps a reflection of the quality of the legislation that the Government are bringing before this House? Could the noble Lord expand on his comment about the desirability of achieving “political balance” in this House and define for us what he means by that?

My Lords, this Government bring forward legislation of a quality that seems to please the other place rather more than your Lordships—that I confess. On an overall balance, I have said that the refreshing of the House needs to take into account the interests of all sides of the House.

My Lords, when David Cameron was Prime Minister and votes were not going his way, he elected to abolish the House of Lords. What has changed since then?

Well, I am not aware of that, my Lords. To my knowledge, your Lordships’ House has been abolished only once: in 1649—and I am pleased to say that it was revived in 1660.