My Lords, some years ago a survey was carried out on what people thought were the most important factors in determining the legitimacy of the House of Lords. Ranked in order of those factors that respondents deemed very important, the one that came third was having Members who are experts in their field; second was the House considering legislation carefully; and the one that came top was trust in the appointments process. More than three-quarters of those surveyed thought it very important; when combined with those who thought it was fairly important, the figure rose to 95%.
We tend to stress what we do collectively—in effect, the outputs of the House. Fulfilling key functions such as detailed legislative scrutiny complements the work of the other place and adds value to the political process. What the House does is important for the health of our political system. But however important that work, it is not headline-grabbing. People tend to judge legislative chambers in terms of the activities of the individual Members rather than the work of the institution. A Member caught in a scandal gets headlines; achieving amendments to government Bills does not. Those who subscribe to the House’s daily news report will be only too aware that the House does not get a good press.
It was apparent from the evidence submitted to the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords in 2000 that those who know most about the work of the House of Lords tend to be the most supportive of it. The problem is that very few people know about the detailed work of the House as a revising and scrutinising body. The media focus on the individuals who form it and, key to today’s debate, the process by which they join the House.
Recent Prime Ministers have been rather profligate in making nominations for peerages. Just after the enactment of the House of Lords Act 1999, we were approximately the same size in membership as the House of Commons. We now exceed membership of the other place by a three-figure number. We have discussed, and agreed without dissent, that we are too large. The process of nomination is also a matter of contention, the media variously criticising those whose names have been put forward. I am concerned today not with particular cases but with the problems associated with the process. My key concern is achieving an appointments process that merits the trust of the people, and the Bill is designed to contribute to achieving that.
The monarch creates peerages on the recommendation of his principal adviser, the Prime Minister. There are no formal constraints on who the Prime Minister can nominate nor on the number of names that can be submitted. The Prime Minister is advised now, and has been for just over 20 years, by the House of Lords Appointments Commission, a non-departmental public body. The commission vets names submitted by the Prime Minister and can put forward recommendations for non-party-political peerages. Whereas there is no limit on prime ministerial nominations, the commission is limited—I would say too limited—in the number that it can put forward. The commission does a very worthwhile job, and I pay tribute to it for the work that it does, but it is limited, not least in its scrutiny. It can assess nominations only on grounds of propriety, not suitability. It is also the creature of the Prime Minister. A determined Prime Minister can not only ignore its advice but, if he or she chooses, disband it.
The Bill has several purposes, all of which are designed to enhance trust in the appointments process. There are five key features. First, it protects the Appointments Commission and its independence by putting it on a statutory basis and providing that members, including the chair, are nominated jointly by the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker. Members will serve non-renewable terms and be removable only by an address by both Houses. At least four must be independent, and there is a requirement for there to be a political balance in respect of the other members. The proposal to put the commission on a statutory basis is not new: it was made by the Wakeham commission, the last Labour Government and the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill. It is also a long-standing aim of the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber.
Secondly, the Bill ensures that the Prime Minister does not submit a name to the King until such time as the advice of the commission has been received. Ultimately, the Prime Minister may not accept the advice of the commission, but it is up to the commission as to when, and if, it submits its advice. Furthermore, the Prime Minister has a statutory obligation, which I will detail shortly, to furnish the commission with information that it requires before proffering its advice.
Thirdly, it imposes an obligation on the Prime Minister to “have regard” to three principles that are widely supported in this House. The first is that at least 20% of the membership should be independent of any political party—in other words, Cross-Bench Peers. The second is that no one party should have an absolute majority of seats in the House. The third is that the membership of the House of Lords should be no larger than that of the House of Commons. These are included in order to protect core features of the House that enable it to fulfil its functions effectively.
The first two principles help to ensure that Ministers take the House seriously and engage with it. I previously distinguished the culture of the two Houses: the House of Commons is characterised by a culture of assertion and the House of Lords by a culture of justification. Ministers must listen and engage to carry the House. Perhaps the most important stage of the legislative process is the informal one of discussion between Committee and Report. A Government secure in the knowledge that they had a majority in the House would sweep away those attributes.
The other principle, that the House should be no larger than the Commons, addresses size and is intended to move us in the direction of reducing numbers. It does not prevent the Prime Minister making new nominations, but it is designed to induce some reduction. So adopting a two-out, one-in approach, as advocated by the Burns committee, would be entirely in order. A Prime Minister could justifiably claim to be working towards reducing the size of the House through adopting such an approach.
The fourth key feature of the Bill is that it addresses quality, enabling the commission to advise on suitability and stipulating the criteria that it must adopt in considering nominations. The principal criteria are specified in Clause 7(2): namely that a nominee must be someone of “conspicuous merit” and have
“a willingness and capacity to contribute to the work of the House”.
The commission may propose additional criteria, subject to parliamentary approval, and in so doing must have regard to the diversity of the population of the United Kingdom. The Bill empowers the commission to publish guidelines explaining how it will interpret the specified criteria.
The fifth key feature is transparency. When names are submitted to the commission by the Prime Minister acting as party leader, or on behalf of other party leaders, the leader responsible for each nomination must inform the commission of the procedure and criteria adopted by the party for the purposes of selecting the name for submission. Leaders must also supply such other information as the commission may request. Where the Prime Minister makes a nomination as Prime Minister and not as party leader, he or she must supply such information as may be requested by the commission. I attach particular importance to this feature in terms of enhancing public trust.
Clause 9 will impose valuable discipline on party leaders, who will need not just to submit names but to justify the criteria for putting them forward. They will know that the information they supply may not be judged sufficient and, if necessary, they may have to supply further information. The process will no longer be opaque.
Those are the key features, and they are embodied in a short Bill. Excluding Part 3, with supplementary provisions, there are nine substantive clauses. The Bill is short, but I believe that it is key to helping enhance the reputation of the House and helping it fulfil its essential functions.
Good government needs an effective Parliament. A Parliament enjoying the confidence of the public underpins the legitimacy of government. A confident Government should have no problem with embracing the provisions of the Bill. A YouGov survey for the UCL Constitution Unit, carried out just under two months ago, found that only 6% of respondents supported the existing system of nominating Peers, and a majority supported an independent body appointing new Members. Thus the public support going much further than what is proposed in the Bill. The Bill is modest, and it is in the interests of the Government to accept it, rather than wait until they are forced to accept something more radical. I beg to move.
It is a great pleasure, as it always is, to follow the noble Lord, Lord Norton. I commend him for bringing forward this Private Member’s Bill, which I am sure every Member of this House will support today. I will try to be incredibly brief because there are so many speakers and further legislative measures being brought forward today.
Other Members will touch on balance within the House. Many Members here will have been present yesterday and on Wednesday at discussions relating to the absurdity of deferred peerages and allowing Members of the House of Commons to be bribed—that is what it is—by the promise of something in future, never mind the constitutional outrage that this would be, damaging as it is to the relationship of the legislature and the monarchy.
I will concentrate on why individuals might want to trash the reputation of and respect for this House. There will be those—we used to call them revolutionary communists, but, as we now have them in this House, we might find another name for them—who would want to abolish the House, or even a second Chamber altogether. Then there are those who sincerely believe that the only form of democracy involves electing another set of people to counterweigh the set of people already elected in the first Chamber, doing so according to list systems—that is inevitable—which would be drawn up by the political parties to give preference to those who are prepared to play the game within the political parties. We should be in no doubt that this is not about the electorate making choices; this is about the political parties making choices on a list system, either regionally or nationally.
The third group, which I find absolutely astonishing, is those I will call the provisional wing of the Conservative Party, which I can only presume is a set of people who want to intimidate the second Chamber into acquiescence. As the noble Lord, Lord Norton, has spelled out, they do not understand the function of this House—that it works without undermining the elected Chamber, according to our constitution, by ensuring that voices are heard, debates take place and there is proper legislative scrutiny.
However, I am not challenging those who have been quite rightly elected on the system we have, and in which I believe very strongly: the single member constituency, whereby people are responsible for a defined geographic area, and to a group of constituents.
I will be brief in appealing to every Member opposite—I know they agree with me—to try to influence their own party. You could understand it if we were discussing the provisional wing of my party between 2015 and 2020, but the name of the Conservative Party gives away its intention: to conserve. So, somehow, we must persuade those of genuine good will that trashing the constitution and undermining the reputation of and respect for this House will not achieve anything except a diminution in the understanding of how our democracy works and the respect for the democratic process more broadly. That is incredibly dangerous, which is why we should support this Bill.
My Lords, I am also delighted to support the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Norton. It proposes some very important changes to how appointments are made. It would strengthen procedures and give confidence to the public, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, has mentioned.
I will comment on a few of the aspects which touch on the work of the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the Size of the House, which I chair. I take this opportunity to suggest how we could build on the useful reforms proposed in this Bill to achieve further changes in due course. The Bill proposes a limit on the size of the House, that it be no greater than the membership of the Commons. This is a crucial first step and has been a key part of the proposals of the Lord Speaker’s committee. The House of Lords is exceptional among legislative chambers in having no limit on its size and no constraint on the numbers appointed. A limit on its size would have many benefits, some of which I will mention.
Of course, it also raises other issues. First, this Bill says nothing about the transition to a level consistent with the House of Commons, and, as we know, this first step seems to be very troublesome despite the widespread support from Members of this House. Secondly, once the membership of the House has been reduced to the size of the Commons, the number of appointments cannot exceed the number of leavers. As it happens, over the past 10 years or so the numbers have stabilised—albeit at a much higher level than the Commons—with both leavers and appointments averaging around 25 a year. In no small way, this has been due to the introduction of retirements in 2014.
As the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, also mentioned, a limit on the size of the House could rightly focus more attention on the political balance of appointments. Over the past 40 years, appointments have been made disproportionately to the party in government, while the Official Opposition have suffered in terms of refreshment. This is not addressed in the Bill, which simply says that
“no one party may have an absolute majority”.
This is not a particularly strong test. I understand the reason for driving the political imbalance of appointments, but, over time, this leads to successive leap-frogging when there is a change of government. Can anybody be in any doubt about the consequences for the size of this House if there is a change of government at the next election, unless a significant number of current Members retire?
To avoid this leap-frogging, the Lord Speaker’s committee proposed that the flow of new appointments should reflect the results of the most recent general election, taking account of both the share of votes and the share of seats. However, it also follows that, if we were to share appointments in this way, it would probably be necessary to increase the turnover of Members. The turnover of 25 a year does not give the scope that would be needed to refresh the House and provide the vacancies necessary to create room for some change in the political balance over time to reflect election results. The committee took the view that, with a limit on the size of the House, a turnover could be achieved most effectively if we were to have appointments with fixed-term lengths. An age limit, which is often proposed, would not deliver a steady flow of retirements and would affect the party groups rather differently. With a House of 600 Members, our calculations suggested, as noble Lords know, that terms of between 15 and 20 years would be required if we want to see the 30 to 40 retirements each year to provide scope for that change. This challenging arithmetic follows, if we wish to see a continuing adjustment of party strength to reflect the results of general elections.
Finally, I strongly support the suggestion that at least 20% of the House should be formed by people who are independent of any registered political party. Additionally, 20% of any appointments over the course of a Parliament should also be required to be independent. Since 2010, the proportion of appointments to the Cross Benches has been significantly below this figure. The Cross-Bench and non-aligned numbers have been inflated by people escaping from the party to which they were first appointed, and who are unlikely to pass the test of independence as set out in this Bill.
In summary, I support the Bill; however, in time, I hope it will be possible to go further, along the lines I have outlined.
My Lords, there is much of merit in my noble friend Lord Norton’s Bill, and it is hard to disagree with some of its common-sense suggestions for raising standards. However, I cannot support more power being given to an unelected body, as a matter of principle, as a solution to the problem it seeks to address. The main problem we wrestle with in this House is our legitimacy as an unelected body. The central criticism of the existing regime for appointments from the Bill’s proponents is that recent and successive Prime Ministers are undermining the House’s legitimacy, as an unelected House, by their approach to appointments and, in some cases, the people they choose to appoint. Indeed, the Constitution Unit argues, in the briefing it circulated ahead of this debate, that successive Prime Ministers are “deliberately” bringing the House “into disrepute” through their nominations.
I am certainly not here to defend any Prime Minister’s choices or the number of appointments they have made, but I champion the fact that a Prime Minister—or an Opposition leader—can be held to account by the electorate for their choices. It is clear that some appointments—although, I emphasise, very few—by recent Prime Ministers and today’s Labour Party leader deserve critical comment, and some people will question their respective judgments in making those appointments. If that legitimate criticism informs voters’ views of these party leaders, they can at least exercise their view via the ballot box. However, the same is not true for members of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, however noble and distinguished they may be as public servants.
I am proud to be a Member of your Lordships’ House and to sit in this Chamber among many talented, diligent and highly respected colleagues on all sides. In my view, our first priority in maintaining the legitimacy of the House of Lords must be our own conduct.
I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Norton and other noble Lords participating in this debate who have done much over the last 10 years to strengthen our disciplinary and sanctions regime. The power to expel, brought about in the 2015 Act, was a massive step forward—but there are still loopholes. There remain among us Members who have served prison sentences for more than a year for committing serious crimes predating that legislation. Just because we could not legislate retrospectively does not mean that we should ignore that fact. Indeed, we also introduced the facility for Peers to retire yet, when I sought it, I could not get cross-party agreement prior to the 2015 general election to ask these convicted Members to avail themselves of this facility before the start of a new Parliament.
Similarly, we also have yet to close the loophole of a Peer bringing the whole House into disrepute if we ignore any serious act of misconduct that shows contempt for the people we serve. That could be dealt with by amending our own code, which I also sought to do as Leader, but was thwarted at the final hurdle.
More routinely, there is the question of how we all conduct ourselves when scrutinising legislation. I remain most sincerely of the view that every piece of legislation is improved by the scrutiny that it receives from this House—but too often lately we approach our work with a distaste for what the legislation is seeking to achieve because it is in response to the demands of an electorate that noble Lords seem to think do not understand or know as much as we do.
Before we seek to constrain any Prime Minister, we need to be more self-aware and close any remaining loopholes that exist in our own conduct regime. Ultimately, we should not forget that the underlying problem of this House when it comes to its composition is a democratic deficit. That is why there is no satisfactory technocratic answer. There is only one real solution. Until or unless we become at least mainly elected, directly or indirectly, our main priority should be our own conduct, making sure that we are equipped and prepared to act against each other if we fail, in the way the electorate would want while they remain unable to.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Norton, warmly for introducing the Bill. I thank, too, the Lord Speaker for reminding Downing Street, on behalf of your Lordships’ House, that it would be an abuse of the spirit of the constitution if the departed Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, were again to flood the House with new creations, possibly ignoring objections to individual nominations by the House of Lords Appointments Commission—a fortiori, outgoing Prime Minister Liz Truss. I also thank the members of the existing Appointments Commission for their determination to maintain propriety in the appointments process.
This Bill is one more measure in a programme of incremental reform of the House of Lords, which has been discussed by many of us across the House over the years and has extensive support. Less than revolutionary though the Bill may be, the enigmatic provisions of Clause 7(3), on “additional criteria”, could point the way to significant and beneficial change. I believe strongly in an appointed House. Were we to have an elected second Chamber, the primacy of the House of Commons would be undermined, and the democratic accountability of the Executive muddied. The question remains, however, of how to achieve recognition by the public of the legitimacy of an appointed House.
The existing Appointments Commission has no statutory basis and is the creature of prime ministerial patronage. The authority that it has derives only from the wisdom and steadfastness of its members. It has minimal influence on the appointment of nominees put forward by party leaders. Rationing by Downing Street has significantly reduced its scope to put forward new Cross-Bench Peers. The size of the House has grown inordinately, with mass appointments of political Peers. Whatever the individual merits of new colleagues, the scale and partisanship of appointments has damaged both the reputation and the functioning of the Lords.
If a statutory appointments commission, an SAC, were to be created, it could do much to address the problem of legitimacy and provide over time a more rationally constituted and respected second Chamber. The way to this is indicated in Clause 7(3), which permits the SAC to propose additional criteria for appointments, and in Clause 7(4), which requires that in so doing it must have regard to the diversity of the UK population. It is essential that, as the Bill provides, such criteria are approved by both Houses of Parliament. My hope is that the SAC, in proposing further criteria, would be bold in its proposals. It should invite Parliament to task it to construct a second Chamber, the composition of which provides not only gender balance but a due representation of minorities, age groups and the regions and nations, as well as a spread of occupational and cultural backgrounds. A method should be determined for addressing the difficult issue of how to establish an appropriate balance of the parties in the House of Lords, within the overall requirement of this legislation that no one party may have an absolute majority. An appointed Chamber thus reconstituted, on a basis explicitly approved by the House of Commons, would have legitimacy while being no threat to the democratically elected House.
This reform may be difficult to reconcile with unfettered discretion for party leaders to appoint to the Lords whoever they and their parties wish. That freedom should be subordinated, in the interests of parliamentary democracy, to an overriding duty for the SAC to achieve a suitable balance of skills, backgrounds and party allegiance. It should be accepted, therefore, that the SAC will have a greater power than HOLAC to say no.
Then there is the question of the timescale of the transition, which the Bill does not address. The challenges we face are pressing, and there are other schemes afoot for replacing this House with an institution altogether different. If we are to preserve an appointed House, reform of it had better not be as glacial as Lords reform usually is. We should start by approving this Bill.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Norton, in his excellent Bill and introduction made reference to a number of surveys of public opinion. The one that struck me most was the fact that 6% of population apparently think that the process of selection is actually acceptable at the moment. I wondered where the 6% are—and then came to the conclusion that they are probably the people who think that they might get nominated under the current system.
To be blunt, the system that we have of nominations at the moment is utterly unacceptable to anybody. I disagree with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell—although I recognise that her argument is valid—because this Bill does not take away from the Prime Minister the power to put names forward. There are any number of examples of unelected bodies right across the country and government departments which recommend, observe, assess and the like. Therefore, why should it not be appropriate that in these circumstances we should set acceptable criteria—and I do say “acceptable” criteria, not the criteria we have at the moment—for HOLAC in its day-to-day operation.
I feel sorry for the members of HOLAC, who try to do an incredibly difficult job in very difficult circumstances and do it well. I believe that we should give them more power, as drawn by this Bill, and accept that that is one of a number of changes that we need to make to continue to operate as a House of Lords that is an unelected Chamber. I support the Bill.
My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, for the very thoughtful way in which he introduced his Private Member’s Bill and declare my interest as a former chairman of the House of Lords Appointments Commission between 2013 and 2018 and as the current chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission, which is a statutory body. It has already been recognised by many noble Lords in the debate that there is growing anxiety about appointments to your Lordships’ House, both about the number of appointments being made and the nature of those appointments.
HOLAC, as we have heard, is an advisory body to the Prime Minister but makes a determination of nominations it receives, either from the public or from the political party leaders in the case of political nominations, in two ways: through the assessment of individual propriety; and through a determination of suitability. Propriety tends to be the easier of the two, because it is more objective. The determination of suitability is more subjective. In the case of independent Cross-Bench Peer nominations, that determination of suitability is made using publicly published criteria, available on the commission’s website, used at the time both of sifting nominations and then, for those candidates who are called for interview, through the interview process. For nominations received for political Peers, that determination of suitability is not made by a single individual or body but by the individual political party leaders, and there is an inconsistency in the way the determination of suitability has been made.
My commission suggested to Prime Ministers and party leaders that the assessment of suitability should be made using the criteria that HOLAC uses for the determination of suitability of Cross-Bench nominations. The current commission has suggested that the application of the Nolan principles and their assessment be the basis for determination of suitability. If no consensus can be achieved on that, it is only right to consider the provisions in this Bill for the establishment of a statutory commission that will be able then to apply the criteria and the determination of suitability consistently across all nominations for appointment to your Lordships’ House, be it those received by the general public or those received by political party leaders, and put to the Prime Minister, who ultimately has the responsibility to advise the sovereign on these matters.
However, I think that in Committee we must consider a particular problem with putting the House of Lords Appointments Commission on a statutory basis; that is, the potential risk that decisions that HOLAC makes will then be subject to judicial review. There is an increased risk that they become justiciable—this is in fact our experience at the Judicial Appointments Commission. That would potentially leave the House of Lords Appointments Commission in a position where nominations are made and, indeed, accepted, and then challenged by judicial review. If that process turned out to be successful, we would have a very difficult situation where someone might have already been appointed and that appointment is found wanting through our legal system.
Beyond that, we would have a system where the judiciary became potentially much more deeply involved in appointments to your Lordships’ House. That would run contrary to the principle that has been established where we have a separation of powers, and it could become a regular matter that judges had a role in appointments to your Lordships’ House. That is not to say that these matters cannot be addressed in some way in Committee, but they are important issues that need to be addressed because, ultimately, the current appointments process is doing the best that it can protect the reputation of your Lordships’ House and, in so doing, protect the reputation of Parliament more generally. Of course, in providing advice to a Prime Minister, it also helps to protect the Prime Minister himself or herself and, indeed, protect the sovereign, who is ultimately responsible for accepting and making appointments to your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, there have been a number of occasions in recent years when this House has debated its make-up, its processes of nomination and its role. The test of any Bill to reform aspects of the House of Lords is surely whether it will enhance the core functions of this House; namely, to revise, to scrutinise and to ensure that the membership retains significant independence and expertise. A further useful test is whether the proposed changes are simply a response to some current problems or whether they have the potential to enhance the work of the Lords in the long term. It seems to me that, unless we are going to go for something very radical and different, this Bill meets these tests. It is modest in its proposals but I believe it is worthy of support none the less. It comes in a long line of incremental but sensible and pragmatic changes to Lords procedure and practice. I suggest that the history of Lords reform shows that incremental change tends to be the most successful.
As your Lordships will all be aware, this year marks the 175th anniversary of the Bishoprics Act—I gather that little else has been discussed in the tea rooms and bars recently. That Act for the first time placed limitations on the royal prerogative to issue Writs of Summons to attend the House, by limiting to 26 the number of Church of England Bishops who could sit as Lords Spiritual. Back then, like now, any reform brought heated debate, and although the Act passed, a Motion was carried in the House that it set
“a dangerous precedent … contrary to the privileges of the Lords Temporal as well as Spiritual.”—[Official Report, 22/6/1847; col. 797.]
I think I can announce to the House that after a careful 175-year trial period, the principle of upper caps is one we on these Benches can get behind. Though the noble Lord’s Bill does not argue for a statutory cap, I certainly welcome the proposal that the Prime Minister ought to have regard to the commission’s advice on reducing numbers, and the aim of keeping the size of this House equal to or smaller than the elected Chamber.
The Bill also invites us to think whether membership of this House is primarily an honour or an occupation. Like many supporters of the Bill, I tend towards the latter, but I think in truth it is both and neither. Service in this House is best understood, if I dare say it, as a vocation. The more we move away from that, the harder it will be to sustain what is best about this place. I do not intend to go over the relationship of recent occupants of No. 10 with non-binding convention, except to say that we have lately seen a vivid example of what might happen to long-established norms if we rely on precedent.
The Bill seems to me to be a sensible way to go about reform, banking what is best about our current arrangements while moving us closer to firming up other norms that future Prime Ministers will find it hard to ignore. I hear the concerns of some about an unelected body curtailing prime ministerial powers, and of others that before long any commission may end up appointing in its own image, but it seems to me that the Bill skilfully navigates these concerns in such a way as to limit harms. I especially welcome the stipulation in Clause 7 that
“the Commission must have regard to the diversity of the United Kingdom”
when setting future criteria for non-political nominations, and I want to see that recognised in the area of religion as well as in many other areas. I look forward to hearing your Lordships’ contributions and hope we might be able to back the Bill as it makes its way through its various stages in this House.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norton, on bringing forward this Bill and his unstinting work on this subject over not years but decades. To follow the right reverent Prelate, I declare that I am somewhat on the provisional wing of the Cross Benches on this subject, in that while I will come back to the Bill, I believe that it is a first step, and that ultimately we ought to regard membership of the House as a legislative responsibility, not as an honour to be bestowed as part of the honours system. I believe that that separation would take away many of the problems that this Bill reflects, in terms of the wish of Prime Ministers or party leaders to recognise service, which is not reflected in the ability or willingness of those who are nominated to take on the legislative responsibilities in this House.
To return to the Bill itself, as I say, I very much support it. Reference has been made to the research that has been done, which echoes my own experience. Over 25 years in this House, I have spoken to many audiences about the work of the House of Lords. Very seldom do you hear criticism of the work that we do, in terms of legislative scrutiny, committees and holding government to account on policy. However, that respect for our work is undermined by a deep concern about the size of the House and the method by which individuals find themselves here. That taints the reputation of many people who come into this House on a list—the majority of whom are absolutely upstanding and appropriate nominations—where there are real doubts about one or two names. I will not go into whether recent appointments and attitudes towards appointments have been merely cavalier or are in fact more sinister; I always remember:
“Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad”.
Nevertheless, the legitimacy of what we do, particularly the way in which we hold the Executive to account, is undermined when the whole institution is undermined.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, made a valiant attempt to suggest that the Prime Minister was accountable for appointments that he made. I stood in three general elections, and I do not think I ever heard the words “House of Lords” on the doorstep. I think the number of people whose vote at a general election would be affected by the conduct of the Prime Minister in making appointments to the House of Lords is probably limited to Members of the House of Lords—and we do not have a vote. So, I suspect that that is not the way forward.
In Committee, I would like us to look at the issue of appointments after a general election, because I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Burns, that we need a proportionality formula, not just a number. That is a Committee point, but in general I absolutely support the Bill. My contribution echoes many that have gone before and pre-empts many others that will come after, but I do not think that matters. For once, it is important that we are all saying the same thing—or most of us are—because we need the leaders of all the parties to take this seriously, and we need to make progress.
My Lords, on Remembrance Sunday last week, I sat in the chapel at Bedford School to pay my respects to the hundreds of young men who gave their lives in two world wars. I was a proud grandfather to see my own granddaughter, as head of the Army CCF joint unit for the two Bedford schools, lay the wreath. It was not long before we sang the familiar hymn, “I Vow to Thee My Country”. It is a very moving hymn, and it was a very appropriate one then—and so it is today for Parliament. We are here to give our service and to do our duty to our country. This must not be abused by anyone, in any way.
Being nominated to the House of Lords used to be a recognition of a long and distinguished service—my emphasis is on “long”—in the House of Commons, in industry, commerce and trade unions, or in any walk of life. It is not, and should not be, bestowed lightly or just as a thank you for a couple of years’ work for any Prime Minister. It should not be bestowed at the whim of any Prime Minister, however long they may have served.
Returning to that service of dedication, the key words for me are honour, commitment and a spirit of unity. We must remember that we are a revising Chamber, drawing on decades of varying experience across all dimensions of the political make-up. We need men and women with experience of life, who are prepared to question, not afraid to challenge and always seeking to improve legislation. In my judgment, after nearly 50 years in Parliament, there is no place in a modern age for a placement due to birth, as happens with hereditary Peers. Equally, there is no point in having appointees who do not attend or take part; as far as I remember, knighthoods provide that role. I personally welcome all people from all walks of life. I have worked and lived in five countries, and that is where some of my experience has come from.
For me, we must return to the road of reform started in January 2000 when the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords recommended that the House of Lords Appointments Commission should be established on a statutory basis. I have read again the speeches from that time—I was sitting there then—and I quote briefly the pleas of Viscount Cranborne, who said that
“it is the function of Parliament to be the guardian of our liberties by holding the government continuously to account.”
He went on to say that he
“had to watch Parliament weaken progressively, so that it no longer has the strength to command the awe and respect the role demands of it.”
“We complain that the Prime Minister ignores Parliament—and indeed he does. We complain that the press ignore Parliament—and indeed they do. Although we are right to complain, they are right as well. Because of Parliament's weakened position, they can safely ignore us. We no longer have the capacity to inspire enough fear to command their attention.”—[Official Report, 30/3/1999; cols. 219-20.]
Matters have moved on, with the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life stating that HOLAC—the body we have today—is among the non-statutory regulators in government that
“have a limited or low degree of independence”
“falls below what is necessary to ensure effective regulation and maintain public credibility.”
The committee concluded:
“Public disquiet on the propriety of appointments to the House of Lords remains a regular feature of our politics”.
I believe that this Bill is a very good starting point. It has my wholehearted support and I shall do all I can to ensure that it goes on to the statute book.
My Lords, as we have heard, incremental changes fare far better than radical reform. Those who believe that the Lords is still mired in the 19th century, if not earlier, now acknowledge evidence of modernisation. We have retirement clauses, standards and monitoring of those standards, and topical Select Committees. On the whole, Peers believe themselves to be working Peers in a 21st-century legislative Chamber, not members of a club. We have the independent Appointments Commission which, in an advisory role, assesses the suitability of prospective Peers and vets the Cross-Benchers.
These incremental changes need protection. They are not set in stone and can be bent to an existing, or future, prevailing political will. The Bill aims to extend and entrench in law the role and function of HOLAC. It simply asks that HOLAC, which does an unenviable job well and with scarce resources, has the right to decree that candidates who come before it must meet the criteria of conspicuous merit and a willingness to work on scrutiny and revision of legislation, and show evidence of probity, more narrowly defined than at present. Decisions would be binding on the Prime Minister of the day.
Undoubtedly, if enacted, the Bill would encroach on the existing unfettered power of the Prime Minister. However, that would in fact occur only very rarely. The commission has let it be known that it is in only a small handful of cases that there has been any question of suitability. However, these few cases are important because they—perhaps disproportionately—provoke much adverse media comment and thus affect the public perception of the House of Lords. A Prime Minister who appoints dubious characters or rides roughshod over HOLAC advice dishonours the House of Lords. A legislative chamber subject to ridicule by the media is easier to dismiss whether by the public or the Government. At present, the Prime Minister can control and undermine the House of Lords simultaneously.
Over the last 20 years and more, the culture within and without Parliament has changed, which argues in favour of a review of the HOLAC terms of reference and working practices. The original vetting criteria are narrow and do not take into account factors such as qualifications, suitability or availability. A review could include redefinition of what constitutes a “working Peer”, as well as a formula for addressing the number and balance of Members of the political and Cross-Bench groupings, possibly based on the proportion of votes cast in a general election.
Were HOLAC to become a statutory body, details of its members, methods of recruitment and working practices would be transparently set out in statute, allowing it to carry out its duties with confidence. The current chair of the commission, my noble friend Lord Bew, pointed out in his evidence to the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee that even if statutory status were to be achieved, it would not immediately enable HOLAC to transform the world into a “beautiful, pristine place”, but he conceded that this should not hinder incremental steps to strengthen it. I believe the majority of this House is in favour of this step, as is the wider public according to the most recent and reputable survey, carried out by the Constitution Unit. I support the Bill.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lady D’Souza in supporting this excellent Bill. As others have said, the changes are incremental, but they are ones we need. For me, as for most noble Lords, it is a huge honour to be a Member of this House. We take the position and our responsibilities very seriously. At the moment, the scrutiny that this House can provide is certainly required and occasionally we win a great victory—too rarely, but it is worth trying. The scrutiny we provide certainly improves Bills and the work that goes on in committees undoubtedly serves the country well. It is an honour to be able to take part in that.
Nevertheless, the route by which I got here was a strange one. I got back from a holiday in 2010 and my younger son said to me, “By the way, some posh-sounding bloke called. He sounded like the Prime Minister.” Of course, he did not take a message. Nothing happened, but then a month later I was at a party and my mobile phone rang, and it was some posh bloke who sounded like the Prime Minister; it was David Cameron. He wanted to know whether I would be interested in joining the House of Lords. It was not something that had ever occurred to me, but we talked a bit. One did not know whether such an invitation would ever come again, and besides, at that stage, David Cameron had a mission to heal the broken society and I was up for that, so I said yes. Then we got cut off, so my change in status was sealed with a text message, which finished, “LOL, Dave”. It is an unusual route. Things moved on and of course HOLAC had to look at whether I fitted the propriety distinction. I like to think that I did—I certainly got here.
What I am saying may very well sound like pulling up the drawbridge to prevent others coming in through a similar route. Having said that, I think my route may be quite rare; I was not on very familiar terms with said Prime Minister and neither had I been a donor, although it was useful to see the Sunday Times survey in 2021 which found that everybody who had given more than £3 million to the Conservative Party was honoured with a peerage—it is always useful to know the price. However, I think it highly unlikely that, having got through the propriety test, I would have got through the “conspicuous merit” requirements proposed in Clause 7(2)(a). There would have been people who were quite prepared to argue that a journalist who had been very rude about quite a lot of people, including some in this House, was probably not of sufficient merit to come in, so in a way I am very grateful for the limited powers that HOLAC had on that occasion.
However, I think we can all see that the time has come and things have to change, not least because only 6% of the country feel that the way people are appointed to this House is appropriate. Putting HOLAC on a different footing would be a massive change, even if it sounds small. Giving it extra areas to bear in mind and the power to recommend more candidates would be a good thing. The Bill would make it much harder, if not impossible, for a Prime Minister to simply ride roughshod over what the commission said and appoint to this House people whom the commission felt would not act as proper Members. Surely that is something that everybody in this House would support. I support the Bill.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth on introducing his Private Member’s Bill. I am afraid that I cannot support it as drafted and would be disappointed to see it pass in its current form. However, let me confirm that I support reform and wholly agree that it is totally unacceptable that people are introduced to this House and then frankly fail to serve it in a way that anyone would regard as reasonable, in terms of time or other contributions.
There is a problem at the moment, but it is not necessarily related to the size of the House. I discovered with the assistance of the Library, to which I am very grateful, that some 75 eligible Members have not spoken since December 2019 and 33 have not voted, with a core of 20 who have neither spoken nor voted in more than two years. This excludes those who are on leave of absence or disqualified, and of course the Lord Speaker. Figures I have obtained from the Library show that average participation in Divisions is only 42% of Members, with some consistency between participation and those taking a party Whip. It is as high as 65% for the Lib Dems, with the Conservatives at 56%. It goes down to 44% for Labour, with the Cross-Benchers achieving only 17% participation in Divisions in total. In arguing for more Cross-Benchers, one needs to understand the percentage of people attending on sitting days, which varies.
Perhaps the Bill goes to the heart of the misunderstanding of this House by so many, particularly those surveyed in polls. We are not meant to be full-time participants, nor were we ever intended to be. Unlike Commons Members, Peers are not full-time, salaried legislators. Only a portion of Peers attend on a full-time basis. One should perhaps focus on the number of Peers who attend and not just those eligible to sit. Restricting the number to the size of the Commons—now confirmed as 650, not 600—is to impose totally arbitrary limits on two very different Chambers with very different roles and duties. Yes, there are too many Peers who are effectively retired or too old to contribute properly, but the Bill does not address those points.
The Bill restricts the Prime Minister’s ability to appoint Peers with an effective size restriction, but it does not impose the same restraint on the commission, which could nominate unlimited numbers to the House, effectively restricting the Prime Minister’s capacity. Strangely, the Bill then excludes anyone from being nominated by the commission who has supported a party in the past two years. Why is that? Why is membership of a party an immediate block for someone whom the commission believes would otherwise be an excellent Member here?
Although I wholeheartedly approve of a mechanism to ensure that your Lordships’ House contains people who are committed to the House, I do not believe the Bill achieves that. All it requires is that nominees must show a “willingness and capacity” to contribute—as if anyone proposed would say, “I don’t have the willingness or capacity”. I would hope that Members do have other interests: we benefit from Members who are active elsewhere. That is not of itself an impediment. I am an employee of a financial services company, I chair a public company, I chair four charities, I am on the board of another five and I have served for 22 years as a senior treasurer of the party—so, under the Bill, I am sure I would be told that I do not have capacity, yet I have an 82% voting record. I did not get an LOL on my text.
I am also unhappy with the effective veto the commission would have over the PM’s choice—and, of course, nominees frequently come from opposition party leaders. There is one case which had been cited in the press which I happen to know more about than most and where, in my opinion, HOLAC was possibly ill-informed and possibly then gave an ill-judged view. I would feel very uncomfortable that a commission of unelected people, however eminent, could overrule the democratically elected Prime Minister of this country. Who are they to decide what is “conspicuous merit”? In principle, it is fine, but what does conspicuous merit mean? Then the Bill allows the commission itself to propose additional criteria without any approval from Parliament or government. This is a very dangerous open invitation to allow a private, secret, unelected group to determine who it thinks are the appropriate Members of this House, when clearly that should remain with our Prime Minister—and, of course, other political leaders.
As the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, eloquently said, we should bear in mind that this route opens the door to judicial reviews, dragging the courts into a decision. I welcome reform, but I do not believe the Bill addresses the real issues we face in this House.
My Lords, like others, I support the Bill and shall in a moment address some of the important points made by the noble Lord, Lord Leigh. The Bill is serious and practicable, and one of its many merits is that it does not try to do too much. It does not remove the prerogative of the sovereign to create Peers with a right to sit in this House. It does not remove the exclusive right of the Prime Minister of the day to advise the sovereign on the creation of such Peers. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, it does not stop the Prime Minister overruling the advice of the commission. It will not be the case that an unelected body has the power to make appointments to this House.
Enshrining the House of Lords Appointments Commission in statute was recommended as long ago as 2000 by the royal commission on the House of Lords under Lord Wakeham, on which I served—and it does seem a very long time ago. The Bill’s widening of the criteria which the commission can take into account to include qualifications for the job is widely supported—I think we would all agree that, on the basis of what she has done subsequently, the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, would have passed that test. Also, the requirement on the Prime Minister to have regard to maintaining the non-party element at not less than 20%, to ensuring that no political party has an overall majority and, crucially, that the membership of this House should be no greater than the House of Commons, are widely supported by outside commentators, and were also overwhelmingly endorsed by your Lordships in our debates on the Burns proposal.
So this is not a radical Bill. Many would say, and some have said, that it is not nearly radical enough. But because it is not radical, it seems to me realistic. Indeed, it could be said to be consistent with the practice that was in fact followed by Theresa May when she was Prime Minister. I believe that, provided efforts are not made to add more radical provisions to the Bill, it should pass this House easily, and I think it could also pass in the other place. But attention must be paid to the very important point made by the noble Lords, Lord Kakkar and Lord Leigh. None of us would want the courts to get involved in appointments to this House, and I do not believe the courts would want it. I am not generally in favour of ouster clauses, but this is an occasion when adding one to the Bill would be a sensible measure.
In September 2021, the noble Lord, Lord True—not then in the eminent position he is now—said that the Government had no plans to change HOLAC’s role or remit or to place it on a statutory footing. But I hope that that was then and this is now. We have a new Government. I doubt whether the new Prime Minister has had time to turn his mind to this matter, so I do not expect the Minister today to be able to give us the new Government’s definitive view; indeed, I hope that she does not. But I do hope that the noble Baroness, who is an old friend of mine, and the Leader of the House know that, whatever they may be required to say, what has been happening with appointments to the House of Lords is a discredit to the Government and a potential embarrassment to the new King. The Prime Minister has promised a Government of integrity, professionalism and transparency. I hope that, on our behalf, the new Leader will represent to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues that this modest Bill is a step towards reassuring the public that the Prime Minister means what he has said and that his Government would do well to give this Bill time to pass. It would do the Government credit if they did.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for introducing the Bill, for his long campaign to make this Chamber more effective and for something that is less well known, which is what he and a group of colleagues are doing at the moment: running a campaign to educate some of the newer Members of the other Chamber, in particular, in how we operate here and how we can work together rather better.
I am wearing three hats today in speaking. First, I am a member of the hereditary provisional wing of the Cross Benches. Secondly, I am an elected or excepted hereditary. You may argue that it is a pre-Great Reform Act sort of election, but I am none the less elected, and it means that I had the privilege of being elected where others failed to be elected. That gives me a sense of driving obligation, now that I have the privilege of being here, to participate. Thirdly, I spent more than 30 years as a professional head-hunter, recruiting people, many of whom were paid far too much, into very senior positions. They were certainly paid a lot more than we are.
Nominations to this Chamber have always been open to controversy. I am here because Lloyd George knew my great-great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather knew Lloyd George. My great-great-grandfather was a newspaper man. He edited the Liverpool Daily Post, the great Liberal north-west newspaper, for more than 50 years. The first time his name was put forward by Lloyd George, the King said no. The King, for some strange reason, had a slightly dim view of people whose names were put up who came from the newspaper sector—slight echoes of more recent scandals, I think.
Another relative of mine, my great grandfather, was Baldwin, the last Conservative Prime Minister to leave office at a time and manner of his own choosing, something perhaps for those Benches to reflect on. When he knew that he was coming here, being given an earldom, he said to a very old friend, partly in jest, that it was a huge irony to be going somewhere that he had sent so many people, devoutly hoping never to see any of them ever again.
Therein lies the rub. While my great-great grandfather might not have wished ever to see any of them ever again, we do want to see them. We want to see them here and being active. I asked an ex-Chief Whip from the governing party in another place whether he imagined that in any of the conversations with some of the noble Lords who have arrived here relatively recently, it was put to them that if they did accept, there might be a degree of obligation to participate. He said, “Absolutely not”.
The Library statistics indicate that we have had 91 new government life Peers between the 2015 election and the beginning of this Session. Over 40% of those new Members attend less than average. Of the 91, 25 vote less than average and 18 have not spoken at all in this Session. There may be very good reasons for that, but it does not look good. We need qualified, interested, useful Members of this House. The House of Commons is not a well-run legislative Chamber. The majority of its Members who are not on the payroll vote are not legislators. They are actively discouraged from being legislators, particularly when there is a large majority, as at present. We do most of the heavy lifting. As a headhunter, the idea of appointing somebody, in theory, to legislate, who then does virtually nothing, is anathema, perverse and disreputable.
Therefore, I warmly welcome and endorse the Bill. The Government need new scandals like they need a hole in the head. This Bill is a no-brainer.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Russell. I commend my noble friend Lord Norton and wholeheartedly support the Bill. I do not have the same background as the noble Lord, Lord Russell. My parents did not know Lloyd George. Neither of them was born in this country. They were both born in Europe during the rise of the Nazi party. I feel extremely privileged and proud to stand here today.
We are often too defensive about our legitimacy as an unelected Chamber. If we were an elected Chamber, our role would be critically, even terminally, diminished. If we feel unable to reject government legislation because of party direction, what is the point of the scrutiny? We do not have ultimate power to stop legislation. We can amend, recommend, and reconsider. Perhaps we must make a stronger public case for the importance of what we do.
However, given my background, I feel that the checks and balances provided by this Chamber, which would be enhanced and protected by this Bill, are really important. Indeed, several pieces of legislation have recently sought to gather unprecedented, untrammelled Henry VIII powers to a Prime Minister and an Executive who are asking Parliament to approve carte blanche for any measure to be enacted, however damaging it could be. It is only this House that has held such legislation up, once it has sailed through the elected Chamber with a massive majority and almost no scrutiny. The House of Lords has been a bulwark against the possible trend to dictatorship and is part of our vital constitutional checks and balances, protecting our parliamentary democracy.
It has become clear that giving unregulated and unlimited prime ministerial patronage power, to put his or her favoured people in the Lords, is proving problematic. Surely very few would disagree, especially when the Prime Minister can put as many people as he likes in this House, and ultimately force through legislation as has happened in the Commons.
The Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, giving the House of Lords Appointments Commission power to prevent this, is important, to protect the reputation of the House of Lords against any future Prime Minister who might, even deliberately, bring this House into disrepute or impose some extreme ideological control on this country’s legislation. With the global trends towards extremism and authoritarianism, we must guard against sliding down the slippery slope. Looking back with regret after the safeguards of our democracy have been dismantled will be too late.
Why would the Government not accept these sensible and modest proposals? For prime ministerial patronage, we already have an honours system, but if patronage of peerages is portrayed as an honour rather than as a public duty or a vital legislative role, the role we fulfil might continue to risk being confusing to the public. Therefore, I do support suggestions that one must think carefully about what resignation honours should entail. The Prime Minister has pledged to restore integrity and professionalism. Government acceptance of this Bill would be a first step to protecting Parliament’s reputation and our democracy. I hope that my noble friend will take the feeling of the House back to her department.
My Lords, I add my support to the Bill and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norton, on his introduction and on his work in this area. As has been said, the Bill is a modest but well-targeted measure of incremental reform to regulate a Prime Minister’s powers of patronage, which would enhance the credibility and effectiveness of this House and of Parliament. As others have observed, it enjoys wide public support.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the recent exercise of unrestrained patronage power, leaving aside whatever may be in the pipeline, has only served to reduce trust in our political system. That is unhealthy, but it is all the more concerning in the wider context within which we find ourselves, and which I will concentrate on.
For those in the Westminster bubble, last year’s authoritative cross-party report on standards in public life rightly observed that we live in a political environment threatened by the impact of social media, a coarsening of public debate, and political polarisation. It identified a number of areas requiring attention, including the case for putting HOLAC on a statutory basis. However, if that report was hardly the stuff of wider public discussion, the extended political crisis over recent months most certainly has been. Recent events have undermined public trust in how we are governed in this country.
This is happening against a very disturbing wider background. The global cost of living crisis following the Covid epidemic is corroding public faith in good government. Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine directly challenges the western democratic world. More recently, we have witnessed the strange and unnerving experience of the United States framing its mid-term elections in terms of the very future of democracy in that country.
There are some strange alarm bells ringing. If ever there was a moment to put integrity, professionalism and accountability at the centre of the way we are governed, it is now. I hope noble Lords will accept my adding that, if ever there was a manifestation of public respect for standards and integrity, it was in the country’s response to the death of Her late Majesty. People care about these things and, if alarm bells are ringing, we need more than words; we need a strategy and policy—a coherent, joined-up approach to protecting and strengthening our parliamentary system and upholding standards in public life.
There is a wide agenda for careful, moderate, effective constitutional reform, which merits consideration. Many of us have our own concerns: strengthening the rule of law, respect of conventions, scrutiny of secondary legislation, electoral reform, the public appointments system, upholding the Ministerial Code, as well as where we are today—ensuring a more effective second Chamber. All these and more need to be in the mix, but we need to set off on the journey. This very modest and sensible proposal seems a good place to start.
My Lords, I add to the many congratulations for my noble friend Lord Norton on getting the Bill this far. I also thank him for the work he does, month in, month out, together with my noble friend Lord Cormack, to keep this issue alive. Reform of the Lords is not just one Bill; it is something that we need to address seriously.
I will concentrate on Clauses 7 and 9, because they open up a number of problems that affect different parts of this House differently. First, the capacity and willingness to contribute is clearly important. I have told this House before that, when David Cameron asked me to serve in the Lords, he was very keen that I would come here, contribute and vote. He was so keen that he did not ask me who I would vote for or in which way, but he was very keen that I do that and I was pleased to assure him that I would.
However, we need to go further. We need to address whether a capacity and willingness to contribute can be squared with the points my noble friend Lord Leigh made about attendance in this House. Attendance must be part of the undertaking of being an active Peer. It is of course different for different groups. If those in the Cross-Bench group want to carry a few passengers when, at the same time, they are limited in numbers, that is up to them, because they would just be reducing their numbers. But if the political parties want to be effective, they have to find a way to get their Members here and voting. That is most important.
I have some concerns about “conspicuous merit”. The only body I know that has that as a criterion is the Order of Merit, which is chosen personally by the sovereign. Face it, most noble Lords would not pass that criterion. I have no particular conspicuous merit. When I was sent here, the then Prime Minister said, “I think we need someone on our Benches who will put in a word for the trade unions, from time to time”. I am not sure he realised what he was letting loose on the House, but that was his criterion in asking me to be here. That is not conspicuous merit.
I notice that, under Clause 9, party leaders will be asked to submit the
“criteria adopted by the party for the purposes of selecting the name for submission.”
Generally, we need people to keep the House of Lords going. Many different criteria could be adopted. For instance, the various leaders of the Labour Party over the years may well have had different criteria in mind when they sent people to this body. Some noble Lords whom previous leaders have sent have made a distinguished contribution to our deliberations; I think, for instance—although she is not here—of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, who participated in discussions on a Bill the other day. She was a Corbyn nominee but she has turned out to be a very effective parliamentarian.
The parties have to be able to say that one of their criteria will be that a person will help strengthen our reputation and have an ability to contribute to the duties of the House of Lords. That, more or less, should be enough, and hundreds of people would fulfil that criterion. I can think of many members of the Conservative Party who are at least as worthy as I am of being here. I was lucky, and just happened to have been in the right place at the right time. We will need a party-political view at the back of our minds when we look at that criterion.
I am pleased to see this Bill here. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Norton and will do whatever I can to help it on to the statute book, but it is a start, not a finish.
I was very shocked, the other day, when the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean—I am sorry he is not here—talked of rumours of another Johnson list and said he was reminded of Caligula appointing his horse to the senate. I was shocked because the analogy is wholly inappropriate. The horse, Incitatus, never made it to the senate, because Caligula was assassinated. Here we have had the assassination but it seems we will still get the horses.
I am a reformer and strongly in favour of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Norton. We owe him a great debt for all the work he has done on this issue down the years. I would go further, if I could: I agree with my noble friend Lord Burns on term limits but, because I worry about how to keep the kingdom united, I would go so far as to think about indirect elections on a different cycle from the Commons, as a way to cement the union. But there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that this House of Commons would approve such measures. The great merit of this Bill is its modesty. That is wise and sensible, and it has my full support.
I would like to probe two issues in Committee. First, the Bill says that
“The Prime Minister must not recommend a person to the Crown … until such time as the Commission has advised the Prime Minister as to whether the person meets the criteria”
set out in the Bill. When I look at the history of, say, Sir Alex Allan, or my noble friend Lord Geidt, I think it might be good to dot the i’s and cross the t’s and say that the Prime Minister must have regard to the advice of the commission. Here I slightly part company with my noble friend Lord Butler.
The second point is that under this Bill an incoming Prime Minister would be able to appoint 40 new Peers. I did not hear an explanation of that figure from the noble Lord, Lord Norton. Why 40? Perhaps he is a devotee of Arabian Nights and was thinking of Ali Baba. I think that a proportionality criterion would be wiser and that, if we went for a number, 40 would be far too many.
These are minor points. The major point is that we all know that reform is badly needed. Here we have a sensible, modest Bill. I believe, like the noble Lord, Lord Butler, that this Bill would have a chance in the House of Commons. We will reform this place by getting them in singles. We must not get overambitious or we will end up securing nothing. I rather disagree with the letter to the Times from the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, the other day. Many of the things he said were correct, in my view, but now is not the time to proceed with them. We should remember that it is important not to let the best become the enemy of the good and we should escape from the Fowler snare.
My Lords, as always, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. I must begin by declaring an interest in that I am chairman of the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, which I founded with my noble friend Lord Norton—my very good friend—more than 20 years ago. That is what makes it such a very special pleasure to be able to speak in this debate to congratulate my noble friend and to say that although every Bill is capable of improvement, particularly by an experienced scrutinising body, this is a good start. I hope it will follow the other incremental reforms that have come out of the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, namely the Bill introduced by Lord Steel of Aikwood, which brought about provisions for retirement, and the Bill brought by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman—a former distinguished Lord Speaker—which enabled us to take action and to expel those who had transgressed in very serious ways. I hope the Bill will come along.
I am afraid I did not have any text with LOL in it, any more than the noble Lord, Lord Leigh of Hurley, did, but I had a very good conversation with David Cameron when he rang me. I was delighted to be invited, but I said, “I will be a working Peer. I will come all the time. But I must say that I will regard it as my duty to exercise independent judgment and therefore to vote as I think appropriate.” He said, “Well, you’ve always done that in the other place, so I can’t really ask you to behave differently.” I have taken that as my licence ever since I got here and will continue to do so, because it is the duty of your Lordships’ House to examine critically, to ask the other place to think again and, if necessary—this is the ultimate, and we have not done it since I came here—to give a Bill a whole year before it can come back. There might be one before us at the moment where we have to take that sort of action.
I digress. It is very important that attendance accompanies membership. I would go further than many and say that unless a Member, without good reason or cause, such as serious illness, bereavement or whatever, puts in 20% attendance in the course of a year, he or she should be disqualified from being a Member of your Lordships’ House. You cannot be an effective member of a body unless you attend it fairly regularly and play a real part.
My noble friend is very kind. What he is asking for with a commitment to attendance, which I have some support for too, is something we could deal with through our internal procedures. That is not beyond our existing powers to implement now. Now that we also have the power to disqualify on grounds that we might consider fit, we can do all these things.
I will take a minute’s injury time for that. I will not respond because my noble friend, for whom I have a high regard, misses the point. It is very important that we move forward here.
What has disturbed me more than anything has been the cavalier disregard for the constitution by Prime Minister Johnson, amounting almost to a trashing of it. It is very important that a Prime Minister has an ethics adviser and follows their advice. It is very important that we have an appointments commission on a statutory basis. The Prime Minister is in no sense prevented from making nominations but he should listen to the advice of that appointments commission.
My greatest concern of all is the position of the monarch. We have a new King. We must not put him in an invidious position, because he is the fount of honour. He has to award peerages on a recommendation. We should have a real sensitive regard for his position, just as we must listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, said. When we get this Bill in Committee, which I hope we will, we must try to make sure that there is no opportunity for the courts to be dragged in. That is very important.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, I took issue with my very good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and his letter to the Times. To say that there is broad consensus for an elected senate is not right. To have an elected senate with 400 people elected and 100 appointed will create two problems: first, the clash with the other place by the elected people; and secondly, the 100 who would inevitably be regarded as second-class Members. That is not a good idea.
When my very good friend the Minister comes to reply, I hope she will say that the Government will assist the progress of the Bill through Committee so that it can be critically examined and go to the other place. I think, like the noble Lord, Lord Butler, that it would then stand a real chance of going on to the statute book.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and indeed the overwhelming majority of noble Lords who have spoken so far in the debate, I support the Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and commended it to His Majesty’s Government. I will make three points.
First, because further reform of your Lordships’ House is long overdue, the changes in 1999 having been explicitly temporary, reformers are becoming more impatient and more radical in their proposals. If the Government do not embrace reform, the Conservative Party is likely to face unpalatable proposals, from its point of view, from a future Labour Government. No Government publicly concedes that its opponents are even capable of winning the next election, but Ministers should be discussing in private the consequences for their party, as well as the country, of abolition or a wholly elected upper House.
Secondly, further reform is possible in this Parliament without primary legislation. After every excepted hereditary by-election, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, entertains the House with his analysis of the latest absurdity. The Government could decide on, and most of the House would applaud, the immediate suspension of by-elections. As the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, pointed out, the Government could also propose more stringent attendance requirements for maintaining membership of your Lordships’ House without the need for primary legislation. Without such action, the House will increase inexorably and scandalously in size, with no upper limit. Only the Government’s most ardent supporters are unbothered by this expansion—supporters without the imagination to see what this lack of restraint might cause a future Labour Government to feel justified in doing.
Thirdly, this Government need to look again at the kinds of candidate they nominate for membership of your Lordships’ House. With no democratic legitimacy, we rely on the legitimacy of competent performance. The House is a Chamber of expertise and experience. Recently, the press has reported with confidence the names of people who might be ennobled in Boris Johnson’s Resignation Honours List. I am sure the Minister will dismiss the reports as speculation, but I note that leaks before last month’s list were accurate.
There are three problematic categories of nominee. Donors apparently buying their way into the legislature is a hardy perennial. No political party is exempt from the charge. It is never too late to start behaving better. More novel is peerages which are deferred for political, rather than fleeting personal, reasons. The Government fear they will lose any by-election right now, especially one caused by an MP accepting ermine. Bestowing peerages to be activated after the general election in two years’ time is simply wrong. Most novel is setting aside the requirement for expertise and experience. The appointment of Peers with no experience or record of achievement cannot plausibly be defended. Mr Johnson and Ms Truss were no respecters of convention. I urge the Prime Minister to give greater weight to the merits of their proposed nominations than to courtesy to his two immediate predecessors before he recommends any peerages to His Majesty.
I commend to the House the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and I urge the Government to go further, and quickly.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend and former tutor Lord Norton of Louth on securing a Second Reading of his important Bill. In September 2021, when we debated this issue, I argued that the measures it proposes were unnecessary and I appealed to the then Prime Minister to send us more new blood that reflects the richness of the UK’s diverse talent pool. Sadly, figures from the House of Lords Library show that my faith was misplaced. Not for the first time, I stand corrected by my former tutor.
In the last two years alone, 54 peerages have been created, of which 35 were given to men and 19 to women. While I welcome all those who have been introduced, to the best of my knowledge, not one of them has lived experience of disability. That matters, because it weakens our claim to be a House of expertise and experience when there are 14 million disabled people in the UK—unless, of course, one still believes that disabled people are simply a homogeneous group to and for whom stuff is done. That was indeed once the case, but the world outside has moved on. I would like to say that we need to move with it.
In fact, since I am one of only perhaps a dozen Members with lived experience of non-age-related disability out of approaching 800 Members of your Lordships’ House, the reality is far more grave: we have an awful lot of catching up to do. This Bill, in particular Clause 7(4)—which the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, and the right reverend Prelate, who is not in his place at the moment, have mentioned—which requires the Appointments Commission have regard to the diversity of the UK population, would help to ensure that that happens.
I recently had the honour of chairing a commission for the Institute of Directors on harnessing the diverse talent in the UK for business success, looking at four protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010: disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity and gender. Its members comprised leading lights from the world of business: Dr Roger Barker, from the IoD; I Stephanie Boyce, immediate past president of the Law Society and the first woman of colour to hold that position; Virginia Clegg, senior partner, DAC Beachcroft; Paul Donovan, chief economist, UBS Global Wealth Management; David Forbes-Nixon OBE, founder and former CEO, Alcentra; Mike Howells, president, Workforce Skills, Pearson; Steve Ingham CBE, CEO of the Page Group, who uses a wheelchair full time; Matthew Layton, former global managing partner, Clifford Chance; my noble friend Lady Morrissey, chair of the Diversity Project; Dr Zara Nanu, chief executive, GapSquare; and Theresa Shearer, CEO, ENABLE. Together, we comprised a powerful line-up committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, and I am very grateful to all of them for their invaluable help. The fundamental premise of the commission is that diversity is good, and is good for business. It would be good for us too.
We say we are a House of self-regulation, but surely the more important question, which this Bill would go some way to addressing, is whether we are also a House of self-preservation. As the noble Lord, Lord McDonald of Salford, says, change is coming. Let us be the ones to shape it. I support the Bill.
My Lords, I start by declaring my interest as chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It is entirely appropriate that I follow the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, because he has raised some profound matters which I hope to elaborate on a little more.
In doing so, I want to speak briefly to the fourth and fifth principles of this Bill, as put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Norton. The fourth is the diversity of the population of the United Kingdom, as he set out so clearly, and the fifth is transparency. In advocating the importance of diversity, I should add a personal disclaimer. I do not for a moment believe in any legislative assembly seeking to mirror the population of a country. Rather, in my view it is important to have diversity in the sense that we should, in our membership, be able to demonstrate to our diverse population that there are some Members of their kind, of their lived experience, who form part of the legislature and are aware of the problems of their tangible day-to-day lives.
I want to focus today on the fifth principle put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Norton: the importance of transparency in how we are appointed. I know that I share this experience with many who have spoken today, but as we go around the country, or internationally, carrying out our public duties, for me the dreaded question which inevitably arises as I talk to people, is, “How did you get to the House of Lords? How were you actually appointed?” They do not mean the “LOL” part of the call; they want to know—particularly internationally, but domestically as well—how a country such as Britain, a serious and mature democracy, continues to uphold such an entirely opaque system of appointment. They read our newspapers; they know what is said about the reputations of some of the people who are appointed—I do not think I need to elaborate on that point—and it is not to our credit at all. Their view of Britain is diminished by contact with us, and I say that with 40 years of international experience.
Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010 requires political parties to report on the diversity of their election candidates, so it is not relevant to the House of Lords. Sadly, it has never been implemented in the House of Commons because the Cabinet Office shows absolutely no inclination to so do. I wonder whether the Minister, in responding to this debate, might reflect on that. The provision was originally drafted in response to Speaker’s Conference recommendations for the composition of the House of Commons.
The case for reporting is to increase transparency in the make-up of the legislature. There is acute awareness of the underrepresentation of what are known as protected characteristics in Parliament overall but, in the absence of a reporting requirement, we cannot know of the less visible protected characteristics—for example, people of LGBT orientation, of religion, of disability and so on. If the requirement for HOLAC to obtain this information was implemented under Clause 9, party leaders would at least have to think about and justify how and why they decided a nominee was appropriate. Importantly, under Clause 9(2) they would have to supply further information. That of itself, one hopes, would provide the necessary data for the public to know the credentials of those who sit here. It is also important for the public to know of obvious gaps in representation, which parties and party leaders may not evidently be aware of as they come to those views.
For everything else in life, we measure. We rely on data to assess whether we are in the right place. I welcome this modest but important Bill to do this for the membership of this House, which by that small measure would inevitably get us to a better place.
My Lords, I welcome the Bill as a first step on what will be a very long journey. My noble friend Lord McDonald of Salford said that it is long overdue and referred to 1999. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans talked about what happened 170 years ago. Will noble Lords please come back with me to the Petition of Right in 1628?
King Charles I was rather troubled about the Petition of Right and what the Lords would do with it; he wanted it chucked out. There were approximately 100 Members of the House of Lords in those days, and he created six new Peers—just like that. I looked very hard to see what marks of distinction I could find in any of them. I could find none in relation to three, but one of the six new Peers, the Duke of Buckingham’s nephew, happened to be married to the King’s favourite, so that was a gift to his favourite. Another of the Peers had given the King, who was very strapped for cash, £20,000—that was about £3 million, and he got a viscountcy for it. Nobody had ever envisaged the third becoming a Peer, but the new Queen from France had him as her favourite. She was very badly treated by the English but the future Lord Goring became a friend, and so was made a Peer.
Some noble Lords may ask what has changed—I think some are thinking that. What has changed is this: nothing very much except that, as a matter of reality, the powers that the anointed King was able to exercise in 1628 are now gifted to the office of whoever happens to be Prime Minister. If that is the best we can do, I think that is rather shocking.
The Prime Minister has ignored the efforts of my noble friend Lord Burns and his committee. The renewed efforts—the lament in 2021 that the Burns committee principles were not being applied—were ignored. PACAC, the public administration committee in the House of Commons—I will not go through its full title—warmly supported the proposals of the Burns committee, and, again, it has been ignored.
Perhaps like everybody else, Prime Ministers do not give up the powers that attach to their office any more than kings do. We had to have a civil war and cut off the King’s head; we had to have another civil war, more or less—except James II ran away—and import a new King from Holland. That is how our constitution was made to work then. The way our constitution works now is by legislation, and I welcome this legislation as a first step in the right direction.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words in the gap. It is a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norton, on his Bill and the way he introduced it. Of course, consideration of the Bill was due to be held some months ago but was delayed by the death of Her late Majesty. Strangely, I think events since then have, if anything, strengthened the case for the Bill.
We seem to be living through a time when the House’s membership is expanding. We have at least two Resignation Honours Lists pending. As other noble Lords have indicated, this is a problem for the House that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and others have addressed over many years.
In a way, I do not blame Prime Ministers. I do not know that any Member of this House who became Prime Minister would be immune from the temptation to appoint people to this House. Of course, for every Member you appoint you can keep 10 other people hovering about in the hope of preferment; it is part of the power of patronage that you have.
One of the great merits of the Bill is to put the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis, and I welcome that. As other noble Lords have said, it has been an objective across the House for many years. I make one suggestion to the noble Lord, which occurred to me when I read the Bill. It seems to me that there is no reason why the powers of the commission should not be exercised as much over Peers who arrive by election, at least for the time being, as over those who arrive by appointment. Perhaps that is something we could consider in Committee.
Finally, I know a little about House of Lords reform and know that it is very difficult to do. I have heard many people, including the Leader of the House, say that it is best done only in incremental ways. This is a very modest and incremental measure and fits the bill very well. It helps to rebalance the power of the legislature over the Executive. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, wonderfully recalled, as a country we have fought kings for centuries to reclaim powers for Parliament—now we just have to do the same with Prime Ministers. This is a very good Bill and it should pass.
My Lords, most of those who have spoken have welcomed the Bill and spoken about the importance of this modest reform to the reputation of the House and, in effect, to restoring public trust in our parliamentary democracy.
Several people have spoken about how they were appointed to this House, so I had better come clean too. I was phoned up by Paddy Ashdown shortly after Mark Bonham Carter, then my party’s foreign policy spokesman, had suddenly died. I was told that the party needed an active specialist on foreign policy in the House. It was made quite clear to me that it wanted me, if appointed, to be a working Peer. That seems an appropriate way to appoint party nominees.
Since I was appointed in 1996, I remember the negotiations around the move towards the transitional House we are now in. Indeed, I was with Paddy Ashdown during some of those negotiations. I remind the Minister of what the White Paper of January 1999 said about the composition of the House, in paragraph 19:
“For the transitional House, the Government will ensure that no one political party commands a majority in the Lords. The Government presently plans to seek only broad parity with the Conservatives.”
The noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, then Leader of the Lords, repeated in this Chamber that
“the Government have always made clear the view that no political party should seek a majority in your Lordships’ House. … We shall … ensure a fair representation for all other parties and for the Cross-Benches. The Government intend that the principles of a broad parity and proportionate creations for the other political parties and the Cross-Benches should be maintained throughout the period of the transitional House.”—[Official Report, 20/1/1999; col. 584]
I quote this at length because, in the last two days, the Minister has twice disagreed with that. Indeed, she said yesterday that the Conservative Party, despite winning successive elections, still has only 34% of the seats in the House of Lords. I remind the Minister that, if one takes away the 20% of Cross-Benchers, the substantial number of non-affiliated Peers and the Bishops, it is 45% of the political nominees in this House—and that after the current potential extra nominees, it will be over 50% and we will then be in a very different position. Does the Minister intend that what she said should mark a major shift in the Government’s position on the composition of the Lords? If that is the case, will the Leader of the House come to the House and explain why the Government have changed that established position and what they think the implications will be for the composition of the House after the next change of Government?
Having said that, there is a range of other issues that we need to consider. I was struck, in the Accession Oath made by King Charles, by his commitment to constitutional government. We are all aware that the last but one in our series of Prime Ministers broke the constitution and its conventions in a number of ways, on a number of occasions. The Conservative Party used to call itself the constitutional party; it is in danger of becoming the “unconstitutional party”. Rishi Sunak is the second new Prime Minister we have had this year who has not been elected by the people—I point this out to the Minister, who seems to think that we have a semi-presidential system—but one rather hoped that, under Rishi Sunak, we would begin to return to respect for the rules of the constitution.
Many years ago, Lord Hailsham spoke about “elective dictatorship”, meaning Governments who get their way without Parliament getting in the way. As we all know, what Boris Johnson objected to most about the House of Lords was that we changed some of the things that he proposed. The idea of getting a majority of Conservatives in this House is to stop the House of Lords changing what the Government propose. The Minister knows well, from some of the Bills that she has herself been concerned with, that we have been facing some extremely badly drafted Bills, which, after their introduction, are substantially amended by the Government themselves. Clause 1 of the Procurement Bill is about to have its second government amendment since it was introduced. We have a Government who increasingly have been resisting reasoned amendments in this House and resisting the sorts of discussions between Committee and Report that help to improve legislation.
Holding the Executive to account is the function of this amending House. In the 1999 discussions, it was made entirely clear that this transitional House was intended to be a revising House with a different composition from the House of Commons. This Bill spells out those principles in rather more detail. It strengthens the role of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. There are indeed one or two minor amendments that some of us might like to propose, but I hope that the Minister will be willing to give this at least a half-welcome, to demonstrate that, with the arrival of Prime Minister Sunak, we are returning to a rather more constitutional, reasoned form of government, and that we will therefore begin to move to the next stage of the long and slow process of Lords reform.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for his persistence in bringing forward today’s Bill. We have debated in this place and on air the principles that we have been discussing today. We are broadly in agreement on where we are seeking to get to, with occasional differences on the right way to achieve that. The noble Lord does the House a service by bringing the Bill forward.
The debate has reflected the pride taken by active Members of your Lordships’ House in the work that we do. A comment was made, I think by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that, when we hear criticisms of this place, it is not about that we do but often about the appointments system and how people get here in the first place. So our concern about the appointments system is that it is currently inadequate to protect the reputation of the House and, thereby, inadequate to protect the credibility of the work that we undertake.
There were some misconceptions about the Bill during the debate. It tries to achieve the balance between the right of a Prime Minister to appoint appropriate people and that right not being completely unfettered. We have already heard reference by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on Wednesday—which we all laughed at, but with a sense of sorrow at the same time.
I say at the outset that criticism of the process is not a criticism of those charged with managing the process. They can work only within the parameters of their remit. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, has himself indicated his concerns as chair about the limitations placed on HOLAC, as did the previous chair, the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar.
There are very few in this House who do not consider that reform is needed. We may differ on some of the details, but there is widespread consensus on the size of the House—it is too large—and that all Members should contribute to the work of the House. On the concern raised that there is no way of removing someone who does not contribute, I reassure noble Lords that, if someone does not contribute to the work of the House in a Session that lasts more than six months, they are automatically retired from this place.
Many of us would like to see reform of HOLAC. I think this is the first time in history that we have had a House of Lords that is seeking reform and a Government who are blocking it. This Bill deals with one area that I have referenced—a key one, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, said—and that is the reform of HOLAC. I agree in principle that increasing the authority and independence of HOLAC would be a good thing for the appointments process and something that we could support. It makes sense to judge potential appointments against basic criteria. Whether we have the criteria right is a matter that we can discuss, but to have the basic criteria that there is a reason and purpose for how someone will contribute is good. There is also, certainly, a logic in putting the committee on a statutory basis. For me, it is mainly that it gives the committee the right to request and receive information in order to make an appropriate judgment.
I do have some reservations and consider that the Bill would benefit from improvement. I understand the point that at least 20% of Members must be independent, but other than no party having an absolute majority, there are no other recommendations, no guidance and no protection of other groups. Currently, 20% or more seats are guaranteed for the Cross-Benchers, unaligned and independents. The Cross-Benchers make up around 22% or 23% If you include non-aligned Members with them, the figure is around 28%. There has been an increasing propensity for a Prime Minister to appoint non-aligned Members of the House. It is an unusual concept, but it has happened and is likely to happen again. That will affect the proportion of Cross-Benchers in your Lordships’ House.
So there is also a case for looking at other groups. There could be a case—I say this with a smile on my face and hope that noble Lords will accept it—for protecting the size of the Official Opposition of your Lordships’ House. Our appointments in recent years have been significantly less than those of the Government. Looking at the numbers, I believe there have been more Peers appointed to come in as Ministers on the Government side than the entire Front Bench of the Official Opposition. That seems to me the kind of inconsistency that ought to be addressed if we are looking at the size of the House.
I want to make two points on Clause 3(4), which looks at the appointments made by an incoming Prime Minister. It is not just the appointments of an incoming Prime Minister that we need to look at but the appointments made by Prime Ministers while they are in post. To me, this is partly about the culture of your Lordships’ House. It is only 12 years since I came here but the House was much more discursive then, with Ministers making an argument to try to win support for their case. Now, with the large number of appointments, as the leaked Lynton Crosby report makes clear, the idea is: “Put lots more Peers in so we can’t lose a vote.” It is as if the Government can bludgeon their way through legislation through sheer numbers. That does not give the House its best reputation or let it do its best work. If we are reducing the size of the House, we ought to look at that issue in the round and have a more discursive approach so that Ministers can take the advice of the House and perhaps come back with amendments of their own.
We should not just look at this in terms of incoming Prime Ministers; what about Resignation Honours Lists for outgoing Prime Ministers? Noble Lords have already expressed disapproval of that along with the other new concept of deferred peerages. It seems a very strange way to behave to say, “We can put this in the bag for later and you don’t have to accept it now. You can give up at the next election.” That is not a reasonable or sensible way to behave.
It is perfectly reasonable for a Prime Minister to reward and honour those they consider have been especially helpful, above and beyond the call of duty, in their work as Prime Minister. My question, which I think we should consider, is whether that has to confer a peerage for life and a place in the legislature. There are other titles and honours—even a thank-you letter—but it is hard to justify a permanent place in the legislature.
Regarding commission membership, the Bill says how many members it should have and how they would be nominated but there are no criteria for what skills, qualifications or expertise would be required, so the role of the commission would be enhanced but we are not looking at how to select its membership.
Turning to Clause 7, and an important point, it is difficult to look at the issue of diversity if you are dealing only with recommendations that have come forward from political parties and the Prime Minister. Appointments should be more diverse but we should think about whether HOLAC could achieve that or whether there is some other way; I am not clear about that.
On Clause 9, I agree that party leaders who nominate through the Prime Minister should be called upon to justify their appointments. Where I part company with the noble Lord—I think the Bill needs some amendment here, and I have discussed this with him—is that I do not think it is the role of the commission to make a judgment on the processes or procedures that political parties choose to make their nominations. It is entirely right to ask for justifications and reasons, a point partly made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfe. When the honours list lists who has OBEs and MBEs, there is a citation saying what the person has done, but we have nothing like that for Members of this House. That is something we should look at. There should be greater transparency, not just to HOLAC but to the public as a whole.
In recent years, as I have mentioned, there have been a number of appointments as Ministers in recent years. It is quite reasonable for a Prime Minister to want to enhance a Front Bench if they feel they do not have, even among the numbers that the government party has, people who can serve as Ministers. However, I question whether they should be able to serve as a Minister for the rest of their life. The shortest term that a Minister has served, having been brought in as Minister with a peerage, is only nine days. Maybe nine days of ministerial office should not qualify for a lifetime peerage.
Lastly, we should give more information to the public about those appointed to peerages. This is a point that others have also made: I would like to see some post-appointment assessment, perhaps after two or three years in your Lordships’ House. There are some people who have been appointed who I have never seen in this Chamber, and I do not know how we justify them remaining in the House. Some kind of sensible and measured post-appointment assessment could be looked at.
The Bill deserves a Second Reading and I hope to discuss some of these matters in Committee. Again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for his contribution.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth on securing the Second Reading of his Bill. I commend him on the clarity of his opening speech today, which I think helped us all.
I am grateful for today’s interesting, generally good-hearted and wide-ranging debate, on which the Government, under our new Prime Minister, will of course reflect. I will look at the specific question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, but there is no shift in position of which I am aware. In any event, his comments went rather beyond the purport of the Bill, to which I will now return.
My noble friend’s Bill would make provision for a commission to advise the Prime Minister on recommendations to the Crown for the creation of life peerages. In effect, HOLAC’s remit would be expanded, and there would de facto be limits on the number of Peers that could be created. Having listened carefully to noble Lords’ speeches today, I am afraid I have to conclude that this is an example of the wish to substitute the opinions of the great and the good for those of their elected representatives. Whatever current preoccupations there are, which I understand, I do not accept that that would be desirable.
The changes proposed by my noble friend would present significant constitutional issues, some of which have been left hanging. Constitutionally, the Prime Minister has the sole power of patronage in nominating to the sovereign those to be appointed to life peerages. As someone said, the Prime Minister is the sovereign’s principal adviser and of course is democratically elected. This arrangement has stood the test of time. Prime Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the nominations they make and, ultimately, to the electorate. The Government do not accept that the power of the Prime Minister should be constrained in the way that my noble friend proposes in the Bill.
I turn to the House of Lords Appointments Commission, which, as currently constituted, is an independent advisory non-departmental body. It offers the Prime Minister advice on the probity of those nominated for life peerages alone and makes recommendations to the Prime Minister in respect of Cross-Bench Peers. That is a valuable function, as many have said. Although the commission’s role is advisory, the Prime Minister places great weight on the commission’s careful and considered advice. However, I emphasise the word “advice”. The role of the commission is to advise the Prime Minister on those nominated for a life peerage and make recommendations in respect of Cross-Bench Peers. He in turn has constitutional responsibilities in relation to recommendations made to the sovereign—in particular, to ensure that the sovereign is not himself drawn into controversy, a point emphasised by my noble friend Lord Cormack—and in relation to the electorate, as already mentioned.
I turn to the detail of the Bill. It would place HOLAC on a statutory basis and strengthen the commission’s role in the appointments process in two key respects. First, it would require the Prime Minister to refer the name of an individual to the commission before recommending them for a life peerage. Secondly, it would require the Prime Minister to wait until the commission had advised on whether a nominated individual met specified criteria before recommending them to the Crown. I believe that seeking to substitute the Prime Minister’s judgment for its own could prevent a recommendation contrary to the commission’s opinion. That could be the effect of the changes.
The principal criteria for appointing new Peers in Clause 7 of the Bill are described as “conspicuous merit” and
“a willingness and capacity to contribute to the work of the House of Lords.”
The average attendance for the 2019 to 2021 Session was 352, as has been referred to. Many distinguished figures—many are here today—come to the House but do not contribute every day. They contribute in their areas of expertise and bring experience and knowledge from a wide range of occupations. It is unclear how “conspicuous merit” would be interpreted: how would the commission identify individuals who meet this standard? The value of this place is that Members who are not full-time legislators have a range of experiences, and to set a high and arbitrary bar could see a loss of this expertise.
I would add that the quality of contribution, not just the quantity, is important, and that is what we should focus on in thinking about these matters.
The Bill represents a constitutional change, vesting more power in an unelected and ultimately unaccountable body to restrict the ability of the Prime Minister to make recommendations to the sovereign, and indeed allowing it to come up with its own additional criteria for appointing new Peers. This is a wide power, albeit one that is subject to annulment by a resolution of either House. In other words, the Prime Minister, although still responsible constitutionally for making recommendations to the sovereign, would be restricted to an unacceptable extent by the commission in giving that advice. Accountability for decisions to nominate individuals for peerages rightly rests with the Prime Minister, who is accountable to Parliament and, ultimately, the electorate.
Clause 3 would require the Prime Minister to have regard to three principles when determining whether to make recommendations for new life Peers. First,
“not less than twenty per cent of the membership of the House of Lords shall consist of members who are independent of any registered political party”.
“no one party may have an absolute majority of members in the House of Lords”.
“the membership of the House of Lords must be no larger than that of the House of Commons.”
I do not believe that such a significant change in the constitution can be the subject of a Private Member’s Bill. It ought rather to reflect political discussion, and preferably consensus among the political parties.
I also observe that my noble friend seems to be proposing some sort of cap on the number of political appointees to this House. For centuries, our democracy and politics have been based on a party-political system—that is a fact of life. With the greatest respect, even those who sit on the Cross Benches are still political to some degree—they may not be party political, but they bring a different perspective.
On the size of this House and the idea that it should be no larger than the House of Commons, is the Prime Minister to wait for 100 Peers to retire or die to be able to make new nominations? I think that everybody agrees that new appointments are essential to keep the expertise and outlook of the House fresh. How to achieve a reduction in size is not straightforward; indeed, transition would be “troublesome”, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Burns.
To conclude, the constitutional position—
Before my noble friend concludes—she is concluding rather early—there are ways that could be employed. The first is my suggestion about a percentage attendance. Secondly, some Members of your Lordships’ House Are on leave of absence for years. One is on a leave of absence in California and has not been here for five or six years. Anybody who takes a leave of absence for other than health reasons, and who is away for more than one Session, should be told to go. Would my noble friend respond to those constructive suggestions?
I thank my noble friend. Clearly, the process of encouraging appropriate resignations, making use of the leave of absence provisions and the various changes that have been made to the way that we run this House in recent years, can indeed be useful. I am sure that, in further discussion of the Bill, some of these possibilities will be considered.
I come to the final point. The Prime Minister is ultimately responsible to Parliament and the people for any nominations that he, or she in the past, makes to this House, and the Government do not see the case for changing this. However, the Government consider that the House of Lords Appointments Commission performs its role well, as it is currently constituted, and is extremely grateful for the work that it does. The fact that Members of this House are appointed from a wide range of backgrounds is testament to its success. It will, and should, continue to advise on appointments in the same way that it does now. However, as will be apparent, the Government have reservations about the Bill we have debated today, and I look forward to hearing further from my noble friend.
I apologise for intervening, but I cannot understand this point about accountability. Could the Minister explain how the last but one Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, against whom many of the criticisms about appointments have been made, is in any way now accountable to the British public or to Parliament for what he did? We do not have, as a noble Lord said, a presidential system; the Prime Minister is not personally accountable for this. All the Bill is trying to do is to ensure a degree of probity and appropriate scrutiny—a check and a balance, for which our constitution is so well respected—in the process of appointments to your Lordships’ House.
I thank the noble Baroness for making that point. Of course, as she says, the new Prime Minister becomes accountable to the monarch for putting forward the names of Peers in the future, taking into account the advice of HOLAC. The same is true of any further Dissolution List that may come from the other former Prime Minister.
No. 10 and the Prime Minister are aware that we have had three days of useful discussion on these subjects: we have had two Questions and we now have this Bill. As I said at the very beginning, the new Government will be looking at the proceedings today, and they will reflect on what the House has to say.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to everybody who has spoken in this debate; it has been marked by the quality, as well as the quantity, of the contributions. I was particularly delighted to be followed, and not for the first time, by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, as I realised that this year marks the 50th anniversary of us graduating together from the University of Sheffield.
I will make just three points in response to the debate. First, this Bill has received widespread support throughout the House. My noble friend the Minister could not have been oblivious to the fact that, preceding her, there were 27 speakers, at least 25 of whom expressed explicit support for the Bill. The only Member who actually spoke directly against the Bill was my noble friend Lord Leigh of Hurley—or, rather, he spoke against a Bill, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, indicated, is not necessarily the one before us.
The same point can be made about the response of my noble friend the Minister, who, in order to respond, raised the Bill into something that it is not. It does not create great constitutional issues. The issue of merit is independent of capacity to contribute to the work of the House, and that capacity is not necessarily measured simply in terms of attendance. The point she was raising does not even meet the lemon meringue test of looking nice from the outside but, when you bite it, there is nothing there; I do not think it even looked that attractive from the outside. So I trust that she will take on board all the points that have been made from around the House. Support has been notable not only from its breadth but its depth. The backgrounds of the Members who have spoken reflect the point about the quality of the House, and the experience and expertise in the House, expressing support for this measure. So I reiterate what some have said: I hope my noble friend will go back to her department—indeed, back to government generally—to make it clear that this House favours the changes that are embodied in the Bill.
That leads on to my second point. A number of noble Lords have raised points that are essentially ones that we can discuss in Committee quite legitimately. To be honest, I am pleasantly surprised that more points have not been raised for Committee deliberation. Of the two key ones that have been mentioned, one is the proportionality test, which I think quite legitimately we should discuss in Committee, and the other, which I pondered before introducing the Bill, was the one that was touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, and one or two other noble Lords, about the prospect of judicial review. I wondered whether we should consider that in terms of the content of the Bill or whether—the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, touched upon this—we think the courts would probably want to steer clear of that anyway. However, that would merit coming back to in Committee. Those are germane points that merit further consideration, and I look forward to Committee.
Thirdly, as a number of noble Lords, especially my noble friend Lord Cormack, mentioned, this represents incremental change and is very much in line with what we have achieved so far. We got the House of Lords Reform Act 2014 on the statute book, and it was a Private Member’s Bill, and we got the House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act through as a Private Member’s Bill, introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. Therefore, there is plenty of precedent for a change of this sort to come in as private Members’ legislation. The Minister was saying that it should normally be government legislation but normally it is not; normally it is government legislation that does not get through but Private Members’ Bills that make it to the statute book. It would therefore be completely appropriate for this modest measure to make it to the statute book.
As I stressed in opening, and as other noble Lords have quite rightly picked up, it is a modest measure—that is the whole point. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said that it is a first step but I think it is at least a further step on the road to achieving change, and we can then consider what else needs to be done subsequently. Therefore, it is in line with what we have done before and it is incremental; the Bill may not be sufficient but it is necessary. I beg to move.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.