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House of Lords Appointments Commission

Volume 771: debated on Thursday 21 April 2016


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to review the powers of the House of Lords Appointments Commission.

My Lords, on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and at her request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the House of Lords Appointments Commission does an effective job in recommending candidates for non-party peerages and vetting the propriety of all those nominated as life Peers. There are no plans to amend its remit.

My Lords, I ask this Question on behalf of my noble friend Lady Boothroyd because she is having to spend a few days in hospital. I am sure that the whole House will want to wish her well.

The last triennial review of the House of Lords Appointments Commission took place in 2013. Is the next triennial review not now due? Is it not necessary to increase the powers of the House of Lords Appointments Commission in view of the widespread concern at the Prime Minister’s use of his unlimited powers of patronage in making appointments to this House?

My Lords, I echo the noble Lord’s remarks wishing the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, a speedy recovery. On the Question he raised, the House of Lords Appointments Commission does indeed play a very important part in vetting all nominees and recommending excellent candidates for the Cross Benches, but it is the political parties that must be accountable for the Members who sit on the political Benches. That is an important principle that should continue. It is also important that we maintain appointment to the Cross Benches, as well as to the political Benches. That is why the Prime Minister appointed 10 Peers to the Cross Benches in the last Parliament, alongside those appointed independently through the HOLAC process.

My Lords, we look forward to the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, being back with us when she is fully fit again. Does the Minister not recognise that the Question is being raised because of concern about the number of appointments to the House? I have raised this with her before. This Prime Minister has made appointments to your Lordships’ House at a faster rate than any other Prime Minister since 1958, when life peerages were introduced. We have had a greater percentage of government Peers appointed and fewer Cross-Bench and Opposition Peers. Is the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Butler, not worthy of consideration if we are to maintain public confidence, and your Lordships’ confidence, in the work of this House?

I, too, very much care about the reputation of this House and that the public maintain their confidence in it. The best way for us to assure that is in the way we make our contributions to this House’s work. It is worth making a couple of points in response to the noble Baroness’s point about size and the number of appointments. Since 2010, nearly 150 Peers have left your Lordships’ House through retirement or, sadly, having passed away. Forty-four of those have been since the general election. We have to continue to refresh and renew our membership. It is an important part of our being effective as a House. On the noble Baroness’s point about appointments by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, 22% of the appointments he has made have been to the Labour Benches.

My Lords, could my noble friend explain why, when the Appointments Commission considers appointments of Cross-Bench Peers, it is required to look at issues not only of propriety, but suitability—do they have the time and necessary skills—but in the case of party appointments it is allowed to look only at propriety, not suitability? Should we not amend the terms of the Appointments Commission so that, while the political parties can still put forward names, the commission finds out whether they are prepared to give the time and have the necessary skills and experience to make a contribution to this House?

It is very important that all Peers make a proper contribution to this House in a way that enables us to give the public confidence in the laws that Parliament makes. However, it is absolutely appropriate and proper that the party leaders are responsible for ensuring that those they nominate will make their contribution effectively, and that they are held to account for that. The process and service that HOLAC provides is important. When it makes recommendations, no Prime Minister, whether this one or any before him, has ever ignored that commission’s advice.

My Lords, there is nothing wrong, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has been indicating, with the powers of the commission as far as the Cross Benches are concerned, but there is an issue about numbers and maintaining a fair balance between the Cross Benches and the other groups in the House. Would the Leader of the House be prepared to give an indication that that balance, which is approximately 20% of the House, will be maintained? Ultimately, the decision on numbers depends upon a communication between the chairman of the commission and the Prime Minister, so the Government do have a part to play in seeing that numbers are maintained.

And the number of Cross Benchers as a proportion of this House has been pretty stable for about three decades now. There is not actually a specific formula for the number of Cross Benchers, but the noble and learned Lord makes an important point about the importance of the Cross Benches to our work. That is why, alongside other appointments that the Prime Minister has made in recent times, he has made important appointments to the Cross Benches of noble Lords who are making an active contribution to our work, and that is something I know he will continue to do.

My Lords, it is right that we should congratulate the Appointments Commission on its work. This House now has the distinction of being represented by more different communities, more women, more people with disabilities, et cetera, than ever before. For this, we should thank the Appointments Commission. But we now face a ridiculous situation: the legal requirement placed on my own party in relation to the hereditary election. We had the distinction of being asked to appoint a person in place of Lord Avebury, who recently died. We had three hereditary Peers and seven candidates, and they appointed somebody who had already been in the House. My Chief Whip assures me that this will go down in the Guinness book of records as the shortest time taken to count the votes. Is it not time to look at the proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in his original Bill and move towards the second stage of reform of the House of Lords?

The hereditary Peers who are Members of this House make an important contribution to our work. Any change relating to their arrival in this House would be part of a much wider package of reform, and that is not something that is currently being explored.

My Lords, many noble Lords, as I said, have left your Lordships’ House. They continue to use the facility of retirement. That opportunity is to be welcomed, and when we refresh we are ensuring that we are effective in what we do.