House of Lords: Membership

Cabinet Office and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd November 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Scottish National Party, Dundee West 12:00 am, 2nd November 2016

If he will bring forward proposals to limit the size of the membership of the House of Lords.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions)

If he will bring forward proposals to limit the size of the membership of the House of Lords.

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

The Government agree that the House of Lords cannot grow indefinitely. However, comprehensive reform is not a priority for this Parliament, given the growing number of pressing priorities elsewhere. Nevertheless, when there are measures that can command consensus, we would welcome working with peers to look at taking them forward.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Scottish National Party, Dundee West

A simpler answer would have been, “No, we will kick that into the long grass.”

It is clear that the House of Lords needs radical reform. In fact, we should listen to the new Lord Speaker, who said only last week:

“I don’t think we can justify a situation where you have over 800 peers at the same time as you’re bringing down the Commons to 600 MPs”.

Does the Minister agree?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

This was raised at an important debate on 26 October, when the House agreed with the Government that this is not a priority. The Government agree that House of Lords reform is not one of the priorities of the British people: a recent YouGov study showed that just 18% of the public think House of Lords reform is a priority. I am amazed that the Scottish National party has chosen this issue to campaign about. Why not campaign on education or on health—why not campaign on the issues that matter to the Scottish people?

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions)

What an outrage to democracy that answer from the Minister was. We have the ridiculous situation that there are more unelected Members of the House of Lords than MPs living in the highlands of Scotland, yet this Government want to cut democratic participation. We will be left with three Members of Parliament for half the landmass of Scotland and the highlands. That is not democratic accountability. Cut the Lords, not MPs.

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

We have proposals on boundary changes in Scotland, and there is a consultation that I commend to all Members. Some seats in Scotland are twice the size of others, and that historical injustice must be rectified.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

The Minister is absolutely right that reducing the size of the House of Lords is not a priority, but neither is reducing the size of the Commons. As we are abolishing goodness knows how many MEPs and taking on their workloads, should not the Government look again at their proposal and equalise seats, which is quite correct, but keep the same number of Members of Parliament?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

The previous Parliament passed a law to ensure that we could reduce the number of seats from 650 to 600, but a delay occurred because Opposition Members decided to kick this can down the road. The reduction in the number of seats will save £66 million over the course of a Parliament. It is right that we should make savings and put our own House in order.

Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

It is absolutely right that there should be equal votes and that we should cut the cost of politics in the House of Commons. It is absurd that there are no Scottish National party peers in the House of Lords while the party has 56 Members in this House, and that there are 100 Liberal Democrat peers but a pathetic rump of only eight Members here. Does the Minister agree that this shows the need to rebalance membership of the House of Lords?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The historic campaign for the equalisation of seats was initiated by the Chartists in their people’s manifesto back in 1838, and this Government are determined to deliver to ensure that this historic wrong is righted.

Photo of Douglas Chapman Douglas Chapman Scottish National Party, Dunfermline and West Fife

There has been much speculation that a certain Nigel Farage will be joining the swarm of unelected bureaucrats in the House of Lords. Is Mr Farage to be rewarded with a peerage, or have the Government done enough damage already?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

All appointments to the House of Lords are scrutinised by an independent Committee, and it is right that that process should be followed.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Does my hon. Friend recall the words of Sir Winston Churchill when he said that democracy was not a particularly good system but the best that we had? Does he agree that, until someone comes up with a better idea, the House of Lords is perhaps not that bad?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

As I have said, House of Lords reform is not a priority in this Parliament; nor is it a priority for the general public. We want to establish a consensus with the House of Lords, and it must be for the House of Lords to come up with that consensus.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

Could we not at least get rid of the by-elections for hereditary peers? Earlier this year, the House of Lords decided to remove the second Baron Bridges because he had not turned up for five whole years. There was then a by-election, in which the 15th Earl of Cork and Orrery defeated the 12th Lord Vaux of Harrowden and the eighth Viscount Hood. Under the alternative vote system, the Earl of Limerick was bottom of the list. Does not this bring the whole system into disrepute? Is this “Blackadder” or Gilbert and Sullivan?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

When it comes to “Blackadder”, this was a Labour policy introduced by a Labour Government, so this is yet another U-turn from the Corbynistas.

Ooh!

Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I think that people watching this debate will be terrified by the complacency of this Government. Does the Minister not realise that the twin actions of increasing without limit the number of unelected Members of Parliament while reducing the number of elected lawmakers is seriously damaging this institution in the eyes of our own electorate and lowering the esteem in which we are held abroad?

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

The Government agree with the primacy of the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman made those points in a debate on 26 October, and at that time the House agreed with the Government that this was not a priority and that our priority should be to equalise seats and to ensure that the historic principle of boundary reform occurs.