House of Lords: Life Peerages — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 15th March 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour 2:45 pm, 15th March 2011

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they intend that the life Peers they have appointed should be Peers for life.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, the Government confirm that they have no plans to remove the peerage from those in receipt of that honour.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

My Lords, that is a very, very welcome Answer. I am almost at a loss for words. I am so much at a loss that I want to have it rephrased. Is the noble Lord actually saying that everyone currently a life Peer will remain a Peer for life? If he is saying that, I suggest to him that he is getting himself out of an awful lot of difficulty, but if he is not saying that-he is looking very quizzical now, so perhaps I was not getting a straight answer to a straight question. Let me simply put it to him that it would be a bit cynical if the same Government who have created 119 new life Peers since the general election, all of whom are making a terrific contribution to the work of this House, are at the same time, according to his interview with the Financial Times at any rate, planning to remove us and replace us with senators by 2015. I suggest to him that given that, so far, there has been no agreement whatever on the powers and functions of any reformed second Chamber, the simple thing for him to do-I imagine it would be a relief to the Government-would be to pick up the splendid House of Lords Reform Bill in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, and take it forward as government policy.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, I thought I had been entirely straight with the noble Lord. A peerage is for life. That honour should remain, but it should not necessarily guarantee a seat in the House of Lords. The noble Lord knows that well because he knows that the Government are committed to House of Lords reform, as all major parties agree that reform is needed and this coalition Government provide the opportunity to determine final proposals that can be put to Parliament after there has been a Joint Committee of both Houses.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, my Letters Patent give me the right to sit here for life. I assume my noble friend's Letters Patent do the same. Are we to attach more importance to the Letters Patent from the Queen or to the views of the temporary Deputy Prime Minister?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, in the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999 we went through this quite a lot. In the end, the view was that statute law could vary the terms of the Writ of Summons. Therefore, if it was the will of Parliament that life Peers should not be guaranteed a place in the House of Lords, I do not think there would be any problem.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, if membership of the House is to reflect the crude statistic of the national vote at the most recent general election, when can we expect to have 21 UKIP Members of this House and 14 British National Party Members?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, we have no plans to introduce members of those parties at the moment. Of course, if there was an elected House, it would be up to the electorate to decide who should sit in this House.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative

My Lords, is there not something totally glorious and hypocritical about the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, saying please may his peerage be guaranteed but those promises to elected successors of mine, which could be in the fairly near future, should be taken away?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, it is good to see my noble friend speaking in this House, as he has done for many years, and long may that continue. Different people will take a different view of what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said but he has been entirely consistent since coming here in wishing to preserve the House more or less as it is. It is an important point of view, although not one with which the Government agree.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, too has been entirely consistent in being a passionate exponent of an elected House. But yesterday he told the House that he expected that dozens, indeed hundreds, of new coalition Peers would be appointed over the next few years. Can I take that as indicating that he is therefore not very optimistic about the prospect of substantive reform?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, neither is the case. While there is an appointed House, it is always open to the Prime Minister to appoint new Members to it on a cross-party basis and the noble Lord will have seen the coalition agreement on that. However, if Parliament passes a Bill for an elected House, elections would take place.

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will my noble friend acknowledge that since 1997, when a Government, of whom the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, was a distinguished Member, were elected with a clear commitment to reform your Lordships' House to include elected Members and, by implication, to end the life peerage, all of us who have been appointed know that we are term Peers in practical terms? Will he further acknowledge that the big difference since May of last year is that instead of just talking about this for 13 years we have a Government who are committed to action?

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. I do not believe that any new Member of this House, before accepting this great honour and, indeed, a job, has not considered what might happen if a reform Bill is finally published.