House of Lords: Size — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:36 pm on 19th November 2013.

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Tabled by Lord Foulkes of Cumnock

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have received about the increase in the size of the House of Lords.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour 2:44 pm, 19th November 2013

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Foulkes, and with his consent, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, the Government have received few representations about the size of the House. Of the ones that I have received, I would say that the majority are from those seeking to increase the size of the House by suggesting eminent candidates for membership, sometimes including themselves.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

That is very good. My Lords, I do not need to remind the Leader of the House that, with the exception of the National People’s Congress of China, we are now the largest legislative Chamber in the world. Does he agree that there is virtually no support on the Benches behind him—or anywhere else in the House—for further increases in the size of this House? Is he not aware that people see this attempt to pack the House as a bit on the cynical side? However, it is not working, because the Government are still losing Divisions. What is the point?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

There are a number of points. First, we need to keep refreshing the House with new and young membership. I cannot remember which noble Lord it was who the other day pointed out that sadly all of us are growing older. That is why we need to have new Members coming in.

On the point about “packing the House”—that was the phrase the noble Lord used—I repudiate the charge. In his next point, he himself gave the lie to that by citing the fact that, for some extraordinary reason, the Government continue to suffer the occasional defeat on their legislation. In terms of the numbers, it is worth reminding the House that if one draws a comparison with the numbers for each of the four main groups in 2007 when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, there are 25 more noble Lords now than there were then. We sometimes forget that, sadly, around 100 Members have died or taken leave of absence since the most recent general election.

Photo of Lord Steel of Aikwood Lord Steel of Aikwood Liberal Democrat

Is my noble friend aware that in the other House, Mr Dan Byles has taken up the Bill that we passed some months ago, which would provide the authority for the House to produce both retirement and expulsion? Would he keep a benevolent eye on the progress of that Bill in the other place, because it would provide an alternative exit strategy to that provided by the Grim Reaper?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

I am keen that we should have alternatives to the Grim Reaper. I shall certainly keep an eye on progress. The whole House will share my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Steel for his persistence in taking forward these issues. Therefore I am pleased, as I know he will be, that, following representations from a number of people, not least himself, the Government’s position has moved to one of support for the Private Member’s Bill sponsored by Dan Byles. The whole House will welcome that. It will deliver the benefits to which my noble friend referred.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, has the noble Lord read the study by UCL that shows that if the Government go ahead with their intention to rebalance the Lords according to the votes cast at the most recent general election, the size of this House would reach 1,200 or more? That would be a nonsense. Will the noble Lord reassure the House that no more political appointments will be made to your Lordships’ House until the next general election?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

I will say two things. First, shortly after I came in, I was assured by everyone that there were going to be 100 Peers packed into the House within a couple of weeks. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will remember that, on the back of an amendment put down by my noble friend Lord Steel, he put forward a helpful amendment urging the need for restraint so far as appointments and patronage were concerned. I argue—as I argued then—that that restraint has been shown. The August list of 30 or 31 names was the first political list for three years.

In terms of the future, I cannot give any different undertaking from that which I am sure all my predecessors would have given: namely, that patronage rests in the hands of the Prime Minister. However I shall certainly ensure, as I continually do, that the views of your Lordships’ House are brought before all those who are concerned with these decisions.

Finally, following which I must allow others to speak—I know that this is an issue about which many people in this House care a lot and that there are concerns—it is very important when talking of the work of the House to the outside world that we do not in some way give the impression that this House is unable to do its job. We do it outstandingly well.

Photo of Lord Laming Lord Laming Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

My Lords, will the Leader of the House take the opportunity to emphasise the last point that he made, not only in this House but elsewhere? Whatever the issues may be, it is important to recognise that this House holds the Government to account to a very high standard, scrutinises legislation to a great degree and promotes debates that are of great concern to our fellow citizens. The House actually functions well.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

I agree with the Convenor of the Cross Benches very strongly. In taking legislation through your Lordships’ House, I saw the difference in the intensity of scrutiny in this House compared with that at the other end of the building. I think that we are right to be proud in the way that the noble Lord reminds us.

Photo of Baroness Seccombe Baroness Seccombe Conservative

My Lords, on a lighter note after that very important question, one hears the complaint that there are too many noble Lords and that we cannot get a seat. I draw the House’s attention to the fact that, in the Commons, there are 650 Members and 350 seats. With an average number of 450 Peers, or around that figure, attending daily, it seems that we are rather well served in the ratio of seat to Peer. Does my noble friend agree?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

I think my noble friend said “seat to Peer” rather than “seat to rear”. It is good of her to remind noble Lords of that, and I know she is not suggesting that we should therefore set about a process of reduction of space. I know that here are problems at certain times of the day—Oral Questions is a good example. However, we all know that there are other times of the day when the Chamber is not as full as perhaps we might sometimes wish. As the noble Lord, Lord Laming, said, in terms of the job that we do, we do not have guillotines, we are all able to put amendments down and we take part in scrutiny. I have been able to increase the number of opportunities for QSDs, which I think has been widely welcomed, and we are getting through them much faster. We have had more post-legislative scrutiny and more ad hoc committees. I am hoping, in that way, to address the issue of attendance, which is a greater challenge for us than the question of the absolute size of the House.