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My Lords, there is always a slight sense of déjà-vu about debates on your Lordships’ House. The number of speakers in this debate, and the fact that there are four Motions before us—including those in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Pearson and Lord Steel, and my noble friend Lord Lea—is an indication of the interest in and concern about the ever-growing membership of your Lordships’ House. As much as your Lordships’ House has to address this issue—and there was ample information and facts behind the speeches we have heard so far—I have to tell the noble Baroness that I remain disappointed that the Government have brought forward a short debate on this issue at such short notice. It has meant shelving another important debate. We did not need to have this debate today, when another debate—also of considerable importance and urgency to your Lordships’ House—on English votes for English laws was already scheduled. So is the urgency because this is a new issue of which the Government were previously unaware? Of course not. This is an issue that has been raised by Peers across this House for some time, and the Government have chosen not only to ignore the concerns raised but also to exacerbate the problem.
“it’s not where any debate about the House of Lords should start”.
Although in some ways I agree with her, I fundamentally disagree with what she said in her speech—that the core purpose of your Lordships’ House was to complement the House of Commons. The core purpose of this Chamber—of your Lordships’ House—is not to complement the House of Commons. It is a revising, scrutinising Chamber which holds the Government to account and assists Governments in thinking again and reconsidering issues. However, that is not a reason or an excuse to step back from this issue. Neither can it ever be a solution to suggest that Members of your Lordships’ House should just not turn up so often. We take our responsibilities seriously.
However, the noble Baroness’s predecessors have taken much the same line. The noble Lord, Lord Hill, told the House that although,
“the House will sometimes be crowded on popular occasions … we should not overstate the problem”.—[Hansard, 12/12/13; col. 996.]
He also referred to the size of the House previously having been larger prior to the 1999 Act, which removed most hereditary Peers. This is extraordinarily complacent, particularly when others, from all corners of your Lordships’ House, have been warning of the looming problems. I find it even more extraordinary when the Government are planning to reduce significantly the number of elected representatives in the House of Commons and increase the number of Members of this House. How can that be right?
The House will know that on these Benches, the Liberal Democrat Benches and elsewhere across your Lordships’ House, we consider a constitutional convention the right way forward to resolve—among other things—the issue of the place of this House in our constitution. I am sure that today we will hear many colourful views on your Lordships’ House. However, I find it hard to disagree with the opening lines of the excellent report A Programme for Progress, produced by a number of my noble friends, including the now retired Lord Grenfell:
“The House of Lords needs urgent reform. The number of peers, growing fast, is too large. Its procedures creak. Its image is rendered antediluvian by flummery, and it falls short of what is required of an effective, modern second chamber”.
Your Lordships’ House is groaning at the seams. The current Prime Minister has appointed more Peers per year than any other Prime Minister on record. The excellent work of Professor Meg Russell at University College London illustrates not only that record number of appointments but that they have been more intensely party political. Mr Cameron has appointed a larger proportion of government Peers than any other Prime Minister, with fewer Cross-Benchers and fewer for the Opposition. Professor Russell also notes how Mr Cameron’s new and somewhat bizarre policy statement that appointments should reflect the most recent general election result will ensure that, year on year, your Lordships’ House will expand—and with a greater proportion of government Peers. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, had great fun with that nonsense of a policy, but this has never been what your Lordships’ House has been about. It does not reflect our functions and responsibilities, and it is ludicrous to appoint Peers to your Lordships’ House on that kind of policy basis. Does the Prime Minister so fear the independence and wisdom of this place that he seeks to contain us by appointing more government Peers, despite their already being the largest party?
The noble Baroness is quite right to be concerned about the reputation of your Lordships’ House. The excellence of this House’s reputation rests as much on its ability to ask the Commons to think again and reconsider as it does on the expertise and wisdom of your Lordships. However, this House and the Government must also recognise that the Prime Minister’s programme of appointments threatens that reputation. Indeed, the Prime Minister—as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said recently on a trip to Singapore that,
“it is important to make sure the House of Lords more accurately reflects the situation in the House of Commons”.
There is another part to that quote, which the noble Lord will recall as well. The Prime Minister went on to say that,
“that’s been the position with prime ministers for a very, very long time and for very good and fair reason”.
Has it? I do not recall any other Prime Minister—only the current Prime Minister and the previous Deputy Prime Minister—saying that that was the basis on which appointments to your Lordships’ House should be made. It has not been the position for a “very, very long time”. Therefore, can the noble Baroness confirm that it is truly the Prime Minister’s intention that, with each election, new appointments to your Lordships’ House should be made based on the result of that election? How does she feel that squares with the view she expressed in her article for the Daily Telegraph? If that is not the Prime Minister’s view, why has she not taken any opportunity to dispel the myth that this is common practice? If it were common practice or were to become so, as the Prime Minister seems to indicate he wants, it would seriously undermine the effectiveness and reputation of your Lordships’ House.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the House has said we need appointments to renew the House. That is true, but the current number of Peers is 131 more than the average post-1999 House with Labour in government. Alongside those additional numbers, we should welcome that the current House is more active than ever. The Lords Library Note of last December records that average attendance in your Lordships’ House as a proportion of membership rose from just over 50% about 10 or 15 years ago, to figures in the mid-60s today. This means the average daily attendance has risen from the high 300s to around 500.
The noble Baroness has the best access of anybody in your Lordships’ House to the Prime Minister. Has she discussed this with him? Does Mr Cameron recognise that if meaningful change is to be made, he cannot continue with the scale and number of his appointments? Did she ask him how his desire to,
“cut the cost of politics”,—[ Official Report , Commons, 1/7/15; col. 1476.]
squared with the record number of appointments to this House at a time when he is pushing ahead with cutting the number of elected MPs? Have they discussed the idea of a constitutional convention? I hope she is able to answer those questions today.
This is an arms race that this House cannot win. Of course there must be new Peers to replenish and renew but this level of appointment and its skewed nature diminishes this House. We stand ready, as we have put on record, to look at any potential ways forward. I have told the noble Baroness, as she mentioned in her comments, that we are happy to take part in such discussions, but I have also said that there is a caveat. The Prime Minister said, in rather a strange response, that this is a matter for the House of Lords to address, as if in some way he has no responsibility and it does not concern him. Of course it concerns him. All the facts show that he must bear responsibility for the acceleration in the growth of the size of your Lordships’ House. Because he has the authority to appoint, without being curtailed other than by the Appointments Commission on very limited criteria, he can use any changes we make here to reduce the size of this House as an invitation for more political appointments.
We want to see change. We believe the House is too large and that the evidence shows that this Prime Minister’s approach to appointments is not only providing the opportunity for external criticism but sidelining serious discussion of our true purpose and value. It is hard to believe that there is not a political agenda here. Before any meaningful discussion and serious decisions can proceed, we need an assurance from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that the Prime Minister understands the role of this House in assisting the Government in scrutinising legislation; that he recognises that the approach to new appointments he has instigated is not sustainable; and that he will not use any measures that reduce the membership of this House as an excuse to create additional skewed government appointments.
These are important issues. We want to make progress and we will be involved in discussions to reduce the size of your Lordships’ House. However, we cannot do this in isolation, without a commitment from the Government that they have also signed up to the same agenda.
My Lords, it is important when we are debating a take-note Motion that refers to “further incremental reform” to put it in context by recalling that the introductory text to the Parliament Act 1911 passed by the then Liberal Government says:
“And whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation”.
I rather suspect the House would have been surprised that 104 years later it still had not been brought into operation. In the 21st century, in a modern, forward-looking, innovative country like the United Kingdom, it is simply wrong that the public have never had the opportunity to vote for Members of this House, or the ability to hold us to account for our record. I believe that anyone who makes the laws of the country should be accountable to those they expect to obey those laws. In a democracy, we believe that legitimate power and political authority ultimately derive from the people.
It is worth reflecting that if the coalition government Bill proposed in 2012 by Nick Clegg and passed at Second Reading in the Commons with a majority of 338 had not had its progress frustrated in the House of Commons, we would now have Members of this House who were elected by the public and we would not be having this debate today. Questions of the burgeoning size of this House would not have arisen as membership of the House would have been reduced by a third under the provisions of that Bill. To be frank, I accept that the number on these Benches would be smaller, but the House of Commons frustrated that move.
Although I do not necessarily agree with the conclusion of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, on what should be done, I can perfectly understand his frustrations. He made points that I readily recognise. His party received a larger share of the vote in the United Kingdom general election than my party, yet there is only one UKIP MP in the House of Commons and there are eight Liberal Democrats. If there was a fairer, more proportional system of election to the House of Commons, there would be more than 80 UKIP MPs and 51 Liberal Democrats. At Question Time, last week, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, suggested that 40 of my colleagues should retire. It occurred to me that it would help address the balance in both Houses if it was possible to dispatch 43 colleagues from this House to the other place, but I suspect that that would not be democratic, either.
We are addressing issues this afternoon about the size of this House, the size of individual parties within this House, the balance across the House and, in discussing retirement, whether in effect membership of this House should actually be for the whole of the rest of one’s life. These are important issues about how this House is composed, and all are symptoms of a wider problem which has not been touched on in all the discussions around reform over the course of the summer in particular: what is the House of Lords for?
If there has been a weakness in the previous efforts to legislate for reform, it has been the inability to address the fear in the House of Commons that a democratically elected second Chamber would pose a threat, or at least be a rival, to the supremacy of the Commons. That is why it is necessary to address the question of function as well as composition. To my mind, the role of the House of Lords is not dissimilar to that articulated by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. It is: to scrutinise and revise the Government’s legislative agenda; to hold the Executive to account through questions, debates and the work of Select Committees; and, from time to time, to ask the House of Commons to think again. To be a Member of your Lordships’ House is to be in a position to fulfil this role. It is an honour and a privilege. Collectively, this House takes that role seriously. Individually, it has to be said, not every Member of the House applies themselves to this role with the same degree of dedication. Over the years, this Chamber has upped its game. It has listened to criticism and taken measures to strengthen the Code of Conduct and ensure that the Nolan principles on standards in public life are observed.
However, there is no job description; and, crucially, most appointments are still largely reliant on patronage. As long as that is the case, this House and its Members will continue to be vulnerable to the charge, however unfair, of not working hard enough.
My noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood has suggested a compulsory retirement age. I am not personally persuaded by that; it is a somewhat blunt tool, designed simply to reduce the size of the House without asking the fundamental question of what kind of Members we need to have to effectively do the job we are asked to do. Experience and collective memory can both be useful attributes in fulfilling our revision and scrutiny roles. Not only does a fixed retirement age jar because of discrimination; it could lead to the exclusion of some who have still much of relevance to contribute. Some of my colleagues have suggested automatic retirement if a certain percentage of attendance is not reached in a Session. It is superficially attractive but attracts the old adage “Be careful what you wish for”, because it will defeat the object if it leads to Peers who seldom attend turning up more often but still not contributing, simply to keep up their membership.
Many rudimentary issues may be touched on this afternoon regarding the role of your Lordships’ House. One to which I could dedicate the entirety of this speech is how this House relates to the nations and regions of this country. In its evidence to the Kilbrandon commission in 1970, in which my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood played a part, the Scottish Liberal Party argued that,
“a second chamber could facilitate federal co-ordination if it were composed of representatives of the national parliaments elected by them in proportion to their political composition”.
In a more federal United Kingdom, with a confident Scottish Parliament, an Assembly in Wales—which is set to see its powers increase—a still-delicate devolution settlement in Northern Ireland, and the promise of a northern powerhouse, we should be considering how this House can and should relate, and be relevant, to an evolving constitutional settlement. Such a discussion should surely take place and be remitted to a constitutional convention, as has been proposed in his Private Member’s Bill by my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed. In spite of what the Government have said, I urge Ministers to give serious consideration to supporting that Bill. It would ensure a process that is fully representative of the nations and regions in this country, and there would be an important conversation about our constitutional future.
That is very welcome. It is not just within our respective parties but in many other parts of the House that there is a view that we should do that and look at some of these fundamental issues in a proper context.
From these Benches, our quest for a better whole will not prevent us seeking improvements in the component parts where possible. That is why I will respond positively to the invitation from the noble
Baroness the Leader of the House to engage and find ways in which the Government, the Opposition and, indeed, the Cross Benches can improve the workings of this House, albeit short of the democratic mandate that I would like.
One such measure would be to end the system of hereditary by-elections to the House. As my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood said in 2011:
“I do not see that in the 21st century we can possibly stand up and say that people become Members of the British Parliament by heredity and election by three or four people”.—[Hansard, 21/10/11; col. 474.]
As I understand it, when it was introduced, the by-election system was supposed to be a temporary measure until the then Labour Government’s “second stage” of Lords reform. But like the promise of the 1911 Act, we are still waiting.
The role of patronage in the appointment of Members could be significantly reduced, with a stronger role for the independent Appointments Commission, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall. A more radical change to membership, but one that would be consistent with the thinking of the 2012 Bill, would be to introduce time-limited appointments rather than membership of the House being for the rest of one’s life. This would address some of the concerns of ever-increasing membership, while ensuring that membership is refreshed.
The main premise of the Motions before the House today is that, if we reduce the size of your Lordships’ House, everything will be fine. Respectfully, I profoundly disagree. There are fundamental issues to be addressed in our ever-evolving constitution, of which the role of the House is but one. I continue to believe, and make no apology for it, that democratic reform of the House would go a long way to addressing some of the criticisms that have been levelled at us in recent weeks. But in the absence of democratic reform, I undertake to work constructively with the other Benches in your Lordships’ House to improve our composition, our processes and, I sincerely hope, our reputation. However, I urge the Leader of the House, in the haste to resolve a seating shortage, please do not lose sight of the deep-rooted challenges facing this Chamber.
My Lords, there are many issues about the future of this House that could well be reviewed. However, today, we are addressing the question of its size.
It is a truth universally agreed that the House is too large and should be smaller; how much smaller is a matter for debate. I suggest that we should be aiming at an average of about 450 Members as our eventual goal, with not more than 500 and not fewer than 400.
Out trouble is this: the intake resulting from the creation of new Peers persistently exceeds the outflow resulting from deaths and voluntary retirements. So the size of the House has been, and is, increasing remorselessly.
I listened with great respect to the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. However, I am afraid I do not believe it realistic to think that any
Prime Minister would be willing to accept the imposition of any restriction on the number of peerages that he or she may recommend to be created. Any restraint on the part of the present or any other Prime Minister would be very welcome but purely voluntary.
We need, therefore, to look for means of increasing the rate at which Peers leave the House. In my view, we should not try to do this by setting a fixed age of compulsory retirement—attractive though the proposition by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is—because that would provide only temporary relief. Instead, we should look for a more rational, progressive and lasting way of dealing with the problem, and the way we deal with it should be a matter for the House of Lords itself to decide and operate.
My proposals would be as follows. The Life Peerages Act 1958 should be amended so as to provide that people shall be appointed as Peers for life but as Members of the House of Lords for fixed terms of five years. The House should have the power to renew the appointment of a Peer as a Member of the House of Lords for a further term or terms of five years. Decisions to renew should be taken on the recommendation of a reappointments committee of the House, chaired by the Lord Speaker.
That committee should be able to recommend, and the House to approve, repeat renewals without any statutory limits on age or length of service. In deciding whether to recommend a renewal, the committee would have regard to length of service, to age, to value of contribution to the work of the House, and to any other relevant considerations. No doubt the committee would be able, if it thought fit, to have regard to considerations of balance between the various party political and independent groups of Peers.
The presumption should be that at the first review of an appointment after the first five years of membership, the committee would recommend renewal for a second five-year term unless there was some positive reason, such as minimal contribution to the work of the House, to justify withholding such a recommendation. For second and subsequent renewals, the burden of proof should be reversed: the committee should look for positive reasons to recommend renewal for a further five-year term.
These provisions would apply to Peers created after the new legislation came into effect. There would need to be transitional arrangements to deal with those who are already Members of the House. My proposal here would be for the existing Members of the House to be brigaded in five groups according to length of service. Each group would be reviewed by the reappointments committee at the beginning of a parliamentary Session, and the committee would recommend which of the members of the group should be asked to take voluntary retirement under the 2014 Act not later than at the end of that Session.
Thus, those in the first group with the longest service would be reviewed in May 2016, with those recommended for voluntary retirement being asked to retire not later than April 2017. The process would then be repeated in 2017-18 for the second group, including those who had survived from the first review, and so on. Thus the last group would be reviewed in 2020-21.
These transitional arrangements could probably be given effect by Standing Orders if there was general agreement that they should be introduced. If the proposals were adopted, I suggest that noble Lords who are hereditary Peers be allowed to continue as Members of the House until death or retirement but should not be replaced.
I commend these proposals for the consideration of the House as offering a rational, progressive, lasting and workable means within the control of the House for reducing the size of the House of Lords to a more acceptable level.
My Lords, it has not been a great few weeks for your Lordships’ House. There has been much commentary and debate in the press and the media in general, especially discussions on the growth of numbers in this House. This has been tied in with the Prime Minister’s Dissolution list, which was inevitably longer than a mid-Parliament list would have been. We should recognise that it also marked the end of the coalition, which is why the Liberal Democrats were so recognised with an increase in their number.
This debate is premised on numbers. I have been waiting to hear a definitive case for a reduction in numbers to be made, and there have been various suggestions. The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, has just suggested a figure—450—that we should come down to. I recognise that there is a general dissatisfaction about the numbers in our House, which is reflected outside it, but I am not convinced that the case has been made, or sure how much that reduction should be. One reason is that we hear far more about the number of Peers who come in, rather than the numbers who leave for whatever reason. I would encourage my noble friend the Leader of the House to make known every quarter, perhaps by Written Statement, how many Peers have left and whether they have died, retired or taken leave of absence. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, said that we lose about 20 a year through death, and that the Leader of the House said that about 30 retired in the last 12 months. That is 50 altogether, which puts the Prime Minister’s list into a slightly different perspective.
I am very happy to be corrected later on, perhaps by the Leader of the House.
More importantly, I am not sure that numbers have ever counted for much in the House of Lords. In every single Parliament between 1945 and 2001, Labour were in a small minority in the House, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s. Yet, when in government they were always able to carry the Queen’s business—as did the Conservative Party—but perhaps more important than that, when in opposition they were extremely effective. In fact, I have always thought that the Labour Party was better in opposition in the House of Lords than in government.
One of the reasons for that is that we all recognise the limits of our power in the House of Lords. Yet, this century we have been testing the limits of that power. While we as a House might have become more relevant, and perhaps more political, I am not sure that we have become more powerful as a House, and nor should we. The House of Lords defeats the Government from time to time, but what is much more powerful than defeat is the strength of the argument that is deployed and the influence that is brought to bear, particularly if there is a sign of a rebellion from the party in government.
When the noble Lord reads my words, he will see that I said that far more powerful than defeating the Government was the strength of the argument. I maintain that that was the case even when we defeated the Government when I was Leader of the Opposition.
As other noble Lords have said, what also counts is that this House should do what it is asked to do: holding the Executive to account; scrutinising and revising legislation; debating the great issues of the day and informing Government and the people of our collective views; holding great committees of inquiry that take evidence; and thinking through the solutions to the difficult issues that face our country. The noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition indicated that that might not be complementing the work of the House of Commons, but that is exactly what my noble friend the Leader of the House meant when she said that we should complement the Commons. I very much welcome the fact that the Leader of the Opposition is still in post. It is a great relief to us all that she was reconfirmed.
My Lords, we are all very happy that that was the case.
I shall comment briefly on the various options of which there are only three. One is term limits, which the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, mentioned. I shall have to read what he said to understand some of his nuances. Others mentioned a term of 15 years. I wonder whether someone who was in mid-career, aged 45 or 50, would really welcome doing just 15 years in the House of Lords, or say a Conservative Peer arriving in 1996 and being flung out in 2011 just as we got into government.
Secondly, age limits sound simple and fair, but as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, realised, we might lose rather more than we gain. He has therefore invented a sort of life after death: a reverse euthanasia for Peers over 80. Yet, following me, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield will be making his valedictory speech. Of course we would hear a lot more of those from over-80 year olds if we adopted the noble Lord’s scheme.
The third option is a straightforward reduction—say, 20% of the House—like that of the hereditary Peers in 1999. This probably has the greatest merit, but it is not without its flaws. First, it is an immensely unpleasant process: I have been through it and can attest to that. Secondly, it creates what I may call the Pearson problem: the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is part of a smaller party, as are the Greens and the Welsh nationalists—I wish there were Scottish nationalists here as well—and I think they should be excluded from any process of reduction because there are so few of them.
I also echo what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, said: that any solution to this must recognise that we represent so many different parts of the United Kingdom and that the constitutional settlement is currently in flow. Nothing will happen unless the leaders of the parties and the Convenor of the Cross Benches can come to an agreement. I strongly urge that they work with the noble and learned Lord to see whether there is any consensus for coming forward with what I hope will be a non-legislative solution.
(Valedictory Speech) My Lords, one of my few really painful regrets is that I have not spent more time in your Lordships’ House, not least because of all the characters that one meets along these corridors. I remember that the first time I had a sandwich lunch here, I found myself sitting between one Peer who had just made a killing in his Bond Street gallery and another who had been in trade unions all his working life. It was wonderful to hear the conversation between them. So, before addressing the debate, I want to give my thanks to the officers and staff of the House, who have been so supportive during my time in your Lordships’ House.
As noble Lords know, Bishops sit not as Peers but as Lords spiritual and our position is ex officio. When we retire from our office, we also retire from this House. My own time to withdraw will be at the end of this month, so this is likely to be my final contribution from these Benches. Like all on these Benches, I have greatly appreciated the opportunity that it has provided to take part in debates on issues of great national and international importance. I have enjoyed the tussles and I have been astounded by the courtesy of so many Ministers, who have left no stone unturned to try to find an answer to the questions that I have had or the comments that I have made.
Since King Charles II’s time, the number of Lords spiritual allowed to sit in this chamber has been capped by statute at 26. It is an arrangement that ensures that there is a steady turnover on these Benches and that, over time, each part of the nation that the Church of England serves has a voice and a presence in this House. The question of the size of the House is back at the forefront of the debate on Lords reform. This Bench has worked for so long with the principle of an upper cap; it is something that others may want to consider.
Bishops have been Members of this House for as long as it has existed, apart from a brief period under Oliver Cromwell, and until the Reformation the majority of Lord Chancellors were also Lords spiritual. We take our modest, modern-day role seriously as part of our general vocation towards service to the nation. It is often said—indeed, it has been said already today—that, when it comes to governance and reform, our country is fonder of evolution than revolution. The same could be said for your Lordships’ House. In response to pressing need, steady and incremental changes have been made, and they have ensured that this House has kept itself equal to the task of revision and scrutiny so vital to its function.
We have in recent years been preoccupied with the size of the parties in this House, and rightly so. As a more or less neutral observer, it appears to me that this House is at its best when neither Her Majesty’s Government nor her loyal Opposition have large overall majorities. Proper, detailed, expert scrutiny, debate and discussion is what this Chamber thrives on. In that regard, it is essential that Cross-Bench and independent Peers remain a significant presence in this House to hold the balance and to ensure that all sides work together for the good of all.
Whatever the future holds for this House, it has been a great privilege to serve the people of Staffordshire, Shropshire and the Black Country, as well as being the 98th Bishop of Lichfield. I expect that the seat I vacate on these Benches towards the end of the month will be occupied by the new Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman. She will become the second female Lord spiritual to join your Lordships’ House. I wish both her and the new Bishop of Gloucester well in their roles here. As I have, I am sure that they will find the opportunity to serve in this way an enriching and rewarding experience. I give you my thanks.
My Lords, it is a very great pleasure and honour to follow the right reverend Prelate. I was a member of the Lichfield General Synod delegation that met in the appointments committee to recommend a new Bishop of Lichfield when the former bishop retired. We chose the right reverend Prelate to be our bishop in the diocese of Lichfield and he did not disappoint us. He quickly became known for the exercise of quiet, gentle authority. He will be much missed and fondly remembered in the diocese of Lichfield. I no longer live in that diocese—I now live in Lincoln—but I shall always treasure my connections, in particular the friendship that I enjoyed and I hope will continue to enjoy, with the right reverend Prelate. The House of Lords owes him much, and by his speech today he has demonstrated that there is a real validity and value in having a Bench of Bishops in your Lordships’ House.
I must declare an interest. As many of your Lordships know, some 13 years ago my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth and I founded the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, which only today had a well-attended meeting with more than 50 of your Lordships present. Before the events of July and before the new list, we established a sub-committee, which I have the honour of chairing, to look at the whole question of numbers in your Lordships’ House. This is not a problem that has just emerged; it is one of which we have been very conscious for a long time. It would be wrong for me to come out in favour of any particular solution in this debate because I would be pre-empting the discussion of our sub-group, but there are things that we are looking at and have to look at—some have already been touched on in the debate. I hope that we will be in a position to produce a degree of consensus in a report that your Lordships’ House will be able to consider, along with other reports, later this year.
I am well aware that to go for an arbitrary retirement age would be a simple but slightly crude solution. I am bound to say, along with my noble friend Lord MacGregor, the chairman of the Association of Conservative Peers—who sadly cannot be here today but he asked me to mention this—that I find some attraction in this solution. As the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has already referred to, at the end of this Parliament on
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, has indicated in his Motion that his solution perhaps needs refining—maybe we should look at other things. With the help of the Library I got some figures. There are 140 Members of your Lordships’ House who spoke less than once a year in the last Parliament. Some 17 of those eligible to attend in the last Session did not come at all. In the whole of the last Parliament, 119 voted fewer than 20 times and 47 did not vote at all. These are things that we have to take into account. I believe that there are solutions. I am bound to say that, much as I admire and respect the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, I thought that his solution was a tad complicated, but we could set a limit, a cap, on the number of Members in your Lordships’ House. At our sub-committee meeting last week, there was something approaching consensus in saying that we should try to fix your Lordships’ House at a size no bigger than that of the House of Commons—in other words, 600, as it will be at the beginning of the next Parliament. Maybe we should move on beyond that.
How do we do that? One solution that could commend itself to your Lordships would be that at the beginning of each Parliament the Cross-Benchers—who should be guaranteed 20% of the places—and the various party groups should elect, or select, so many of their number. There are constitutional precedents for this. The Acts of Union 1707 gave the Scottish peerage the opportunity and the duty of selecting 16 of their number to sit at Westminster in the House of Lords. Nearly 100 years later, in 1801, the Act of Union with Ireland gave the Irish peerage 28 seats in your Lordships’ House. Maybe this is a precedent that we should look at carefully. If we had a cap on numbers and did something like this within the Cross-Bench group and the party groups, we would have some satisfaction that it would not be driven by age or any other specific factor; it would take into account the contributions made by the Peers concerned. I also think we ought not to have a situation where the Prime Minister’s patronage is extinguished—that would be completely wrong—but, if at the beginning of each Parliament he were given 10%, he could nominate new or reappoint old as he wished.
My final point in this necessarily brief speech is that there is some merit in saying that a peerage should be for life but membership of this House should be for a defined period. I would make it a genuinely long defined period—perhaps as long as 20 years, but certainly 15—because I do not like the power of the Whips, and if they thought they could exercise a sort of perverse patronage every five years, your Lordships’ House would not be what it is today. I believe fundamentally in a House that does not challenge the unambiguous democratic mandate of the House of Commons and that acknowledges the supremacy of the House of Commons, but that brings together talent and experience from all walks of life in a way that no other second Chamber in the world is able to do.
My Lords, I quote from a very interesting little article in the New Statesman the other week by Mr Peter Wilby, a former educational correspondent on the Guardian:
“Are the Tories secretly planning to kill off the House of Lords in its present form? It is hard to reach any other conclusion from David Cameron’s extraordinary ennoblement of failed and discredited politicians alongside obscure Tory donors and former special advisers. Now the house has more than 800 members, it has become a joke, even to those who were previously among its firmest supporters”.
In my view and in the eyes of the electorate, this House looks quite ridiculous. All the good work by very talented men and women is now sidelined in a sea of ridicule. A very small number of individuals, party donors, expenses cheats and vendors of access have undermined the credibility and reputation of this institution. It is in that climate that Mr Cameron now intends to stuff not just 50 or 35 Conservative Peers—whatever it is—into the House. This is only the first group; there will be further groups in the next 12 months.
We know he has a problem because the Government want their business to get through, but he created the problem by bringing into this House a disproportionate number of Peers in the last Parliament, many of whom were Liberal Democrats. This is not the first time that he has stuffed the House. He stuffed it with 110 Peers in the period between May and November 2010, putting so much pressure on the introductions system that, in the Procedure Committee, we had to carry two reports that year—the first and third reports—recommending an arrangement for an increase in the daily intake of Members. A Motion was put before the House to do that, and I suspect that it will have to come before the House again. We are in a position to block it if we wish to slow down the process of introduction.
I want a cap and have a partial solution for that: one death equals one new appointment, and one retiree equals one new appointment—what I call the policy of substitution. That approach, in a rather simplistic way, would immediately cap the numbers, but the problem of the disproportionality remains. In the procedures and practices debate earlier this year, I predicted that the Liberals would be reduced to a rump, which they were; that there would a be a huge increase in the UKIP and Green vote, which there was; and that all that would be followed by a further invasion of a large number of Liberal Democrat Peers, who in my view should not be taking their seats in this House at this stage. I recognise the immense contribution made by people like Menzies Campbell and Alan Beith over many years in the House of Commons, but I still do not believe that they should be coming in at this time on the basis of the present arrangement. They should come in on the basis of the policy of substitution which I referred to.
My long-term view has remained the same from the day I was appointed to this House. I believe in either indirect or direct elections, and everything else is a compromise. In the interim, however, how do we proceed to reduce the numbers? The document produced by the Library sets out a number of possible arrangements, such as severance and the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, for the 80-plus option. But we could consider a two-tier system of membership: voting membership and non-voting membership. How would you divide the voting membership from the non-voting membership? You could have internal elections, which I suppose could reflect proportionality, or you could have another system which is more blunt but which to some extent takes into account the system proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. You could have a system whereby those who remained in the House after the age of 80 would simply not have a vote; those under 80 would vote. That would enable those with huge experience who were still clear in their thinking to come to this House and give it the benefit of their judgments and then leave without voting. It would provide them with flexibility in their later lives and yet bring to the House the benefit of their knowledge.
My Lords, the Leader of the House, the Lord Privy Seal, in introducing this important debate said that the House “cannot grow indefinitely”. The problem is that, at the moment, it is growing indefinitely. Therefore, unless somebody somewhere changes the way in which things are happening, it will continue to grow and at some stage its membership will be over 1,000, which clearly would be a tipping point that would indeed make us look ridiculous, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.
The Leader also said that we should concentrate on our purpose, and the leader of my party, the Liberal Democrats, my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, asked: what is the House of Lords for? I think that most of us who are here have a pretty good idea of what it is for, because it is what we do. By and large, we do it fairly well. We can argue as to what we ought to do and whether we should do more or less of it, and we can argue about the ways in which we do it, but those things are relatively marginal. We know what it is for. The problem is that, increasingly, people out there—the rest of the country and the rest of the world—do not know what we do. They do not understand it, and those journalists who do have given up trying to tell those who do not.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said that we are looking ridiculous. I think that he said that we are wallowing in a sea of ridicule, or something like that. We have to understand what the tipping point was in the media that caused that to happen. It was nothing to do with the size of the House. It was not to do with the Prime Minister appointing new Peers; it was not anything to do with what we do. It was the stupid behaviour, caught by the media, of one particular senior Member of this House. In the way that the British media operate, that is the event which put the House of Lords into a sea of ridicule—if that is where we are.
After what has been a dreadful summer for this House from a publicity point of view, the first thing that we have to do is to avoid any more ridicule in the short run. People who have the ear of the Prime Minister really have to tell him in words of one syllable that there must be no more significant appointments, no more large lists—there may be individuals, but that is different—of new Peers for the foreseeable future, certainly for 12 months. Then we can see how it goes beyond that.
Of course, the Prime Minister is accused of trying to boost the government numbers in the new circumstances of a Conservative Government, but he has not actually done that. He has boosted the government numbers on a net balance between the opposition parties and the government party by seven. Why appoint 45 Peers, and get all the opprobrium for doing that, when all it does is boost the government numbers by seven? The 10 defeats of the Government before the Summer Recess were all by majorities larger than that—some by very significantly larger majorities. The idea, which some people in the Conservative Party were telling me was going to happen, that we were going to get a lot of new Conservative Peers to make sure that the Government had something like a majority in this House, is nonsense. It cannot be done without a huge number of appointments.
One thing that can be done to avoid a degree of ridicule is the immediate abolition of hereditary Peers’ by-elections, which are amusing and fun, but if anybody out there really knew about them and what was going on, they would be a matter of derision. There must be a moratorium on lists. The idea of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, of one out and one in is a good one, although it does not actually reduce the numbers. Combined with a self-denying ordinance of no more lists for the foreseeable future, numbers would start to fall.
We must remember that one of the principles underlying the halfway reform of the House of Lords in 1999, when most of the hereditaries were invited to leave, was that never again would the Government have a majority in the House of Lords. Therefore, the House of Lords would be different; it would be a body with no overall political control. That was tested to its limits in the last five years under the coalition, and it was something that a lot of us on the Liberal Democrat Benches were well aware of. To some extent, some groups—I had better be careful how I phrase this—of people on the Cross Benches stepped in and filled the gap. They were very largely responsible for those occasions on which the Government were defeated, and they did a very good job with that. We are clearly the pivotal group again in the House, and that is the situation that was expected after the 1999 settlement. I therefore say to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours—and I agree with a lot of what he said—that he has to stop his obsession with the Liberal Democrats and the numbers we have here.
Finally, in the whole of my political life, I have been an observer of and a member of bodies, including this House until recently, where the Liberal Democrats were disgracefully underrepresented. Now, suddenly, we are overrepresented; suddenly, we find that people such as the noble Lord are new devotees of proportional representation, but only in so far as it does us down. Let us work together on these things, rather than making those kind of remarks. I believe that there are ways forward and we should look for them constructively.
My Lords, getting up to speak at this stage of the debate, I find that there have been so many interesting points that different people have made that I feel like abandoning what I was going to say and trying to comment on what other people have said; but I will resist that and try to say what I originally intended.
First of all, we ought to say that in spite of what everybody says, this place still does a pretty good job in what it is supposed to do. I do not think we should run ourselves down so much that people think we are a complete shower, as some people might have implied. Secondly, I accept that there are too many Peers in the House of Lords for us to do as effective a job as we ought to; we do not need as many Peers as we have. Therefore, if we could think of some ways of dealing with that, it would be right.
I congratulate the Leader of the House on her speech; I thought it was absolutely excellent. She employed the right tone for trying to see whether we could have some sensible discussions on what are extremely difficult issues. We have had various attempts over the years; and I see a former Lord Chancellor sitting over there who was very much involved in removing the hereditary Peers from this House. We ended up then saying that we needed 100 of them here, and as a matter of fact, the 100 who remained kept the House going. They were the hardest-working Peers in the whole place. Thank God we did that, but we did not succeed on that basis in reducing the numbers of people who regularly turned up. The leadership of my noble friend the Leader of the House has brought a highlight on the retirement of Members, but there is nothing new about that. Members have been able to retire for hundreds of years: we just do not turn up; we do not come. We all could have retired long ago if we had wanted to, but putting this emphasis on it has made people start to think about the numbers, and it is to her credit that that has been done.
The new law that criminals can no longer sit in this House, while an entirely creditable thing, is not—I sincerely hope—going to change the numbers significantly in the future. I hope the House will indulge me if I go back to 15 years ago, when I produced a royal commission report that a lot of people said was very good—it was balanced; it was this and that and the other thing—and then they did sweet nothing about it. It is interesting to reflect on why that was the case: the reason was that we had attempted in the royal commission to find a balanced solution that gave something to everybody. Actually, however, nobody—but nobody worth while—was prepared to compromise in any way. The result was to go on as we were. The lesson there is that we must find a consensus. The Prime Minister and Government are absolutely right in not bringing forward substantial legislation to reform this House until we can achieve some form of consensus. That is what we must do, and that means everybody will not get what they absolutely want. They will get some but not all of it.
What do we do now? As I listened to the suggestions, I should have made a list. On one side would have been those that require legislation. Forget about those—they will not happen for the next few years—so what can the House do without legislation? There is a great deal more we could do to find solutions if we set about that properly. They will not be perfect solutions and they will be, in my view, only temporary. It will be five or 10 years before any reform of this House comes into effect. It will probably be 10 years from now, even if it starts in the next Parliament. However, there are a lot of things we could do to deal with the numbers. My noble friend the Leader is absolutely right. She should work together with the other leaders of the parties to see whether we can work out some practical, sensible solutions. All sorts of things to do with allowances and so on can be done.
It would not be sensible for me to suggest in detail what should be done because once you start those sorts of negotiation, as with the reform of Europe, if you announce your final objectives then everybody wants to criticise them. We should genuinely have negotiations between the parties to see whether we could find practical solutions to deal with some of the problems. I am certainly prepared to write a letter to my noble friend to set out some of my thoughts on that but it is unhelpful to start a discussion by saying what you want to achieve at the end of it. We will not achieve everything but there is no reason why this House cannot do a number of things. We must find a majority that want to do them. In the interests of Parliament and recognising that we do a good job, I say that there are too many of us here—that is my recommendation to my noble friend.
My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, I cannot resist temptation. I will not go through the Hayman formula for the basis on which to reduce numbers in your Lordships’ House. We are only a third of the way through the speakers already. We have had myriad suggestions and will have a few more. We will have many repetitions of suggestions.
I have nothing particularly novel to suggest to the House. In principle, I like the idea of term appointments but I would be more radical in divorcing membership of your Lordships’ House from the honours system completely in future. It is also important that, although I understand the Leader’s call for simplicity, we do not choose an instrument that is so blunt that it leaves us with a House of only recent appointees and none of the corporate memory that is often of great assistance to the House in its purpose. Purpose is important.
Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I think size matters, too. The size of the House at the moment is a barrier to public understanding of what the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, just said, which is absolutely true: the House does a very good job on a range of issues on which we have a common understanding. We cannot fight through the current level of disbelief in the necessity of a House of this size. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said he had not heard a good argument for reducing the size of the House, but public perception is a good argument. We can no longer say that the play is wonderful but the audience is terrible.
I did a lot of media commentary at the end of July. It was not a happy experience, but it left me in no doubt that, although it may have been sparked by the behaviour of an individual, we are in something of a perfect storm so far as the House’s reputation is concerned. The number of appointments, the seemingly random nature of how we decide the size of the House and the continued use of the prerogative are causing great damage to the reputation of the House.
There is also another argument about the working of the House, and the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, referred to this. I do not believe that ever-increasing numbers are allowing us to do our job of scrutinising the Government—of holding them to account—better. You have only to look at the truncation of speeches in debates and the inability of people who are often world experts to get in at Question Time to see that having more and more people does not make us more and more productive. It is tremendously important that we tackle the size of the House.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that nothing will happen unless the Leader of the House is able to create the political will among the leaders of the other parties and the Convenor to take this forward. The key is not to have the detailed list of how we are going to do it, but to create the sense that action will follow the statement of principles. For the statement of principles, I would go for a cap on the size of the House before the next general election that reduces it to below the size of the House of Commons. I may not win that one—450, 550 or 602 might be a better number—but we must have a number and one that will not be exceeded in future.
What is more difficult, and on which we also need political agreement, are the implications for party strength within the House. If we come up with a formula for retirement at 80, for example, it disadvantages one party against another—it is a non-starter. It will never happen. The more difficult task of deciding where we are and how we will accommodate the reduction within the groups is the most important thing that group could do.
Finally, we seem to be developing, if not inventing, conventions about membership of your Lordships’ House with regard to temporary civil servants. We need conventions governing the principles on which appointments are made to this House after a general election. No one will get a Prime Minister to give up completely his prerogative over appointments, but there is a real case for public discussion and decision about how the results of a general election should be reflected in the proportionality of groups in this House. Unless we crack that one as well, we will be having the same debates after another general election.
My Lords, in 1997 when I arrived in this House, I received wise words from my mentor and introducer Lord Weatherill, who stressed the need for incremental reform of this House. He pointed out that there would be moves for long-term, permanent reform, but said that he favoured slow but steady changes that would do much to underpin and strengthen public trust and confidence in this House. Concentrating on raising public trust and confidence should be what this debate is all about. My noble friend the Lord Privy Seal, the Leader of the House, talked about our core purpose and how right she was in stressing that we complement. My definition of “complement” is that we make, shape and revise laws and check and challenge the Government of the day. In that way, we fulfil our purpose. Size is very important, but it should never seek to dominate our agenda to the exclusion of the need to demonstrate our experience and knowledge. As we discuss the Motions before us, I urge all noble Lords to be realistic. As my noble friend Lord Wakeham just pointed out, we should never seek to be overambitious as we will never do everything that needs to be done as quickly as we would like. My speech, therefore, is just to persuade that the right way forward is by using the power of incremental change.
I had the honour to respond to my noble friend, then the Leader of the House, and to chair the Leader’s Group on Members leaving the House five years ago. I am very grateful to Dan Byles, who pointed out that when he proposed what I call the Steel Bill, but is apparently the House of Lords Reform Act, he was intent on delivering “very modest reform”. That is why he succeeded. I am very grateful, not only to him but also to the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and other noble Lords for their key role in securing the changes implemented as a result of that Act. Since then, as we have learnt in this debate, the number of voluntary retirements has risen to 35 and I single out for praise and thanks our Lord Speaker, for the initiatives she has taken to ensure that colleagues can now retire with honour and dignity. That was just one of our key recommendations and there are many others.
My colleagues on that group—the noble Baronesses, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, Lady Murphy and Lady Scott of Needham Market, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and my noble friend Lady Sharples—and I organised a widespread consultation on a range of issues relating to the future of the House. Eighty-three colleagues put forward suggestions. Many of them have already participated and will be participating in this debate, and I still have all those pages of suggestions, which are a wonderful reservoir of advice. We said in paragraph 36 of our report,
“that the party leaders and the Convenor should develop a new understanding … about the proportion of seats in the current House on which it would be appropriate for each party or group to rely”.
In paragraph 57, we said that if voluntary retirement did not result in a sufficient reduction,
“further consideration should be given to an arrangement whereby the different groups in the House elect those who should remain”.
We also suggested having voting and non-voting Members. There was a great deal in that report, which I urge noble Lords to revisit.
There are many other recommendations, including my personal one in paragraph 48, that there should be a fund,
“resourced entirely by voluntary contributions from members and at no cost to public funds … to assist retired members who might otherwise experience financial hardship”.
I strongly believe that it is about time we took action to look after those of our colleagues—a rising number—who take retirement and in later years need some form of financial help. We should regard it as our obligation to assist them.
I also refer to our recommendation in paragraph 63 that the honour of a life peerage should not automatically entail appointment to membership of the House, which should be reserved to those who are willing to make a significant commitment to public service in Parliament. There are many other recommendations, so instead of urging further seminars, discussions and debates, I urge noble Lords to revisit some of the many suggestions that have been made in the past and come forward with the consensus that can enable incremental reform.
My Lords, unlike my noble friend Lady Hayman, I cannot resist elevation, so whatever we decide after this debate about the total membership of this House, I have a rather radical proposal which would take some time to work through but may make us more effective. It attempts to address many of the concerns raised by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House about the total number of Members and their attendance.
My proposal allows us to retain the wide and rich variety of knowledge, wisdom and skills of our Members, but in such a manner that we all could contribute more in a focused and manageable way. It gives all Members of the House of Lords the opportunity to commit to a fixed period of full-time work in the Lords. In this way, the public would feel that they may hold us more justifiably to account. I have made this suggestion on various previous occasions when we have discussed the role, functions, procedures and membership of the House of Lords. I submitted evidence to the Wakeham commission, I have talked about this with Lord Chancellors and have written about it to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House.
I want your Lordships to include in your deliberations the concept of full-time and part-time Members of this House. After listening to 15 years of discussion of membership of the Lords, I am more than ever convinced that adopting a system whereby each Peer during his or her life as a Member can spend a period here as a full-timer is worthy of consideration. This scheme uses all Lords’ talents while retaining Members’ independence and skills. It allows them to carry on their work outside the House, which, after all, is what brought them here in the first place: it is their excellence in their jobs or professions which made them eligible to serve here. I believe that moving to this system, together with any changes we are discussing today, would greatly enhance our effectiveness.
So how could we move to a system in which one-third of the Members of the House are full-time, and yet still allow Lords to carry on with their work outside the House? The first innovation, which has already been mentioned, is that Members of the upper House serve for a fixed period—something that I think will eventually come—of nine years, although my suggestion could also be adapted to six, 12 or 15 years. For a third of their time—three years—Peers would serve as we do now, part-time. For example, I was managing director of Marks & Spencer when I became a Member of your Lordships’ House. So, as now, Peers would continue to work outside the House and be unpaid for their work here, except for the daily allowance.
For the middle three years, they would become full-time and would be paid a salary. They will have had three years’ notice, which is enough time to arrange a secondment from their normal employment and for their employers to plan for it; and in that first three years they will have had time to learn how this place works and therefore will have been trained for their full-time jobs. The lower-paid who come here—the teachers, nurses and social workers—and young Peers would be delighted with pay equivalent to, say, an MP’s, and company directors or wealthy professionals will take the pain of a drop in salary for three years for the sake of the honour and experience.
In the final three years of their time here, Peers would return to their work outside this place, but they would have become experienced part-timers in the Lords. They would have a great deal to offer the novices coming in, and could be mentors to those in their middle three years here starting their full-time job. Eventually, with, say, 750 Members of the upper House, there would always be 250 part-timers who were just getting involved; 250 who had been here for at least three years and were serving full-time; and 250 wise and experienced part-timers who had been here for at least six years, three of those full-time.
How we appoint or elect Members will be discussed many times, but whatever we decide on how to bring people into the House, how many Peers there should be and for how long they should serve, I feel that this suggested innovation would enhance and strengthen the changes we eventually agree to in the House.
The other convention I think we should adopt is that if noble Lords are given six minutes to speak and speak for only four, they should be able to bank the other two minutes for another day.
My Lords, I do not apologise for returning to a theme I have been pursuing for some 12 years in suggesting how this House might be reformed. I was very pleasantly surprised to hear the speech of my noble friend Lord Cormack about the meeting that the committee he runs with my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth has just had. It seems that it embraced nearly all the points I have been advocating for the past 12 years and which, about eight years ago, I presented to that distinguished committee. I do not apologise for returning to this issue because if we are talking about incremental changes, we ought to know where those changes are going to take us and, therefore, where the steps are going to take us.
On the size of the House, I find it rather curious that the Government keep topping up the Members when the same Government, in coalition, proposed in legislation only a few years ago a House of about 500 Members. I think we all agree that the House is now far too big, and I have been advocating a cap for all these years.
The argument I want to make today is entirely illustrative, and I hope it will be taken that way. To make the arithmetic easy, let us suggest a cap of 500. I have suggested all along that the Cross-Bench element should be 20%, which would mean 100 Cross-Bench Peers. I suggest that at each general election, the cap should return to that total of 500. Within each Parliament, there should be only limited opportunities for new appointments, totalling 5% or 10%, say.
I am opposed to an age limit, and I do not agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is proposing. I would leave it to each party after each general election, based on the result, to decide who stays and who goes. The party caucus knows best who contributes, who attends, who does not bother and who is really of no great assistance.
I come to a point that I have not made before. People often talk about the party balance of the 400 Members who are left, saying that it should reflect either the general election or the state of the party balances in another place. I have always advocated that the balance of the parties here should reflect what goes on outside. I have been trying to illustrate how that might work, and I am most grateful to Russell Taylor of the Library, who has done a survey for me on how the 400 Peers with a party affiliation might be split. He has kindly worked out for me what the House would look like today if the remaining 400 were proportionately distributed among the UK parties, based on a halfway point between their percentage share of the vote and their percentage of seats in the House of Commons after each general election.
I find the result quite interesting. Under present arrangements, the Conservative Party would have 175 seats, some 38% of the total vote in this House. The Labour Party would have 132 seats—about 27%—not far from where they are now. The Scottish National Party would have 27 seats, about 5%. The Liberal Democrats would have 18 seats, about 4%. UKIP would have 26 seats, about 5%. The Greens would have eight seats, which is between 1% and 2%. That would leave 14 seats for some of the regional groups—the Northern Ireland parties and Plaid Cymru—which together would have around 3% of the total. This is purely an illustration of how it might be done. You could alter it so that it was not 50% of votes and seats, but that would be a matter for discussion.
I believe, as I have believed for the last 12 years, that a solution such as this would result in a House with a substantial Cross-Bench element, which everyone seems to want. You would have a Government with less than 40% of the vote and maybe a cap on all governments, so that they would not be allowed to go over that figure. It would avoid having a membership that mirrored that of the Commons, which an elected Chamber, to which I am opposed, would lead. It would mean that the House of Lords would remain no ultimate threat to the House of Commons. I make these suggestions once more as illustrations, and I hope they may be helpful.
My Lords, the title of today’s debate is “Further incremental reform to address the size of the House”. It seems a funny thing to debate. Surely the debate should be why the Prime Minister is creating so many new Members when we are already overcrowded. The best way to control immigration is to close UK borders. There are other solutions but that is the easiest solution, and the same applies here. Whether it is right to close down completely is another matter.
I am greatly reassured by the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the number of UKIP Peers should not be reduced. Looking at the numbers created under this and the last Government, it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that the Prime Minister is making a mockery of this House, deliberately to force reform from this place, because probably neither House will agree to it. The House of Commons will not, and why should it, when over a quarter of our Members were Members of the other place? But one has to ask the question: why should existing Members be penalised to accommodate more new Members? Why should we, who were appointed for life, now be told there will be a retiring age, fixed terms, attendance requirements—which of course achieve nothing—and then be criticised for not taking part in so many debates? For example, you can be in the House for three to four hours to speak for five minutes.
The recent spate of proposed appointments is a Dissolution Honours List. Where are the UKIP appointments? This is the party whose voting pattern helped this Government to be elected. Where is the recognition that UKIP got 4 million or 13% of the vote and came second in over 150 seats? UKIP required 100 times as many votes for its one elected MP as the Conservatives did for each of theirs. Surely one way to right this wrong is to honour the commitment given by the Government in this House in reply to Written Questions tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and by me. For example, on
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to rebalance the membership of the House of Lords in line with the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election”.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, replied:
“It remains the Government’s intention that appointments to the House of Lords will be made with the objective of creating a second Chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.
The Prime Minister exercises his powers in relation to appointments to the House of Lords in order to deliver this coalition commitment and will continue to keep numbers under review”.—[Hansard, 21/5/13; col. WA 57.]
One way to do that, while recognising the Cross-Benchers, would be to limit this House to, say, 600 Members to start with—the same as the reformed Commons—and to allocate Peerages based on the percentage vote secured by each party at the last general election. Members would be proposed by the respective parties, serve for five years and then be reviewed based on the following election result.
On the basis of votes cast last May, UKIP would be entitled to more than 65 Members rather than the three we have now—none of whom were originally members of UKIP. Is this really a fair representation of the views of the British population who, according to the latest opinion polls, might well vote to leave the European Union?
Despite our concern about the numbers in this House, the Government have had a chance to honour the above commitment but they have failed to do so. May I ask when or even if this will be honoured, or are the Government now wriggling on their latest statement that Peers’ numbers should reflect the result of the last general election? But even on that basis, how can the Dissolution Honours List be justified? A reduction in some parties’ membership of this House would be more appropriate. At the last general election the Conservatives got 330 seats with the vote from 24% of the electorate; UKIP got one seat with 8%. It is a clear case for electoral reform.
This House has too many Members, but if this Government are to persist in the creation of more, they should recognise their commitment to making this House more representative of the votes cast in the general election, and any new appointments should clearly honour that commitment.
My Lords, Anthony Trollope, the Victorian novelist, once observed that the cure for admiring the House of Lords was to go and actually have a look at it. If he went and had a look at it today he might admire the valuable work that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House referred to; or he might see an assembly bursting at the seams, overflowing into what used to be space reserved for visitors, and a somewhat untidy Question Time. If he ventured into the Library on a crowded night, he might see something resembling a Belgian battlefield. There is a problem of size.
The emphasis in my noble friend’s admirable speech was on incremental reform. Of course the reform can only be incremental; we are not discussing the ultimate solution—the ultimate reform of this House. What we are discussing can only be provisional, though we should be encouraged by the fact that nothing tends to last as long as the provisional. There needs to be action to reduce the size of the House. It is not just bursting at the seams; I very much agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said—that the problem of numbers is actually making it more difficult for the House to do its job. As she said, there are debates in which expert speakers are restricted to two or three minutes. It is the same when these people try to get in at Question Time. The problem of numbers is related to the purpose of this House, which is to revise and to hold the Executive to account.
I have great sympathy with the Motion that has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I think he demonstrated with the arithmetic—I had some other figures which were not as up to date as his—that what he proposes would make a very significant difference to the size of this House. He has put in an escape clause for there to be certain exceptions, and I am sure that we can all call to mind certain people who might reach the age of 80 but who make a very valuable contribution to this House. When people go and consider all the alternatives that will be offered, they will probably find that the proposal put by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is pretty unavoidable.
One alternative would be to consider ending by-elections for the 92 hereditaries. That would also have an effect on numbers but would very much affect the party balance on this side of the House; it would affect the representation of the Conservative Party. Again, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, proposals that disadvantage one party at the expense of another will not be agreed, so that would have to be considered alongside the question of the overall balance in this House.
I, like other noble Lords who have spoken, believe that we ought to have a cap. However, that cap ought to be introduced now on the present numbers, and it should be a reducing cap. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, both today and on a previous occasion, proposed a cap and a one-for-one solution; that is to say, one new Peer appointed for every one that goes out. I suggest that it ought to be something like one for three—three out, one in—and that the cap be slowly reduced over time. We want a whole series of measures that will reduce gradually. It cannot be done overnight, as the Leader of the House very rightly emphasised.
It has been reported in the press that the Prime Minister believes that reform has to come from this House. Well and good. However, it also has to come from restraint on the part of the Prime Minister in the number of peerages that he appoints. I would suggest that that discretion ought to be exercised within a reducing cap. We made a mistake some years ago when we bought into the idea that Governments who win elections are then entitled to make more Peers to reflect the result of the election, whether it be in seats or in the percentage of the vote. That is just a recipe—particularly if there is an alternation of Governments—for an ever-increasing size of the House, which is just not practical. No Government, Conservative or Labour, will have a majority in this House—there are too many Cross-Benchers for that—but we have to accept that a Government of whatever complexion will always be in a minority. As has been said by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, Labour Governments operated for a long period when there was a very large Conservative majority against them. That is the reality which Governments in the future will have to operate against.
The question was asked, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens: “Why should we bring in other people when we have been appointed for life?”. But, of course, we have to recognise that experience grows old and the Government need to bring in fresh talent. Experience is a wonderful thing but it can get out of date. The Lords is also a convenient way of appointing Ministers who may have special expertise or have come from a commercial background with no particular political involvement. Often, when they have been a Minister, they lose interest in this House and return to the City or their businesses. Why cannot the same statutory mechanism for retirement be used for those who, having been Ministers, wish to go back to their businesses? Perhaps they could be appointed Ministers of this House on the understanding that they will use the statutory mechanism once they cease to hold office.
Lastly, in passing, perhaps I may just say, although I do not want to make too much of this, that I do not think that people should be appointed to this House who, for various reasons such as Civil Service practice, are not allowed to speak. The Leader has previously commented on this, but I think it is quite wrong to appoint people to this House who are not able to make a contribution actually by speaking, particularly when so many other people might be candidates for this House. I was very surprised that this passed the Appointments Commission—perhaps someone will comment on that later. I agree with my noble friend the Leader of the House that we want simplicity; this cannot be done in one leap; and we need to work with other parties to achieve a consensus. However, we need action on the size of the House, and quickly.
My Lords, I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, with whose remarks I found myself in a very large measure of agreement. I declare my interest as a member of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, but I make it clear that anything I say today is said in a purely personal capacity. To pick up on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, at the end of his speech, we in the commission did not feel that we had a great deal of jurisdiction over the cases of people who are civil servants, or spads—special advisers—but we might be able to do better about that on another occasion.
The deluge of hostile publicity over the summer seems to have reached tipping point, such that it is now imperative that we do something to neutralise the cheap hits that it is all too easy for people to make at the expense of the House. At least three issues need to be addressed. First, on size, like everybody else, except possibly the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I would like to see the size of the House substantially reduced to somewhere between 450 and 600 Members. Various formulae for achieving this are suggested. I have my doubts about the arbitrary way in which a retirement age might work, although the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for introducing an element of flexibility might make that more acceptable. Time-limited terms might have something of the same effect, but perhaps not quite to the same extent.
I favour a cull of those who attend infrequently and contribute little. From figures I have recently heard, this might go a considerable way to achieving the desired result. After that, I would invite the party and Cross-Bench groups to complete the required reduction through a process of deciding who should leave rather than who should stay—the reverse of the exercise that was undertaken to determine which of the hereditaries should remain after House of Lords reform in 1999.
“that the next stage of Lords reform should not wait for a consensus on elections”,
proposed that the Prime Minister no longer determine the size of the House of Lords and the party balance and called for an agreed formula for sharing out appointments. In 2013 the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee emphasised that agreeing such a formula was the “most crucial” next step in Lords reform.
Professor Meg Russell of University College London’s Constitution Unit has made detailed and carefully worked-out proposals for addressing the questions both of size and of prime ministerial patronage. Her suggestions include applying a one-in, two-out formula until the desired reduction has been achieved. I was going to say that that is somewhat more radical than that proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, until I heard the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, recommending a one-in, three-out formula, which seems even better. Professor Meg Russell argues that the Prime Minister should be pressed hard to commit to changes along the lines of her proposals. I am not quite sure how one persuades the Prime Minister to engage in a self-denying ordinance. However, perhaps the noble Baroness the Leader of the House might have a word with him and draw the UCL report to his attention with a view to promoting a positive discussion. At all events, I endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said about her role in creating the necessary political will.
Thirdly, while I do not favour elections as the means of populating this House, further consideration needs to be given to the way in which Members are appointed. The threat of elections has been seen off for now, but so long as appointment is based principally on a system of patronage this House will continue to be vulnerable to charges of illegitimacy. As noble Lords may recall, I favour a system of appointment by an Appointments Commission as at present, but greatly strengthened by a system of nominations from the different branches of civil society—the law, medicine, the arts, sport, education, the armed services, business, the trade unions, the third sector and so on. Schemes of this sort are sometimes spoken of as a system of indirect election based on electoral colleges. They are more correctly thought of as a more broadly based system of appointment. This is my idea but a range of alternative proposals have been made in a similar vein. I was pleased to see that both the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill and the alternative report on that Bill called for further work to be done on the question of indirect election. That would provide a framework for examining the various proposals for strengthening the system of recruitment to this House. I hope that once they have finished addressing the question of the size of the House, the various groups looking at these things may agree to undertake some work on the issue of appointment, and I should like to think that the Government might give some support to this work.
Do I get an extra minute to bank for future occasions?
My Lords, I wish to address three points based on the four Motions before us. The first is on the purpose of reform. I very much welcome the Motion moved by my noble friend the Leader of the House. She quite rightly stresses the importance of incremental reform. There is general acceptance in the House that we should undertake such reform to address the size of the House. The acceptance is, in many respects, a starting point in our consideration. We accept the need for it but are in danger of avoiding the reasoning behind it. Why do we undertake reform? We need to have a clear understanding of the qualitatively distinctive role of the House and the justification for it; only then can we establish what needs to be done to ensure that we are doing our job as effectively as we can. The House of Commons indulges in the politics of assertion. This House engages in the politics of justification. We need to protect that. Our work rests, as with much of the British constitution, on a series of understandings. We could begin by recognising what they are and drawing them together. That would in essence establish the foundations of this House’s role in the political system.
The size of the House can be located within this wider context. Having a larger membership creates problems for the efficient functioning of the House and in how it is perceived by the media and the public. It is necessary that we address it and I initiated a debate on it last year. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that while such reform is necessary it is not sufficient. A smaller House may increase our efficiency, but we need to look not just at the size of the House but also at the process by which Members are appointed.
My second point relates very much to the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall. There is public disquiet at the size of the House, but the legitimacy of the House in the eyes of the public rests as much on the process of appointment as it does on how many Peers sit in the House. The 2007 Ipsos MORI poll of public attitudes to this House found that the factor deemed most important in determining the legitimacy of the House was trust in the appointments process. Some 25% of those questioned deemed it important; 70% deemed it very important. Next in ranking was the process of detailed legislative scrutiny. We need to look therefore at the appointments process, implementing the provisions of the Steel Bill by putting the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis, raising the threshold for appointment and making the whole process more transparent.
My third point relates to the other two Motions before us in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Steel of Aikwood and Lord Pearson of Rannoch. As we have heard this afternoon there are various proposals for reducing the size of the House. The point to stress, and it has come over in a number of speeches, is that they are not mutually exclusive. One could have an age limit, as we have heard, but one may need to think about other reforms as well. Indeed, I argue that we have to. An age limit is effective but, as we have heard, it is arbitrary and does not deal with the party-political conundrum highlighted by the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. As we have heard, one can get fluctuations in party support, sometimes quite significant ones as we saw in May’s general election. One may get alternation of parties in office, with each incoming Government wanting to boost their numbers. We may need therefore to consider a more subtle means of adjusting numbers than is possible through an age limit. One possibility is to consider a formula whereby following an election each party is allocated a number of Members based on the party’s support in the election, be it in terms of votes or seats or arguably, following the line of my noble friend Lord Jopling, a combination of the two, with say 90% of the Members being elected by the party group in the House and the remaining 10% in the gift of the party leader. That is one possibility, but it is to be considered alongside and not necessarily instead of the others put forward.
We have a track record of achieving change. The obstacle to achieving legislative reform has not been this House, but rather successive Governments, who have had to be pressed to agree to the reforms we favour getting on to the statute book. Major reform has failed not in this House, but in the Commons. We have the political will to achieve change. We should articulate our role and the understandings that sustain it and then agree on what needs to be done to ensure that we are as effective as we can be. We cannot afford to miss the opportunity, but let us make sure we do not fixate on just one part of what needs to be done. Our starting point should be not size, but purpose.
My Lords, it is a pleasure and privilege to follow the noble Lord.
All sorts of things have been said, so let me start with something that has not, and that is about the way the public, and especially the media, view the House. Whenever there is any whiff of scandal or when they want to criticise us, the picture they give is of the State Opening of Parliament. People are invited to ridicule us because there we are in our robes and tiaras and so on—this is not a frivolous point but is very much evident. I have proposed before in this House that we should move the State Opening of Parliament from here to Westminster Hall. The Commons and Lords should be invited to sit down together, so that we do not have to be in robes, and Her Majesty should give a speech about her personal moments, rather than having to read the Prime Minister’s speech, and then invite the Prime Minister to read the speech he has written. This would do lots of things: it would reduce the absurdity of the House of Commons people standing at the Bar; it would get us out of our robes; and it would increase our respectability in the eyes of the public, because people cannot understand that we do not actually come in robes every day—they still think we are always like that, prancing around. That is my one constructive suggestion for the evening.
Being the 22nd person to speak, I think that practically every solution that I could have thought of has been put forward. However, we have what economists, artists, engineers and so on generally call a “stock-flow” problem. We have a large stock of life Peers and the egress is very small, with maybe 20 per year; the incoming flow is always much larger than the annual egress, especially around election times. In the nice paper that the House Library has produced, I notice that over the past 15 years we have had a large ingress around election time—either in the year before an election or in the year of the election. In 2000 and 2001, there were 87 new Members. In 2004 and 2005, there were 96 new Members. In the Parliament of the coalition Government, the figures were really extreme: in 2010 and 2011, there were 129 new Members; and, when the coalition was going out, in 2013 and 2014, there were another 69, so there were 200 new Members within the coalition Parliament. It is a problem when one has a limited reservoir; with little egress and a lot of people coming in, the place will be flooded—and we are flooded right now.
There are solutions. First, let the Prime Minister do whatever he wants by way of appointments but say to him that, to begin with, he can only give people a peerage but not the right to sit in the House of Lords. That right would be rationed by the number of people exiting. Either we have “one for one” or we have “three for one” or whatever. That will slow things down. Secondly, we should try another solution: as we did at the time of the reform of the hereditary peerage, each party or constituent group should select from within it a number of people who should leave. That could be done by a “first past the post” or proportional system. If we could say that the number would not reduce from 800 to 400 unless each group decides to halve itself; and, perhaps after deciding whatever the necessary number of voluntary retirements should be, the groups would choose who leaves. In that way, we could reduce our numbers ourselves voluntarily. We could say to the Prime Minister, “You can appoint who you like, but those men and women can come here only if there is a vacancy”.
If we combined those two things, we may within five or 10 years achieve a House of Lords of about 400, which is the ideal size. But it would have to be done by a drastic reduction in the current numbers and a limit on the number of people coming in to match the number of people leaving.
My Lords, I have not resiled from my position of wanting an elected second Chamber in this country. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace—rather misty-eyed—referred to the preamble to the 1911 Act. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, sitting two rows behind him saw off Nick Clegg with a blow to the heart not many years ago, and I think that the Border reiver would be happy to stab the noble and learned Lord in the back if he tried to bring that proposal forward again. It is something I would like to happen, but I fear that we have to work on the basis of incremental reform.
As to the Motions before us, I cannot support that of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, because it does not include the Scottish nationalists, and would therefore be unfair. I like the principle of what he says.
I have only limited time, which is not as much as the noble Lord had. However, I agree with the principle of what he is after but the wording is wrong. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Steel, because his proposal will not have that much effect. He spoke about the gross numbers of Peers over the age of 80. What he did not and cannot tell the House is the percentage of the over-80s who are active. I do not think that his proposal would make that much difference. I will come back to the point later. Having to select among yourselves who is going to stay is not an enjoyable performance—I say that having been through it.
I have some sympathy with the proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, because it moves away from dealing with the size of the House into the much more important area of public trust and confidence, which is at a lower ebb than it was before the reforms of 1999. I wish to touch on one point with regard to that. Do not assume that the judgment of this House should be based on the number of defeats against the Government. I agree with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and wish to enter into his debate with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. When I was a Minister, it was the persuasiveness of the argument that was much more important than the defeat. I remember on many occasions being persuaded, particularly by Lord McIntosh of Haringey—my opposite number for much of my career—to agree to his amendments. The Government would word the amendment and I would give it back to Lord McIntosh to table on the Order Paper and accept it. That was the right way in which to do so because it was his idea, not that of the Government. If one considers the effectiveness of opposition from that point of view, one gains a totally different perspective.
I thought that it would be wise to reflect on what I consider to be the major changes that have happened since I joined the House. Perhaps the obvious one that we all know about is the introduction of the life Peers in 1999. However, that led to a situation that changed the House dramatically; it became a much more political House and is increasingly a political House. I pose the question, as I did a couple of years ago: is it right that the second Chamber should be over a quarter full of ex-MPs? Our MPs are not held in the highest regard. I like individually those who are here, and those who are coming, but is it right that a quarter of the second Chamber should be composed of people who have served time in another place, let alone the party hacks who are going to come in?
As a result of that, the House has become much more active. When we talk about size, we must differentiate between the size of the House and the active House. We talk about the size of the House now, but in 1998 its size comprised 500 more than at present yet the average daily attendance was only 50 fewer than now. The issue is the amount of time people spend here. This House has become much more professional; it has become much more necessary to attend, and all the reforms that have been suggested today will be a further step in that direction.
My fourth point derives from that. The part-timers are being squeezed out, and that is a huge loss to us. I have tried to take part in debates and to take part after Statements, and it is sometimes difficult to get in to speak because those who attend and speak regularly are quick at getting up and are very forceful. This is not the courteous House that it used to be when people gave way.
My fifth and final point relates to one of the other changes to this House—the increase in expenses, which happened after the 1999 Act when the new influx of life Peers would not accept the same expenses that we hereditaries had existed on. When I joined the House, the maximum daily rate was £36, which amounts to about £157 in today’s money. We are now, therefore, allowed to claim twice as much as I was allowed to claim when I first came into the House. That encourages people to attend and to participate. As we get more for coming to the House—although it has been frozen for the last five years—all the reforms that we have heard proposed today would increase the number of people wanting to come and wanting to participate. That will add to the fact that this House is not as respected as it used to be and will continue to decline in the public’s estimation.
I believe that the number of people who are actually worried about the overall size of the House outside the Westminster village is about equivalent to the number of speakers today. What they are much more concerned about is whether we do a good job and whether we are trustworthy.
My Lords, I declare my interest as having had the privilege of serving in your Lordships’ House now for nine years and reached the age of 73. I am also a member of the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber and of its working group, supporting the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Norton, in looking at a range of options for improvement and change.
I strongly support an appointed House, which is not the position of my party. I believe in your Lordships’ House being a House of experience and expertise, but would like to see far less party political influence. All political parties have their stalwarts and zealots, but I suspect that others, carrying their party affiliations more lightly, would prefer the independence and freedom of the Cross Benches. Perhaps moving to the Cross Benches should become more than a relatively infrequent occurrence.
All of us are obviously very conscious of the rising criticism of this House following the unfortunate behaviour of some individuals, some of the more recent appointments and, of course, our overall numbers. Clearly, some changes are necessary, but I strongly believe that the silent, thinking majority of our nation want this great institution to survive and prosper.
On numbers, there is a near-universal view that 800-plus is too great. So a trimming of ermine is necessary to take the numbers down to, say, the size of the Commons after the likely boundary changes—around 600. However, I fear that the ideas put forward today by the noble Lords, Lord Armstrong and Lord Stone, are just too convoluted and complicated. So we have two clear, simple alternatives to bring down the numbers: a limit to the length of service or an age cut-off at, say, 80. On balance, I currently favour the latter, but am attracted to the idea in my noble friend Lord Steel’s Motion of a small number—perhaps up to 20—being allowed to remain past the age of 80 but being chosen by the whole House. Perhaps we could refer to this as the Tweedbank clause, from which it originated.
As for party balance in future appointments, the percentage of votes at the last general election is probably the most logical yardstick, as is the Prime Minister of the day ceasing to have near total patronage in favour of a rather broader consensus. I am attracted by some of the ideas expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Low. If one is at all fair, it is very difficult to justify UKIP not being awarded any new peerages following the last general election. I have some sympathy, therefore, with the noble Lords, Lord Pearson and Lord Stevens. Of course, some uncharitable souls have compared the 100-plus Lib Dem Peers here with the eight MPs in the other place. Our official line is that it is in the Commons that we are underrepresented.
Finally, I want to make two points on finance, which has not really been mentioned today. First, although it is fair to say that the majority of this House are probably financially comfortable or better, a definite minority have virtually no income other than their attendance allowance from here. They find life particularly difficult if they live outside London and have to pay for accommodation. Surely, some modest extra supplement is warranted for them. Secondly, retirement from this House could be encouraged by a limited financial package, which would certainly benefit the taxpayer overall. I know that this is not popular in many quarters, and probably will not come into force, but it would make financial sense.
My Lords, I start by declaring an interest. I am an excepted hereditary Peer, and the position of those such as me and my noble friend Lord Caithness is an issue when it comes to the size and composition of the House. I also declare a disinterest, given that, whatever happens, this is almost certainly my last Parliament and I think I shall do well to last until the end of it. I speak, therefore, with a certain amount of dispassion.
My noble friend the Leader of the House suggested that we were here to complement the House of Commons, and there has been a discussion about the meaning of that word. My view is that we are here to balance it as much as to complement it. One of the changes during my parliamentary life has been the change in character of the composition of the House of Commons. When I came in, it was largely composed of people who had long experience in either a trade or a profession, one to which they could count on returning. Therefore, they were independent, to a much greater extent, of government or party control—because Governments alternate between parties—than a House that is now composed much more largely of people without a trade or profession to return to and without the experience gained from that. In this House, we have a diminishing but still significant proportion of people who have professional lives outside the House—rather fewer have a trade—and who bring a relevance of experience that is sometimes lacking in the other place. The more it becomes professionalised, the less it will balance the House of Commons in that respect. I also agree with my noble friend that the more Peers are paid, the more that will happen.
That tempts me to go on to a review of the extent to which the Crown, which is now largely the Government, has retrieved from Parliament the powers that it lost when Parliament was invented. But that is another issue.
What we are facing now is a moment of both crisis and opportunity. Am I not speaking into the microphone or is there some other difficulty?
Thank goodness for that. There is a buzz in my hearing aid, so I know all about that. I understand that all is clear now and that I am owed another 30 seconds.
The need of the moment is to address public disquiet over Parliament as a whole. Latterly, because of the alleged conduct of a couple of Members, that disquiet has been focused on this House. We need to do something quickly. We cannot wait for a general fix of the constitution, such as my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth would advocate. We need something that does not stir up the five, six or seven hornets’ nests that were stirred up in the House of Commons when an attempt was made to fundamentally change the nature of this House in 1999.
The size of the House is one matter on which a sort of consensus is emerging. That is what the Leader of the House has, with great courtesy, picked as the focal point of this debate. A cull is obviously due, but how it is to be done and who is to do it? I agree with my noble friend Lord Hunt that it should be done by us, because we are the people who know what individuals and groupings in this House actually contribute. How it should be done was illustrated for us in 1999, by which method, as my noble friend again would advocate, the decisions on who should serve are taken within the party group. We need a method of getting that principle in place without disturbing the wasps’ nests. I suggest to your Lordships that the way is to arrive at the total we think should be the maximum for this House. It could be related to the size of the House of Commons before we know what that size is—you could either pick a number such as 500 or 600, or you could say that the number should not be greater than the number in the House of Commons at a particular date, which could change with each Parliament. The Prime Minister can then recommend as many people as he likes into the House, but periodically—every Parliament—there would be an election within the groups maintaining the proportion of their Members relative to the whole membership of the House at the end of the previous Parliament.
The electors in the groups would have to respect those proportions and, I suggest, the proportions within them of excepted hereditary Peers. To qualify, the electors would have to have served a full Parliament. You could put in a caveat of how much time they should have spent there. I remind your Lordships that it is an element of this House’s strength that we do not have to be here all the time, therefore I would not put it at a very high attendance rate. As to speaking, of course we should speak on occasion. We are called here for our judgment. Our judgment has to be expressed verbally on occasion, but it is also expressed in the voting Lobby. That is an important function, and the silent voter, provided they are not the mute voter, is not a bad thing.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, has had to withdraw her name from the speakers list, so I shall follow now.
We are all agreed—or perhaps I might say all but one agreed—that the number of Members of this House is too large and that some steps are required to bring it down to a suitable level. As to what those steps should be, well, one is reminded of the old Latin tag that there are as many opinions as there are people—I will spare you the old crack about two lawyers and three opinions.
Another thing that is manifest is that one should keep one’s eye firmly on the function of the House as a revising Chamber, which was spelled out very clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. Many of the issues before the House concern matters of policy and there is a clear and obvious need for a substantial cadre of those with experience of public affairs and political knowledge and skills, though not necessarily garnered in the other House.
But, of course, there are other matters in the important process of the House of refining the legislative provisions and closing gaps left in the Bills that come before us, and these require other types of knowledge and experience to be brought to bear. Your Lordships can readily think of many spheres and much legislation in which that is important and this seems to me a strong argument against an elected House, because people possessing such skills and experience would not be too likely to put themselves forward for election.
I do not propose to offer a blueprint for a reformed House—others of your Lordships with long experience of the House and its work are much better qualified to do that—but I would make a plea for the avoidance of rigid categories in deciding who becomes a Member, who must leave and who can stay. In that, I would echo the thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.
On the proposal of a cull at 80, with which I would certainly take issue on the ground that I have put forward—even with the siren call of the exception suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood—we can all think of Members of this House who have attained that magic age who have a lot to offer, and keep offering it, through their knowledge, skills, experience and wisdom. However the proposals are framed, for that and for other issues, I suggest strongly that we should not have rigid or arbitrary categories. I make it clear that this is not a plea for myself—I have now attained the age of 81 years and if a cull at 80 were brought in, I would be in the first tranche of those who had to go. If that is the decision of Parliament, so be it, although I may be allowed to express the wish and hope that it would not be.
My real and sincere objective in offering these thoughts is not to seek personal advantage but to make suggestions which may help the future of this House to best effect. In the time during which I have had the privilege of being a Member of the House, I have formed a huge regard for it, its work and the people who take part in it. It is my earnest wish and hope that in any future manifestation it may form the most effective and serviceable possible component of the legislative process.
My Lords, as a reasonably active Back-Bencher, I want first to pay my tribute to the current and previous Lord Speakers and to the Front Benches of the political parties, because I sense the beginnings of a unanimity that we require action and that they are going to drive it forward. It might be invidious to mention four colleagues, but I think that we should pay tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Norton, Lord Cormack and Lord Steel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.
On size, I think it really is quite simple: it should be 50 fewer than the Commons. I do not know why we have to go for some complicated computation; it should just be 50 fewer than whatever the House of Commons is. I cannot think that anybody is going to vote against that.
I had the privilege for five years of being Chairman of Ways and Means. I sat many hours in the chair—much longer than the Lord Speakers sit here. That teaches one to observe, and I sit here on the fourth row because I like to observe what is happening. What have I observed recently in relation to tonight’s debate? First, perhaps against what many of the sceptics thought, retirement seems to work: those taking retirement have thought about it, discussed it with their families and discussed it in terms of their own ambitions in life, and recognised that the time has come to retire. Against that, I say thank you to the House authorities who make it possible for those who have retired to use the Library and limited facilities. It may be that the time has come to wonder whether there should not be something comparable to what is in the other place, which is an organisation for those who have retired. Doubtless I shall be among those who will retire in the not-too-distant future and I would help to make that happen.
I also observe, and this is across all parties, that, frankly, there are those today who attend and do not take part, and I think that it is incumbent on the leaderships of the parties to have a quiet word with them and suggest that their retirement be pretty imminent. There are still those who do not attend at all or hardly at all, and I cannot think what their objections would be to being leant on to take retirement but of course to keep their title.
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, mentioned the 80 age limit for those at the end of the Parliament. I fall into that category; I am willing to accept that. I am not, frankly—maybe I am one of the awkward squad—one who favours having any exceptions to that. It is an age criterion, and if it is an age criterion then it would apply to everybody and there should not be any exceptions at all.
I also observe that some colleagues might face some degree of hardship if they had to leave because of one policy or another. Again, in another place there is a hardship fund. It works well. I sit as a trustee of the parliamentary pension fund, as colleagues will know, and that works extremely well. The fund might need a bit of pump-priming to get it going but it is incumbent on all of us, in a similar way as happens with Members of Parliament, to make some contribution to it. I certainly would have no objection to that at all.
On the matter of hereditary Peers, in all honesty I cannot see why there should be another by-election. From now on, if somebody dies as a hereditary Peer, that attendance should lapse and slowly the numbers would come down.
It is difficult for my noble friend on the Front Bench and the Leader of the Opposition—and, indeed, the leader of the Liberal party—to try to come to a numbers agreement. Certainly in the time since I have been a Member of this House following the removal of significant numbers of hereditary Peers, neither of the two leading parties has had a majority in this House. The key to that, as we have discussed several times, is the Salisbury convention and what is in the manifesto. There is a need for clarity that the Government of the day should get their business, although it is part of the role of the revising Chamber, if necessary, to ask the other House to think again, and to think again at least twice, and then to give in. That in itself, if implemented properly, would be a controlling factor.
On the reverse side of the coin is the numbers coming to us. I am a loyal member of the Conservative Party but, frankly, 45 more Members is too many. I do not understand why there was not more sensitivity at No. 10 about that, given the discussions that had gone on before. I also do not understand why, in today’s world, the honours list is not being used in the way that it used to be. About 25 or 30 years ago it was quite common for hard-working people within the parties, who had helped and worked with the parties, to get CBEs if they were young enough; or if they looked about ready for retirement they would get a knighthood. Those were fully justified. At the moment it seems that those awards are not being offered and people have to come to the Lords. That is absolutely wrong.
It is wholly unfair on the advisers who are coming that they will not be allowed to speak. They will find that an embarrassment themselves, and it would have been much wiser if someone had reflected on it. They will not feel themselves to be full Members of this House, which is not a good idea at all. I finish by saying that just before the House rose for the general election, I asked whether it was not time, since we do not vote on money Bills or on going to war, that we had a vote at general elections. Certainly those who have retired should be given the vote in general elections.
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for the way in which she introduced the debate. I agree very strongly that reform must be incremental, aside from any bigger changes that come from constitutional changes. At the moment it has to be incremental. The other thing that she said, as have others, is that if we are to get agreement it has to be led by the parties and groups in the House. If we took a vote on any of the suggestions that have been made today, we would have about 101 different approaches, which would not help. Those two suggestions are very important.
I want to talk about process. Everybody here knows that this House does incredibly good work. If we did not do our job, the people outside who are expected to obey the laws passed by Parliament would have much more difficulty understanding them and would have to struggle with some of their contradictions. We understand that and some experts understand it, but the vast bulk of the public do not. We need a process of reform to which we can draw attention. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, used the phrase “a perfect storm” for the events in July. I made comments at that time, too. The three things driving that perfect storm are: first, the size of the House; secondly, the appointments; and thirdly, individual behaviour, which at times is either sad or bad or both.
The problem is that we are in this perfect storm, which I will talk more about in a moment, because we are not addressing it in a way that the media can respond to, and indeed people outside can respond to. I say that from a long history of dealing with the media and politics, some of it successful and some of it very unsuccessful. What makes up a perfect storm for a political institution in relation to the media is: first, if there is a bad story and it runs without being stopped or addressed; and secondly, a series of bad events one after another that again are not seen to be being addressed, and are not stopped. Right now, if we read the press or listen to the radio, watch TV or anything else, comments about the House of Lords tend to be at best marginally derogatory or at worst severely derogatory.
All of us should be warned, particularly on the Conservative Benches, when the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail start saying that the House of Lords should be abolished, is not worth it, is a disgrace, or whatever. We have an image problem, and a serious one. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, was right that we need to find a strategy for dealing with that.
I like the approach of the Leader of the House, but it needs to go a bit further. We need a reform process. It is process that matters. If we can look at ways of both dealing with the problems and addressing them to the media, we can begin to fight back. At the moment we are like a rabbit in car headlights; we are frozen. When I was interviewed in the media in July—the Lord Speaker had already done a great job, and one or two other Members addressed them, too—I was struck by the number of people in the media who would say, “Why is nobody doing anything about this? Why, as an institution are you not addressing it?”. It is as though we are frozen not just by the media but because of the fear of what the House of Commons might do or say.
The reason why I urge the noble Baroness to talk to the leaders of the other groups about this, and why we might need a reform structure led by her and the others, is that we can come up with a list of suggestions that we can keep quiet at first until there is broad agreement and then begin to spell them out. We would have two achievements. First, there is a story to tell to the media about not only what we do right, but above all what we are doing to stop some of the bad stories. The majority of people out there think that we have done nothing about those who have committed criminal offences and are still here. In fact, we have done things, but it is not out there. Secondly, we have to be very clear that without something that we are seen to be doing ourselves, it feeds those people—particularly in the House of Commons, but outside as well—who simply say, “It will never be reformed. We have to abolish it, scrap it, elect it”, or whatever. As I have said before, the question of election is secondary to the issue of what we want this House to do.
I plead with the noble Baroness to take the initiative that she already has, which I support and applaud, and discuss it with the leaders of the other groups to see whether we can broaden this out so that we are addressing a range of issues and can start telling a good story about how we are dealing with the problems that face us. We have to have ways of dealing with this. I talked in July about the need for the House to have a system where a Member could be stood down for a period until the storm blew over. That would protect the Member as well; it is not just a protection for the House. Very often, if a Member has done or said something wrong, they will actually dig themselves in further unless they are in some way stood down, as they would be in almost any other organisation. We need to address that. If we do not, we will continue to be driven by the storm, because the media have now decided that this place is beyond reform. That is profoundly dangerous, and it is believed not just of here but of down the corridor as well.
My Lords, it is very nice to follow a speech from the Benches opposite that I completely agree with. I am sure that, under the new leadership of the party opposite, that will be increasingly the case. I must point out to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, that actually we have the right to limit or decrease our size as a House just by passing a Motion. However, as my noble friend the Leader of the House said, that is not the most important matter, so I will come to it last. We almost all know that we need reform; we have to get on with it and we ought to be able to look to the Government to support us in getting on with it.
I agree very much with the Leader of the House that change should be gradual. Human institutions change much better when they evolve rather than being pushed into some catharsis. Mistakes are much smaller and much easier to rectify when you can see where you are going and when each step is only a short distance in front of your face; whereas if you try to change something radically it is very easy to make mistakes. So we need to get into a position where we are allowed to have a process of continuous self-criticism and improvement. The sort of approach that we urge on schools and many other institutions should be available to us. The way people get to be Members of this House, the balance of this House, and all the other issues that my noble friends and others have been discussing today: we need to move all those matters out of this process of primary legislation—because the constipation down the other end never lets anything happen—and into a process where we can do it by agreement with the other House, by a vote of both Houses, or by something much less occasional, where we look every year or few years at how we should change. I really look to my noble friend to institute a process, as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, says: to get us something we can work with, make some changes, see how they go, and make more changes, without getting stuck in the legislative logjam.
I know that this needs to be done with consultation between the parties, so I am absolutely delighted by what the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has been quoted as saying about removing the opposition to gradual change that came from the Liberal Democrats in the last Government. It would be great to get some agreement on where to move next between the parties, but we do have to make this a matter of open debate. I very much hope that we will involve the Constitution Unit and others who can moderate the debate in a friendly way, and that we will let other people in, rather than having a closed decision made by people in this House and in politics.
When it comes to size, an effective Motion would be to resolve that, notwithstanding any practice of the House, no more than 20 new Members appointed under the Life Peerages Act 1958 may be introduced to the House in any calendar year. We can do that. If we chose to allow 10 new Members, we would be set on a course of reducing the size of the House. It is already within our powers to resolve that, but I very much hope that we will instead find ourselves engaged on a wider process of reform. If we are not allowed to do that, I think we should take action on size, but if we have a wider process of reform—if we can tackle the bigger issues, with the help of the Government, with a process involving all parties, and sharing that with the public, as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, says—that will be a much better route forward.
My Lords, as a member of the subgroup led by the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Norton of Louth, I am altogether more interested in learning the views of others than in expressing any clear views of my own today.
Two things are clear beyond doubt. First, the size of this House really is a problem—alas, not the only problem we face with regard to the reputation of the House, but the one which in my experience is generally the first criticism to be levelled against us with a measure of mockery. We are, indeed, becoming something of a laughing stock, and it cannot go on. Secondly, it is now for us to devise, if we possibly can, a workable solution acceptable to the House as a whole, difficult though that may be in the light of the very many differing views that have already been expressed in the course of this debate. Whatever solution we may devise will ultimately depend for its effectiveness on the Prime Minister being prepared to be fastidious and reticent in the exercise of his prerogative for the future.
As for what the solution may be, I will tentatively offer a few thoughts. First, the fact that we are a House of part-time Members is clearly not understood by the great majority of the public. There are plainly advantages in having within our membership a number of people, experts in their particular field, whose expertise can usefully be called on as and when it is required, but who are not regular attenders of the House. Of course, such Members occasion no expense to public funds unless and until they actually attend and claim an allowance, but undoubtedly, in the public perception, they swell the numbers of the size of the House. Moreover, unless they attend a substantial proportion of proceedings, they cannot realistically play any very effective part in the business of the House. There seems to me to be an argument for moving gradually towards a House consisting largely of working Peers who attend regularly and contribute widely.
It is idle to suppose that Section 2 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014, on non-attendance during the course of a Session, will play any significant part in the size of the House. It will not—not even if, as I would hope, the basis on which Members can obtain leave of absence is very considerably restricted.
Secondly, as others have also pointed out, although our principal function is as an advisory Chamber, scrutinising, revising and occasionally delaying proposed legislation—acting, therefore, rather as wise elders than as an essentially party-political group—we should recognise the need to attempt some broad relationship between party representation here and in the other place. The Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, calls this,
“an appropriate balance between the political parties”,
although—and this point has been made too—before 1999 there was never such a balance under a Labour Administration. Perhaps this could be achieved in the sort of way that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, has suggested for some years: by periodically fixing the size of each group and then achieving that by election within the group. In the mean time, it may be hoped that those Members belonging to parties that are overrepresented will act rather as elder statesmen than as promoters of policies that have not apparently been accepted by the electorate.
The third point is that of age. Unless the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, are adopted, it will become difficult to resist any longer the suggestion that we need to reduce the size of the House by introducing some age limit. The proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, may be the way ahead, there being an obvious advantage in fixing it by reference to the end of a Parliament to achieve continuity. Of course it would mean that some Members would remain until the age of 85. I note that judges appointed since 1995 have to retire not at 75, as my generation did, but at 70. The position is not quite as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, put it.
Surely we should think about following a different, parallel route. May it be desirable instead that at some given age a Member should become what might be called “emeritus” and at that point cease to be entitled to the daily financial allowance? Attending the House is, of course, a privilege and honour—indeed, it is a fulfilling and pleasurable way of spending one’s advancing years. Almost all Members—certainly those aged over 75—will have a pension and perhaps some savings. In any event, they will be unlikely to be forfeiting other sources of income through their attendance here. By all means, pay the direct expenses of those who come from afar, but why more? It is just a thought; its obvious advantage would be to ensure that we could thereby retain the wisdom of our elders as emeritus Members of the House.
My Lords, there has not been one speaker who does not agree that the House of Lords has become too big and needs to reform if it is to survive as a respected revising Chamber. The age-old question is how. There are perfectly respectable arguments for an elected second Chamber, for an appointed Chamber and perhaps even for no second Chamber at all. The recent attempt in the last Parliament, with some elected and some appointed Peers—one could call it the “Clegg plan”—fell through the gap in the middle and was quite rightly rejected by the House of Commons.
We have heard that some would prefer a retirement age and some a limit of service, all with their advantages and disadvantages, which are well understood by your Lordships. There is also the suggestion of only one in when two, or perhaps three, leave, which might take quite a long time to work. What is clear is that reform of this House must now come from this House. It must be acceptable to the main political parties and to the House of Commons. The alternative is probably, one day, abolition by the House of Commons, unless we come up with a solution.
I cannot resist adding my thoughts to those of other noble Lords on a solution. It is somewhat similar to the proposal put forward by my noble friend Lord Jopling. It would involve legislation, but as we know from the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, it is possible to get one’s legislation through—it is a long and tortuous process, but one gets there in the end. I believe that this House should remain appointed. Its role must be to hold the Government to account and to revise, but ultimately the Government must always be able to get their legislation through this Chamber. We must not be able permanently to block legislation; the Government must always get their business through. I believe that the composition should be no more than that of the House of Commons—say, 600 or whatever the House of Commons turns out to be. The Cross Benches should be limited to about 100.
After every general election, the leaders of the political parties in this House shall agree numbers based on the numbers of MPs elected to the House of
Commons in their respective parties. They shall then hold a ballot, similar to the ballots conducted by the hereditary Peers, to limit numbers within their respected parties. This way Peers elect themselves; they know best who should continue to serve in this House. Leave it to noble Lords to decide who stays; they know best. It worked for hereditary peers when we had that reform. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde said that it was a painful process, but I do not think it was painful; I think that it worked rather well. I should say that that is perhaps because I was elected—I think largely because, having a name beginning with “A”, it came top of the list; had it been further down, God knows what would have happened, but luckily it was in alphabetical order. If a Peer cannot remain in this House for whatever reason, there could be a by-election among the political parties. During a Session, the Prime Minister would be able to advise Her Majesty to create further Peers, either to become Ministers in this House or to top up numbers.
I am sure that the Lib Dems and now UKIP want it to be based on share of the vote. I do not think that that would work because it would produce a House very different from the House of Commons. It would undoubtedly lead to a logjam of legislation, and it would not stand the test of time.
I also believe that we should look at the Bishops’ Benches. They should also limit their numbers of who should attend. I have always believed that we should find some way of ensuring that other faiths are better represented in this House than they are now.
The result of my modest proposal—it is simple, which is important—is that the Government would have a majority, but they could be easily defeated by a combination of opposition parties and the Cross Benches. We would still be a revising Chamber; we would still have clout. We might be respected, so that we might even be able to persuade the SNP to nominate Peers to attend this Chamber.
I hope that the opposition parties and the leader of the Cross Benches will work with the Government to consider proposals. Time is of the essence and we must not lose it. I understand that the position of the Lib Dems is that they do not feel bound by the Salisbury convention. If that is correct and they oppose or wreck government Bills in alliance with the Labour Party or whoever, that will put the final nail in the coffin of a second Chamber. I hope that when he comes to wind up on behalf of the Lib Dems the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, can enlighten us on their position. I do not think that the Commons would stand it.
We also have to wonder what the position is of the Labour Party. It has not been made clear. I am not sure whether its new leader is in favour of an elected second Chamber or its abolition. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will reveal all when he comes to sum up for his party.
I am delighted to hear that. I very much look forward to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, telling us what the views of his new leader and of his party are.
There is a small window of opportunity. We should be brave and grab it. I am convinced that reform must come from this House. If it does, we have a chance of putting together a second Chamber that will stand the test of time.
My Lords, when I became a Peer in July 1999 there were approximately 700 hereditary Members of the House and its total membership was around 1,300. As a new boy and a life peer, I, of course, respected all the Members I met and I enjoyed conversing with them. However, I was surprised that I was asked several times about my father. As he had died in 1963, I found it strange to be asked about him, until I realised that the assumption was that, as I was only 39 at the time, my father must have been a hereditary Peer who had recently died.
There were then more Members of the House aged over 90 than those aged under 50. I discovered that some of the hereditary Peers regarded themselves as “boarders”, while life Peers, such as me, were seen as “day boys”. Almost everywhere in the House, including in the Library and the dining rooms, was filled with tobacco smoke.
There have, of course, been very significant changes in the House and its culture since then. Shortly after I arrived, some of the highest ever numbers of Peers voting were recorded as we debated reducing the size of the House and removing most of the hereditary Peers. While some hereditary Peers were then, and still are now, among our most active and respected Members, others who attended specifically for those votes were doing so for the very first time—ironically, it seemed to me, to preserve their voting rights. I recall packed scenes just outside the Chamber when the Division Bells rang and some of those Peers asking me, “What’s that noise?”.
Thanks to the House of Lords Act 1999, the size of the House of Lords shrank by about half to around 650 members, bringing it in line with the size of the House of Commons. After the passage of that Act I could show visitors where I now had my own coat peg; I had had to share one previously. I could explain that further changes to the size, composition and role of the House would soon follow. But they did not. Since then the size of the House has grown by around 200 members, hence today’s debate. My initial optimism about more radical reform following rapidly after 1999 was quite misplaced, as Tony Blair’s Government appeared to lose interest in constitutional reform.
I am sure that 104 years ago, those who voted on the Parliament Act 1911 would never have believed that the process they began would still be continuing more than a century later. A century seems to have been not long enough to work out what further reforms to make. So I make no apology for having supported the House of Lords Reform Bill in the last Parliament. If I may correct the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, the Bill was not rejected by the House of Commons; it was supported by 462 to 124 votes, a majority of 338. The Bill was based on common principles set out in all three main party manifestos at the previous general election. I believe that we should have considered it here. I and my party were disappointed by its failure to make further progress, but I was not then someone who thought that this failure should prevent us looking at more modest and sensible reforms that might be agreed.
Thanks to the efforts of my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood and others, his Private Member’s Bill enabled Peers for the first time to retire. As we have heard, 35 Members of the House have already done so using its provisions. My noble friend’s original Bill also provided for the ending of what I might call the ludicrous by-elections to keep topping up the number of hereditary peers. We will soon have had 27 such by-elections, and we should have no more. Ending them would contribute significantly over time to reducing the size of the House, and this should be our next priority.
However, the biggest problem with the composition and size of the House is the power exercised by party leaders, and by Prime Ministers in particular. Their power of patronage is simply not appropriate in a 21st-century democracy. The Appointments Commission appoints Cross-Bench Peers and, in my view, it or a similar body, put on a statutory basis, should also take responsibility for political appointments, taking such powers away from party leaders. This was, of course, provided for in my noble friend’s original Bill. The commission’s remit should also include containing the size of the House in future.
We have heard several ideas today for reducing the size of the House, including age limits, term limits and elections from within Members of the House, but none of these ideas would be of any value whatever unless we do something about the appointments process. In the longer run, more radical reform should be subject to a constitutional convention. In the mean time, I welcome the conversion to the cause of proportionality of a number of Members of the House. I note that the principle of proportionality shows that the Conservative Party is currently overrepresented in the House of Commons by some 91 Members, and the Labour Party by 34, while the Liberal Democrats are underrepresented there by 43 seats. I look forward to the day when the will of the people is reflected in both Houses of Parliament.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, mentioned his father. I am reminded that one of my father’s favourite jokes was that when he was in this place he saw a book in the Library entitled The Need for a Second Chamber, by a Liberal Peer. Get it? No? I am sorry about that.
As a relative newcomer to this House and as an elected hereditary—the product of a ludicrous by-election—I hesitate to intervene. There are far more experienced and expert figures than me to listen to and, moreover, a great deal of what I wanted to say has already been said, so I shall cut my remarks very short. I very much follow the same line as my noble friends Lord Hunt of Wirral, Lord Jopling and Lord Astor, and the noble Lord, Lord Desai. By far the simplest, quickest and fairest way to reduce numbers in this House is surely to hold an election among ourselves, by party grouping, as to who stays and who goes: a reduction election. As the noble Viscount, Lord Astor said, it worked well for the hereditaries in 1999, so we have a precedent.
We will always struggle to come up with rules that can command agreement based on age, expertise or attendance. We all know of people who speak very rarely, or have been on the planet for many decades, whose wisdom we would not want to lose. No doubt, each of us also knows people who speak a great deal, or are in the tenderest youth, who, to paraphrase Mr Bennet, have delighted us long enough. So instead of trying to devise rules about when noble Lords have to leave, let us just fix a total number, give each party grouping a quota and hold secret ballots to decide who stays and who goes. After that, of course, managing the numbers to stop it growing again will need a carefully agreed process, but I do not propose to go into that, because I think we have heard enough and I am looking forward to hearing from others. With that, I will curtail my remarks because if I have learned one thing here, it is that brevity is the soul of wit.
My Lords, since the noble Viscount has been commendably short, may I ask whether he agrees with the point made by his noble friend Lord Strathclyde? If we are to go into an arrangement whereby the parties cull their own numbers, would he exclude from that the minority parties which really have not got very much to cull?
Indeed. The noble Lord makes a fair point. I assume that, under the arrangements I am suggesting, most of the main parties would cull and some of the other parties would grow at the same time.
My Lords, very remarkably and unusually, there has been considerable agreement in this House, and almost unanimity, with the possible exception of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, although I may have misunderstood his speech. Every other contribution has made it clear that the noble Lord or Baroness feels that there is a major problem with our numbers and that urgent action is required to deal with it. I totally subscribe, with no enthusiasm but realistically, to that.
I do not think that the debate has succeeded, however, in revealing any method that we might adopt to achieve that purpose, other than the three classic methods, which have been discussed by almost everybody this evening, of an immediate cull, an age limit or a limit on years of service. I think there is an immediate low-hanging fruit that ought to be plucked—I say this with great respect to the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, who has just sat down—and that is to bring to an end the system of by-elections for hereditary Peers. I have no doubt that the noble Viscount would have got into this House on his merits by the classic means of getting here, and that that would be true of many other hereditary Peers in the future, but I do not see why there should be any different, privileged avenue available to them to serve here that is not available to other potential candidates.
Of the three possible methods of reducing the numbers, I would hesitate to have an immediate cull. It would be a blood bath and very unpleasant and we should be in danger of creating some perverse incentives which might be quite difficult to deal with. One of them has just been raised. If the small parties were excluded there would be an incentive for people to join a small party, or, if the Cross-Benchers were protected in some way, an incentive to join them or, perhaps, to become an independent in order to avoid the cull. I do not know how that perverse incentive would be dealt with. It would be a cynical thing to do, to behave in that fashion, but that does not necessarily mean that nobody would be tempted to do it.
Another problem would be that if we take into account, as we ought to, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, among others, suggested, the record of a Peer’s activity—whether they have attended, whether they have made a useful contribution—we would have to do that going back over several years. Otherwise, some people, in the light of threatened exclusion from the House, might suddenly turn up, maybe paying other people to write speeches for them so that they could rapidly deliver a contribution to a debate about which they in fact know nothing at all. There are a number of difficulties about that and I would prefer not to go down that road if we can avoid it.
I also have some hesitation about an age limit, partly on the grounds of principle and partly on pragmatic grounds. It is now a principle of legislation that age discrimination is illegal, and I declare an interest in that I was the first MP in the House of Commons ever to introduce an anti-age discrimination Bill. It did not get through all the stages in the House of Commons and on to the statute book, but I did extract an undertaking from the then Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Dispatch Box to legislate on behalf of the Government; although that was then overtaken by the European directive. I have a track record and do not like the principle of age discrimination. I also think it is not as effective as a time limitation would be in refreshing or renewing the body of this place. That phrase is rightly often used in this context, but if you want to refresh this place, you probably do not want people staying here for 30 or 40 years. I would favour a generous, reasonable length of service with a maximum of, say, 20 years. That would give people a sense of independence, make sure they can find their feet and make a contribution, and provide for a certain amount of continuity between different batches of entrants—a point that has also been made—but also contribute to reducing the numbers.
My second point is that there is no point in doing any of this—in going down any of those roads at all—unless we have a clear undertaking from the Prime Minister that he is not going to take action that will make any effort we make entirely nugatory and pointless. I am very afraid that some of our colleagues who have retired from this place in the last few months may have done so very high-mindedly and selflessly, hoping that their disappearance would help to resolve our numbers problem, only to find that, in fact, everything they have sacrificed has been completely in vain because the Prime Minister has taken the opportunity to appoint another 45 people to this place, taking the total he has appointed to more than 200—about a quarter of the total size of this House—which is a quite disgraceful situation. I say with great conviction, to the Leader of the House in particular, that there is absolutely no point in going down this road—and we should indicate to everybody concerned that we will not go down this road—unless there is the possibility of such an assurance, so that any efforts that we make will not be rendered ineffective before we have even started.
My third point is that we should take the opportunity to raise the bar of entry to this place and improve the quality of entry in the first place. For example, I have wanted for a long time to have more scientists in this House and have always felt that if you are a Nobel laureate, you should, assuming you are qualified on the other grounds, ipso facto become a Member of this place. I will not pursue that now as this is not the occasion to do it. However, there are two categories of people which are very dubious, and to be quite frank it pains me very much to see them figure in the Prime Minister’s latest list of appointments.
One is special advisers. The House of Commons had a problem in the 18th century with placemen. Noble Lords will remember the efforts of reformers such as Wilkes and Wyvill to get rid of the placemen—people who were taking money from George III. They were not Ministers or responding for the Government; they were just sitting in the House of Commons, supporting the Government and biasing the activities of the House. It was a nasty piece of parliamentary corruption. It is a horrible thought that, in the 21st century, the present Prime Minister should be reviving the malpractice of placemen by putting people here who are not members of the Government and cannot respond at all on their behalf, but are totally beholden to the Government and quite incapable, by definition, of taking an independent position, which is the essence of the function that we all have. That is a disgrace and should stop.
The other thing which is a terrible disgrace and should stop—this is my final point—is people coming to this place primarily or largely because they have given money to a political party. That, in modern times, is a very nasty development introduced by Lloyd George at the beginning of the 20th century. It has been practised by some Prime Ministers, including, very sadly, those of my own party. Both Wilson and Blair were guilty of it, and the present Prime Minister is certainly guilty of it. If it was discovered, for example, that you could buy your way into the Italian Senate, one could just imagine what would be said in every pub in the land. The Daily Mail would be having an orgy of self-righteous chauvinism. Everybody would say, “That’s just what you expect from Europeans or continentals and from foreigners. We always knew they were corrupt; it is the sort of thing that happens in southern Europe” and so forth. In fact you cannot buy your way into the Italian Senate, but you can buy your way into this place. It is an absolute disgrace, and the sooner we bring that to an end the better, because it is something that will really besmirch this place if it continues.
Finally, I have to say that people should not get around such a ban by just becoming treasurer of a political party and saying that, in that case, they have held public office, That is not a public office and is not an activity which either requires or is likely to deliver, in any individual, the sort of qualities necessary to make a useful contribution in this place.
My Lords, I recall that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, led a debate back on
We cannot insulate the questions of appointments and retirements from each other. The one depends on the other, and they have to be interrelated. As far as appointments are concerned, it is time in my view to introduce clearer criteria. Of course we need a continuing infusion of new blood—we cannot afford to stop that—but we need a cap. Again, I am struck today by the fact that there is a pretty strong view that we should limit ourselves, perhaps by the end of this Parliament, to being somewhere around the size of the House of Commons or even a little smaller. I totally agree with that, but it means that we have to agree the formula for the size of the parties, as well as accepting, as I think the House does, that the Cross-Benchers ought to make up at least 20% of the House. We also have to deal with the minority party situation that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, introduced and ought to acknowledge the point that he made.
However, the question then arises of who supervises these criteria that I hope we are going to devise. Here, the role of the House of Lords Appointments Commission comes into play, because it will be up to it to interpret the criteria that this House agrees for appointments. The Prime Minister has enormous powers of patronage, and it is not unreasonable to ask him to constrain those powers, to ask the Appointments Commission to say what the balance of the parties should be in the House, according to the cap that we require, and to then ask the leaders of the parties, including the Prime Minister, to nominate their own people for their own party. All of that seems to me to make sense, on top of the need for the Appointments Commission to take into account, as it already does, the balance of expertise that this Chamber needs.
We then get to the question of retirement, where the number of ideas is quite enormous. None is perfect, and every single one of the ideas that has been produced has a down side—we just have to accept that. I will start with the voluntary retirement system. It is of course good that we have 35 people who have volunteered to retire. Like the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, I am committed to retiring during this Parliament, when I shall reach the age of 80. However, before everyone cheers very loudly at the news I have just disclosed to the Chamber, I would say that I do not wish to retire until I see real, concrete progress on the question of tackling the size of this House.
There so many other ideas: selecting active Peers to retire at the age of 80; a mandatory system of retirement after 15 or 20 years; an age of retirement of 75 or 80; or, following the precedent of the selection of Irish and Scottish Peers, a process of self-selection, electing our own groups according to the numbers that we require. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned that last idea, which I find attractive.
We must have a carefully balanced system. It will be difficult, but we must do it. We have to take into account the Leader’s point that it must be as simple as possible. That is the biggest challenge of all to those of us who are prepared to work on these issues. The body chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is already working on this. I welcome the fact that the Lord Speaker has an advisory group. All parties will have to be committed to this effort, with as much urgency as possible. As the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, said, based on the experience of his commission 15 years ago, there has to be a will to make it work. If there is no will, we will not succeed. We must have an immense amount of give and take if we are to get consensus. In my view, each of us ought to be exercising not our rights in this Chamber but our responsibilities to this country.
My Lords, I do not think I have ever participated in a debate in the House of Lords where there has been so much consensus; it is almost embarrassing. As the noble Lord, Lord Luce, just said, the momentum since our last debate on this issue has been incredible. I am really heartened by the extent to which people are prepared to consider a cap at a significantly lower level than our present size.
As we know, one suggestion is that the House of Lords should be of a similar size to, or not bigger than, the House of Commons. There is a great deal of merit in that. Others have gone further, such as my noble friend Lord Jopling. In an interesting article in the Financial Times, Lord Grenfell, who recently retired from the Labour Benches, wrote that the figure should go down to 450 or 500, for various reasons which I shall not go into now. Personally—as someone who is perhaps showing a latent masochistic or even suicidal interest in this issue—I rather favour the lower number, but whatever the number, whether 500 or 600, the whole point is that it must be significantly and observably lower than our present number. I am heartened by the extent to which there is agreement on that fundamental point.
If we can agree on that, the next issue, on which I think there is also agreement, is the proportion of the House that should constitute Cross-Benchers. One-fifth, or 20%, has been a common figure. That seems to me wholly right, because it fulfils the essential requirement that there should be no government majority under any circumstances in any conceivable carve-up of the political groups in the House. Beyond that, inevitably, there will be a carve-up of the political groups according to some formula related to the numbers in the Commons or the numbers of votes at the previous general election. That is inevitable and right, and I see no way round it.
I would not prescribe from the centre the way we get from here to there; the political groups should be left to decide. As my noble friend Lord Jopling said in his excellent speech, the groups know their own members best, and the caucus can come forward with a reduction in numbers or some other method. They understand their members—they understand the balance of age, experience, activity and so forth within that group—and I believe they can be trusted to take a decision on that basis. I would leave it to them, without a central diktat.
The other immediate question is exactly when we take that step. In my view, the most sensible idea is to do it in one fell swoop after the next general election. I appreciate that voices have been saying—this is perhaps the only real point of difference among the Benches—that the process should be more incremental. My noble friend Lord Lamont mentioned three out and one in. My problem with that is practical: I wonder whether it will actually achieve the reduction in numbers that we want. It will be an uncertain course; we will not be clear when the next hurdle will be arrived at. That is a practical problem. Nor will it have the same effect on public opinion—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, who has just left the Chamber.
We need to have a big number to show the public—my noble friend the Leader of the House made the point about the importance of public opinion—that we are really serious about this and that there is about to be a big reduction in the number of Lords. As the noble Lord, Lord Soley, said, the media strategy is important in this. To me, that is a persuasive argument for having a cull all at once, rather than the slowly, slowly approach of an incremental procedure. In the mean time, inevitably, we need a paper from an all-party group—I am so glad that various people are working on that—which will hopefully be published and set out some sort of framework.
Following that, we need rule changes, and I hope that we can avoid legislation. One thing that I have always said to aspirant Ministers when they have occasionally asked me about my experience of ministerial office is, always, under any circumstances, avoid legislation. It is a can of worms. It will always go wrong. It will absorb your civil servants. It will inevitably attract amendments that you do not want and there will be trouble in the House of Lords, so do not do it. If we can possibly avoid legislation, let us do so. If we can do this by rule change, we really should. That is extremely important.
I sense that this is our chance. If we do not take it now, in my view, we will not be fulfilling our responsibilities to both Parliament and country.
My Lords, I strongly support the Motion of my noble friend Lord Pearson, and I will not rehearse the arguments he made so persuasively. I think it is common ground now in this House—even, I sense, after this evening’s debate—and certainly in the country at large, that it is absurd for a party which got nearly 4 million votes at the recent election not to be offered any representation whatever in this House, while the Lib Dems, who got exactly one-third of UKIP’s vote in the general election, have been given 11 extra peerages and will now be grossly overrepresented with, I believe, 112 Peers.
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, warned my noble friend Lord Pearson to be careful what he wished for, because we have only one MP in the Commons, while the Lib Dems have eight. They have eight MPs and 113 Peers. By simple arithmetic, that is 14 Peers per MP, so UKIP deserves at least 14 Peers here—QED, I think. I hope that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will take note of that. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, for raising that point.
I wonder in passing who was the genius who advised the Prime Minister to create 11 extra Liberal Democrat Peers. He must have known that they would routinely vote against him, particularly when it comes to the EU Bill, which we will be considering shortly. The Bill is coming to this House on
During the previous Government, Members on the coalition Front Bench vied with each other to make cheap cracks at UKIP, its leaders and the people who supported it. It is quite wrong that we should have no better representation in this House. It is also short-sighted because—and I find that some of the pro-EU Members of this House find this hard to believe—let us remember that outside this House UKIP won the European elections last year, defeating the Conservatives and Labour, and leaving the Lib Dems with only one MEP. All the recent polls have shown that about half of those polled want to leave the EU.
It is absurd that the millions of people who believe that this country can be run without advice from Brussels and without the help of the Brussels bureaucracy are so underrepresented in this House when it comes to debates on European Union matters. In spite of the best efforts of my noble friend Lord Pearson, we are still being stymied by Number 10 and the Prime Minister. We have been offered no more Peers. I hope that the Leader of the House will understand our deep concern at this loss and this fear of giving us more representation. I hope she will do her very best to put this right.
My Lords, I apologise for not being present for the majority of the debate. I put my name down to speak in this debate as well as the defence debate before the usual channels decided to separate the two, and I could not decide which one to scrap from.
The Leader of the House urged us to keep it simple. The role of the House of Lords is to revise legislation, be an additional check on the Executive and be a source of expertise. In answer to the Lib Dems, it is not clear to me why you need to be elected to perform that function. However, to be a revising Chamber, it must be possible to defeat the Government of the day in your Lordships’ House, or at least somewhere in Parliament, otherwise legislation cannot be revised. The Leader and the Prime Minister need to understand that you can alter the arithmetic in this House as much as you like, but you will not stop the Government of the day being defeated.
I can remember that, in the early 1990s, despite the huge Tory preponderance, the then Railways Bill nearly died in your Lordships’ House. As noble Lords have already said, of course the Government of the day must be able to get their business through the House. The simple answer is for the Leader to tell the Prime Minister to stop appointing new Peers and making us a laughing stock. However, it is a bit late for that, as—in my opinion and that of many of my noble friends—we already have far too many Liberal Democrat Peers.
I was intrigued by the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, and my noble friends Lord Astor and Lord Ridley that we should consider some sort of cull. We should consider these suggestions very carefully. I am not sure about the committee component of the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, because it hands too much power to the Whips and to the system. In the last cull— in which I took part, in 2000—all the affected Peers were electors as well. It might be a better system, if a bit tougher on the electors. It was indeed very painful in 2000, because we were electing on the basis of capability and availability, and nothing else. It was quite tough to write down the list of Peers you wanted to consider. Obviously, the Front Bench was fairly secure, but with the middle-ranking people, you looked at the name and thought, “He’s a lovely chap, but actually we don’t need him”, and put a line through it. It was a very tough process, but we might well have to go through it again.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, was right to draw attention to the snags of a cull. I did see one hereditary Peer make a strategic move from these Benches to the Benches opposite, but the machinery on the Benches opposite was very clever and he was not successful in staying in your Lordships’ House. My noble friend Lord Horam advised us to avoid legislation. If we wanted to go down the route of a cull, we could achieve this just by choking off the allowances of unsuccessful Peers, because in those circumstances they would probably decide to gracefully retire.
I have no doubt that this House is far too big in terms of active Peers. I say to my noble friend the Leader that even before 2010 it was starting to become a bit tight. In earlier years, if I got fed up with what the Government were doing and Written Answers were not really giving me the right answers, I could roll into the Minute Room and say to the clerk, “Oral Question—first available slot to ask Her Majesty’s Government”. You cannot do that now—you have to queue up—but in those days there were fewer active Peers and it was rather easier to operate. At the very least, therefore, we need no more new Peers and we will have to consider some sort of cull mechanism along the lines suggested by noble Lords.
My Lords, in June of last year, this House debated extensively a report by a group of Labour Peers called A Programme for Progress: The Future of the House of Lords and its Place in a Wider Constitution. There was a great deal of consensus in that debate, and it was a very productive one. One of the things that we asked was that there should be a meeting of minds, led by the Leader of the House and others, to take the matter further. That was denied us, but I welcome the statement of the Leader of the House today that she intends to follow such a route. It was a very useful debate and the report is still available, by the way, free of charge. I hope that some people will look back at that, because some of the ideas discussed today are discussed in that report in some detail.
I share the very deep and genuine concern in this House about the Prime Minister’s recent list—both the numbers of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat nominees and the inclusion of the spads. It is damaging to the reputation of this House because trust in the appointments procedure is extremely important in terms of trust in this House, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, pointed out earlier. Many people warned beforehand, but we are where we are: the damage has been done and, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I do not think that this is a normal situation. The figures that my noble friend Lady Smith provided earlier show that this is not the usual situation and it creates some problems for us.
The first problem relates to our reputation. It does none of us any good when these matters are raised and we see in the press a photograph of the State Opening, with everybody in robes, and comments such as, “They are nearly as big as the National People’s Congress of China”, with implications about how we operate. Incidentally, if anybody wants to improve the reputation of this House, we might think about whether it would be helpful not to wear robes at the State Opening. Perhaps that is a little too far for some people.
The numbers do affect us all: they affect our ability to do the job, as has just been pointed out. It is a strain on resources, on office facilities and on trying to speak in the House. Earlier, the Leader quite rightly mentioned the distinction between the top-line numbers and actual attendance daily. That is a very important distinction, but intakes over the last decade or so have seen an increasing number of working Peers. That increases the strain for everyone and changes the balance of the figures that she was talking about.
I have a couple of questions that I would like the Leader to deal with, because they are important and relevant to anything that we want to do to change things in future. The first concerns the party balance in the House, because we get contradictory messages here. What do the Government think is an appropriate party balance in this House? Traditionally, Governments have not sought a political majority here. My noble friend Lord Hunt talked earlier about the difficulties in the Labour Government years, where 33% of votes were lost by the Government. However, the PM seems to challenge that view, in the way that the former Deputy Prime Minister once did. Sometimes we hear that this House should reflect proportions in the Commons and sometimes those at the last election—they are not necessarily the same. I am concerned about what the situation might be, and that the Leader said earlier that we should complement the House of Commons. Our job is not to replicate what happens there but, as others said, to revise and scrutinise.
Another question is that I still do not understand why the Government are so opposed to a constitutional convention. Do they not understand the fragmentary nature of and some of the difficulties that we are storing up for the future with all the changes in Scotland and Wales, with EVEL, Northern Ireland and city regions? Those need to be looked at in the round. The role of this House in all that is important. When we suggested and discussed a constitutional convention in the past, we were told that it was being put into the long grass—or the “unmowable grass” as my noble friend Lord Richard used to say. If a constitutional convention had been established when we called for it, we might be nearer a solution to some of these problems today.
However, that is for the long term. We have talked today about some of the more immediate things that this House could do. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, talked about the cap on numbers by the mixed election, which would be very appropriate. I do not think it matters where we draw the line between 450 and 600, we must just work towards that. We heard of separating the honours system and membership of this House. That is worth pursuing, as is perhaps membership and voting, which is interesting. Probably a majority of people favour ending the hereditary by-elections. I think a fixed term is an interesting proposition, be it 15 or 20 years. Minimum attendance and participation is a possibility. However, I do not like the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for a cull. That is fraught with dangers, difficulties and potential abuse. I am afraid the renewal system of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, did not excite me, except as a former Chief Whip because I would quite like to be a Chief Whip when that is operating.
All these ideas, which are not mutually exclusive, need considering and taking further. One incidental benefit of a discussion of this kind is that it makes us all consider our own individual position. Debates of this nature over the recent past have led to people thinking about when they will leave the House, when they should retire and what their future should be.
The noble Lord, Lord Luce, just said that there is a great deal of momentum on this issue; I agree. We had the work that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, referred to on the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber. The Lord Speaker has taken initiatives. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and the noble and learned Lord,
Lord Wallace, talked about what their individual parties are doing. However, I am afraid that none of this will get anywhere and that momentum will not translate into positive proposals unless the Government actually take this seriously. The comment that the Leader of the House made earlier was a bit vague. We would like to know more about what is proposed, particularly some indication of the timescale. We cannot leave all these issues in the air if we are to protect the workings and reputation of this House.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the House of Lords Appointments Commissions and emphasise that I speak in this debate from an individual perspective.
Your Lordships have recognised in this debate that the size of the House has now become the subject of considerable concern, both within Parliament and outside. This concern has the potential to impact on the standing and reputation of your Lordships’ House and its ability to discharge its constitutional responsibilities. The debate rightly emphasised time and again the importance of recognising our constitutional role in determining the way forward in further stepwise reform, particularly on the question of the size of the House. It is well recognised that our principal role is that of scrutiny, revision of legislation and holding Her Majesty’s Government to account, but in such a way that complements the work of the other place—particularly with regard to the role of holding Her Majesty’s Government to account. Any proposal on addressing the size of your Lordships’ House should also, I believe very strongly, help consolidate our constitutional role and ensure that we can continue to discharge those responsibilities most effectively.
A number of proposals have been made in this debate on how the size of the House might be limited, among them the suggestion that there might be an age limit for participation, a term limit or a simple cull of Members. The problem with the suggestions of either an age or term limit is that they are rather indiscriminate. In adopting either proposal, your Lordships run the risk of removing from the House Members who make particularly good and active contributions, whose expertise and wisdom is of the greatest importance in discharging our constitutional role or who, in many ways, help distinguish and differentiate us from the other place most effectively. The potential problem of a cull might be that it would exclude on a permanent basis Members of your Lordships’ House who have the capacity to make an important potential contribution, especially recognising that the nature of legislation coming before your Lordships’ House is determined by the priorities of the Government in question and those priorities change over time. Any system dealing with Membership of your Lordships’ House must retain the ability for flexibility in ensuring that the appropriate expertise is represented when it is necessary.
An alternative solution to a cull might be for all Members of your Lordships’ House to continue to receive a Writ of Summons, therefore forming a pool of eligible Peers from which a smaller pool of sitting Peers could be elected by each individual grouping, potentially on a sessional basis dependent upon the nature of legislation that the House would address for that particular session. If a sessional basis were considered too short, it could be done for the duration of a Parliament. The advantage of such a system is that it would allow each grouping to determine how best to put at the disposal of your Lordships’ House, from among its wider pool of eligible Peers, those most able to contribute to the work of the House for that particular Session or Parliament. It would also allow the groupings to determine from among their eligible Peers those willing to make an active contribution, participating in the work of the Chamber, committees and other responsibilities of active, working Peers. It would provide the opportunity for those not in a position to make that contribution for a specific time to stand aside, not putting their names forward for election to the pool of sitting Peers from their grouping.
On the cap on the size of the House, I use as an example the suggestion that we reduce the current size by 50%. Under those circumstances, there would be about 410 sitting Peers from among the 820 or so currently eligible to sit in your Lordships’ House. To that would be added the Government Front Bench of some 20 Peers. That would give a House of around 440 to 450 Members. As I said, that would be composed on the basis of each grouping electing those from among the eligible Peers receiving the Writ of Summons. Only those sitting Peers would be in a position to avail themselves of any allowances, expenses or other accommodation in your Lordships’ House. Other eligible Peers would continue to receive information about the work of the House and to be eligible to be elected by their groupings to serve as active sitting Members.
This proposal might require some attention to the wording of the Writ of Summons, but may not require extensive primary legislation beyond that. If that were the case then it would be something that the House could act on in a relatively short time. It would deal with the question of the size of the House and the perception about the House being too large, as it would be reduced by a very substantial number. But it would not exclude Peers permanently and it would provide the opportunity for noble Lords, as and when their expertise would be of greatest use to the work of your Lordships’ House, to be available on the basis of the support of their party groupings, having elected them to do so.
My Lords, I have listened to every speech and after such a fascinating debate I am not sure that I have much new to offer, but I will try.
These last few months have been cruel for the reputation of our House. Much of the criticism is unfair, yet we live in a world that takes great delight in toppling gilded towers. Our gilded tower is one of the most spectacular. It is also the easiest of targets. A lot of repair work can be done, and surprisingly quickly, if we are able to engage in information and rebuttal, to explain the work we do and to correct some of the more grotesque distortions that have taken hold. An information and rebuttal post could be set up now, within weeks. We could move very quickly.
The public deserve to know the facts, not just the fiction. Take our dining habits. It is widely believed that we dine on lobster and caviar; I am not sure what I will dine on this evening but it certainly will not be that. Most of us, I suspect, have not even eaten lobster here. Being a good working-class lad, the closest I got to caviar is a taramosalata salad in the River canteen. I must confess to buying a little champagne, but like so many noble Lords, almost every drop of it has been to raise money for charity. The delusions and distortions that we suffer are appalling. They may pass, but I rather doubt it. Some of us, a few, have played into their hands.
So how can we fix the damage? First, by re-emphasising that we are a House of duties, not privileges. We Peers are here to serve this House and the country beyond; we must never make it seem as though this House is here to serve us. Secondly, none of us deserves a job for life by right; there comes a point where enough is enough—move on.
In the mean time, we must focus remorselessly on the quality of the work that we do. That work is vital. I like to think of this House as a great parliamentary composting machine, improving and making more fragrant whatever—I was about to say “rubbish”—is thrown at us from the other place. My Lords, we should take pride in being parliamentary worms or rather glow-worms.
How do we translate all this into specific proposals? With fixed terms, age limits, enforced retirements? They have the merit of simplicity, but suffer the tragic weakness of not finding the pleasure of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. Perhaps we should go back to finding the more traditional methods of finding constitutional compromise: Strathclyde and Steel in a locked room—winner takes all. It is a thought.
What is fundamental is that the size of this House should be restrained. It may not be a silver bullet, to use the phrase of my noble friend the Leader, but through restraint so much more would follow. We cannot carry on growing like a pig’s bladder. A House without limits is a House of confused qualities, with too many dusty corners for those who should not be here at all. So, numbers reduced by internal selection following the precedent set by hereditaries and others—as set out so ably by my noble friend Lord Cormack—a House no larger than the Commons would have the huge benefit of focusing public attention both on the job we do and who is best to do it.
None of this is easy. Sometimes in politics you have to do rather a lot to achieve just a little, and that is where we find ourselves today. Perhaps I am wrong about all this—I am often accused of turning everything into a drama—but this House is a House of service or it is nothing. If we cannot move forward with some urgency, we may find ourselves being dragged behind a crowd of flat-earthers, who do not understand public duty and who want to sweep this House away lock, stock and biscuit barrel. In that we will have lost a thing not only of great—
My Lords, perhaps given the lateness of the night and the fact that I am a breath away from finishing, we can conduct the rest of this conversation outside. The noble Lord has already had a long list of minutes today, so if he does not mind I will treat this later.
I conclude by saying that, if we allow the flat-earthers to win, if this place is swept away, as it could be, we will have lost not only a thing of great beauty but a thing of unique value.
My Lords, I start by paying tribute to the contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield. We, too, regret that he has not spent more time in the House during his service, and we wish him well for the future.
As the final speaker for the Liberal Democrats, it is my duty to put forward our party’s position, and I can do no better than to repeat the words of my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness. The Liberal Democrats and our predecessors have called for a democratically elected second Chamber for more than 100 years. It is also important to look at its purpose. This House is a revising Chamber that holds the Government to account and asks the other place to think again from time to time. As my noble and learned friend said, the best way forward would be a constitutional convention that would look at devolution and the democratic legitimacy not only of this House but of the other place. The only way for the Lords to reflect the democratic view of the people is for it to be an elected Chamber. If the Conservative Government want to address the issue of representation in the Lords by bringing forward proposals for an elected second Chamber, Liberal Democrat Peers will eagerly vote for it. But it is not likely to happen.
In the mean time, we can look at ways in which things can be improved. As to whether there are too many Liberal Democrat Peers in the Chamber, I find it somewhat confusing that noble Lords from UKIP seem to be attacking us when we are, and always have been, advocates of proportional representation. I know that the phrase “lies, damned lies and statistics” has been well used, but I shall quote figures that differ from those quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. In the general election, 7.9% of votes were cast for the Liberal Democrats, and when you add the Liberal Democrat Members of the House of Commons to the Liberal Democrat Members of the House of Lords, we have 7.7% of parliamentarians. You can cast the numbers whichever way you like. As my noble friend Lord Greaves pointed out, it is interesting that it is only now when, according to the votes cast in the general election, the Liberal Democrats are overrepresented in the House of Lords—whereas until then we were underrepresented—that there is this cry for proportional representation.
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked me whether we will conform to the Salisbury convention. We will comply with the Salisbury convention as much as the Conservative Party adhered to it when there was a Labour Government and the Conservatives were in opposition. In fact, a committee on the conventions of the UK Parliament recognised the right of the House of Lords, in extreme and exceptional circumstances, to say no. What extreme and exceptional circumstances are is a matter for debate.
I feel somewhat sorry for the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and I have some sympathy for what he said about not having heard many convincing arguments about the need to reduce the size of the House. If we go down to 500 or 600 dedicated and enthusiastic Members, all determined to prove their worth, would Questions be any more genteel than now? Would speakers lists be any shorter? As the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, mentioned, every time the size of this House is mentioned in the media, it is said that it is the second largest legislative chamber after China’s National People’s Congress, and we need to address the public perception that we are bloated and far too big. The way to do that, as many noble Lords have suggested, is for this House to match or be slightly smaller than the House of Commons.
The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, spoke about the need for an information and rebuttal office, and I thoroughly agree. We have been subjected to a completely one-sided attack on the reputation of the House of Lords in recent weeks. Clearly there is need for reform, and some party leaders’ recent appointments have made this institution a sitting duck, but what has not been thought through is how to retain the best aspects of the House of Lords while dealing with the worst. My more than 30 years’ experience of the Metropolitan Police Service has taught me a number of things: the importance of real experts, as opposed to people who think they know the answers; corporate memory; and strategic thinking. If you are spending a lot of time campaigning and trying to win or keep your seat, you are concentrating on that issue more, perhaps, than on the legislative process. We need people who are free to concentrate on holding the Government to account and going through legislation line by line, as we do so well in in this House. I did say that these are my views, rather than those of my party.
Partisanship can be put on one side in this House, as we saw during the passage of the Modern Slavery Act. More than 100 amendments were made to legislation that had already been through the process in the other place. How much better is the Modern Slavery Act as a result of the experts and experience in this Chamber than it would have been if we had no House of Lords at all or if the House of Lords simply reflected a similar make-up to the other place?
Three major questions need to be looked at. Obviously, if we have a wholly democratic second Chamber, then primacy becomes an issue and that needs to be addressed. The second issue is how do we retain the expertise and experience that we have in this House, particularly among the Cross-Benchers? Again, in a wholly democratically elected Chamber, that would have to be dealt with. The third issue, as I have already mentioned, is the ability of Members of this House to dedicate themselves to the legislative process, to holding the Government to account and to campaigning on important issues, rather than having to spend a lot of time convincing either members of their own party or members of the public that they are deserving of an elected place in this Chamber.
The House of Lords is too big. It is carrying too many passengers and some people who are being appointed do not appear to me to be likely to add much value to the business of the House while damaging its reputation. To the critics of this place I would ask: how do you avoid throwing the baby out with the bath-water? We need practical suggestions for something better than we have now, rather than destructive criticism.
My Lords, I am delighted to wind up for the Opposition. I, too, would like to pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield, who made his valedictory speech. He has made a rich contribution to your Lordships’ House and he will be much missed in his retirement.
This has been an excellent, highly significant and encouraging debate. Of the many discussions that noble Lords have had about the future of this House, few have displayed such a unanimity of view on the need to constrain the size of the House, while enhancing our crucial scrutiny role.
The fact that the Government wanted to have this debate today and to postpone other important business suggests that they have been stung by the criticism of the latest list of appointments. Up to now, they have turned their face against substantive reform and rejected the widely supported proposal for a constitutional convention through which the whole future of the House of Lords would be looked at in the context of wider constitutional change. To noble Lords who hark back to the last Government and the ill-fated proposals of Mr Clegg, I say that the reason why they ultimately failed was that the Bill that was presented made no reference whatever to the relationship between an elected House of Lords and the House of Commons. That issue needs to be grappled with and the question of the respective powers of those two Chambers resolved. All the other issues that noble Lords have discussed concerning Scotland, Wales and devolution in general need to be looked at before we can hope to come up with any substantive proposal about the future of your Lordships’ House. That is why it is so important to have a constitutional convention. We remain committed to having one. My right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition has appointed a specific Member to take forward our proposals on such a constitutional convention. I hope that reassures the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, about the continuity of policy in this important area.
Let us come to the question of size. Size is not everything. I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, made and I pay tribute to him again for his royal commission report—which was so sensible that, as he said, unfortunately the political process made sure that nothing would be done with it. I take his point about not talking down our achievements, but the threat of an ever-increasing size is now putting our reputation at great risk.
We have all looked at the outstanding work of Meg Russell. She has examined what the impact would be if the coalition policy were still in place relating to securing a second Chamber reflective of the votes of political parties at the preceding general election. The Leader of the House has made it clear that that was a coalition Government policy and that the Government have moved on from that. We have seen that the Prime Minister appears keen on further appointments, and we seem to have a new policy, enunciated in Singapore, that the second Chamber should match the make-up of the Commons. We know from Meg Russell’s work that eventually, this would lead to a House of more than 1,000 Members. I suspect that, unlike the last time we had over 1,000 Members, we would have 1,000 pretty active Members, which would become unsustainable. If you then take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and add seats for the minority parties, clearly you reach a ludicrous position.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, talked about the public reaction to events over the summer, and there is no doubt that size has something to do with that reaction. We also know that many times under different Governments—too many times over the past few years—sensible incremental change has been postponed or rejected on the altar of substantive reform. However, substantive reform never came, and it ain’t gonna come any time soon. Therefore, the argument for making progress on the issue of size is persuasive and very clear tonight.
I am glad that the noble Baroness the Leader offered today to convene cross-party talks, including the Cross-Benchers. That is welcome, and Her Majesty’s Opposition are glad to take part. I hope she will respond to my noble friend Lady Taylor, who asked her to spell this out in a little more detail, and I am sure the House would welcome that. There is a great body of work to draw upon: that of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirrall; the work co-chaired so ably by my noble friend Lady Taylor; the work undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, which he talked about; and as we know, the Lord Speaker has also convened a working party. We have heard some very interesting and wide-ranging proposals tonight. I do not agree with all of them, but surely the options and parameters are now pretty clear. The stage is set for progress.
I want to emphasise a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. This will not work if the Government stick to the principle of the Prime Minister’s Singapore edict. One way or another, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will have to make it clear that the Government have no intention of seeking anywhere near a political majority in your Lordships’ House. Agreement on a scheme to reduce the number of Members will have to be predicated on an agreement on the appropriate balance between the different parties and the Cross Benches, plus the level of discretion to be given to any Prime Minister after a general election. If you look at all the options proposed for reducing the size of the House—whether it is age retirement, activity level, length of service, election or a combination of all those—the question of balance cannot be ignored. That is clear from research done by the Lords Library.
If we look at the outcome of retirement at 75, 80 or 85, the results are different for each option with regard to party balance. On the elections option, I know that the hereditary Peers opposite, who went through it, think that life Peers ought to be made to suffer in the same way; I have always recognised that that is a factor. I gently warn the House of the consequences of elections: the risk is that those with independence of thought might be put at some disadvantage. I do not need to spell that out to politicians in this House; if I mention the terrible word “slates”, they will know what I mean. If elections is the chosen option, you will still have to decide how many seats each party and the Cross Benches are going to get, and to do so you will have to reach a long-term agreement; otherwise, it just will not fly. At some point, the noble Baroness the Leader will have to face up to that. There is no point in going into discussions about a scheme of reduction without knowing how it will work out as regards balance.
This is also tied in to the effectiveness of this House as a revising Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is right. Our reputation depends on the power of argument, and often we have very powerful arguments but, as he found when he was Leader of the Opposition, and as I found to my cost as a government Minister at the time, the power of argument is not half supported by the power of votes. My goodness me, he was very happy to use those votes. Our ability to revise legislation is in direct proportion to the House’s ability, within the widely understood conventions, to ask the Government to think again by passing amendments or by the Government making concessions because of the risk of being defeated. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, was absolutely right on that point. Getting an appropriate balance is crucial to resolving the problems of size.
I end by saying that I am very proud to be a Member of this House. I am proud of what it does. I am proud of the fact that we improve legislation. I have no doubt whatever that we safeguard the public interest. In recent months our reputation has taken an awful knock. Every Member of the House has had to listen to comments made by friends, colleagues and members of the public, and frankly those comments have not been very kind. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, was absolutely right. We have all been damaged. The noble Lord, Lord Norton, is right too. Size is much less important than function, of course, but size is harming the way people look at us. It is part of what my noble friend Lord Soley called the perfect storm. It is upon us. The ball appears to have been put into our own court. Surely we should now accept the challenge and run with it.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken this evening and for the contributions they have made. I will certainly try to do justice in responding to the debate. I echo something that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has just said. Like him, I am very proud to be a Member of this House, and I am even prouder to be the Leader of this House. I know that that pride is very much echoed around this Chamber by the way in which everybody has made their contribution tonight.
I said at the outset that our discussions should be about our core purpose, but the way in which the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition responded calls for me to be even clearer about what I mean when I talk about purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is absolutely right: all of us understand that we are here to scrutinise legislation and to participate in debates about public policy. We do that by holding the Government to account and by complementing the work of the House of Commons. We scrutinise and they, in the end, have the final say. The key thing for me about purpose is not so much what we do but why we do it. I said at the start of my remarks today that this about how we can best give the public confidence in the laws that Parliament makes. For me that is why we are here. That is why we do all this scrutiny. At the end of it all, that is what we are trying to do: to give the public confidence in what Parliament ultimately decides. It is that clarity of purpose—giving the public confidence—that I feel should very much drive our considerations, whether it is, as I said earlier, about when we attend, how we contribute, when we retire or, indeed, about issues that we have been discussing tonight, such as the size of the House. I think that that has been reflected very much in the debate tonight.
I also pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield on his valedictory speech. We all thank him for his contribution and wish him a successful retirement and certainly look forward to welcoming the new women bishops later this year.
Unsurprisingly, a range of views have been expressed this evening. I am glad to hear support from all Benches for making progress on this important issue. In trying to respond, I might start by picking up on some of the remarks that have been made about the Prime Minister and appointments to your Lordships’ House. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, asked me a specific question, as did others. I should be absolutely clear that the Prime Minister and this Government are not seeking to create a majority in your Lordships’ House. We are not seeking to do that whatever. Some noble Lords referred to the comments that my right honourable friend made about party balance. On that, there has been some misunderstanding of what he was trying to say. He was certainly not suggesting that he was seeking any kind of formal arrangement to reflect the general election results. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, acknowledged, we are not in coalition now. This is a Conservative Government and our Conservative manifesto was clear about our intention with regard to the House of Lords. It is worth bearing in mind that when the Prime Minister referred to party balance—noble Lords should believe me; I am not seeking to make any political point—he was reflecting on the fact that the Conservative Party won the last general election, and, as has been customary in recent years, that is something for Prime Ministers to be very much mindful of when they are thinking about their own legislative programme.
My noble friend Lord Strathclyde and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, had an exchange earlier. The noble Lord referred to the Conservative Party in opposition and its success in defeating the then Labour Government. Noble Lords might be interested to know that during the last Labour Government—and indeed historically over decades—the average rate of government defeats, certainly in the 2005-10 Parliament, was running at about 33%. In the period since the general election this year until the Summer Recess, the defeats suffered by the Government have run at about 60%. There is therefore a distinct difference at the moment in those rates of defeat.
I share other views expressed by noble Lords in this debate that the issue of government defeats in this House is not the only important thing. It is also important to note that the Government listen to the arguments and debates and respond constructively to the legitimate work that this House does in scrutinising legislation and coming forward with amendments. That is what this Government intend to do. During the last Parliament, 21,000 amendments were tabled in your Lordships’ House, 6,000 of which were accepted in legislation by way of either government amendment or other amendments that we accepted. We therefore very much recognise the role of this House and that it is important that it is effective and in a strong position to do its important work.
As has been mentioned, the Prime Minister feels that it is right and understandable that this House would like to address the issue of its size. He feels it is right that we as a House should come forward with our own proposals for change because that is a tried and tested method. After the 2012 Bill failed to proceed out of the House of Commons in the last Parliament, it was measures drawn up in this House by Private Member’s Bills that were successful. Those incremental steps—whether it was the Bill originally in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, or the Bill in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman—were measures to address important matters that came out of this House and, with government support, succeeded in becoming Acts of Parliament. I therefore absolutely reject any idea that this Government have some kind of hidden agenda for the future of this House. What we and I want to do is ensure that I, as Leader of the House, along with my government colleagues, support the House in making the changes that we feel are right in order for us to be effective in the important work that we do.
Let me respond to some of the specific points that have been made about appointments. Some noble Lords have argued—most sincerely; I recognise that—for what I might describe as giant leaps that I fear may be overambitious as a starting point. Examples are: starting to look at criteria for appointments to your Lordships’ House; setting formulas for its composition; and introducing a cap or conditions on the way in which the Prime Minister is able to make appointments. As I have already said, progress will be made through incremental reforms, and our recent experience bears that out. We have a lot of work to look at already, whether the work done in the past by groups chaired by my noble friends Lord Hunt and Lord Wakeham or the work of other groups currently looking at these issues.
Reference was made to putting the House of Lords Appointments Commission on a statutory footing. Again, I feel that that is a big step at this time and certainly one that I consider overambitious. However, I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, contributed to today’s debate. It is important that we recognise that the commission does exemplary work in scrutinising the probity of appointments to your Lordships’ House, and there has never been a Prime Minister who has ignored the very important advice it puts forward.
We need annual appointments to this House. They are an important way of our refreshing ourselves and ensuring that we have modern and relevant expertise alongside the wealth of experience that sits on your Lordships’ Benches.
I do not want to get into a long discussion about special advisers, but so many comments have been made that it is important that I at least make a couple of points. On the guidance and advice for special advisers, the practice followed is that followed by the previous Labour Government in the appointments that they made of special advisers. However, most importantly, I think we need to be careful that we do not attack people before they have had a chance to make decisions about their own career and future. These people have not yet been introduced. Very few of us make our maiden speech within days or weeks of arriving; there is usually a bit of a lag. We do not know yet what decisions some of these people are going to make. Let us give people a chance to reflect on their contribution before we rush to judge them.
As my noble friend knows, I raised the issue of the special advisers who had been appointed on the basis that they would be able to come here but only to vote and not to speak. It was not a personal attack on the individuals or their decisions; it was on the question as to whether or not it is right to appoint people to this House with a condition that they are not able to speak. That could be seen as the Government simply using people as lobby fodder.
I have addressed that point in the remarks that I have just made. I am going to move on from appointments to what was said about addressing the size of this House and our membership.
Several noble Lords suggested a preferred number for the membership of this House. At this stage, I do not want to get distracted by talking about a specific target. What is most important is the effective ways for us to proceed. I have acknowledged, and am very serious about the fact, that we need to make progress in this area and address the size of the House. At the moment, I want to ensure that we proceed with a process that will achieve some improvement in this area without fixating, right now, on a specific end target.
On some of the ways forward proposed today, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, led us by referring to some specific limits. He mentioned age, with some exceptions around that. Several noble Lords expressed support for that measure, but perhaps others expressed some concerns. There was support also for specific term limits; others again expressed some concerns. As time is tight, I shall not go through and name-check everybody who was for or against. What I will do after this debate is study carefully all the arguments that have been made. As I said earlier, this area attracts some serious consideration.
Another idea, put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and referenced as well by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, was that we might take a more mathematical approach to slimming down the House, with each group leader agreeing a set proportion from their number to leave the House by either election or another means of their choosing. That could certainly merit further thought as we proceed if it is something that all parties support, and especially if it can be disentangled from some of the other measures which I might describe as adding to the complexity of this kind of arrangement—or, to quote my noble friend Lord Elton, unnecessarily stirring up a hornets’ nest.
I note that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde suggested that if were to look at that kind of approach the small parties be exempt from such a process. I noted as well the exchange between my noble friend Lord Ridley and the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, in specific regard to UKIP.
Such an approach, as has been already acknowledged, is not dissimilar to that followed by the hereditary Peers when it was decided to reduce their number. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hereditary Peers who are Members of your Lordships’ House. They make a very important contribution to our work. Any idea of removing the hereditary by-elections is a fundamental question about our composition which should be considered in the round as part of a wider approach to reform.
As to encouraging more Members to retire and the progress that we have made there, I pay tribute to the Lord Speaker. It has been rightly acknowledged that she has done a lot in a very sensitive fashion to encourage retirement. It is right that retirement becomes a fundamental part of our culture, because it should be recognised as a decision of public service when noble Lords feel that the right decision for them is to retire, when they can no longer contribute in the way they feel the public have a right to expect. I agree with my noble friend Lord Naseby that retirement is working. Thirty-five noble Lords will have retired very soon if we include those two noble Lords listed as having given their notice.
Other noble Lords put forward different ideas. The noble Lord, Lord Low, referred to attendance limits. The noble Lords, Lord Stone of Blackheath and Lord Desai, and others talked about withdrawing allowances as a way forward. They are all interesting ideas. I should be explicit that I categorically cannot support the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, that there should be some financial incentive from the public purse for noble Lords to leave your Lordships’ House.
My noble friend Lord Caithness raised some important points that contribute to our effectiveness and the perceptions that people have of us. My noble friend Lord Astor reinforced the importance of the Salisbury/Addison convention, which is so important to maintaining our legitimacy as an unelected House. I was very pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, state that the Liberal Democrats now respect the Salisbury/Addison convention. That is good news indeed.
I will not get into the detail of some of the ways in which our function as a House is affected by size, except to say that I agree with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and others who made the point that, as we are right now, we are doing a good job. We often do ourselves down about how we are operating. Although I will not rattle through the various statistics, contrary to what some people say—certainly my noble friend Lord Attlee—if we look at 2013-14, when average attendance was at its largest, our average speaking time in Questions for Short Debate was seven minutes and more than 10 minutes in balloted debates. So it is not quite always as people would have us believe.
Although I say that, I was also pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, acknowledge that she agreed with my sentiments, expressed when opening the debate, that the gap between the headline figures in terms of our size versus our average attendance is muddying the public understanding about our work. That is important.
I was not stressing that point; I was stressing that I believe that the size of the House interferes with the quality of work we do. I apologise for taking the time of the House, but I was really encouraged by the noble Baroness’s opening remarks that there was political dynamism behind doing something. I have to say that in these remarks she has talked about not being overambitious and not being fixated, but without political dynamism or real determination from the political leadership that she brings together, we will have an infinite number of discussions, such as I have taken part in in the past nearly 20 years in this House, and we will not make progress.
I hope that, in the remarks that I am about to make before I conclude, I will be able to give the noble Baroness some more assurance. All I have tried to do in my remarks in the past few minutes is to highlight that starting with some things—if we were to start at that juncture—would mean us biting off more than we could chew. I am absolutely committed to making some progress in this area. There is the political will from me, and there have been signs of that from the Opposition and the Liberal Democrat Benches. Although the Convenor is not here this evening, I know that the same feeling is there.
We need to make progress, and I think the noble Baroness has given us a compelling example of how we can best make progress through the legislation that she so successfully achieved in the previous Parliament. We have to take steps and we have to set the direction of travel, but we have to start somewhere. We will start by coming together with the group leaders, as I have already said, soon after the Conference Recess.
I apologise to the noble Baroness, as I had hoped not to have to intervene. She has rightly said that the Official Opposition are keen to have such talks to make progress. However, I asked several questions about the role and commitment of the Prime Minister and some other issues around these talks, but she has not responded to any of them. Can she please do so in writing?
I think I have responded to what the noble Baroness referred to in respect of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and the Conservative Government in our manifesto have committed in this Parliament to massive reform of the kind attempted in the previous Parliament, which failed because the House of Commons would not get behind the legislation. We will not try that in this Parliament. This Government and Prime Minister have given us an opportunity—a period of stability—to address important matters that are necessary for us to remain an effective second Chamber. That is what I want us to do, and I think we should seize that opportunity. It is an opportunity that I, for one, am very enthusiastic about and on which I want to see some progress. I will give way to the noble Lord.
The noble Baroness referred to all-party discussions. Twenty-six Conservative Peers are to be introduced to the House. If these discussions are to be meaningful, may I suggest a freeze on further appointments after these latest introductions? If there is no freeze, it will make a mockery of the discussions.
As my noble friends behind me are urging me to state, of course I will not agree to conditions as I go into these talks. There will be 26 Conservative Peers joining your Lordships’ House, and I am very much looking forward to welcoming them. There will also be 19 Peers from opposition parties. That is because they are borne out of a Dissolution list that reflects the outgoing Government.
My Lords, I feel really disappointed. We have spent about six hours today debating this really important matter. I felt that we started off with a real sense of willingness for us all to get together and see some real progress on this important issue. That is what I want to see us do. I want us to make progress in the areas where we ourselves have some control, where we can do something about it. Instead of us looking to the Prime Minister to come up with the answers, and looking for him to take control, let us make some progress. Let us have some action on those areas where we can make progress. That is what I want us to do. I give way, finally, to the noble and learned Lord, and then I will draw my remarks to a conclusion.
I am very grateful to the Leader of the House. I accept what she says, notwithstanding my party’s long-standing commitment to substantial reform. We recognise that that is not going to happen in this Parliament. She is right that we should therefore take this opportunity to work constructively to make progress, and we will enter these talks on that basis, in a constructive spirit. However, I would like the noble Baroness, having listened to the debate, to tell us what she thinks that progress will be: two years from now, will the House be smaller than it is now, the same size or a bit larger?
My Lords, if we get together—the noble and learned Lord, the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, when he is in his new position as Convenor—and enter into these talks in the spirit that I believe the House wants us to enter them in, we will make progress. That is what I want us to do.