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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.