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House of Lords Reform — Motion to Take Note (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 15th September 2015.

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Photo of Lord Jopling Lord Jopling Conservative 5:45 pm, 15th September 2015

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.