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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.