We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:35 pm on 15th September 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Luce Lord Luce Crossbench 7:35 pm, 15th September 2015

My Lords, I recall that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, led a debate back on 6 January on the question of the size of the House of Lords. On that occasion, there was almost unanimous support for dealing with the question of size. Since then, I have been very struck by how far things have moved on. Today, after the general election, the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister have thrown down a challenge for us in this Chamber to take up to produce proposals for dealing with the size of the House of Lords. I am very struck today by the momentum—by the fact that there is enormous all-party support for this and a great desire to get on with it. That is certainly a change in the atmosphere. I think we are all pretty well agreed today, with one or two exceptions, that having too large a Chamber could well undermine the effectiveness of the work we do. Indeed, it is very interesting that in Canada, where the second Chamber has 105 appointed members, the Prime Minister has just called a moratorium on new appointments because he thinks it is getting too large. There is a serious point here that needs to be dealt with. We owe thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and Mr Byles for all the work they have done in laying some foundations for us. We have now got to move 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.