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House of Lords: Size - Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:31 am on 23rd June 2020.

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Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 11:31 am, 23rd June 2020

To ask the Senior Deputy Speaker what consideration has been given by the Procedure Committee to bringing before the House a resolution to amend Standing Orders to provide that the House should reduce the number of introductions of new Peers annually to the number recommended in the report of the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the Size of the House.

Photo of Lord McFall of Alcluith Lord McFall of Alcluith Chair, Freedom of Information Advisory Panel (Lords), Chair, Hybrid Instruments Committee (Lords), Chair, Liaison Committee (Lords), Chair, Committee for Privileges and Conduct (Lords), Chair, Procedure and Privileges Committee, Chair, Committee of Selection (Lords), Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Lords), Chair, Sub-Committee on Leave of Absence, The Senior Deputy Speaker, Chair, Hybrid Instruments Committee (Lords), Chair, Liaison Committee (Lords), Chair, Procedure and Privileges Committee, Chair, Committee of Selection (Lords), Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Lords)

My Lords, under the Life Peerages Act 1958, Her Majesty has the power to confer a peerage for life, and that peerage entitles the holder

“to receive writs of summons to attend the House of Lords and sit and vote therein accordingly”.

The House is therefore restricted in what it can do to limit introductions without undermining that Act of Parliament. It is the Government and the party groups who are best able to ensure that we continue to reduce the size of the House by accepting the recommendations in the reports from the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the Size of the House.

Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative

I thank the Senior Deputy Speaker for his response, but if this House is to get back its reputation and remove the odour of disrespect from Downing Street, it has to put its own house in order and not wait for others to do so. Will he therefore support bringing before the House, for a vote in the near future, a resolution along the lines outlined in my Question?

Photo of Lord Truscott Lord Truscott Non-affiliated

My Lords, is it not the case that the Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, which would abolish hereditary by-elections, would help to achieve a gradual reduction in the size of the House? I understand that this is a matter for the usual channels, but will the House authorities try to ensure that there is sufficient time to debate and pass this important Bill—perhaps third time lucky?

Photo of Lord Norton of Louth Lord Norton of Louth Conservative

My Lords, to implement the “two out, one in” principle, there have to be two out in the first place. Will the Senior Deputy Speaker commit to the Procedure Committee revisiting the whole of the Burns committee report to see what can be implemented through the rules of the House rather than relying on good will, to give effect to the recommendation to reduce the existing number of Members and achieve what the committee termed an accelerated “two out, one in” programme?

Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench

Will the Senior Deputy Speaker join me in congratulating the House of Lords Appointments Commission on maintaining the highest standards in approving appointments, and in the hope that I express that it will extend its remit to considering the ability of appointees to contribute to the House? In relation to the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, will the Minister note that to do anything like that would open the appointments system to judicial review all the way to the Supreme Court, and would drag the Crown in as those appointments are made by the Crown?

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

My Lords, since 23 March, when the House resolved to suspend any by-elections for hereditary Peers until 8 September, three further vacancies have arisen. Does the Senior Deputy Speaker agree that we cannot be serious about reducing the size of the House if we are to have a clutch of by-elections for new hereditary Peers in the autumn? Will he ask the Procedure Committee to recommend at least postponing these wretched elections or, better still, getting rid of them altogether?

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Constitutional and Political Reform)

My Lords, does the Senior Deputy Speaker agree that the central problem lies not in our House but in No. 10? Has any notification been received from Messrs Johnson and Cummings that they are prepared to stick with the promise made by the previous Prime Minister to abide by the suggestions and recommendations of the Burns committee, which were approved by the House?

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Conservative

My Lords, last July the Burns committee produced its third report with benchmarks for year 3, indicating by how much each group should reduce its numbers if we were to hit the target by 2027. Year 3 ended on 7 June. Does the noble Lord agree that when the Burns committee reconvenes, it would be helpful if it then set targets for the remainder of this Parliament, taking account of the recent election?

Photo of Lord Singh of Wimbledon Lord Singh of Wimbledon Crossbench

My Lords, does the Senior Deputy Speaker agree that the continuing misuse of the appointments system to reward those who, through financial donations or in similar ways, support political hierarchies brings the whole House and Parliament itself into disrepute?

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office, Constitutional and Devolved issues)

My Lords, is there not a huge irony here? Here we are, Members of your Lordships’ House from all the different political parties and none, and we are the ones calling for reform as soon as possible, while the only reason that we have not got it is because the Government will not do it. The Burns report made a very modest and sensible proposal but, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, said, it has now been overtaken by events. Should we not be pressing the Government to say that this really cannot wait? We are more effective and useful if we are a smaller House. With rumours of a huge government appointment list coming, is there not some urgency to this situation now for both the Government and your Lordships’ House?

Photo of Lord Hayward Lord Hayward Conservative

My Lords, the message has been quite clear in all the questions put that there is a general desire across the House that we keep numbers of new Members to a minimum, and thereby reduce membership levels. Can we have an urgent debate on the subject, so that we can clearly indicate the mood of the House and how the matter might be resolved?

Photo of Lord Rennard Lord Rennard Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the problems with the size of the House are exacerbated by continuing the by-elections of hereditary Peers. By-elections and elections to local authorities have been postponed for a year, so will Parliament be given a say as to whether by-elections of hereditary Peers will resume in September? How can the opinion of this House be tested on this issue before then?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I thank noble Lords. All supplementary questions have again been asked, and we now move to the fourth Oral Question. I call the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge.