Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380 - 386)



  380. We are very pressed for time and I apologise for that. I have one final question I would like to ask Lord Weatherill because of what he has done. You were the person who found a civilised way of killing off the hereditaries. I would just like to know if you have thought of a civilised way of killing off what you might call the patronage Peers without them noticing?
  (Lord Weatherill) I have.

  381. Could you tell us about it?
  (Lord Weatherill) We are in a mess, we all know it is a mess, and everybody wants to do something about it. It is obvious that we are going to have to find some sort of compromise. In order to give us time to do this, and it does mean genuine all-Party talks, a Bill should be introduced to abolish the hereditary Peers in the House of Lords. I think that would satisfy the House of Commons, would it not? But I think concurrent with that, the hereditary Peers currently there should be made life Peers. Yes, life Peers.

  382. What I am asking you is—
  (Lord Weatherill) We have got the status quo then, have we not?

  383. I know but I am asking you for help. I am assuming that if we do not stay with the status quo, which is a possibility, you know, and if we are asked to consider a different approach involving perhaps a substantial chunk of elected people, then we have a problem with the existing numbers of life Peers or patronage Peers. I am wondering if you have turned your inventive mind to what to do with them?
  (Lord Weatherill) I suppose you could bribe them to go. But most of us were appointed for life. If I may remind you, Chairman, my peerage came from the House of Commons, it did not come from Number Ten. It was a motion on the Order Paper of the Commons and you would have to go back to the Commons for this agreement and say we agree about this.

  384. I think we almost certainly would.
  (Lord Weatherill) Would you? Oh. I think, to be absolutely sensible about this, I am now 81, going on 65 really. I do not think that people of my age should be here. I think there should be a retiring age of round about 75, but this must all be part of an overall review of the whole Parliamentary system. This can be done. The collective wisdom of this place is very great and I regularly used to say of my time in the House of Commons that if we ever had free votes, when the Whips were taken off, then the collective wisdom of members was very great. Could we not come to a collective decision on this? I am sure we could, but it needs time, and it does need all-Party talks and reform of the whole parliamentary system, not just one part of it.

  385. I have been offered two final contributions and I have got a fretting Lord Chancellor. Could you be very quick the two of you.
  (Mr Tyler) Lord Weatherill's proposal relates to appointed life Peers. That does not necessarily mean they have a seat in the future second chamber, whatever it is called, so you could still have life Peers calling themselves life Peers but you would not give them a job in Parliament.
  (Mr Tyrie) Lord Weatherill has just suggested a new way of getting rid of the life Peers, which as I understand it, is "cash for no questions"! Pay them 50K and ask them to go away after a time. Again, I do think this transitional issue is exaggerated. If you look at the average participation rates of 80-year-old plus Peers, you will find that it is around a quarter and it is under half for those over 70. The average age of the life peerage is higher than the hereditary peerage. If you stripped out the hereditary peerage it is 70 already. This is a problem that is going to go away in a decade anyway.

  386. That is a rather macabre note on which to end. We are very, very grateful to you. I am sorry that we could not have had you for longer which we would have liked to have done. Thank you very much indeed.
  (Lord Weatherill) I hope this is not goodbye, Chairman!

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