Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

The House of Lords—Completing the Reform, Submission on Crossbench Issues


  1.  This paper is submitted by the six Independent Peers whose names appear below. [Although it has had the benefit of discussion at Crossbench meetings,] it is in no way a submission on behalf of all Crossbenchers, or indeed of anyone other than its signatories.

  2.  It must be emphasised that this Paper is a response only to such of the proposals in the White Paper as are of particular relevance to securing a proper Independent element in the new House. There are, of course, numerous other issues in the White Paper upon which individual Crossbenchers have decided views. But this paper does not touch on those issues and considers only those matters which appear to be crossbench specific.

  3.  The paper was prepared in response to the White Paper (Cm5291). During its preparation we received the Supporting Documents, and we have attempted to take this further material into account.


  4.  (a)  "Independent" means a Member who has been appointed by the "Stevenson Commission" or who has signed, or could sign, the declaration now used to identify Independent Peers (see Appendix A);

    (b)  "Main Party" includes only Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat;

    (c)  "Crossbencher" means anyone who does not take a Main Party Whip, and thus includes:

      (i)  Independents.

      (ii)  Members of Other Parties.

      (iii)  Those who take no Whip, but cannot make the declaration.

    (d)  "Member" means a Member of the new House after the reform comes into effect.

    (e)  "Peer" means someone who is, or becomes, a member of the House of Lords before reform. It does not include a hereditary peer who is not a member of the House.

    (f)  "Change" means the change from the present situation which will happen when the Bill comes into force.

    (g)  "Transition" means the period until the House takes its final form of 600 Member who have come to the House under the new Bill.


  5.  (a)  (i)  The White Paper proposes an ultimate House of 600 Members, with a quota of 120 appointed Independents.

      (ii)  The size of this "quota" is obviously a matter for debate and many crossbenchers believe it should be larger. There appears to be force in this belief. Unlike political Members who are subject to a party Whip, many Independents attend, and vote, only when the subject matter is within their own field of expertise or of particular interest to them. Thus a quota of 20 per cent is not the equivalent of a 20 per cent attendance.

      (iii)  Nonetheless this paper makes no submission on this issue and, for convenience, assumes the figures of 600 and 120.

    (b)  It is obviously essential that only those who are genuinely independent should count against the independent quota.

    (c)  Seemingly it is accepted that the following will not count against the quota:

      (i)  Bishops.

      (ii)  Those appointed as Law Lords.

      (iii)  All representatives of a political party, whether major or minor (see 6(c) below).

    (d)  (i)  We understand the reasoning which causes the Government to propose that representatives of other denominations and faiths have to be part of the Independent quota. But if any religious representative is in fact an active member of a political party he should be allocated against the quota of that party.

      (ii)  The reason why the Royal Commission proposed a reduction of 10 in the number of Bishops was to make space for representatives of other denominations. If these representatives are in fact to count against the Independent quota, that quota should be increased by the 10 spaces given up by the Bishops.

    (e)  This leaves unresolved the position of:

      (i)  those who have moved from political parties, and

      (ii)  existing non-Independent Crossbenchers.

    (f)  The Government does expect those who move from the Main Parties to count against the Independent quota but contemplates that the Commission will "monitor" the genuineness of the conversion (Hansard 22). Seemingly the Government accepts that those who are found not to be genuine in their conversion shall remain in the quota of the party whence they came. We would not expect the legislation to lay down how this monitoring is to be done, but we would expect an unequivocal public statement accepting the principle.

  6.  (a)  The White Paper does not deal in detail with the composition of the House during transition. We assume that it is intended that during transition Independents will form at least 20 per cent of the House and this assumption appears to be confirmed on paragraph 15 of Part 5 of the Supporting Documents. It needs to be unequivocally confirmed.

    (b)  Again it is essential that only those who are genuinely independent should count against this quota.

    (c)  The Government has accepted that anyone who is nominated from a minor political party will count against the political, and not the independent, membership. We need to be assured that, during the transition, existing Peers from those parties will also not count against the independent quota.

    (d)  It will also be necessary to exclude from the independent quota those who have moved from political parties and those who were not appointed as Independents. We accept that this should be dealt with by way of a clear statement, and not by legislation.

  7.  (a)  Paragraph 62 of the White Paper says, in relation to the Independent quota:

    "There should be some small margin allowed to the Appointments Commission . . . to enable effective management of the size and balance of the House".

    (b)  Further the Lord Chancellor has said that:

    "The Appointments Commission will need to rebalance the House after each general election. It may well find that it can do this more effectively by "borrowing", temporarily, a seat from the Independents."

    (c)  And the Supporting Documents, (Part 17, paragraph 19), say that the Independents should constitute 20 per cent of the total "on average over the lifetime of a Parliament".

    (d)  We consider this to be wholly unacceptable. If the quota of Independents is "temporarily" eroded, there is a grave risk that the erosion will become permanent, or at least of considerable duration. The Independent peers are in a weak position to protect their quota against erosion and it must be clearly laid down by Statute.

    (e)  There is no reason why the cap (of 600) should be wholly inflexible, and the necessary margin of variance should be obtained from that flexibility or otherwise.

  8.  If there is to be any fixed proportion for the sexes, or on grounds of ethnic origin, these must be applied evenly over all groups, so that a proportional discrepancy in the political representation is not remedied by a compensating adjustment of the Independent group.


  9.  (a)  What should be the period of an appointment. The choices seemingly are:

      (i)  for life,

      (ii)  until a fixed retiring age,

      (iii)  for a fixed term.

    (b)  Whichever is chosen, it would be desirable to allow voluntary retirement, (and we agree that this should also be available to existing life peers).

    (c)  It would be undesirable for there to be any scope for pressure on an Independent who might fear that his or her fixed term would not be renewed. Thus if there is to be a fixed term it should be of considerable length, and not be renewable.

    (d)  We note that the Government recognises that there is no reason why the length of term for nominated Members should be the same as that for elected Members, (Supporting Documents, Part 6, paragraph 38). The same point could equally apply as between nominated political Members and appointed Independents. Even if it is thought appropriate for political Members to have a shorter term and be eligible for reappointment, we advocate a single long and non-renewable term for Independents.

    (e)  If it is decided that this is not appropriate in relation to other appointments, it may be necessary for the term of appointment for Independents to differ from that of political appointees.

    (f)  If life appointment is not acceptable the choice seems to lie between:

      (i)  a fixed retiring age of, say, 75, or

      (ii)  a fixed single term of, say, 15 years.

    (g)  Given the significant contribution which retired Law Lords make at present to legislative amendments and debate, it is to be noted that the Government's proposal would give retired Law Lords only five years as Members of the House.

  10.  (a)  The most important functions of the new statutory Appointments Commission will be to decide on quotas and appoint the non-political Members. Its make-up and mode of operation are therefore of great importance.

  (b)  On its membership, it is desirable that it should have:

      (i)  its Chairman who is independent with experience of the workings of the House, and also

      (ii)  an Independent Member of the House,

both of whom should have [extensive] experience of the workings of the House; and we welcome the fact that one of the Members of the Commission will be nominated by the Convenor.

    (c)  We are surprised by paragraphs 14 of Part 7 and 10 of Part 8 of the Supporting Documents, which appear to accept that there might be no Members of the House amongst the Independent Members of the Commission. We regard it as essential that Members of the Commission have personal experience of what happens in the House and its Committees.

    (d)  Paragraph 11 of Part 7 of the Supporting Documents says that the Address on the appointment of the Committee will be moved only after "the party leaders" have been consulted. We assume that this includes the Convenor, but this should be confirmed.

  11.  (a)  As is recognised in Part 5 of the Supporting Documents one of the functions of the Independent Members is to provide expert knowledge and expertise for the benefit of the House and its Committees.

  (b)  We therefore welcome the Government's acknowledgement that the Commission will have regard to reports from the Convenor as to the areas of specific expertise required from new recruits. Such reports should be a valuable contribution to the "authoritative analysis of the areas of expertise" to be made by the Commission (see Supporting Documents, Part 7, paragraph 34).

  (c)  The Commission should aim to ensure that a candidate, if appointed, will devote some time to the House. But this commitment must not be too onerous, if the new house is to attract the best people.

  12.  (a)  At the change, the House will lose 92 hereditary Peers, and gain 120 elected Members.

  (b)  On the assumption that all elected members come from a political party, the number of political members will increase by 56, while the number of Independents will decrease by 28.

  (c)  It therefore seems essential that there should be a commitment that an appropriate number of replacement appointments shall be made at the same time to replace the varying expertise which will be lost.

Chalfont, Bledisloe, Darcy de Knayth, Hannay, Weatherill and Wright of Richmond

December 2001

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