Political and Constitutional Reform Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 251

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee

on Thursday 13 June 2013

Members present:

Mr Graham Allen (Chair)

Mr Christopher Chope

Paul Flynn

Sheila Gilmore

Fabian Hamilton

Mrs Eleanor Laing

Mr Andrew Turner

Stephen Williams


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: The Rt Hon the Lord Goodlad KCMG PC, Professor The Lord Norton of Louth, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield FBA and Lord Tyler gave evidence.

Q62 Chair: It is very good to see you and thank you for sparing the time. Would anyone like to make any opening remarks?

Lord Norton of Louth: In the context of your inquiry, just to say how I see the Lords at present, which is essentially that it is a complementary Chamber to the elected Chamber, and therefore our role is to add value by fulfilling tasks that the Commons may not have the time or the political inclination to do. We see our role not as challenging the House, but as seeking to help it. That is within the existing framework and I think there would be general agreement that the functions presently fulfilled by the Lords are appropriate. What we are seeking to do is to look at ways in which we can fulfil them more effectively.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: Just briefly to say I am terribly glad you are doing this inquiry. Lords reform is the Bermuda Triangle of British politics, or one of them. Every generation or so people go into the Bermuda Triangle. Some never reappear; others appear singed, vowing one thing, never to return. But, to mix metaphors, Lords reform is like quantum mechanics. It is a thing of waves and particles. The waves are the big things, the scene-shifters: 1911, 1949, 1958 and 1999. You are the particles bit of the quantum mechanics of Lords reform, but important nonetheless.

I have one worry about where we are now, which is that I am not at all keen on tacking serious constitutional legislation on to the back of other things. If it is tacked on to the recall Bill I think it would be most unfortunate, because it is all too important to say, "We will do it on the side, just like that", Tommy Cooper style. It is far too important for that.

One thought I wanted to inject, Graham, if you don’t mind, is that over the years we have avoided looking at the composition and powers and functions of the two Houses together. We have an aversion to seeing it as a system question, which I think it is. The thought I had over the weekend when thinking about this morning was whether it would be a good idea, possibly, to wait until after the autumn of 2014, when we know the configuration of the British isles, to think about a systems look at Parliament as a whole and the functions and relationships of the two Houses, and just raise it up to that level and go against the grain of the way the Brits do things. I thought that might be a way, in the medium term, of tackling this issue, which has absorbed unbelievable quantities of time and nervous energy over many Parliaments.

Q63 Chair: That is very helpful, Peter. Before I call anyone else, it gives me the opportunity to say-and I think my colleagues on this side of the table will already have had the lecture-that this is a very highly focused inquiry. We will return to the medium term, Peter, I am sure, but for now this is about stuff that we feel could achieve some sort of consensus across all parties and across both Houses. It is very limited, and I will call you to order if you stray beyond that, as my colleagues already know, because this is something that I think could be completely helpful and productive. With a Private Member’s Bill in both Houses there is some real opportunity to do small but significant change here. Alastair, are you passing?

Lord Goodlad: I share the view that it is very welcome that the Committee is taking a fresh look at all these things, and I think it is timely.

Lord Tyler: I think this is a very good opportunity for that focused look. We know there is going to be two years at least before any bigger operation is set in motion. I am a believer in the primacy of your House, the Commons, and therefore I take very seriously the vote last July, but that is past history now, for the time being at least. I hope it is only temporary-my colleagues may not share that view-but for the moment I think it is extremely important that we look at some of the issues, because some of these possible solutions have been promoted as if they are some alternative to wider reform. I do not believe that, but that does not mean they do not have a value in themselves.

Q64 Mr Chope: Last week the Deputy Prime Minister said that he would consider supporting minor technical housekeeping changes to the Lords. We have heard from Lord Hennessy what he thinks of that, but can I ask each of you what you would consider to be minor technical housekeeping changes?

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: I think Lady Hayman’s Bill is much more than that. I do admire Nick Clegg, but he has an unfortunate turn of phrase when the House of Lords comes across his little grey cells. What he said the other day is much better than what he said last August when he talked about "wheezes by which you dignify an illegitimate house". I thought that was deeply unfortunate-"If I can’t have my reform, nobody is going to have any reform". Heavens, I sound like a university teacher, but it is an improvement on what he said last year. I do think Lady Hayman’s Bill is of real substance. These are not minor little twiddles, and there will be considerable resistance at the other end to one or two bits-or one bit in particular, as you know. It may be particles but they are substantial particles.

Lord Norton of Louth: I think we can distinguish. The minor housekeeping matters are essentially matters that are in the gift of the House itself. There is lots we can do in our own practice and procedures, and indeed Lord Goodlad chaired a working group on that, so we have rather a lot of recommendations before us on which we are making some progress to improve our own working practice and how we go about things. That is essentially within our gift. I agree with Peter that this goes beyond that, because we are looking here at matters that would require primary legislation to enhance the House in fulfilling the tasks that it fulfils. Because it requires primary legislation, there is clearly some significance to it, so it goes beyond that. It is not just within the House. It is about ensuring that the House, as the second Chamber, is enabled to fulfil the functions we ascribe to it, which-picking on Peter’s point-therefore enhances Parliament as a whole. It works because the two Chambers fulfil complementary roles.

Lord Goodlad: I think that it is helpful to take an iterative approach to these things and to try to do, from time to time, what can be achieved. The Hayman Bill is currently what there is a substantial consensus for in the Lords, but not unanimity, and if it were to be progressed it would need Government time. I think Private Members’ procedure would probably not take the trick.

Lord Tyler: It is extremely important that we should not over-claim for any of the current proposals. I think now the two Bills are probably identical. Of course, the Commons Bill has not yet been published, but I understand from the participants that they are identical. There are those of our colleagues in all parts of the Lords who see this as "the answer". I do not honestly think that is correct long term, and in that sense I think the Deputy Prime Minister is correct. They may not be minor or technical or housekeeping changes, but they are not a permanent solution. I welcome Lord Hennessy’s point about looking at the impact of other developments over a longer term. For example, some of our colleagues think that the current overpopulation of our House will suddenly be cured by abolishing the hereditary by-elections. The problem is that the hereditaries-none of us four are hereditaries-do not die quick enough. They are too young. We lifers are the ones who die off. The hereditaries keep going and, on the present actuarial analysis, it will be 30 to 40 years before they have all gone, even if tomorrow Lady Hayman succeeded in abolishing the hereditary by-elections.

The same is, of course, also true of the idea that somehow or other it would be useful to introduce a more effective retirement scheme. Unless suddenly the Chancellor is going to be much more generous than he has been in recent years, there ain’t going to be a package to get rid of these people, so they are not going to go. Only two of the present 800-odd Members-and I use the word "odd" advisedly-of the Lords have accepted the present retirement package, because there is no cash involved. Similarly, the idea that somehow or other preventing people who have not attended regularly, recently, from coming was going to be an answer to our overpopulation-the number of people who can get into the House at any one time, can ask questions and so on-is a nonsense. Telling people not to come or saying "Don’t come now" is not an answer. Indeed, telling them that if they do not come regularly they will be asked to leave might increase the overpopulation rather than reduce it.

Q65 Mr Chope: You have just described these as very modest proposals, yet you have already said you are against them and you do not think they are going to get cross-party support.

Lord Tyler: No, I am not saying I am against them at all. I think they are all useful, but they are modest and there are, unfortunately, some people in our House who see them as an alternative to a long-term structural change in the way in which the second Chamber of Parliament works. I do not believe they are.

Q66 Mr Chope: But do you think that there will be cross-party support for these proposals?

Lord Tyler: My colleagues and I have different experience. I think that, given the experience of my colleague David Steel’s Bill, when we get to the hereditary by-elections there will be considerable resistance. Some of it is on very strict matters of honour and reputation. In 1998-99 the deal was struck that because it was only going to be for a relatively short time, as was explained by the then Leader of the House and others, the by-elections would simply continue for perhaps a year or two. Of course, several years later they are still there and the resistance to Lord Steel’s original mark 1 Bill produced, I think, 300 amendments-Lord Norton was very much more involved than I-simply on that issue. Some felt that the honourable deal that was done effectively meant that the hereditary by-elections should only go when the full reform of the House happened, which of course is not in prospect.

Lord Norton of Louth: To answer your question, one can distinguish support within the House, although the House passed without a division the Bill that reached this place, the cessation of membership Bill that Lord Steel brought forward. The House has agreed on the provisions for removing people who are convicted of serious offences, for example. No problem with that. There is a majority but not unanimity on the hereditary peers by-election option. As Lord Tyler has indicated, that is a sticking point, but we did have a division on one occasion on that provision in the Bill and there was a clear majority in support of it. So there is majority support, but with it being a Private Member’s Bill you only need relatively few to stop it getting through. The other distinction to draw is that the Bill is not concerned primarily or exclusively with the size of the House. Therefore, it is fulfilling a range of purposes including a reputational one.

Lord Goodlad: I think that it is a chimera to think that there can be a permanent solution, because Parliament cannot bind its successors and we have seen immense changes, even in our own lifetimes, in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. So there can be no permanent solution.

Q67 Mrs Laing: Is there a general consensus in the House of Lords that it would be beneficial and desirable to reduce its size?

Witnesses: Yes.

Q68 Mrs Laing: Thank you. We were sort of taking that as read, but I just wanted to put it on the record. I had rather assumed that because the Bill put forward by Lord Steel was passed in the House of Lords. If Lord Tyler is right in saying that the current measures that are being discussed would not have the effect of radically reducing the size of the House-I don’t just mean the hereditary by-elections, because obviously that will take a very long time, one hopes, for the sake of the health of your colleagues-are there are other measures that would radically reduce the size of the House?

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: Retirement age might, but that is a very difficult concept as well. The most radical one would be to require each group to do what the hereditaries had to do in 1999, which is to ballot among themselves to get the numbers down, but that is deeply distressing for lots of people. Also, if you did not have a retirement age but, for example, you proposed that all future appointments should be for 20 years fixed-term-I think Lady Hayman said there might be an extension for some and so on. The notion of extension is very difficult, because what kind of marbles test do you apply to those who perhaps are not quite as sharp as they once were? All the ways of getting the numbers down have real problems, and I am very much opposed to the state paying money for a retirement package. I think that is just wrong and, even if I did not think it was wrong, I think the public would not put up with it.

Lord Tyler: I think I should just qualify that, if I may. Mrs Laing will recall that there have been suggestions that the overpopulation issue, if I may put it like that, is exaggerated. I do not know, Chairman, whether you have had any evidence from the Leader of our House, but he set out the other day a very interesting pattern of active involvement in the work of the House. Others will recall that Lord Hill pointed out that at various stages in the House we have had not only more Members but more active Members. This is, over a longer period, perhaps not the issue that it seems to us to be now.

Our particular problem at the moment, I think, is that a lot of relatively newly appointed Members wish to be more active more regularly than has been the recent experience. The overpopulation issue has to be taken a little bit in that context, and if Lord Hill is not going to give evidence or has not given evidence, maybe you can just look at that particular point.

The other thing is, I am on principle opposed to some form of age limit. I know every so often we are told that judges have to retire at 70.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: 75.

Lord Tyler: 75. I am sure my colleagues will agree that some very important, useful contributions come from some of our older Members. Mrs Laing may recall that when Lord Cormack appeared before our Joint Committee on the Bill and suggested that the answer was an age limit, a number of our noble colleagues sitting in the public part of the Committee Room looked very worried, because the majority of them looked as if they were for the exit door. I don’t think it would go down a bundle. Even if you were not taking a principled stand on ageism, I don’t think it is right for a parliamentary institution to say, "At 70 or 75 you no longer have a contribution to make to the nation’s affairs".

Lord Norton of Louth: Your starting point is that there is a general acceptance in the House that we are too big. That is probably where the consensus ends, because you then have the problem of how big we should be. You might not get agreement on that. As Lord Tyler has indicated, the nature of the problem is twofold. We have a problem with those who do not attend, which is a reputational one. We have a problem with those who do attend because of the sheer pressure now on the resources of the House-space and so on-in order to operate effectively.

We take the view that we are too large. The problem, therefore, is how large should we be and how do we get from here to there. Do we go for measures that are immediate where you say, "There is an age limit", or, "We remove such-and-such from the House", or do you do it over a period of time with a mechanism that is gradual? There is the problem that Lord Tyler mentioned. I am very wary of doing something that is arbitrary, because you might then lose some of our best Members, and I think there is a danger of going for some scheme that has that effect. The problem therefore is finding one where you retain those who have something to contribute in a way that is fair, equitable and transparent.

Mrs Laing: There is the rub.

Lord Norton of Louth: Yes. How do you do that? Lord Hennessy has touched upon one possibility, which is that since Members of the House know who the active Members are who have something to contribute, you replicate something like 1999 with the hereditaries who were chosen to stay on. It was a method of, in effect, internal election, and those who were chosen to stay on were those who had contributed to the House and still had something to contribute. It was, in that sense, a sensible election. It was not done on the basis of who knows who or family connection. It was those who had something to contribute to the House. That might be something worth looking at.

Q69 Mrs Laing: Could we explore that a little bit further? Lord Hennessy mentioned that as well. It does seem reasonable on paper from a purely practical point of view, but Lord Hennessy thought that it would not command support, or would not be reasonable; it would hurt feelings.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: I wasn’t there, I watched it from the outside, but I think it was very distressing for a great many people, and indeed it is, having to sit in judgment on other people.

Lord Norton of Louth: I think there is a major qualitative difference in terms of numbers, because there you were getting rid of most of the hereditaries-there were just a small number who were remaining-whereas to some extent this would arguably be almost the other way round. You would not necessarily be getting rid of most Members, but it would inject some degree of flexibility into the system.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: You would get rid of about 300, I suspect. From around 800 to 500, I suspect, and that is quite a lot, but it is not of the magnitude of 1999.

Lord Norton of Louth: It doesn’t have to be extreme. You could incorporate in that taking off the books those who do not attend, getting rid of those who do not attend or who attend 10% or less.

Q70 Chair: Is this in the current Bill?

Lord Norton of Louth: It is in the current Bill in terms of those who do not attend the previous Session. That is what I put in the original, and we have maintained that. You could have a sliding scale. I just did a de minimus, "If you don’t attend that’s it, you are out", but you could do it on a sliding scale, so it is if you attend less than 10% of sittings. That, combined with non-attendance, would get rid of, I think, a three-figure number.

Lord Tyler: There is one other advantage, which is of course that, you will not be surprised to hear, everybody is going to be quite sensitive about: party balance. If you go for any other system-age, not attending or whatever-it can throw completely the party balance. If it was very clearly identified that each party group and the Cross Benchers had to reduce, over a period of years, by so many numbers in tranches, then you could tackle that.

I agree with both my colleagues. The problem is getting that mix absolutely right, the time scale and how you do it, and trying to avoid some of the problems that arose in 1999. That is very, very difficult. Colleagues around the table will recall that when Jack Straw looked at this problem with his White Paper in 2008, he produced a number of different scenarios to try to tackle this particular problem. Again, Mrs Laing will recall that we didn’t really face up to it in the recent Joint Committee.

Q71 Mrs Laing: Although, if my memory serves me correctly, the Joint Committee did take and publish evidence that showed the statistics to which you are all referring about the way in which it could be done-non-attenders and so on. On the subject of encouraging people voluntarily to leave the House, Lord Hennessy had doubts about that too, and the use of-

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: I just don’t think money should come into it. We are all volunteers in the House of Lords. You are in this place too, obviously, but in a different way we are all volunteers, so it is not a sort of redundancy circumstance if you come in on the basis that we have all come in on.

Q72 Mrs Laing: Can we explore the line of thinking that you are all volunteers? Is there no justification for saying someone who has given many decades of service is more than a volunteer and has in fact made a lifetime’s work of their service in the House of Lords, so possibly it could be justified that they should be given a package?

I put this forward as an example to consider. In a different Select Committee last week I happened to be there when evidence was given about the retirement of public servants in Scotland, and they referred to the "rule of 85"-that if the sum of the number of years’ service and the age of the person came to 85, they could retire on a very reasonable pension. It struck me that that is an illustration that might be worth exploring. Would that be impossible?

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: I would be very resistant to that, personally. It is not for me to say for others. I think the public would not understand.

Lord Norton of Louth: From a formal point of view, you could not offer a pension because there is no salary, but I take your point about whether, if it was recognition of active service, you could find some incentive, some reward, which may not necessarily have to be financial. I think part of it is that if people depart they would like some recognition of what they have done for the House. It does not necessarily have to be financial, but some sort of acknowledgement of services rendered might be worth exploring.

Lord Goodlad: The Committee might want to look at the report prepared by the Clerk of the Parliaments on the subject of a terminal payment, which shows that at a certain level it would save public money immediately, which might make it more palatable to people who objected to it, but it is quite clear there is no consensus on this matter. Consensus can only be achieved on the anvil of debate on primary legislation.

Lord Tyler: Just to illustrate Lord Goodlad’s point, I think one suggestion was that if you took account of the attendance allowance claimed over the previous 12 months before legislation was introduced, the individual to whom you are referring, who perhaps gave long service over a long period but has in recent years not been so active, would get very little, while somebody who just turned up over the last year to vote every so often, or perhaps more than every so often, would do rather well. That was put forward as a suggestion because it looked like a saving; if somebody goes who last year cost X, they are not going to be here this year to cost X. Perhaps the Treasury would wear that, but my colleague Lord Steel was promoting that idea once and I don’t think he referred to it in his evidence. I have not been able to quickly go through it. I think that is a non-starter, for the reasons that Lord Hennessy has illustrated.

Q73 Mr Turner: What I am concerned about is which peers are generalists and which peers are specialists. I am aware that there is no such clarity, but would you like to say a bit about that?

Lord Norton of Louth: I can add a further distinction, because you can distinguish between specialists and experts. You get people who come in who take a particular interest in an area. They might have long service on a Committee and they acquire a body of knowledge about it. They are specialists, but they are not actually experts. They have not been trained in the subject, they do not have qualifications and so on. You have your experts, you have your specialists and you might have your generalists.

The other point to make is that the categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive because, of course, somebody can be an expert in a particular area but none the less range over others and contribute to debate. I think it would be very difficult to come up with hard and fast figures as to how you would categorise the membership. If you just looked at qualifications for expertise, that would not give you the figure for those who specialise and can contribute something, and of course you might have an expertise in a particular area that is relevant for carrying over to another. I think it would be difficult to quantify. There are a number of us, particularly if we have an academic background, who tend to stick to our subject, but others at the other end of the spectrum who range very broadly and tend to be heard on virtually every subject we discuss.

Lord Tyler: I agree very much with what Lord Norton says. We are a very mixed bag. You have a fairly mixed bag here. You have two former Members of Parliament and they tend to be-I am not saying exclusively so-the ones who are there night after night. We are trained in your House to stay up late. Then you have two very distinguished people who have come from academia.

Lord Norton of Louth: And work very late.

Lord Tyler: Of course, but they are exceptional. The point I was going to make is that we do have a real problem about ex-experts, because expertise moves so fast now. It just so happens that we have one or two notable people in the later age groups who have kept up with their particular brand of specialisation, in health for example. But on the whole, the fact that we have at the last count-maybe you have had evidence on this-14 Members over the age of 90 and two under the age of 40 means that up-to-date expertise is a real problem. This is going to be very relevant, Chairman, when we come to the issues of a moratorium on new peers-getting new blood in is serious for us-and fixed-term appointments.

A large number of the people who contribute-and I have seen this both in our Committee work and in the Chamber-are people who are, putting it very delicately, not absolutely up to speed with expertise. You did not use the word "expert", you used the word "specialist", but I think there is a crossover between somebody who thinks they are a specialist and actually is an ex-expert.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: Can I offer two thoughts on that? Part of the remit of the House of Lords Appointments Commission that brings in the Cross Benchers is to bring in people who have something to contribute with special knowledge and background and so on, but also one is encouraged to keep the profession going and not drop it, so it should be mutually refreshing. Also, I think one can overdo the ex-expertise. We have a lot of very distinguished scientists, and I am a great admirer of the scientific approach because it is quite beyond me. I think one always admires things that one can’t do oneself. But the state of mind, the necessary scepticism that top-flight scientists bring, does not go even if they have not been in the lab every day for the past few years, so one can overdo the ex-expertise. This sounds a bit mushy, but it is a state of mind as much as anything else.

Lord Norton of Louth: Just to reinforce Lord Hennessy’s point, I was just thinking that if you are looking to the future, in a way it is partially addressed now through the Appointments Commission, because it is not just looking at individual merits. It is moving more towards identifying whether there are any gaps in the knowledge of the House, and where does the House need reinforcing, to bring in people who can cover that particular area. I think there is an awareness of the issue in terms of Members coming in, so I think it is helpful that is being addressed. You have the wider problem of membership simply as a consequence of numbers. We are a mixed bag, but in a way that is useful because it is sometimes useful if you are bringing a topic forward as an expert. It is a bit like when you have students who raise questions that have never occurred to you because they are looking at it from a very different perspective. That is quite stimulating and quite helpful.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: There is a problem with the Appointments Commission, though. The Prime Minister asked Lord Jay, the Chairman of the Appointments Commission, who I am pretty sure will be coming to give evidence to you, to curb the flow by 50% from four a year to two a year. That makes it more difficult, I would imagine, to fill the gaps and also to meet the diversity requirements, which are very much in their remit. I think a 50% cut in the flow might be problematic.

Mr Turner: A 50% flow? I am sorry-

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: There were roughly four a year coming in through that mechanism and it is now two because the Prime Minister wanted it cut in half.

Lord Norton of Louth: It is about whether one can persuade the parties to think in those terms as well, because some of the peers who come in as party nominees are specialists or experts in particular areas; it is about whether you can develop that and get some recognition on the part of the parties of that value.

Q74 Mr Turner: In a way, the presence of experts can be people who do not turn up except when those things are to be discussed.

Lord Norton of Louth: Yes.

Mr Turner: What we seem to have done is created generalists who are more likely to act and be present. I am not sure whether it is fewer experts or it is fewer people who are willing to come once in a while, but could we start by saying, "Let’s not reduce the numbers. Let’s just stick with the numbers. Let’s have no more than 800 for the first five years"? I am very concerned that people are expected to be here all the time. Why should they not be here once a week or once a month? I don’t quite understand what it is that makes it necessary for them to be there all the time. They need to be there when they think it is important.

Lord Tyler: I think that this is a critically important issue of comparison between the two Houses. I don’t want to sound as if I know what is exactly happening in the House here, but I suspect that, looking back to the experience of Members round the table, increasingly a Member of Parliament has become such a full-time occupation, you have few people who maintain an interest in any other walk of life. That was not true when I was first in and it may not have been always true for other Members, but I think it is largely true now.

This is one of the reasons why a consensus developed in the Joint Committee on the recent Bill that we should not have, as the White Paper and the draft Bill said, 300 full-time parliamentarians. That is what it said; that is what the Government went for. We all decided, relatively quickly, on the Committee that that was too small, because we thought 450 was the absolute minimum if you still had people who were going to maintain a professional, business or other interest outside Parliament, so that we could have a quite deliberate distinction between the role of a senator, as we were talking about, or a Member of the House of Lords, and a Member of the House of Commons. We thought that that was important.

I have a lot of sympathy for what you say, but I think it is also pragmatic. We are not going to suddenly go from the present 800 down to 450 anyway, so perhaps one of the merits of that is that over this transitionary period we should try to make it possible for somebody who has a fairly busy other life to still contribute to the work of Parliament.

Lord Norton of Louth: I largely agree with that. The attendance is rather good. The daily attendance is about 500 and some people conclude from that that we could survive with a membership of 500. Of course, it is not the same 500 every day. That is the point. But you are right, attendance has gone up over time. It is partly as a consequence of numbers and partly, as you say, because now there is a change. I think there are two things that draw people in. One is simply a vote, so whether you are an expert or not there is a vote and in some instances you want to be there. The other is the expectation now that when you become a Member of the House you are going to contribute to it. I think that does build up the attendance. It is still possible to have a full-time job and attend the House even if you have to travel, as I do, rather some distance, and I am not the only one. I am over 200 miles away. Baroness Finlay of Llandaff has a full-time post in palliative medicine and she comes in from Cardiff. It is still doable. It means you can’t be here all the time, but it means you can be here to contribute and, particularly if you are focused on a particular area, to contribute especially in that area. I think that is what we benefit from.

Q75 Mr Turner: Do Lord Hennessy and Lord Goodlad agree with that?

Lord Goodlad: Yes, I do.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: Absolutely. I think the way to see it is that in the House of Lords, the 490 to 500 average that turn up is a coalition of the willing. I do not understand the whipping arrangements. I am an innocent. I leave it to the pros on all that. There are lots of former Chief Whips with us here, but we are not whipped on the Cross Benches. It is very much a coalition of the willing, but it is interesting how many are very consistent attenders. If you look at the expertise of the former Chiefs of the Defence Staff or the former Cabinet Secretaries, there are lot of those, and the Queen’s Private Secretaries-I am interested in the constitutional side and the military, so I see them. It is a very agreeable form of adult education, apart from anything else. I have never found a better one. Also, I have never been able to find this study-it reverts to what we were talking about a moment ago-but I think it is in Emma Crewe’s very good book on the House of Lords. Somebody did a study that suggests if you go into the House of Lords you live 15 years longer than the average-

Lord Tyler: 14.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: 14, because the little grey cells are stimulated-

Lord Tyler: Which might cause the entire problem.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: -and you are cosseted, so it adds to the problem. People do find it very refreshing to sit in on debates that they are not experts in.

Lord Norton of Louth: Absolutely, and I think that is a very important point. People are not here simply because they feel they ought to be. They attend because they want to. It is a very conducive environment. It is very stimulating. The atmosphere in the Lords is very different from the Commons. We are far less adversarial. People are more engaged. I am going to a debate, perhaps not intending to be there for the whole debate, but you stay for the whole debate because you are learning from what is going on. It is extremely stimulating and you benefit from that and peers do listen to what other peers are saying. It can influence outcomes.

Q76 Mr Turner: Baroness Hayman gave me the impression that she would like full-time peers. Maybe I misunderstood what she was saying, but you are not in favour of full-time peers?

Lord Norton of Louth: No. That is the benefit. That is why I say we are complementary to the Commons. All the pressures on the Commons side over the years moved Members in the direction of just being committed to the work of the Commons, because the demands are now so great in a way they were not before, whether it is within the House, Committee work, legislation or constituency demands that have grown exponentially. That therefore limits the opportunities. Members may come into the House having had a previous career but it is very difficult to keep up with that previous career. You can still do that in the Lords and still maintain that engagement with outside bodies of a different sort to constituents. I think that is the value the House has, because it produces a different body, different type of composition, different type of work. So we are not replicating, we are not duplicating the Commons, and I think that is the value.

Lord Tyler: Just a footnote to that. Sometimes people think that the Cross Benchers are the only ones who come with expertise and are still maintaining a role outside. That is not true. Lord Winston is an obvious example, or Melvyn Bragg or Lord Fellowes. They are all very active people but bring a particular contribution to the House. As Mrs Laing will again recall, one of the reasons that we had a consensus on the Joint Committee about 450 was that we were not simply saying that the Cross Benchers, the independently appointed, may wish to continue to have an outside role, but that parties may deliberately want to put people on the electoral list-when there were going to be elected Members-who were still involved in other walks of life so that the second Chamber of Parliament still had that beneficial effect.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: Can I reinforce what Paul says? I am still relatively new in the House of Lords and I quickly realised, as I had not as a journalist watching it, how the what you might call talismanic figures in some cases are all over the Benches because of the knowledge that they bring and also their approach. Quite often votes can be turned, and they are as often turned on the party Benches as they are on the Cross Benches. There are people who really know, and who are listened to in a particularly careful way. It is a very courteous way of doing it, but one must be careful of that, because courtesy can be used as a weapon. You quite often do not realise you have been sliced up until several minutes later, so courteously is the rapier wielded.

Q77 Stephen Williams: It is very interesting. I have heard the House of Lords referred to as the most luxurious and expensive day centre in the country before, and now I learn it is the most expensive adult education centre in the country.

Lord Norton said earlier that there was a consensus that the House of Lords was too big. Is that consensus universal across the membership of the House, or is it confined to people like the four people we have here who are regular attenders and participants and who think someone else should leave, presumably?

Lord Goodlad: It is certainly most people in the House. Whether it is absolutely everybody, I couldn’t possibly say, but it is certainly most people.

Lord Norton of Louth: I have not heard anybody express a view that the current size is as it should be. I think every view that has been expressed has largely been along the lines, "We are too big". As I say, the problem is not there. It is where you go from there in determining what the size should be and how you get there.

Lord Tyler: I think the only qualification I would make is the one I gave earlier-that Lord Hill, our Leader, had some very interesting figures about the active participation of Members, and this refers back to Lord Goodlad’s point and his previous group. We have now set in motion some extension of the number of opportunities for Back Benchers to initiate questions for short debate, for example. We are going to have rather more of them than we have in the past. So there are some things that are internal to the way in which we operate that are addressing this apparent overactive adult education centre that Mr Williams was referring to. I can’t speak for Lord Hill, but I think you should look at what he has said about this because, in effect, he is saying the problem is not totally overpopulation. It is about trying to find ways of making better use of our current membership.

Q78 Stephen Williams: You seem to be saying that there is a consensus that the House is too big, but presumably there isn’t a consensus as to who should leave in order to make it smaller, and that is the problem.

On the issue of persistent non-attenders, the figures we have, which are from 2010, said there were 79 peers who did not attend at all in the 2010 session, and the average attendance was 475. As one of you was saying earlier, the number within that obviously changes. If one of the incremental changes was expulsion of persistent non-attenders, might that then give a perverse incentive for some of those persistent non-attenders to turn up because they would not want to lose their membership of this expensive day centre, adult education centre, gentlemen’s club or whatever else you want to call it?

Lord Norton of Louth: Yes. If you are going to do it to make that effective, you would have to do it on the basis of those who had failed to attend before rather than do it, say, on the present Session, for the reasons that you have given, because somebody will just turn up for a day and therefore they would not be eligible for going out. Having said that, you have the question of why it would matter to them anyway if they are not turning up at all. What would be the benefit of turning up just to stay on the books unless there was some future intention of attending? Otherwise, if they are persistent non-attenders, the only consequence is for the reputation of the House itself-we have these Members who do not turn up-but there is no practical implication, because they are not a drain on resources. They can’t claim anything because you have to be physically present.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: We were worried in the Joint Committee about doing it retrospectively without any warning in terms of due process. Somebody might judicially review it or whatever if the Bill had turned into an Act. I think we spent quite some time on that sort of natural justice approach.

Q79 Stephen Williams: To pick up what Lord Norton was just saying, presumably there is more to being a Member of the House of Lords than the educational and legislative opportunity. There are other opportunities to host events and use the dining rooms, and that does not count as attendance, does it?

Lord Norton of Louth: No, you have to come to the Chamber. You might be using the facilities but you are a non-attender. Even if you are using the facilities, you are not attending.

Q80 Stephen Williams: Is there any evidence that some of these 79 persistent nonattenders in the Chamber or the 300 or so who do not participate are doing something else?

Lord Norton of Louth: They might use the facilities but that would be one of the incentives for part of retirement. You say if you retire, nonetheless dining rights still come in or something like that. That is essentially at the margins. We did that with the hereditaries, but that had no great impact in terms of resources because so many are outside London there was no great reason why they would come and use the facilities. So as I say, I think that is essentially at the margins. Of course if you say to them, "You are a non-attender, you are no longer a Member", it does not have any great consequences because they do not lose the title. You are still a Lord whether you are a Member of the Lords or not.

Q81 Stephen Williams: Do the people who are hereditaries but used to be Members of the House of Lords retain any membership rights in the House of Lords, to belong to all-party groups or anything like that?

Lord Norton of Louth: The party groups could allow the former hereditaries or continuing hereditaries to be involved. Those that ceased to be Members I think were still allowed dining rights, if you can call it that, just to come in and use the facilities but, as I say, they were not extensively used.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: The ex-bishops can come in and dine, can’t they? The bishops cease to be Members of the House of Lords when they retire from their bishoprics, although the archbishops are usually life peers.

Lord Norton of Louth: Yes.

Lord Tyler: There is a genuine dilemma here, for the reasons we are touching on now. If you indicate in advance that this is the intention, it might increase the number of people who come in. Even now, Chairman, with this discussion going on and this Bill and so on, there may be people who think, "I haven’t been for a bit, perhaps I ought to go", but if you do it entirely retrospectively then there might be a legal challenge. Just to give you an indication, a couple of weeks ago for a particular Bill that may be of interest to colleagues on all sides we had 530-something people who voted and probably another 20 or 30 who didn’t vote because they thought it was an inappropriate thing to do on that particular amendment, so 550-plus. I don’t know whether any of those thought, "I’m still a Member, I had better pop down there", or possibly thought, "I ought to just keep my attendance record up and this is a good one". I think we are in very difficult territory here. It seems simple from the outset but it could be quite a tangled operation to get very few people to go who are presently active, presently occupying an office or presently have any sort of involvement in the House. It might not be worth the candle.

Lord Norton of Louth: Having said that, I went through all 538 names of those who voted. There were a couple of rather prominent figures but, that aside, on the whole it was those who would come in. So it sort of maximised the attendance of those who normally come, I think would be the way of expressing it.

Lord Goodlad: This was on the same-sex marriage Bill Second Reading and the amendment.

Q82 Stephen Williams: Paul Tyler was just saying it might not be worth the candle having some rule about persistent non-attenders. Is that the view of all of you-that it is simply not worth trying to agree definition, maybe because there would be a legal challenge?

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: I think it is worth trying. It is fraught with peril and it might not produce much, but we need to look at all possible avenues. Tony Wright, the wonderful Tony-I think it was in his farewell Political Quarterly speech-said, "The moment the House of Lords will turn is when you can’t get a table for tea on the busier days". Do you remember that? That is just to cheer us up a bit, but quite seriously I think we should look at all possible avenues because it is not easy, unless you went for the brutal option of voting the numbers down, which also is fraught with peril.

Q83 Stephen Williams: Here is a multiple-choice question for the four of you. Could you, in order, give us the three things that you think would make the most difference in dealing with this problem of there being too many Members? I assume that a rule on non-attendance would be third in all cases, but what would be your top and your second choice for making a significant difference to overcrowding on your Benches?

Lord Norton of Louth: You need to distinguish because, of course, non-attendance does not affect overcrowding. Getting rid of those who don’t attend does not have an impact on the current pressure on resources. Getting rid of non-attenders is more a reputational matter. If we look at the pressure on the House and slimming it down, that is where we come to the points I mentioned. It is about whether you go to the more immediate ones like saying to the parties, "From the next election you will have X number" or something like that or, as was embodied in the Bill, you do it over two Parliaments and bring in a scheme.

What we incorporated in the Bill was this idea that you would have the aspiration of having the second Chamber smaller than the first. That was the goal, to try to make the House smaller than the Commons and seek to do it ideally over the course of two Parliaments. It is about whether you do that by saying to the party groups, "That means you have X number and therefore it is up to your own internal mechanisms as to how you select who should go"-that might give us the degree of flexibility that we have mentioned to keep those who might be elderly but still have a lot to offer, and perhaps some of those will go who are not that old but nonetheless have not contributed much-or whether, as we have discussed, you do it on the more arbitrary basis of an age limit and say, "All those over such-and-such shall go".

Q84 Stephen Williams: What would your first choice be, to answer my question?

Lord Norton of Louth: I am inclined towards leaving it to the parties.

Q85 Stephen Williams: But that still means you would have to have a method for reducing the number, wouldn’t you? If there is a goal, it is not a means of doing that.

Lord Norton of Louth: You would have to have agreement on what the numbers would be. It could be as we put in the Bill. You can take it from there, so the largest party has a majority but no more than 3% over the Opposition, for example. You can work out what the number should be and then leave it to the parties, which is what you have at the moment with the hereditary peers-an election of X number.

Q86 Stephen Williams: You can’t leave it to the parties, can you? You can’t reduce the number of Labour, Lib Dem and Tory peers without having some legislative agreement on what the method of reduction should be? What I am trying to get to is what the method of reduction should be.

Lord Norton of Louth: You could repeat the 1999 provision.

Lord Goodlad: I think it would be extremely difficult to legislate for elections within groups, because there are, of course, the big groups-the Labour party, the Conservative party, the Cross Benchers and the Lib Dems, but there are a very large number of small groups and there could be more and more small groups in the future. How are you going to legislate for that? I think that the long-term solution-there is no quick fix, as we have discussed- is probably a fixed term for future life peers. Parliament would have to decide what that was and what the size of the House should be, but there is no quick fix.

Q87 Stephen Williams: Paul, do you have a first preference?

Lord Tyler: You are challenging us in a way that takes us back, I am afraid, to the Chairman’s original warning.

Stephen Williams: No, the first choice for incremental measures.

Lord Tyler: The fact is that our House is particularly concerned with precedent. The fact that we did do it on hereditaries, but before my time, has some attractions, but it is not comfortable, and this is not the first attempt to look at this issue. Everybody keeps inventing this, but we have been at it for over 100 years. I have personally been at it for not quite that long but quite a long time, and with Jack Straw we looked at it very carefully. We did not get beyond a number of options. We looked at it again in the Joint Committee, and it does take us back to the long-term big operation on which we have differing views, but I don’t see any quick fix.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: I am with Alastair on this. I think ending the hereditary by-elections and a fixed term, which I would put at 20 years, as I mentioned earlier, for all new appointments is the way to do it. If Parliament said, "This can’t go on", and the brutal option with all its imperfections was required, I think the only way is to do the 1999 precedent, but that would be most unfortunate.

Lord Norton of Louth: We do have legislation, so you can provide for election. That is what we have at the moment. In response to your question, I was not identifying what I regard as the most desirable option. It was the least undesirable.

Q88 Stephen Williams: Sticking with that 1999 precedent on hereditaries, you all seem to agree that stopping the by-elections would take 50 years or whatever to make a difference. Could you use that 1999 precedent to say that there shall be 42 hereditaries from 2015 onwards in the House? Is that attractive to any of you? Then they decide who they are.

Lord Norton of Louth: There are two separate aspects you are covering, I think. One is using it as a precedent for election within the parties. The point about closing off the by-election option is not so much that it would have any impact on numbers, other than because in the future you would just stop new ones coming in, so gradually the 90 would go over a long period of time, but that is not the reason for doing it. It is not a numbers issue in that respect. It is more reputational from the point of view of the House.

Q89 Stephen Williams: If having hereditaries is a reputational issue, why not remove the whole lot?

Lord Norton of Louth: It is not the fact of the hereditaries. It is the means by which they continue to come in. It is the actual by-election provision itself rather than the fact that we have hereditary peers.

Q90 Stephen Williams: Yes, but that implies that there is an embarrassment that someone owes their membership to who their father was. It is the same thing.

Lord Norton of Louth: Strictly speaking, who their father was makes them eligible to be on the list to be considered for election.

Stephen Williams: That is the embarrassment, surely.

Lord Norton of Louth: No, the embarrassment is the means by which they are then chosen, that you might have thee Lib Dems choosing one person to come in. I think that is the issue.

Lord Tyler: The extra twist, of course, is that they are disproportionately from one party group, so that is tricky. Incidentally, we have, Chairman, at the moment a current by-election where, of course, we will elect as the whole House, because there was another little quirk here. Another extraordinary factor is that because the departed Member was a deputy chairman, the whole House will vote and it could be anybody who is signing up to any of the four groups who is elected. We are doing it, of course, by the alternative vote, which is a very good way of selecting the right candidate, I am sure you would agree.

Lord Goodlad: Can I just ask a question? They do not have to sign up for one of the four groups, do they? They could be UKIP, they could-

Lord Norton of Louth: Oh yes, anybody can be on the list. I just want to make the point as well that if you get rid of the by-election option then the remaining hereditaries become de facto life peers. It is also worth bearing in mind that we have more hereditaries than the statutory 92. Some have been very able and been brought back as life peers. Most Labour hereditary peers before 1999 are back in the House but they are not back elected as hereditary peers, they have been given life peerages to enable them to continue to contribute to the House because they are just very good people.

Q91 Paul Flynn: I was going to ask about retirement, but I think we have covered this. I presume you are all saying that having a retirement age is really not on. I was looking at the numbers of people we would lose or would have already lost from this side-Peter Tapsell, Dennis Skinner, David Winnick, Austin Mitchell and Gerald Kaufman, people who really do contribute a huge amount to the House and are well over 75. We are irreparably short of octogenarians. I was struck by what Lord Hennessy said about the scientific wealth that you have in yours compared to ours. Recently a Member of this House said in my presence in the Chamber that he believed that a surgeon conducted fewer operations when there was a full moon because of the effect it has on the way that blood congealed. That person has just been elected to the Science Committee to give us further benefits of his scientific wisdom on the subject. We are desperately short of scientists or people who think on scientific principles.

You are in danger of converting this long-standing opponent of Lords into a fan because of the contribution you have made, so I find it very disconcerting. If compulsory retirement is barbaric, as we know it to be, and it is ageist-you would not dream of doing anything that was sexist or racist in any way-it is really dead. You can’t put an age limit there.

Lord Tyler: I want to reinforce Mr Flynn’s enthusiasm for reform. I think the expertise that is available to parliamentarians should be people who are here as witnesses. What we want in whichever House is judgment. Judgment, of course, is developed over experience and expertise. The specialists should not be there; they should be here giving evidence to parliamentarians. I have been in a Committee in the Lords where there were these very distinguished former soldiers who were in charge at the time of the Falklands, and the poor guys over here think, "God, look, here are these people of huge wisdom and experience, but they are 20 years out of date"-in that case rather more than 20 years out of date. So I think we should take with a pinch of salt this idea that it is terribly important to have scientific or any other expertise. It should be here, across from the parliamentarians’ horseshoe giving evidence. I hope that view will not encourage Mr Flynn to tear up his card as a Lords reformer.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: It is, however, very useful to have the scientists and all the people with special knowledge engaged in the detailed slog of the Committee work on the face of a Bill. I am a great fan of Select Committees, but it is qualitatively different if you have them in there absolutely on the case.

Lord Goodlad: To comfort Paul in his fear that he, as a long-standing opponent of the Lords, might be in danger of becoming a supporter, my experience is that the longest standing and most vociferous opponents of the House of Lords, once they have joined the House of Lords, become the most zealous converts in its portal.

Q92 Paul Flynn: That is very alarming. We all have our titles around the table and it is a choice we have. We can be Mr, we can be Mrs, we can be Ms. I can’t be "Citizen" though. If I want to be called Citizen Flynn, that is not allowed. You are sitting there as Lords and you mentioned about the rights to have tea there, and I do not know what part the ermine plays, or being Lords. How important would it be if we gave it another title and took away the Lords? "Lords"-I mean, it’s the Almighty, isn’t it? There are all kinds of wonderful overtones of being a Lord. How much of an attraction is it, and would it encourage those who are contributing not in an effective way?

Lord Goodlad: I don’t think it is an attraction at all. I would much rather be called Comrade.

Paul Flynn: I will do that from now on.

Lord Norton of Louth: Or Citizen.

Q93 Paul Flynn: Yes, or Citizen. What about wives being called Ladies and the Baronesses’ husbands presumably being called Mr?

Lord Norton of Louth: I think that is a separate issue and I do have a solution to it, which I will share with you afterwards if you are interested, which I think is equitable. It is that all spouses cease to take a title and simply be called Honourable, and that solves the problem. You know then who has the title on merit.

On your other point, I think there are some differences, the slightly party differences in the House in terms of attitudes towards the use of title, whether you prefer to use them, whether you prefer not to use them. My view is that I suspect if you got rid of titles you then might have to start paying Members.

Paul Flynn: To take this general point, I am not alarmed at that, but after just emerging from the-

Chair: Paul, can we hear from the other two witnesses and then come back to you?

Paul Flynn: Of course, yes.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: I think it should be seen as a job being in the House of Lords and what you are called is secondary. "Senator" is all right; other countries have senators. It does not matter what we are called as long as people do see it as a proper job, which makes it more than the sum of the parts of the parliamentary system as a whole. We are obsessed with status and title in this country, and we will never get out of it until the second coming. I don’t know when that is going to be. I have no insight on that one.

Q94 Chair: Let me ask Paul for a view and then we will come back to Paul Flynn.

Lord Tyler: Lord Hennessy is a self-confessed peacock. He enjoys some of this stuff and since-

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: Oh, flummery is terrific.

Lord Tyler: I have read his book, you see, which is dangerous, obviously. I think there are some Members-not very many, but some-who do simply want the title and then do not turn up. I think that is crazy. The sooner we can disentangle the honours system from active involvement in legislation and the other roles of Parliament the better. But I do not think, Chairman, that is going to be possible under this Bill unless perhaps colleagues in your House start trying to amend this Bill, which would be perfectly healthy.

I have not found, I have to confess, any practical advantage in the title. The misunderstandings about our place are legion, not least of course because every time there is any reference to some disaster of reputation there, we get that picture of some Members dressed up looking like Father Christmas. I have a deal with my wife that we are not going to attend the State Opening until the last one, when the guillotine is being sharpened outside and the tumbrils are rolling, when just for the fun of it we will dress up. But I am not going to get involved in all that because I simply do not want to be photographed looking like a complete ninny.

Lord Norton of Louth: I think there was a serious point about the relationship between titles and what we are talking about in terms of activity. There are a fair number of Members who regard being given a title, being elevated to the peerage, as an honour, and you feel obligated that you owe something in return, which is to apply yourself to the work of the House. It may be different if you did not have that sort of recognition then in terms of the activity that one might engage in.

Q95 Paul Flynn: Having been in this House for a long time now, purely in the interests of adding to my life expectancy, I long for the day when we pass legislation on the basis of evidence. Almost all legislation is evidence-free. It is determined on the basis of perception, which is often framed by the tabloids, by the pressure, which can be partly the wisdom of crowds but usually the stupidity of crowds, and prejudice. Those are the three main elements in this place, under all Governments virtually.

Chair: I know this is a preamble to a question. I feel it.

Paul Flynn: It is. Is the Lords providing a suitable, rational balance and is it desirable that we carry on with it?

Lord Norton of Louth: I think it is. I am going to respond to what Paul was saying earlier. I fully take your point, we have to be very alert because a lot of it is the "something must be done" mentality. Part of the problem as well is that Parliament sees-Ministers do this but MPs as well-legislative success as a Bill coming in and Royal Assent rather than the effect of the Bill. So you need more post-legislative scrutiny.

I think the value of the Lords-this is what Peter was touching on-and the value of Committee work is detailed examination. I disagree with Paul about those who are either specialists or experts being Members, because they are then able to engage with those outside in the field as well, so you get a proper informed discourse. You not only know what questions to ask but you can evaluate the quality of the answers to make sure there is the evidence base there. I think that is the value of the Lords. We are less concerned with the principle of the legislation, that is what you are there for, but our role is the detail and this is why the membership is so important.

Chair: I think this is fascinating-

Lord Norton of Louth: We are a body of legislative scrutiny. We focus on the detail, which is why you need the type of membership we have, I think, precisely for the very reason you are touching upon.

Chair: We have just done a thing on better government and the legislative process, so I will move on.

Q96 Fabian Hamilton: Apologies for being late. The late Robin Cook, when he was the newly created Leader of the House of Commons, once remarked to a parliamentary Labour party meeting that after the State Opening of Parliament he felt rather out of place because he was the only one not dressed to look like a playing card. So I think that rather emphasises your point, Lord Tyler.

Last week Baroness Hayman gave evidence to this Committee, and one of the things she told us was that she was minded to include a provision in her Bill that would allow for the expulsion of peers who brought the House into disrepute. Do you think that there would be a consensus in Lords on this issue?

Lord Norton of Louth: Yes. I regret I did not put that in the Bill, the original Steel Bill. The wording of the Bill was to bring it into line with the Commons for anybody who committed a serious criminal offence, so I merely put in what the position was in the Commons. I regret that I did not extend it to do the same for giving the House the power to expel a Member, the same as the Commons. You can get Members who commit serious improprieties that damage the reputation of the House, which are not necessarily unlawful but they are on such a scale that the House ought to have in reserve that power to expel a Member. I think there would be general agreement on that.

Lord Goodlad: I think that there would be agreement for that in the Lords. It would be extremely difficult to expel somebody from the Commons who had been legitimately elected just because everybody else ganged up on them, if they had not committed a crime. That would be extremely difficult, but I think in the Lords there would be a consensus along the lines described by Lord Norton.

Lord Tyler: One thing you can always guarantee in the House of Lords is that if somebody says there is a consensus, there will be somebody who does not agree. I do think that this sounds great in principle, but just think of the practicalities. For example, we have some-how should I put it delicately-really able but maverick views expressed in the Lords, and long may they be so. It could be circumstances where somebody who is dissatisfied with the way in which the House is operating, and the way in which the main parties are operating, makes quite a stink about this in the media or whatever. It would be a very easy, knee-jerk reaction for the majority in the House of Lords to say, "That is bringing the House into disrepute" on political grounds. On political grounds it would be quite easy to do so. It sounds very simple, but I think the practicalities are not easy, and maybe we would have to have a two-thirds majority or something of that sort. It is not as simple as it sounds.

Q97 Fabian Hamilton: But if you have a clear definition of what bringing the House into disrepute actually means, for example being convicted of a criminal offence, then surely that would be a lot easier. It would not be used politically, it would be used-

Lord Tyler: No, but I would say that it applies if you are convicted for a criminal offence for which there is a custodial sentence, and that is within the proposals. I think I am right in saying that you are a lawyer, Mr Hamilton, and if you can write that definition to satisfy every single Member of the House of Lords, good luck.

Lord Norton of Louth: There is a difference between consensus and unanimity. You can do it, because it is not simply about saying that the House can simply expel someone. You would have some mechanism by which the matter would be, say, before a judicial committee before it could come to the floor of the House. You can do it legislatively, because the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, just before the last election, did include that provision, but it was one of the provisions that was lost because of the wash-up.

Lord Tyler: It was a great misfortune that that provision failed at the last minute.

Lord Norton of Louth: Yes.

Chair: Fabian, just before you go on, Alastair, I know you have to leave. Please do not hesitate when that moment arrives.

Q98 Fabian Hamilton: We will not be offended, will we? Surely the issue then, Lord Tyler, is a proper process with a clear set of principles or guidelines, just as a judicial process would work.

Lord Tyler: That is why I think Lady Hayman’s Bill, section 2, "Conviction of serious criminal offence", is the right starting point. Bringing the House into disrepute I think would give an impression-it may only be a perception-of a rather different role.

Lord Norton of Louth: We certainly feel that the present sanction we have, which is all the House can do at the moment-and we had long deliberations before we agreed we had the power-is simply to suspend someone, which can only be at the maximum until the end of the Parliament, and that is it.

Lord Goodlad: I think the prospect of there being a sort of kangaroo court, offending against the principles of natural justice, is absolutely unthinkable.

Q99 Fabian Hamilton: So a proper process, clearly laid out with clear guidelines, would be acceptable.

Lord Norton of Louth: Yes. If you look at our membership, of course, we have the membership, particularly of those who are former Law Lords and others, that could form a committee that I think would be appropriate for fulfilling that particular role.

Q100 Fabian Hamilton: Presumably it would have to be a committee of peers, wouldn’t it?

Lord Norton of Louth: Yes.

Q101 Fabian Hamilton: You couldn’t have any other committee, any outside body deciding on this.

Lord Norton of Louth: No, because it is intrinsic to the House, the same as the powers of the Commons, to expel a Member. You already have the powers. My point is that we simply want to bring the Lords into line with the Commons.

Q102 Fabian Hamilton: We have been discussing diversity in the House. Do you think that the House of Lords Appointments Commission has made any difference to the composition of the House in terms of diversity? Has it been doing its job properly? How would you assess the work that it has been doing?

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: I think 64 or 65 have come through that process since it was established 13 years ago, and 38% are women. I do not have the latest breakdowns. I am sure Michael Jay will bring all that with him. So it has made progress but, again, I go back to what I was saying a bit earlier, that if you have two a year rather than four-it has been cut in half-getting all that over a period of time is going to be that much harder. But certainly, as far as I can see from the outside, the Appointments Commission has had that in the forefront of its mind right from the beginning.

Q103 Fabian Hamilton: It is very important, obviously, that we have a proper gender balance, but how are we going to make sure that the Lords better reflects the diversity of society in terms of racial or ethnic background?

Lord Norton of Louth: We have a higher proportion of Members drawn from ethnic minority backgrounds than in the Commons, and that is the value of appointment, because you can move fairly quickly to bringing in people from a diverse range of backgrounds. What we did in the Bill was to say that if appointment was put on a statutory basis, it then had to have regard to the diversity of the United Kingdom. But I see that essentially as confirming what it already does, because if you look at the Members who have come in through the Appointments Commission in terms of the range of backgrounds, not just gender but ethnic minority backgrounds, disability and so on, then you see that if it could be improved it would be improving on a good process already. There is that recognition that one needs to have regards to the diversity. I think in that respect it is doing its job and the House is benefiting enormously from that fact. We are a fairly diverse House in various respects so to add to it I think is valuable and the House does benefit enormously from that.

Lord Tyler: Ironically, the worst shortfall is geographical. During the period of the last Government two-thirds of the appointments on all sides, party as well as Cross-Bench, came from London and the south-east.

Lord Norton of Louth: Or they live in London and the south-east, but then if you do a study of MPs where they now live, it is not that much different. For the obvious reason that this is where the institution is, they tend to gravitate. It is only those of us who have jobs elsewhere who continue to live elsewhere.

Q104 Fabian Hamilton: Or homes in communities elsewhere. In other words, we are part of the communities we represent.

Lord Norton of Louth: That is a good point about the Lords. If you look at it in terms of where they live, as distinct from their titles, their geographic titles where they still feel that sense of affinity, that link, then you get a very different picture.

Q105 Fabian Hamilton: Can I ask one final question, if I may? One of the reasons I support the Lords as it stands at the moment is because I feel it has kind of transformed from the Upper Chamber into more or less a committee of experts. We have been discussing expertise and specialisms earlier. Do you think that the value of the Lords really is that it is a group of people who do not have to look over their shoulders to the next election, therefore they can take independent views? Whether they are experts or not, they can use their judgment in a way that is different to that of somebody elected in the Commons. That therefore enhances the work of the Commons and the Lords never, or rarely, decides that it should override the view of the elected Chamber, more than it should inform and advise.

Lord Norton of Louth: Just to reinforce that, you are quite right because one can take a different time frame, but the fact that there isn’t election fundamentally affects the relationship between the parties. I think that is the reason why we are not that adversarial. We are far less partisan than the Commons because you are not having to compete against the party who is sat opposite you to be where you are, so you do not think of it in those terms. You are not up for re-election, and you are therefore not thinking of it necessarily as, "How can I get party advantage from this?"

Lord Goodlad: I certainly find that is true of myself. Having been 25 years in this place and now for a few years at the other end, it does certainly affect the way one thinks. As you say, the primacy of the House of Commons on political matters is universally respected in the House of Lords.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: There is a human factor too. I think people are beyond ambition in the House of Lords, by and large. I was chatting to the wonderful Alf Dubs not long after I came in and he made this point. He said, "We are all on a permanent farewell tour in here". That can be an advantage. I am not in favour of gerontocracy. I never believed in the cult of youth even when I was one, so I must not overdo this, but that is certainly a factor.

Lord Tyler: It is easy to exaggerate the difference. I am afraid that despite the thought that somehow we are all above party politics, the vast majority of votes in the House of Lords are on party lines. Meg Russell’s work will demonstrate this. I keep saying to people that it underrates the extent to which the House of Commons, in recent years in particular, has become more independent. You are all more revolting than you used to be, if I may put it that way.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: Long may you be so.

Lord Tyler: The work that has been done on that is very interesting. I think it is important not to allow that to colour our judgment. The difference between the Houses is not that great.

Lord Norton of Louth: Well, there is a big difference but it is not that one. Paul is quite right, because Meg Russell’s research, and even my own, shows that MPs are far more revolting than they have ever been. We do tend to vote on party lines when we vote; we don’t vote that often. But it is the Cross Benchers who make the difference. So it is not about Ministers having to appeal to the individual Members of the House, it is about having to appeal to the groupings in the House, because you cannot carry something solely on the basis of your own supporters. You have to have a proper dialogue to make sure you get your measures through, and I think that is the fundamental point. I am not saying that there is not a party element to the House. My point is that we are less adversarial than the Commons, far less partisan. If you look at Hansard you will rarely see, in brackets, "Interruption."

Q106 Sheila Gilmore: To follow up further on the question of the Appointments Commission, do you think it is necessary to change the remit or the basis of the current Appointments Commission? Baroness Hayman has a particular proposal on this. Do you think that would be good, and do you think there would be support for that?

Lord Norton of Louth: I know the Chairman of the Appointments Commission would like to have it put on a statutory basis, and we have always supported that line. I think there are two benefits. The Appointments Commission is independent, but it not only has to be independent, it has to be seen to be independent, and I think that is one of the values of putting it on a statutory basis. That then protects its independence. The other advantage in the provisions as drafted, of course, is that they bring Parliament more into the process if the Appointments Commission wants to add to the criteria, and the guidance it publishes has to be brought forward by order. In other words, it is subject to the negative resolution procedure. So it brings Parliament into the process, whereas at the moment it is detached and it is purely about the nominations of the Commission. Although you would not be involved in that, there would be some parliamentary involvement in approving the guidance and making sure that the criteria were not added to without parliamentary assent. I think those are the advantages. It would mean that it was protected. It is not under threat from prime ministerial decision or anything like that at the moment, but it would protect it, put it beyond the reaches of the Prime Minister of the day.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: I agree absolutely with that. There is one element where the Prime Minister can interfere. Well, not interfere-he does affect the numbers going through, as I have mentioned already-but there is a provision in the Appointments Commission where he has the final say, and that is on security grounds. In fact, the Appointments Commission gets papers from Special Branch, tax, MI5 and MI6 on all the people, so they do all that as well, but the Prime Minister can override if there is special knowledge that he has that others might not. As far as I know that has not been used.

I agree entirely with Philip. There have been organic changes in the Appointments Commission, which Michael Jay will no doubt tell you about, one of which is that in recent years a bit more width of expert knowledge has been looked for from the Cross Benchers. They have always gone for expert knowledge, obviously, but I think they have looked for a slightly wider portfolio than initially. So it has not been a static picture, but it will make a big difference when it is a statutory body rather than a prerogative body, which I suppose it is now, isn’t it?

Lord Tyler: I think there is near unanimity about the provisions, and they have been worked over now by so many people, so I think Lady Hayman’s provisions are pretty well agreed. "The principal criteria for recommendation for a peerage shall be…conspicuous merit…and a willingness and capacity to make a contribution to the work of the House of Lords." The only point I would make is that when the present commission was set up, expectations were very high that people’s peers would get in, and there were lots of references to hairdressers. I do not know why hairdressers were picked up, and then the first appointee-

Sheila Gilmore: Probably a bit like taxi drivers who know how to run the country, we should just make them-

Lord Tyler: Yes, maybe. But the first appointee was Elspeth Howe who was not only the wife of a very prominent politician but of one who I think was probably already in the Lords, wasn’t he?

Lord Norton of Louth: He was, yes.

Lord Tyler: So it was a job share rather than anything else. It is very important that if this is going to continue, it is not some alternative long-term permanent arrangement that means we do not have to have any suggestions of any other reforms in due course, but an important bit of tidying up.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: It was the Prime Minister’s press secretary who called them people’s peers, wasn’t it? There is always a problem in the UK when the people are brought into it.

Lord Goodlad: Elspeth cut Geoffrey’s hair. Did you know that?

Lord Tyler: That proves that it is all right after all.

Q107 Mrs Laing: I have been thinking about what Lord Hennessy said about the 1999 precedent of each group electing its own or choosing its own to remain, and that it would be brutal. Would it be so brutal that it would not command consensus? You see, we are used to brutality of elections in this House.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: It would be brutal, and also there is a danger that people would lobby and so on. The press naturally would get very excited by all this and there would be speculation and bets taken and so on. Heaven knows if we would have to produce manifestos. Alastair will know this. They have to do manifestos in your party when a hereditary dies, don’t they?

Lord Norton of Louth: It used to be you could do 75 words.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: A 75-word manifesto.

Lord Goodlad: It would be widely seen as extremely undesirable, in my view.

Lord Norton of Louth: It depends how brutal and it depends on numbers, but if you think of the options we discussed, you might regard them as not mutually exclusive, so if you had this process it might encourage some peers to think about retirement if they were reaching a stage where they thought it was appropriate to go.

Q108 Mrs Laing: Yes. The group could almost, perhaps not quite, be self-selecting. If people were faced with the option of either standing for sort of election and producing a 75-word manifesto or saying, "Well, maybe it is time I took a step aside" it could be self-selecting in that way.

Lord Norton of Louth: Yes.

Lord Tyler: But I think we have to recognise that there is a real reputational problem here. It would look incredibly incestuous if the parties within a House of Parliament were sorting who should legislate in future rather than the electorate. I know we are not going there at the moment, but I would just put a very severe warning shot across this proposal. It would not be just about the embarrassment within the House of having to face this, which would be considerable, I agree with my colleagues. I think trying to present that to the public as even an interim solution would be fraught with real problems.

Chair: But as you say, we are not going there, so I am sure, Philip, you are not going to pursue that. I am going to ask Eleanor if she has another question about the Bill.

Q109 Mrs Laing: I do. This comes out of the evidence and the discussion we have had this morning. Thinking about the retirement age-of course, this Committee entirely accepts the point that there are many people aged 40 who are not nearly as good as some people aged 90, but that is life’s lottery in a way-would it be more acceptable and possibly less brutal if the retirement age worked in such a way that rather than on your 80th birthday, or 82nd birthday, there was this ignominy of walking out of the House forever, there was a system whereby peers would automatically retire at the end of the Parliament during which they attained their 82nd birthday, let’s say? Supposing it was done like that so that then as a Parliament ends a whole tranche of people over the age of 80 would all leave?

Lord Goodlad: Yes, that would be less undesirable than the other options.

Mrs Laing: Less undesirable.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: We could invent a nice decommissioning ceremony. I think people would like that. I am quite serious. People would like rites of passage and the recognition of good service and so on. It could be done with dignity.

Q110 Mrs Laing: Would it give it more dignity if it was done as a group of people rather than one every week?

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: Yes.

Lord Norton of Louth: Yes, it would ease it. The key problem is the one you have identified. Your question is based on whether there will be an age limit as a way of getting people out, and I still prefer my method, just to respond to what Paul was saying. Of course, what we are talking about there is not bringing people in; it is people going.

Q111 Mrs Laing: Yes, I have got that. One final question. Although some of my colleagues and others characterise the House of Lords as a sort of overgrown gentlemen’s club, predominantly consisting of old men who are out of touch, does the House of Lords’ overwhelming vote in support of the equal marriage Bill last week show it to be, in fact, more progressive than the current House of Commons?

Chair: A one-word answer, thank you, gentlemen. What a sneaky question.

Lord Tyler: I am not going there.

Lord Goodlad: No comment.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: It would be impertinent for me to say.

Lord Norton of Louth: Well, I think you could say that. We couldn’t possibly comment.

Q112 Mr Chope: Last week in evidence Baroness Hayman and Lord Steel both said that they would support a total moratorium on new appointments until the next general election. What are your views about that?

Lord Tyler: I think it is crazy, frankly. I have worked very closely with David Steel for many, many years, he is a lovely guy, he is a good friend, but frankly I think this is just ridiculous because that would suggest there is no opportunity for fresh blood to be brought into the place. As we have already indicated, we do have a problem of ageing, out-of-touch-I am not saying this is everybody-

Q113 Mr Chope: Sorry for interrupting you, but surely in the House of Commons itself we get elected for a five-year term. Nobody is arguing that we should have to leave after three years because at this stage in the Parliament we need more new blood. All we are saying is that there should be a moratorium until the next general election.

Lord Tyler: I think there is a good case for saying to the parties over a rather longer period, "We aren’t going to appoint any new Members to your group"-this applies to the Cross Benchers as well-"until we start introducing some form of exit". That seems to me to be a much more radical and sensible approach. But simply to pull down the shutters-every so often we have Ministers dropped in on us, for example. Are they going to stop that happening? I just think it is not practical politics, and I am very surprised that anybody thinks that it could be.

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: We need a trickle of refreshment, I think, but the problem will be overshadowed because we are going to get 40 political appointees, are we not, at some point? It has been imminent for a very long time, and that will open up all sorts.

Lord Norton of Louth: You could distinguish between moratorium and putting a cap on present numbers, because there is a difference. Some Members will die off, it is possible one or two may retire. You could do it on the basis that you still have Members come in but say, "You will only bring in one new Member for one going out," or have a relationship between the number you lose and the number you bring in. So over time you are losing Members, you are bringing in new Members but without the size of the House growing significantly.

Chair: Thank you, Alastair, Philip, Paul, Peter. Thank you so much for coming today. Fascinating, as always. We will produce a report that hopefully will go with the flow and go with the consensus that appears to be building on some small changes in the second Chamber. Thank you for your attendance this morning. Thank you, colleagues, for being so well behaved.

Prepared 16th October 2013