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 4 July 2013

Members present:

Mrs Eleanor Laing (Chair)

Mr Christopher Chope

Paul Flynn

Sheila Gilmore

Fabian Hamilton

Mr Andrew Turner


In the absence of the Chair, Mrs Laing was called to the Chair.


Examination of Witness

Witness: David Beamish, Clerk of the Parliaments, gave evidence.

Q162 Chair: Good morning, Mr Beamish. Thank you very much indeed for coming to the Committee this morning. We really appreciate it. First of all, may I give the apologies of the Committee’s Chairman, Graham Allen, who has, unavoidably, had to be somewhere else this morning? He has asked me, and the Committee has agreed, that I should take the Chair this morning, but he seriously apologises for not being here to hear your evidence.

As you know, the inquiry that we are undertaking is not about the future of the House of Lords in general; it is not about the future structure of Parliament; and the Chairman has been very keen to avoid discussion of general issues that have been examined in other fora. What we are looking at are small-scale reforms and how immediate improvements or fairly immediate improvements could be made to the working of the Upper House. I wonder if there is anything you would like to say to begin with. We are grateful also for your evidence that you have already put before the Committee. Thank you very much.

David Beamish: Thank you, Chairman. Perhaps I could start by thanking you for inviting me. I was pleased to have the opportunity to come along, because, in October last year, in the light of the loss of the House of Lords Reform Bill in the House of Commons, a number of Members came to see me about possible things in particular that the House could do without legislation. I had a number of discussions and attended some meetings-one of which you were at, Chairman-and came up with a paper collecting some of the ideas in this area, just the sort of thing the Committee is looking at.

I have revised and updated that, but most of what you are getting in the paper I have submitted is not new, but perhaps the advantage of that-I know Lord Steel, for example, referred to my Annex D with some stuff about the costs of paying off Members who were retiring. The annexes are identical to the ones in the paper that I circulated in December, so I hope they are helpful, and I am delighted to take questions.

Q163 Chair: They are very helpful. Thank you very much indeed. If we could look first of all at the size of the House of Lords, would you like to expand upon the idea that it is important to reduce the size of the House of Lords, and if you think that it is, why?

David Beamish: I should perhaps start with a sort of health warning. Because of my position, I think I have to be careful about expressing opinions on the desirability or otherwise of different reforms. My concern has more been with the workability or achievability of these things. I think what I can say is that there is certainly considerable interest among Members in the light of, in particular, crowding in the Chamber and a certain amount of pressure on facilities, what might be done in relation to either the size or the level of attendance, and I have dealt with those two separately in my paper.

I suppose one problem with all these things is that so long as appointment of Members remains a matter of the royal prerogative, if you start removing Members by some means, it is not obvious how you prevent them being topped up. Those who are following me may have ideas on that.

Q164 Chair: I rather think that they will. Thank you. Looking slightly more widely, would you care to enlighten us on any small-scale reforms that would considerably reduce the size of the House and make the workings of the House, the practicality of running the House, better at present?

David Beamish: One of those who is following me, Lord Hunt of Wirral, chaired a group that produced a report with the title Members Leaving the House a couple of years ago, and I think that is perhaps the area in which there has been most interest. If one could find some means of encouraging Members to bow out gracefully or whatever, then that might have a useful impact.

The initial recommendations came up with a couple of things. One was for a retirement scheme, where, so far, only three Members have chosen to go for it, and two of those were Members who had not attended for some years anyway. Perhaps the problem with that one is that, for Members who belong to a party, the concern is that if they go then they might get replaced by somebody from a different party, and therefore they are being said to be disloyal and unhelpful to their own party. I think, if one was to make more progress with that, one might need some kind of informal arrangement between the parties to make sure the impact was not too uneven.

It is perhaps worth saying, although my Annex D shows that from a financial point of view, and wearing my hat as an accounting officer, I think you could make quite a good case for the savings that could result from providing some kind of modest benefit, transitional payment on retirement, it is clear that there is considerable opposition to that-in particular, from the Leader of the House. So, whether it is worth pursuing that one I am not too sure.

Using financial means to discourage Members is another area, limiting the available remuneration, but again, these things get very sensitive. Suppose you cut off the financial support to anyone over a certain age; that would bear differently on Members living in London and Members living far away. So there are difficulties with these things, but I think retirement of some sort is probably the one that people are most interested in.

Chair: Indeed. Thank you very much.

Q165 Fabian Hamilton: Mr Beamish, I wonder, apart from retirement, can you explain what other smaller-scale reforms might be the most urgent and, if you are able to do that, why they might be the most urgent?

David Beamish: I am not sure that any of these things are urgent. I suppose the reason that I got involved in Members’ discussions of this was a feeling that if a House composed something like it now is was likely to be with us for quite a few years then there was some tidying up that would be desirable. Which of these things are urgent? I don’t think I would say any of the things we have at the moment cause us serious difficulties in running the place, so it is more a case of desirability than urgency. My paper rehearses the various things.

I suppose one thing I found interesting when I was doing my consultations was that quite a lot of Members were concerned about excluding Members who had gone to prison and that sort of thing, which, in terms of impact on numbers, is probably neither here nor there, especially if it was not retrospective. I know quite a lot of Members are concerned about that, and that is perhaps another area.

Q166 Fabian Hamilton: If there was either a statutory retirement age or a retirement scheme of some sort, what impact would that have on the day-to-day running of the House? Indeed, some of the other reforms that have been mooted: what impact would they have on the day-to-day running?

David Beamish: Plainly, it depends a bit whether those leaving were replaced by newcomers, in which case from my point of view it might lead to more to do, rather than less, because you might be replacing inactive Members by more active ones. Otherwise, I think I would say comparatively little, except in terms of possibly easing pressure on facilities, whether it be providing desk space for Members or catering or whatever.

Q167 Fabian Hamilton: The main concern, though, seems to be on the House getting out of control in terms of size, and, as you say, the effect that has on the facilities and the ability of the House to do its job. In a smaller House of Lords, would that change its legitimacy in any way? Would it be less legitimate if it was smaller or it had a different party balance?

David Beamish: Those are two different questions. That is perhaps for others to say. As regards smaller, it is notable if you look at other second Chambers around the world that they are typically smaller than the Lower House-the USA would be a good example-and larger ones than most would include France and Italy, which are around 300. I think you could go down quite a lot below the present size of the House of Commons. It might be a different sort of Chamber, because it is an unsalaried Chamber in which many Members contribute on what they are most interested in, and therefore you do not expect all Members to be full-time, plainly. The range of specialisms you would have might be reduced if it was much smaller, but beyond that I do not see any problems.

As regards legitimacy, I think I had better duck that one and say that is for others to decide.

Fabian Hamilton: I quite understand.

Chair: You are absolved from that.

Q168 Sheila Gilmore: There have been various small-scale reforms suggested that could be done without legislation. Could you perhaps tell us what you think those are, and how in practical terms that could be done?

David Beamish: We already have the retirement scheme and, although that is informal, I think it is fair to say it does work. On the other hand, the impact has not been great, so finding some political will to encourage more Members to retire would be the answer to that one.

I have mentioned that the scheme for financial support for Members is something entirely within the power of the House to vary, but beyond something, say, done by age or whatever, it is difficult to know what would be effective. I think perhaps a conclusion from my consultations in the autumn was that although, as I said earlier, the starting point was what the House could do itself, the kind of thing that might be done by a modest piece of legislation such as Lady Hayman’s or Mr Byles’s Bill might be more helpful.

One thing I think we probably ought to have, though it might not have much impact on the size of the House, is a statutory retirement scheme, because the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 left us in a slightly odd position. A lot of the Bill was lost in the wash-up at the end of 2009-2010 Session, but what got through included the provision on the tax status of Members of both Houses. We now have a position that all those Members, apart from five who chose to retire in 2010 under that Act, if they chose to, so to speak, retire to the South Seas, could not become non-doms because there is no way out, and that seems to me anomalous and it would not have happened if the Act had got through in its original form. Apart from that one, I think it is not for me to express a view on what should and should not be changed.

Chair: It is very useful to have the technical facts before us. That helps us in considering our report. Thank you.

Q169 Mr Turner: In your written evidence, you stated that a non-statutory scheme to limit the terms of new Members could be introduced. Can you say how this works? Could you also say that such a scheme could help to give momentum to other measures? What other measures are you thinking of?

David Beamish: I think the way it would work would be that, when Members accepted a peerage, they would be invited to give an undertaking that they would not remain an active Member beyond a certain period. Therefore, they would be on their honour to bow out at the end of that period. This is obviously very much a second best, but Members were interested in defining what could be done short of legislation, and it was felt that if the party leaders and the House of Lords Appointments Commission made it a sort of condition of office that people made such an undertaking, that might stick.

I suppose, on further measures, what I was thinking of was that you would at least have started the ball rolling with the idea that active membership should not be for life, but beyond rolling the pitch for legislation and getting people used to the idea I would not suggest any specific follow-ons.

Q170 Mr Turner: All right, so you would accept that this is limiting the length of peerages in a way that I, for instance, would not like, and therefore it would cease to be a small-scale reform that would easily get through?

David Beamish: It could easily get through in the sense that it would need the party leaders to sign up to adopting this when putting forward lists of names. It would not need a decision by the House, but at the end of the period that people had signed on for it would be a matter of honour that they went, and, because it was for a period, it would not have any impact other than as a gesture for quite some years. Perhaps for that reason it is very much second best. The context of this was that Members were looking for ideas, and I treated this as a bit of a brainstorming exercise and incorporated in my note most of the ideas that emerged.

Q171 Mr Turner: You have referred to it in your papers at paragraph 18, and I guess that is saying the same thing.

David Beamish: Exactly.

Mr Turner: Thank you.

Q172 Mr Chope: Your paper does not really address the issue of having a moratorium on new peers. We heard evidence from Baroness Hayman and from Lord Steel that they would support a moratorium, for example, until the next general election. What impact would a moratorium have on your House?

David Beamish: It depends what you are comparing it with. If there was to be a big list in the next few months, then that could put pressure on facilities, certainly pressure on space in the Chamber. It would slightly fossilise things. For example, in the last couple of weeks, we have had two new peerages announced and they are on their way. The Prime Minister wants to appoint Mr Ian Livingston as a Minister, and the Governor of the Bank of England is to become a life peer on retirement. I suspect there would be unease if either of those sorts of things became impossible, so I suppose it would send out a signal that we were not topping up any more, but it would also have downsides, which some people might be unhappy about, in the sense of no opportunity for new blood.

Q173 Mr Chope: If there was a moratorium between now and the next general election, by how many numbers would the size of your House decline, taking into account natural attrition?

David Beamish: That is an actuarial question that I have not done my homework on, but I am very happy to have-

Chair: I think we will forgive you for not taking bets on how many peers might be promoted upwards.

David Beamish: In any case, it would depend on how active that was, but-

Q174 Mr Chope: I think we have heard evidence that there is a rough attrition rate of about 25 a year. Does that fit in with your experience?

David Beamish: Not far off.

Q175 Mr Chope: You say that there is a prospect or there may be a prospect of a "big list". When you say "big", what do you mean by that?

David Beamish: I didn’t say there was a prospect. If there was to be a big list, the bigger the list, the bigger the impact. I was not trying to forecast. I have the wrong bit of paper. I did have some figures about how many have died in recent years, but I can perhaps find them and send them in if Members are interested.

Q176 Mr Chope: Thank you. Would the Prime Minister, for example, consult you and say, "We are thinking of giving you a big list of new peers. What do you think about that; the impact on issues of workability and achievability?"

David Beamish: Absolutely not. It is worth remembering that in 1999, before the House of Lords Act came into force, we had over 1,200 Members, so it is more the attendance levels than the numbers that are at issue.

Q177 Mr Chope: Do you have a back-of-envelope calculation on roughly the additional costs to your House of each additional 10 peers, for example?

David Beamish: It is difficult. One can do averages in terms of the remuneration. We have got much better at providing a base for Members. Not that many years ago, before we had Millbank House, many peers did not have a desk, and we now aim to provide that. That required one big expenditure on the building, and it is not as if each extra peer you can put a cost on their desk space because, I think, unless we had a very big change, we would attempt to fit within what we already have. It is quite difficult to do a straight calculation of what-

Chair: I think we might find that some of the annexes to Lord Richard’s report provide this information.

David Beamish: Good.

Q178 Mr Chope: When the Prime Minister says he wishes to reduce the costs of democracy, has that had an implication for you in your House? Obviously, he is talking about wanting to reduce the size of our House, but at the same time he seems to be increasing the size of your House.

David Beamish: This is something that we just have to respond to, and there hasn’t been any similar exercise, though, in rather the same way as the House of Commons has had a savings programme, we in the Lords have been doing similar things to manage our costs. But we recognise that the number of Members, their attendance levels and the consequential costs are some things that we just have to take as they come.

Q179 Mr Chope: Finally, Lord Hennessy said that taking action against non-attendees would be fraught with peril. You rather agree with that, do you?

David Beamish: The first point to make is that taking action against non-attendees does not have much practical impact. One little success of Lord Hunt of Wirral’s report, in addition to the retirement scheme, was a proposal that at the start of each Session I should write to those Members who have attended very infrequently in the previous Session and encourage them-in fact, invite them-to consider taking a leave of absence. The number of Members on leave of absence has gone up quite dramatically as a result of that exercise a year ago, and it is now on 43. At least, we have removed from our headline figures some of those who do not genuinely participate, but because they were rare attendees the practical impact is small. It is certainly the case from a legal point of view that the House could not evict Members on grounds of non-attendance.

Q180 Chair: Does that mean that, although those 43 do not now attend, there is no practical difference because they did not attend before?

David Beamish: Precisely.

Q181 Chair: So there is no financial difference because they did not attend and did not presumably have any financial reward before, but there is a statistical difference in that the numbers are reduced by 43?

David Beamish: Precisely, and they have to give three months’ notice if they want to come back.

Chair: Thank you. Andrew, you wanted to come back briefly, because we appreciate, Mr Beamish, that you have to be in the Chamber.

David Beamish: Yes, I am all right for five more minutes.

Q182 Mr Turner: Good. Paragraphs 32 and 33 suggest two alternative remedies, one of which allows peers extra money if they attend frequently, and the other gives them less money if they attend frequently. I am quite interested in this because here I think lies the centre of the question: what kind of peerage do we wish to have? What is your view?

David Beamish: I think that is probably a better question for those who are going to follow me.

Chair: You are not required to answer that question.

David Beamish: Thank you.

Q183 Chair: It is a matter of opinion, but if there are any facts that you would like to put before us, we would be delighted to hear them.

David Beamish: I think I would say, in terms of achievability, there are probably issues with both of them. If you want a House where Members with particular specialist interests come and talk about those, then to discriminate against those who have other things to do and therefore cannot be full-time Members might be controversial. Equally, to have a cap so that Members attending more than 75% of sittings stop getting support, it might be seen as aimed at the regular full-time Members. Both of them might not be uncontroversial. I think that is fairly factual.

Q184 Chair: That is a very neat way of putting it. Mr Beamish, thank you very much. Is there any matter that we have not covered in our questions that you would like to draw to our attention?

David Beamish: This might be treading dangerously, but one thing that was not in my paper but is within the scope of your inquiry is the by-elections to replace hereditary peers. There is a very good reason why I did not focus on it, because it is quite controversial, and I would perhaps say to the Committee, if one is looking at a Bill that might command general assent, whether it be Mr Byles’s or some other vehicle, I think the inclusion of the ending of by-elections probably makes it a whole lot more controversial in the Lords. There are a number of the 92 who are quite concerned about this, and that may be a relevant factor in deciding what is the best package to try to go for.

Q185 Chair: I understand that the difference between Lord Steel’s Bill and Mr Byles’s Bill is that that provision is not in Mr Byles’s Bill.

David Beamish: That may be very good tactics by Mr Byles.

Q186 Chair: Thank you very much. Mr Beamish, we are very grateful to you for coming to see us this morning and very grateful for your evidence, which has added a lot to our consideration of this matter. Thank you very much.

David Beamish: Thank you for inviting me, and I am sorry I won’t be able to stay to hear firsthand those who are following me.

Chair: We will send you the minutes. Thank you.

<?oasys [pg6,cwe1] ?>Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rt Hon Lord Hunt of Wirral MBE, Rt Hon Lord Richard, PC QC and Lord Cormack DL FSA gave evidence.

Q187 Chair: Good morning, my Lords, and thank you very much indeed for coming to give evidence to our Committee this morning. As I said at the beginning of the session, but I will say again, may I reiterate the apologies of the Committee’s Chairman, Graham Allen? He was unavoidably unable to be here this morning, and the Committee has agreed that I should take the Chair temporarily in his absence.

We are delighted that you are here because we appreciate that we have an opportunity to benefit from your collective wisdom, and that each of you in different fora has undertaken long-term and in-depth projects in examining the issues about the future of the Upper House and, indeed, of Parliament.

As you know, the inquiry that we are now undertaking is not a general inquiry about the future of the Upper House. I know that Lord Richard in particular will be delighted to hear that, as he chaired for more than nine months the Joint Committee that did look in depth at this matter, and that his report and Lord Hunt’s report do already give us very valuable evidence on which we will call in producing our report. What we are looking at now is short-term or almost immediate, possibly non-legislative, changes that could improve in the short term the workings of the Upper House. Before we begin questions, would you like to say anything about the reports and the work that each of you have already done, which might help this Committee in its deliberations? Lord Hunt? Lord Richard?

Lord Richard: I would like to make two or three general points, if I might. First of all, can I urge that this Committee should not be overly obsessed by the concept that you have to have consensus in House of Lords reform before any action can take place? If you seek consensus on this issue before acting, and indeed if you make it a precondition of any legislation, then you can end up in the situation that Steel’s Bill found itself. There was eventual consensus, but it was a consensus about very little.

Most of the great constitutional reforms in this country, in any case, have not taken place as a result of consensus. From the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Reform Bill of 1832, the extension of the franchises in the 19th century, the 1911 Parliament Act, the reduction of the Lords’ delaying powers in 1949, the introduction of life peers in 1958 and the admission of women, these were all achieved after a considerable amount of parliamentary strife, not as the result of a degree of parliamentary consensus across the parties and indeed between the Houses. Indeed, in relation to the 2012 Bill, which is engraved upon my heart and whose stripes I wear, that would have been achieved without consensus if only there had been agreement in the House of Commons on the timetable motion. If that had been agreed to, that Bill would no doubt by now have passed the Commons. It would now be in the process of being rejected by the Lords, and we would have had the Parliament Act wheeled into operation in the course of 2014. Consensus is not essential.

Secondly, can I say a word about the issues that are raised by both the Steel Bill and the Hayman Bill? I think one should not pretend that the issues raised in the Steel Bill or in the Hayman Bill are other than small and incremental changes. Indeed, if one believes in some sort of doctrine of incremental gradualism, which is the effect that one hears now from the proponents of the Steel and the Hayman Bills, it does seem to me that there are two questions that have to be asked. If you believe in incremental gradualism, to what end? What direction are you travelling towards by your gradual incrementalism or incremental gradualism, whichever way around you put it? Where do you want to end up? We don’t know. Therefore, it does seem to me that, of themselves, neither of those Bills amounts to any kind of reform of the Second Chamber.

It is important we do not pretend that if those proposals were introduced, that would amount to any kind of reform of the Second Chamber. It would not. Indeed, the danger is it would entrench the views of those who believe that the House should remain broadly in its present shape to the detriment of those who believe in more radical change. One can imagine the argument: "We believe in incremental reform. We have now had some incremental reform. That is enough for the time being." I have to say to you, Madam Chairman, that the time being in those circumstances would prove to be extraordinarily lengthy.

It does seem to me, therefore, that you should approach these proposals with a degree of caution. At best, they are small and incremental. At worst, they can be seen as entrenching the present position of the House and making subsequent reform more difficult. I think the best way of summing it up is that it is desirable housekeeping if you want a Chamber broadly in the present form. If, on the other hand, what you want is change, then perhaps you do not want the Chamber to be housekept in much the present form. Thank you.

Q188 Chair: Thank you very much. Impeccable logic, Lord Richard, and we appreciate that you have spent many months looking carefully at this subject. Lord Cormack.

Lord Cormack: Impeccable logic if you accept the premise, which I don’t. I am here, and delighted to be here, because I act as Chairman of a group called Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, of which you, Madam Chairman, and others in this room are aware. We founded it over 10 years ago, Lord Norton of Louth and I, when I was in your House, because we believed in the primacy of the House of Commons. We believed in an unambiguous democratic mandate, which should be the mandate of the House of Commons. We believed in the advisory and revising role of the House of Lords, and our slogan, if we had one, was "House of Lords reformed but not elected". I am glad that you are concentrating on the nuts-and-bolts issues. We have sought to do that. It was from our group that the original Steel Bill emerged.

We do believe that there is enormous value in the sort of Second Chamber we have in this country at the moment, and I will not rehearse all the reasons because it would take far too long, save to say that the presence of almost 200 Cross Benchers, independents, alone justifies the existence because it means that within its limited scope and powers the House of Lords can act as something of a break on the Executive. The real danger to parliamentary democracy today is not the lack of an elected Second Chamber; it is the overweening power of the Executive, and I refer to whichever party or coalition is in office. We look at it from that point of view. Yes, things can and should be done. We should work towards a cap on size. Of course we should. We should look at various alternatives for reducing the size. We should certainly-although it would make no difference radically to the size of the House-have the same sort of powers of expulsion that the House of Commons currently enjoys, because we do not wish to bring Parliament into disrepute, and there is a danger of that.

Q189 Chair: Do you consider, Lord Cormack, on that very point, on the current powers that the House of Commons has for expulsion, having listened to the discussions within your House, although Lord Richard says there is no need for consensus, would there likely be consensus on bringing about such-

Lord Cormack: Yes. I am absolutely sure there would, and I do not despise consensus in any way because Meg Russell, I think it was, giving you evidence, said that if you look at the history of the House of Lords it is by incremental reform that it has changed.

Chair: She did say that.

Lord Cormack: Whatever side of the argument one takes, the House of Lords in 2013 is radically different from the House of Lords in 1913. All hereditaries now are virtually all life. One could go on and on. You know this as well as I.

Q190 Chair: Indeed. Thank you very much. Lord Hunt?

Lord Hunt of Wirral: Thank you very much for inviting us today, and I reinforce what Lord Cormack has said about the need for incremental reform, although I recognise what Lord Richard has said is equally important, that we must not in any way believe that we can postpone the need to consider fundamental reform.

I would just summarise by saying, when we were asked to sit as a group by the Leader of the House just under three years ago, it was to identify options for allowing Members to leave the House permanently. We concluded that the House of Lords is at its best when it is a reforming Chamber, but it does have to move with the times and does need infusions of new blood from time to time. We put forward 22 different recommendations, some of which have been implemented-very few-and there are others that can now be considered. If one compares the numbers between 2000 and this year, there is no great huge difference, because one of the recommendations, as the Clerk of the Parliaments just explained, was that in the year 2000 there were four Members who sought leave of absence. Now there are 43. Of those 43, when we conducted our inquiry, it was a very small number who did not attend at any time in the previous year. Therefore, please understand that the proposals on leave of absence did encourage a number of those who had been attending really to decide no longer to attend. That aspect of the reforms was successful.

Where we still await developments-and this is why I greatly welcome the contribution that this Committee will make-is the way in which we approach the whole question of permanent retirement. Looking back to 2000, I think it was 695 Members of the House of Lords. That has increased to 754. Therefore, there has been an increase, but it has not really taken the House of Lords back-and you have all the figures-to the day when there was a sudden influx of Members from time to time when the hereditaries swarmed in, and we had figures that were well over 1,000, who would attend on a key vote. Therefore, I would just say we have to keep moving forward. There is a need for incremental reform, but at some stage we are going to have to deal with the second stage of fundamental reform.

Q191 Chair: Thank you very much. Can I ask each of you, before we look more generally at the recommendations, if you agree-and it seems that just about everyone agrees-that the House of Lords is at present too large? We have not heard evidence from anyone who has suggested that it is too small at present. Are there any small-scale reforms that you would particularly like to draw to our attention that would significantly reduce the size of the House? I appreciate that you have all referred to this, but to get it on the record very succinctly. Lord Richard?

Lord Richard: It is a very difficult one. As you will remember in the Joint Committee, we went round and round and round this, and devised in the end a slightly intricate formula, whereby what you did was you did not tell people you were going to look at their attendance records. We looked at it for the period before we announced that attendance was going to be a criteria, so that people could not then just rush in once they heard, "We may be thrown out." We looked at the two Sessions before that announcement, and we did then come to the conclusion that you could do quite a lot in terms of reducing the size of the House if you looked at attendance records.

However, as David Beamish said, the problem with the House of the Lords is the people who come, not the people who do not come. If we get rid of the people that do not come, we are still left with the fact that we have an awful lot of people who are beavering away and want to go on beavering away, and indeed are looking for work and anxious to do it. You do not deal with that in any easy way, it seems to me. I think attendance is probably the area that it is most profitable to look at to see whether you can devise some scheme, but in the end you have to leave it to the parties to decide how they are going to work the reductions.

Can I just make one other general point on this? I was very impressed with Meg Russell’s evidence because she kept saying-and the more I thought about it, the more I think she is right-that when you are considering how you would reduce the size of the House, you could only do it against the background of a broad agreement between the parties as to what the composition of the House should be. In other words, various general principles that no party should have an overall majority in the House, and that, indeed, if you can agree upon the broad proportions as to how many Labour should have, how many the Tories should have and how many the Lib Dems should have and how many Cross Benchers there are, when you come to reducing the size of the House you can just apply that formula to such gaps as you have. If you just wait for deaths, which, at the moment, are 20 a year, you are going to be waiting an awfully long time before you get a major reduction. I don’t think that reduction in the size of the House is easy, and I think the most fruitful ground to explore is the attendance one. I would finally say that I don’t think, for all sorts of reasons, not least my own age, that an age limit on membership of the Lords is indeed practicable.

Lord Cormack: I would broadly agree with Lord Richard, but I would take it a stage further. I think that you cannot be a contributing member of any organisation unless you do attend a reasonable amount of time, and therefore I would fix a figure of maybe 10%. Of course there are exceptions, and they have mostly taken leave of absence. I am thinking of people like Baroness Ashton and Baroness Amos with their international responsibilities and when those end they will very properly come back and make an enormous contribution because of the experience that they have acquired doing those jobs. But I think you can say to the generality, "If you have not turned up 10% or 15% of the time, really you are not contributing."

There is another thing that I would rather more controversially put to the Committee, and it is difficult to say this but it has to be said. There are those who attend very regularly indeed and do precisely nothing. They do not speak; they do not take part in committees; they vote. That is in fact very convenient for the Executive or for the official Opposition, but it is not being a participating Member of the House of Lords. I believe that one has to have the courage to look at that and to say to these people, "You have been 300 times in the last year. You have not spoken at all. You have voted, but what contribution have you made?" One has to look at that, because I think that would have a dramatic effect.

Q192 Chair: Is that something that you and others consider could be practically calculated? Could evidence be produced?

Lord Cormack: Well, of course. We have Hansard like you have Hansard, and we have Committee Hansards like you have Committee Hansards. I think it would be an uncomfortable exercise because some of the people in question are very delightful people, but if you are part of a parliamentary assembly you have to contribute in various ways to it. After all, the totally silent Member of Parliament has been elected by his or her constituents who can make their judgment at the end of a Parliament. We are there for life. I do understand when Lord Richard says that it is very difficult to have an arbitrary retirement age, although I think one could sensitively and over a period work towards that, but that is another issue. I do think one has to look at who does what.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: May I please be allowed to adopt a less brutal approach than my noble friend Lord Cormack. I believe our Committee did find that there was a broad consensus that the current House is too big and the overall size should be reduced. We did invite Members of the Lords to let us have their views, and I have nearly 100 responses, which I am very willing to make available to the Committee.

Chair: Thank you.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: Just to summarise, there was a general consensus that we should not be too draconian; otherwise there would, as a result, be a lot more Members seeking to speak and to ask questions in order to justify their existence.

Chair: Of course, like Members of Parliament do.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes. Well, there are constituents to satisfy, but in this case if you started to introduce a test as to what the contribution was I think, even though there are no constituents, the test would be fulfilled by those who knew what had to be done. So, we concluded that the best way forward was to find a mechanism for voluntary retirement. It is a matter of regret that our recommendations have not really in essence been implemented on voluntary retirement. There is a whole series of them, and we have only had three. I would not put that at the door of there being no legislation in support of voluntary retirement, because I don’t think you need it, but certainly I think we could address a number of points.

First of all is the lack of incentive. The benefits attaching to membership are significant incentive to stay. I think the Clerk of the Parliaments started to identify ways in which those incentives might be reduced. Voluntary retirement could be more actively promoted by party leaders and the convenor of Cross-Bench peers, as we recommended. I think they should appeal to the recognition of the institutional interest of the House rather than individual interest in just seeking retirement of those who do not contribute effectively-and they know who they are-and they could invite them to consider their position. There should be more political agreement about what proportion of seats for each party and the Cross-Benches there should be. Voluntary retirements could well take place much more easily at the end of a Parliament, and we suggested that-and this was listening to Members of the House of Lords-they would rather like an occasion where tributes would be paid. I know the Lord Speaker is very happy with this. When we introduce a peer, there is a ceremony. Why shouldn’t there be a ceremony to mark the distinguished contribution of a peer who has decided to retire with dignity? That was said to us by several Members.

Q193 Chair: Could I ask you to clarify that? We did discuss this with previous witnesses a couple of weeks ago. That would presumably be at the end of a Parliament and at a time when people were leaving the House of Commons and would then leave the House of Lords, as you say, in a dignified manner, rather than being there on a Friday, reaching a certain age or not having completed a certain number of attendance issues, and suddenly gone on the Monday. This would be in a dignified fashion at the end of the Session.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes. There were, though, members of my group who felt that there had to be some provision for a financial incentive at no additional cost to public funds, and we suggested that could be done in one of two ways. First of all, there could be a special hardship fund contributed to by existing Members of the House of the Lords, which would always be there to cover particular problems that arose after the retirement of a Member of the House of Lords. But then a number of peers felt, "I know we are not paid; I know we only receive an allowance, but could we please just have some way of recognising the contribution we have made in financial terms that does not cost the public purse a thing, which is based on what we would receive had we continued?" We encouraged the Administration Committee, the House Committee, to have a look at ways in which that could be done at no additional cost to public funds. So in that way we believe voluntary retirement could be made much more meaningful than the three who have so far taken advantage of it.

The retirement of Lord Bramall at the end of session 2012-2013 was marked by a small informal party, held by the Lord Speaker, and was a very successful occasion-

Lord Cormack: The statement from the Woolsack, too.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: And there was a statement from the Woolsack. I think that begins to demonstrate a way in which it could be done much more effectively.

Q194 Chair: That is very helpful and marks a step forward in our deliberations, because it is a positive step that could be taken and that I assume would command a considerable amount of support in your House?

Lord Cormack: Almost consensus, perhaps.

Chair: Almost consensus. I am trying to steer away from the word "consensus", but it would receive considerable support. Thank you very much for that.

Q195 Fabian Hamilton: Lord Cormack and Lord Richard, you both quoted Dr Meg Russell, who has given a fair bit of evidence to this Committee over the years and especially on this particular issue last week. I think, Lord Cormack, you quoted part of what she said, and I will read you the rest of it. She said in her evidence that, "The lesson of history is that incremental reform matters and that it has a far greater chance of success than more ambitious proposals". Would you agree with her thoughts?

Lord Cormack: Very much so, and that has been the guiding philosophy of the group that I chair and Lord Norton convenes. We believe this very strongly, and I think that the evidence bears it out. She, of course, would give you chapter and verse of everything, and I could give you a number of things. I think yes, it is, because you are taking people and not dragging people, and that is always better. Lord Hunt referred to my remarks as being brutal. I am sorry if they sounded that way. They were not meant to be, because I think one has to be incredibly sensitive when you are dealing with colleagues. It is very important to handle it sensitively. I believe that everything that Lord Hunt said, with which I would associate myself, is in no way contradictory to anything that I said. One has to have a combination of approaches here, and one will reach the stage where there is probably a finite size to the House of Lords.

It may even be that in the future one has to look at the precedent of the two Acts of Union. You know that, in 1707, 45 Scottish peers were elected at the beginning of each Parliament to come and serve at Westminster. It may well be that if we want to have a cap on numbers the parties have to elect from among themselves the requisite number at the beginning of each Parliament, but these are what I would call incremental reforms, and you work towards them.

Q196 Fabian Hamilton: Thank you, Lord Cormack. Given what you said, Lord Richard, earlier in your opening remarks, I would imagine you do not agree with Dr Russell?

Lord Richard: No, I do not.

Fabian Hamilton: Please elaborate.

Lord Richard: It does seem to me that all the major constitutional advances in this country have been achieved in big bang procedures, rather than crawling. If you take just the 1911 Act, for example, the chances of getting Parliament Acts through in 1911 by consensus were nil. On the other hand, it was needed and it went through, and on the whole it has proved rather beneficial to the health of the British party politics. I think the same is true of things like representation of women. I think it is also true, going further back, to things like the 1832 Reform Bill and, as I said earlier, the franchise Acts in the 19th century. None of this could have been done if what we were doing was saying, "We must have a consensus before we proceed." I don’t think that is right.

The other thing I must come back to is: what do you actually mean by incremental reform and incremental reductions and so on? If you mean that you are advancing slowly towards an end that is perceived and which you are trying to achieve, although it may take a long time to do it that way, that is one thing. On the other hand, if you want to be doing it and saying, "Yes, we believe in incremental reform, we could do this and we could do that," and then what you have done in effect is to set in concrete the existing system that a big bang would change if a big bang was going to happen but it is not going to, that does not seem to be reform at all. It is exactly the opposite.

Q197 Fabian Hamilton: Before Lord Hunt answers my question, can I come back to you, with the Chair’s permission, and suggest to you that what you are saying, effectively, is that we really need a written constitution.

Lord Richard: You are tempting me to stray. I am delighted to stray, though, or at least to poke my nose around the corner. I think if you had a situation in which the House of Lords was elected, you would have to have some clear statement of the relationship between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. You could do that in a number of ways. If you have a written constitution, you bring the judges in, and on the whole, although it gives lots of work to deserving members of my own profession, I do not think judges are the best constitutional experts that we have. I would prefer to keep it out of the courts, so you would have to do it by way of some kind of concordat, understanding, written understanding and what have you, between the two Houses.

Lord Cormack: Or incremental reform, perhaps.

Lord Richard: Once you get to that stage then the whole thing is radically changed.

Fabian Hamilton: I think we are straying.

Chair: I am required to bring this back because, as much as the Chairman of this Committee, Mr Allen, adores the idea of examining a written constitution, he would insist that this is not the place for it.

Q198 Fabian Hamilton: I am sorry. Lord Hunt?

Lord Hunt of Wirral: I find myself in the middle of this argument because in the debate on 11 May 1999 there was not a great battle, thanks to the Weatherill amendment, which I recall the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, described in this way, which really meets my noble friend’s point. He said the Weatherill amendment represents "an inspired way forward by consensus towards major constitutional change". My recollection is that the noble Lord Richard was in the Chamber at the time when those words were spoken, but they were spoken in the context of quite a fundamental reform, which then went through. If I recall, it went through by a very substantial majority in the Commons as well. Lord Weatherill’s amendment was, of course, conditional on the 92, and it was generally accepted at the time that the 92 hereditary peers would remain until the second stage of fundamental reform. So, on this idea, as the Clerk of the Parliaments explained, that you can tinker around with the Weatherill amendment, I just urge the Committee to read that debate on 11 May 1999. You can achieve incremental reform in between, but I don’t believe you should start trying to interfere with the Weatherill amendment before the second stage of fundamental reform.

Q199 Fabian Hamilton: Thank you for reminding us of that, Lord Hunt. I had forgotten the date, although I remember the Weatherill amendment. Baroness Hayman argued, I think, at this Committee that incremental change would clear the undergrowth for wholesale reform. Isn’t there some value in that? I know Lord Richard would disagree, but what do you think? Does incremental change clear the undergrowth, as the Weatherill amendment may well have done?

Lord Hunt of Wirral: My argument would be that the Weatherill amendment made fundamental reform acceptable to both Houses of Parliament and therefore it was not clearing the undergrowth; it was finding a way through a very complicated situation. There is a bit of undergrowth, and I agree with Baroness Hayman that it is a very good idea to try to clear it, but not by in any way affecting the first stage of reform or trying to preview the second stage of reform. I am in no doubt that it will come. I think it was Lord Rodgers in that debate who had the divine foresight to say, "Oh dear, I think the consensus will mean that we won’t have any fundamental reform for at least 10 years or perhaps longer," and I must say to Bill Rodgers how right he was.

Chair: Not an exaggeration.

Lord Richard: Can I just add a word on the Weatherill amendment? I hope that Lord Hunt was not suggesting that presence in the Chamber signified consent, because it didn’t. I was in charge of that Bill in 1997-1998, and my proposal to the Tories was they should have a certain number of life peers and they could decide among themselves who should have those life peers, but that all the hereditaries would go. At that stage, I thought the Conservatives would have accepted that, and I think the Lib Dems would have accepted that. Negotiations did take place, however, which I had nothing to do with, as a result of which 92 hereditaries came and still remain. Maybe the way of dealing with those 92 hereditaries now is in fact to offer them life peerages. If you do that, you may come back to what I wanted to do 25 years ago or 15 years ago or whatever it was, but that is not necessarily an argument against it. If that resolves the position, so be it.

Q200 Chair: If that were to be done, that might have a practical effect in the immediate term, but Lord Hunt suggests that that would get over the principle of the fact that the Weatherill amendment was not just an amendment but part of a deal. Would that be right?

Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes; and Lord Steel echoed Lord Richard’s view, as did Lord Rodgers, to say, "Surely, the right answer here is to make them life peers," but that was not part of the Weatherill agreement that was endorsed by both Houses of Parliament. It was decided not to go down that route.

Q201 Chair: By the way, I think I might have to declare an interest here. I seem to recall that I introduced it in the House of Commons from the Back Benches, because it was to be a Back-Bench amendment, and I think I did.

Lord Cormack: I think you did. I was constitutional affairs spokesman for our party at the time, and I think you did.

Chair: I think you were, Lord Cormack, and I think you approved of my introducing it as a very new, little, young Back Bencher-the Weatherill amendment.

Lord Cormack: How could I not have?

Q202 Chair: But even though I clearly approved of it then and still do, which is irrelevant, is it not the case that all these years later it would be worth going back to that again and seeing if the House of Lords would accept a different deal?

Lord Cormack: Madam Chairman, I think that the problem that we have here is not with the Weatherill amendment and the numbers of people involved; it is with what people perceive to be the absurdity of the by-elections. This is the problem. We recently had a by-election vacancy for a Conservative, and only the Conservative hereditaries were able to vote. I may have the numbers slightly wrong, but I think it was 27 candidates and 45 electors. It was of that order. But of course, had it been a Labour hereditary peer who had died, it would have been three and possibly 10 candidates or more, and the same sort of thing with the Liberal Democrats. That is the problem. We have a by-election the week after next, but because the hereditary peer, Lord Reay, who died was a Deputy Speaker, all of us, Lord Richard, Lord Hunt and I, every peer, has a vote. That, of course, is much less absurd.

Lord Richard: But all the candidates are Conservatives.

Lord Cormack: No, they are not. I am told we have already had two Cross Benchers who have declared. It is only a convention that it should be Conservatives and not a rule. It was announced at our meeting last night that there were at least two who were not Conservatives standing. It is perfectly possible that one of them might be elected, so we will see. The only point that I was making was with that much bigger electorate it is much less absurd. That is all.

Q203 Chair: That is a very good point: larger electorate, less absurdity.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: Lord Weatherill did deal with all these points and said clearly, "Our intention is that there must always be 92 while the system lasts," and the Liberals did say that they wanted life peerages. They abstained, but nevertheless the House of Lords voted by an overwhelming majority in favour of the Weatherill amendment, and so did the House of Commons.

Chair: Thank you very much for getting that on the record.

Q204 Sheila Gilmore: You have maybe answered quite a lot of this first question already, so perhaps just very briefly, and it is the question of non-attendees, although I would comment that twice in the last few weeks I have taken visitors into the Gallery of your House and been slightly embarrassed to see that attendance on Benches was probably greater than it often is at our end. Question time was absolutely chock-a-block, and it was not Equal Marriage. So, obviously attendance, even of people just sitting at a normal debate, seems quite high. Lord Hennessy thought that removing non-attendees could be fraught with peril, which seemed quite a strong statement. Would you agree?

Chair: Yes, Lord Hennessy did say that he thought it was fraught with peril, and he and other witnesses on the subject of people being removed in any involuntary way used the word "brutal".

Lord Richard: One of the problems with attendances in the House of Lords is that you are deemed to attend if you are seen in the Chamber or you attend the meeting of a Committee or you vote. It is unlike the House of Commons where it is recognised that MPs can participate fully in the workings of the House of Commons without setting foot in the Chamber from weekend to weekend, but this is not true in the House of Lords. If you want to get on the list as an active participant, you have to show your face in the Chamber. Maybe that is what Peter Hennessy was talking about; I don’t know.

Lord Cormack: Yes, it may well be. Madam Chairman, as you know, I have a problem today. I did advise your office that I am speaking in a debate in the House of Commons and will have to go, with great apologies, in a moment or two.

Q205 Chair: Let us make sure that you have told us everything that you would like to tell us before you depart.

Lord Cormack: That is extremely kind. I think most of the points I would wish to make I have made. It is difficult, but anything is difficult. The Bill that Mr Byles is due to introduce into the House of Commons on 18 October is very modest-it is housekeeping; it is minor incremental-but I think it will improve things a little and I hope very much that it will have a fair passage, both through your House and through ours. Baroness Hayman is introducing a rather more ambitious Bill at a later stage, no date yet determined, in the House of Lords, which will bring back on to the agenda both the hereditary by-elections-and we have already heard from Lord Hunt that there are strong feelings there-and the suggested need for a statutory appointments commission.

I personally think-I will just leave the Committee with this-that the end of the hereditary by-elections would be the appropriate thing. The peers remain until they die. I would have just one exception. There are not 92 as 92, there are 90 plus two, and I would keep the two hereditary Officers of State, the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain, because I think that they have a particular ceremonial role to perform at great moments in our history, coronations and all those things. I think that they are special, and I would keep them. On the 90, I would allow, as they died, no vacancies to be filled, although clearly the parties might wish to have regard for the balance, as they were appointing new peers. But that is the way I would deal with it. I would favour a statutory appointments commission, like Lord Jay himself does, the chairman of the present commission.

Q206 Mr Chope: Before Lord Cormack goes, can I just ask him to expand upon his statement earlier that he would support a cap on size? At what level would he set that cap?

Lord Cormack: I said there is a strong case for a cap on size, and if we were to have a cap, I would make it no bigger than the House of Commons, and I personally would make it no bigger than the House of Commons was going to be had it not been for the recent events-namely, 600. That would be my cap on size, but that is a purely personal reflection. Others, who know far more about the subject than I, would argue for 500 or 450. I think it would be sensible to have a cap on size, but it would then be necessary to have some form of adjustment after each general election to reflect what had happened and it would be necessary to have a finite number of Cross Benchers to preserve the crucial position in the House of Lords. Others take a different view and would not have a finite cap on size, and it is not something I would go to the stake on.

Q207 Mr Chope: Following on from that, would you be against a big list of new appointees in the next few weeks?

Lord Cormack: It is entirely for any Prime Minister, in consultation with the other party leaders, to produce and to revive and to refresh. I am not against a modest list, but I would be certainly very troubled if it were the three-figure list that somebody talked about a little while ago.

Q208 Chair: How would the adjustment to which you just referred be achieved? You referred to an adjustment after a general election.

Lord Cormack: It would have to be done within the parties, wouldn’t it? They would have to decide which of their colleagues would stay and which would go, and that would be a necessary part of any cap. That is why I say there are others who take a different view and I would not go to the stake for it, but that is the way I would do it if it happened.

Q209 Chair: Thank you very much. We have taken evidence on this previously and such an adjustment process was described as potentially brutal, which was of course quite difficult for those of us who stand for election regularly to sympathise with, as we experience brutality and understand it quite well.

Lord Cormack: As I spent 40 years in your House, Madam Chairman, I do understand that.

Chair: I know you do, Lord Cormack, and Lord Hunt most certainly does. Lord Cormack, thank you very much indeed for giving us so much of your time and your experience. We do find that the work that you are continuing to do helps on this inquiry. Thank you very much indeed.

Q210 Mr Chope: Can I follow up on this issue of size with Lord Hunt? He gave us some very interesting figures: 695 in 2000 and 754 now. Are those figures inclusive or exclusive of those who have taken leave of absence?

Lord Hunt of Wirral: Exclusive, both.

Q211 Mr Chope: That is really 699, as against-

Lord Hunt of Wirral: 806.

Q212 Mr Chope: That is a very significant increase, and obviously, as we have heard, it is open to anybody who has taken leave of absence to give three months’ notice and then come back. So the real numbers are the gross numbers, I would submit, rather than the net numbers, and if you look at the gross numbers, there has been a significant increase. Would Lord Hunt agree that there should be a cap on size?

Lord Hunt of Wirral: I don’t like the idea of a cap on size at all, but I do think there must be a reasonable approach taken. I greatly welcome the new blood that has come in, including the new blood at hereditary by-elections, some of whom have been quite outstanding in the service they have brought to the House. So I would constantly want to see new blood coming in, both through the hereditary by-elections and through appointments. This is why I would advise the Committee, if I may, to concentrate on ways of encouraging voluntary permanent retirement. In many ways my group did feel that the leave of absence formula was a temporary stopgap before we could move to wider proposals on permanent voluntary retirement.

Q213 Mr Chope: Thank you. You say there is a need to refresh, but in the House of Commons, apart from the occasional by-elections, we now have the same House for five years, so in a sense you could still have a moratorium on new appointments to the House of Lords between now and the next general election, for example. Would you agree with that?

Lord Hunt of Wirral: No, because death is no friend of balance and we have lost quite a lot of, say, the Conservatives, particularly just very recently, and we have come down from 233 Conservatives in the year 2000 to 208 as of today.

Q214 Mr Chope: Is that including those with leave of absence or not?

Lord Hunt of Wirral: No, these figures exclude those with leave of absence because they are not included in the party balance. Therefore, I think there is a constant need just to look at the balancing figures, which is why we advised that in any scheme of permanent voluntary retirement the party leaders had a key role to play in persuading those within their number who they felt the time had come for them to retire permanently.

Q215 Mr Chope: How about the need to reflect in your House the rise of the support in the country for the UK Independence Party, for example? How do you think that should be reflected in the membership of your House?

Lord Hunt of Wirral: That is a difficult question, because we do have UKIP represented in the House of Lords. I think it is a matter of looking at the number of Members of Parliament elected in the Lower House that historically party leaders have sought to adjust the membership of the House of Lords. As yet, I am not aware of a rise in the number of UKIP Members of the House of Commons. If that were to happen at the next general election, I can see that there would be an argument in that direction.

Q216 Mr Chope: In the coalition agreement the Liberal Democrats have tried to put, as the basis for their membership in the House of Lords, the numbers based upon their vote at the general election rather than on the numbers of MPs elected. By analogy, one could say that after the next general election the votes of UKIP should be reflected in a proportionate number of peers. Do you think that would be a good idea?

Lord Hunt of Wirral: No. I am sorry to keep answering Mr Chope in the negative.

Chair: There is absolutely no obligation to agree with Mr Chope, Lord Hunt.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: I think there is a historical basis for this. I would just say that the number of Liberal Democrats has increased from 63 to 89. I thought that was on the basis of seats, but if it is on the basis of votes, then certainly Mr Chope has a point.

Lord Richard: Could I add one word on this? I think the bit in the coalition agreement that says that at each general election you should adjust the House of Lords so as to reflect the result at the general election to the Commons is nonsense. I can think of nothing, frankly, that would ratchet up the size of the House quicker than the adoption of that, and I hope, therefore, that if this Committee considers that, which I imagine it will-

Q217 Chair: That is assuming, of course, that the numbers were increased. We have touched upon this, but can we look at it again? On the point about party balance, and Lord Cormack mentioned about an adjustment among the parties themselves, is it at all possible that the House of Lords in general might agree to a system whereby each party elected from among its own Members those who remain after a general election? Presumably, the Cross Benchers would have to do the same in a balancing way.

Lord Richard: Do you mean you would have an expulsion sort of system? After the election you would have a system whereby a certain number of existing Members of the House of Lords would be expelled in order to make room for the changes reflecting the party balances at the new election.

Q218 Chair: It would come very close to an elected House, Lord Richard.

Lord Richard: No, it wouldn’t, not in my book.

Q219 Chair: I accept that. I was just trying the question.

Lord Richard: I think the idea that you can adjust the House of Lords after each general election, and you could only do it in the present system by creating peers, and each Prime Minister after the election would have the right to adjust the figures in the House of Lords to reflect his new position in the polls is a recipe for disaster.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: I would be very interested to know whether Mr Chope had a further follow-up question.

Q220 Mr Chope: I was going to ask Lord Richard about whether he was in favour of a big new list for their lordships’ House and whether he would be in support of a moratorium between now and the next general election?

Lord Richard: No, I am not really in favour of either of those. I think the point that Meg Russell was making, which I referred to earlier, which is that you have to view all these questions of party numbers in the House of Lords against the background of a broad agreement between the parties as to what they should have in the House of Lords, is very important. If you could get an agreement at party leader level that there should be no overall majority, no one party should have a majority in the House, and broadly the Labour Party and the Conservative Party should be in a position of equality in terms of membership of the House, then you would have to fit all these arguments about moratoriums and all the rest of it into that framework. That makes it in some ways easier to deal with because you know at the end of the day you are going to end up with something that is broadly the same as what you have at the moment.

Q221 Mr Chope: But isn’t one of the problems with all this that the House of Lords is becoming increasingly party-politicised, and isn’t that detracting from the contribution it makes to our constitution?

Lord Richard: The House of Lords has been party-politicised ever since I have been there, and I have been there 23 years now. There were Whips in 1990 when I went there. We were whipped going into the lobbies. When we were in opposition we had little ambushes in order to defeat the Government of the day. When we became the Government there was a whipping system. Most of the divisions in the House of Lords take place on the basis of party Whips.

Q222 Mr Chope: Does Lord Hunt agree that it is just as party-politicised as it ever was?

Lord Hunt of Wirral: If I reflect on the Chamber rather than numbers for a moment, in the Chamber there has been an influx since the last general election of a number of former Members of Parliament who have taken a little while to adjust to the new circumstances in which they find themselves.

Chair: That sums it up precisely and we understand just what you mean, very diplomatically.

Q223 Mr Turner: If I may make an observation for a moment, one of the observations is that Conservatives are never political. It is just natural that they should be Conservatives. One of the proposed changes to the Hayman Bill and Lord Steel’s Bill was expulsion in specified circumstances. I take it that without legislation that would require the House of Lords to suspend people for one Parliament only, is that correct, or one year?

Lord Richard: That is a very interesting question. It was generally believed until a few years ago that the House of Lords did not have the power to suspend anybody. They had the power to expel or not. It was not until Lord Mackay exercised his legal ingenuity and persuaded the House of Lords that they did in fact have the power to suspend that they suspended three or four Members. There was a lobbyist scam against three or four of them, as a result of which they were all suspended. That seems to be a newly recognised power that the House of Lords possesses, so they can do it; they can suspend.

Q224 Mr Turner: They can suspend, and they previously had the power to expel and they still do have that power?

Lord Richard: I don’t think they have the power to expel, but I am not 100% sure on that.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: May I refer to page 3 of the Clerk of the Parliaments’ evidence where he believes that there is the power to suspend and it has been suggested to him it could be used to exclude Members who failed to attend, but his conclusion is that it would require legislation. He argues the arguments and he sets out in appendix A his reasons for believing that the reasoning of that 2009 report to which he refers does not support suspension as a sanction for non-attendance and he thinks it would require legislation. He sets out the arguments and the conclusion is that it would require legislation.

Q225 Chair: But you answered earlier that that legislation would be likely to command overwhelming support, and in our House, too.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: Yes, I believe that to be the case.

Lord Richard: I think the general principle people would agree with is that the Lords should have basically the same powers as the Commons.

Q226 Chair: While that would be a very good step forward in principle and would command support, and would probably even command some kind of acknowledgement that it was the right thing to do in the media, but in the world in general, it would have very little effect on the size of the House. One would hope it would be minuscule.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: Of course it would have nil effect unless it were to be retrospective.

Q227 Mr Turner: I do understand that and the question is one that we should perhaps ask of a particular Minister when he comes before us next. What I was going to ask was how receptive would peers be to the idea of a retirement scheme that involved a tranche of peers retiring together at the end of a Parliament-for instance, at the age of 80, or something else that is not necessarily age-related?

Lord Hunt of Wirral: The evidence that was presented to our group was that there would be general support for such a move.

Q228 Mr Turner: The peers in other groups-

Lord Hunt of Wirral: When I say "our group", the leader’s group did seek to have every view expressed and certainly the submissions we had from the nearly 100 peers who did contribute was very much leading to the belief it would be, by agreement, the right move.

Q229 Chair: We have taken some evidence that has suggested that a retirement age-and Lord Richard referred to this just a few moments ago-would be massively resisted. If it were suggested that it might be a good idea for people to volunteer not to sit in the House if at the end of the Session they had attained, let’s say, their 82nd or 83rd birthday, not to go on the birthday in a brutal way but to be there until the end of the Parliament during which a certain age had been attained and that such a move would also be voluntary-which is what Andrew was saying-would that command any support?

Lord Richard: I don’t think that the Lords as a whole would like any kind of age limit.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: That is certainly my conclusion as well, and of course it is a case that hard cases make bad law. As soon as you start to propose any retirement age at all immediately there are flagged up a number of colleagues who contribute very positively to the work of the House of Lords who most people would not want to see disappear in a surge of voluntary retirement. We found that there was no real appetite for compulsory departure, but a considerable appetite for voluntary departure, provided it was done properly, with opportunity for people to leave with dignity, without reference to age or service but tributes paid, the Lord Speaker playing a part and of course, above all, some form of safety net to catch those who might otherwise find it very difficult to survive, who have no pension or very little pension. One also has to bear in mind that there are a number of people who might want to move to other jobs outside Parliament who find themselves unable to do so because of their own financial environment, which is back to the hardship fund, particularly if they took posts in a charity or voluntary organisation.

Chair: That is very helpful.

Q230 Mr Turner: Could I just ask-and this is a genuine question-are peers entirely prevented from attending the House of Lords where they live in other countries at the moment?

Lord Richard: No, certainly not. I can think of a number of our colleagues who live in France, for example, and commute, some of whom have been very distinguished Ministers in the House of Commons.

Q231 Chair: Have I misunderstood your question? We do have rules about Members of the House of Lords requiring to pay tax in the UK.

Lord Richard: Non-doms is another matter. Yes, I quite agree with that. Were you talking about tax?

Q232 Mr Turner: It is a good thing I am not a tax expert. Could you tell me which peers are allowed to live in other countries and which are not allowed to live in other countries?

Lord Hunt of Wirral: Under the Constitutional Reform Act, there was provision for lords who wished to be non-doms to exercise that right. My recollection is that five did so, but there was a time limit and that has now passed. It is no longer possible to opt in that way. But as far as I am aware, every Member of the House of Lords, wherever they live, is domiciled for tax reasons in the UK.

Chair: I am quite certain that was in the Bill that was passed just before the last general election, most certainly with the agreement of all parties.

Q233 Mr Chope: Can I ask a question about the Appointments Commission? Baroness Hayman has some proposals in her Bill for what seems quite a radical Appointments Commission. Does that have any consensus in your House?

Lord Richard: No. I don’t think it has been looked at in sufficient detail and I don’t think there is a consensus on it. Broadly speaking, I think most people seem to feel that the existing Appointments Commission is doing rather a good job, given its remit. It is now down to recommending three or four a year, some relatively small number. Of the ones that it has recommended, on the whole people think it has been a success. Where I do think there is a problem in having an Appointments Commission that perhaps has very large powers is that I don’t believe that Prime Ministers will ever give up voluntarily the right to try to appoint people that they think should be in the House of Lords. It has been a prime ministerial privilege for a very long time, and I imagine most Prime Ministers would wish it to continue. The Appointments Commission has a role in looking at the list of people that the Prime Minister submits and going through them and saying, "He is all right; we have checked him. There is a doubt about him, so we don’t think perhaps he should come into the House of Lords." That is a terribly useful and valuable function, but to have them take over the recommendation, which at the moment is being made by the Prime Minister, would be very difficult.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: I agree.

Mr Chope: Good. We end on a good note, then. You agree with me.

Q234 Chair: One thing that we have touched on but not looked at carefully is fixed-term appointments. I think you mentioned, Lord Hunt, tangentially on another matter, that it might be possible, again on a voluntary basis, to make it clear to a new Member who was being appointed that they were expected, in an honourable way, to leave after a certain amount of time. Is that something that might work?

Lord Hunt of Wirral: We made a number of recommendations in this direction, which are contained in the report. First of all, we felt that people who did retire voluntarily should still be entitled to enter the premises and to have a pass. We thought that in future the honour of a life peerage should not automatically entail appointment to membership of the House unless the individuals were singled out as people who would make a significant contribution to public service in Parliament, so you would separate the title from the right to sit. There are a whole series of recommendations contained in our report that are still out there waiting for implementation. We did look at whether or not there should be a fixed term, but that would require legislation, as we understood it, under the Life Peerages Act because peerages are for life.

Lord Richard: I agree with that.

Q235 Mr Turner: Looking at appendix A, which we looked at earlier on this morning, it seems to me it says that it is only for the lifetime of one Parliament, if I am reading it correctly very quickly. If that is the case that would mean that you would be unable, without changing the law, to expel someone permanently. Would it be legal to reinstitute the expulsion, if it is let’s call it a five-year period, if they could then re-impose it at the beginning of the next Parliament and so on? The reason I am suggesting this is because, frankly, I find it hard to believe that even the best and most popular proposals are going to be allowed by the Liberals.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: We are dealing with appendix A to the Clerk of the Parliaments’ paper, aren’t we?

Chair: Yes. Sorry to have bowled you a difficult one that has to be researched, so you had better check.

Lord Richard: I don’t know the answer to that.

Q236 Chair: Is that a matter you would like to consider and come back to us on?

Lord Hunt of Wirral: It is a matter for the Clerk.

Lord Richard: It is a matter for the Clerk.

Chair: Yes, precisely. Is it all right, Andrew, if we leave that? Thank you very much.

Q237 Mr Chope: Can I come up with an off-the-cuff suggestion? Lord Hunt is very keen to increase the number of permanent retirements. At the moment, there is no real patronage beyond what has been suggested about having a big send-off with the Lord Speaker and a reception. Would it be a possible idea to say that for anybody who retires permanently after, say, 20 years service their title should be hereditary? Although it would not give the right to sit in the Lords, they would be able to hand on an hereditary title as respect for their public service. Might that be an incentive to encourage more people to permanently retire?

Lord Richard: I am sure a number of the people who were retiring would think that was rather acceptable, but I don’t think your House would.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: May I intervene by saying that it was one of our longstanding colleagues in the House of Commons who came up with this thought and submitted to the leader’s group that there were a number of peers who would willingly exchange their membership of the House of Lords for the conferment of an hereditary peerage and would then depart with dignity and pride in the knowledge they could pass their title on to their children, although not the ability to attend.

Q238 Chair: To their children? I have to push this one.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: Or their child.

Chair: Even if that child were a daughter?

Lord Hunt of Wirral: Correct. The group did consider and discuss this, but decided that it was outside our remit. Whether it is within the remit of this Committee, I can only await with great interest and anticipation.

Chair: Indeed. On that happy note, can I thank you very much indeed for giving us so much time this morning. We really appreciate it, and it is not just what we have discussed this morning. As I said before, we appreciate that you have put before the Committee excellent, very well considered reports upon which we can draw. Is there anything that we have not touched upon this morning that you would like to draw to the attention of the Committee?

Lord Hunt of Wirral: No.

Chair: I think we have covered everything. Thank you very much indeed.

Prepared 16th October 2013