House of Lords reform: what next ? - Political and Constitutional Reform Contents

4  A moratorium on new peers

28. Dr Russell told us that between 2011 and the summer of 2013 the Prime Minister seemed to have been "constrained by the outcry" that he knew would occur if and when new appointments to the Lords were made.[62] She continued: "as a temporary stopgap, this unofficial moratorium thus appears to have worked, and numbers in the chamber gradually dropped (though still not to their pre-2010 election levels)."[63] However, the situation changed in August 2013 with the announcement of thirty new political peers.

29. We asked witnesses whether a further, short-term moratorium up until the next General Election would be helpful, but there was only limited support for the idea. Lord Steel said: "I would not be against that, but I can't say I would go to the barricades for it".[64] The Green Party's written submission stated that if a moratorium "was only expected to last for a few months until an elected system is put in place then we would support it."[65] Similarly, the Campaign for a Democratic Upper House argued that "it could be acceptable only as a step to a further reform, of which it formed an integral and agreed part as the current political make up of the Lords is not representative of the will of the people".[66]

30. We also asked witnesses whether a longer-term moratorium would be an appropriate way of helping to reduce the size of the House. Dr Barber suggested that a moratorium "might also neutralise the disincentive of the executive to carry through on reform."[67] However, for the most part, those who submitted evidence did not support the introduction of a moratorium. A number of submissions argued that a moratorium would deprive the House of Lords of experience which, according to John Smith, a member of the public who submitted written evidence in an individual capacity, "is the lifeblood of any organisation".[68] The Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Policy Committee went further, describing the idea as "ridiculous and repugnant." It reasoned: "to advocate a moratorium of this kind is to argue that the existing membership is perfect, and unable to be supplemented by any better or more recent wisdom than that which resides in the present House."[69] Lord Steel told us that a moratorium "is going down the wrong road, trying to tackle the numbers question the wrong way [...]."[70] Alan Renwick calculated that to bring the membership down to 500 by moratorium alone would take in the order of twelve or thirteen years. In the meantime, he argued, the Chamber would "be starved of fresh blood for far too long" and the "problem of ever-rising numbers would only return once the moratorium was lifted".[71] Equally, Dr Ballinger noted that a moratorium "would reduce the size of the House only slowly, and by attrition, and would inevitably reverse as soon as the moratorium ended".[72]

31. Concerns were also raised about the negative impact a moratorium could have on party balance. The Campaign for a Democratic Upper House stated:

    If there were no provision for like-for-like replacements on the death of a member, the balance would be likely to be affected over time to the disadvantage of one or more of the parties, or the Crossbenches; which in turn would affect the degree to which the House could hold the government to account.[73]

For Unlock Democracy, a moratorium would result in "the government abandoning its stated aim of appointing new peers to reflect the vote share received by political parties in the 2010 General Election", because the only mechanism for adjusting party balance within the House of Lords would no longer be available.[74] Dr Gordon suggested that, for this reason, a moratorium would be "very unlikely to command widespread support".[75] Finally, Dr Ballinger told us that a "key problem" was that a moratorium would not be enforceable without legislation given that "the right of the Prime Minister to recommend peers cannot be extinguished by edict".[76]

32. There is a third option which falls somewhere between a full, long-term moratorium and a short-term one that would freeze new appointments until the end of this Parliament. This third form of moratorium could require the removal of two or more peers for every new peer appointed. We think that it would be worthwhile for the party leaders in the Lords to discuss this option further, particularly as this could offer a way of tackling the issue of the parties' relative numerical strength without increasing the overall size of the House of Lords.

33. We conclude that the positive short-term impact of a moratorium in helping to avoid further increases in the size of the House would be outweighed by the loss to the House of Lords of new perspectives and fresh thinking. There was little support for a moratorium in the evidence we received and we conclude that there is little, if any, prospect for securing a broad-based consensus in favour of this proposal.

62   Ev w40 Back

63   Ev w40 Back

64   Q 16 Back

65   Ev w21 Back

66   Ev w29; See also See Ev w10 Back

67   Ev w4  Back

68   Ev w11  Back

69   Ev w8 Back

70   Q 36 Back

71   Ev w25  Back

72   Ev w45 Back

73   Ev w29 Back

74   Ev w33 Back

75   Ev w22  Back

76   Ev w45 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 17 October 2013