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

5  Fixed-term appointments for new peers

34. Internationally, life membership of a legislature is extremely unusual. It is far more common for legislators to have time-limited terms, albeit often with the possibility of renewal.[77] Fixed terms are also widely used in domestic public life and indeed the recently appointed Chair of the House of Lords Appointments Commission will undertake his duties on a five year non-renewable term.[78]

35. In recent years, multiple reports and studies into longer-term Lords reform have recommended that Members, either elected or appointed, should serve fixed rather than life terms. Many of our witnesses supported the idea, too: Baroness Hayman, Lord Jay, Lord Goodlad, Lord Hennessy and Dr Ballinger all spoke in favour of fixed terms when they gave evidence to us.[79] Written evidence was also supportive. Lord Howarth, for example, argued that "vacancies have to be created without forever increasing the numbers in an overcrowded House, and it should be sufficient privilege for anyone to serve for a limited period [...]".[80]Alan Renwick stated that "a fixed term would allow the size of the chamber to be set and principles of partisan balance to be implemented".[81]

36. In practice, any scheme would have to address a range of issues including: the appropriate length of term; whether terms should be related to the electoral cycle of the House of Commons; whether there would be restrictions on fixed-term peers seeking election to the House of Commons after their term in the Lords had expired; and whether re-appointment should be permitted.[82]

37. Previous reports which have discussed the issue of fixed terms have most commonly proposed a 15 year period of tenure. However, in order to avoid a loss of legislative expertise and institutional memory, Dr Russell suggested that the ability for Members to serve a second term, possibly for 10 years, and in exceptional circumstances, might be "desirable".[83] Dr Ballinger thought that a fixed term covering three Parliaments would ensure both continuity and turn-over, and could be extended for one further period "if the appointing authority was satisfied that a re-appointment is more justifiable than bringing in a new member".[84] On the issue of who should have the power to reappoint, Dr Russell argued that, if such a power lay with party leaders, it would "compromise members' independence" and therefore this task should fall to "the House of Lords Appointments Commission, based on strict criteria."[85]

38. The provisions in the Life Peerages Act 1958 state that peerages are for life. In his written evidence, the Clerk of the Parliaments, David Beamish, acknowledged that a compulsory scheme to limit the terms of new Members would require legislation, but also noted that it would be possible to introduce a non-statutory voluntary scheme. He argued that "while the impact would not be directly felt for a while, it could help to give momentum to other measures." He explained that an arrangement could be introduced whereby

    nominees were invited to give an assurance that (assuming that there had been no substantial reform of the House in the meantime) they would retire after a certain number of years (say 15), or at a certain age (say 75), or whichever came first (or second!).

    As regards Crossbenchers, such an arrangement could be introduced by the House of Lords Appointments Commission. There is a parallel with the stipulation which the Appointments Commission introduced some years ago (now overtaken by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010) requiring nominees to undertake to be UK residents for tax purposes. As regards other nominees, an announcement of such an arrangement by the Prime Minister would suffice.[86]

39. Not all the submissions we received supported the idea of fixed terms. Some dismissed the idea on the basis that it would perpetuate a system of appointment as opposed to election and would thus stray into the wider area of wholesale reform. For instance, the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Policy Committee stated that "[i]t will be no more legitimate for someone to be appointed to Parliament by Party Leaders for fifteen years (or three parliaments) than it is for them to be so appointed for life".[87] The Campaign for a Democratic Upper House stated:

    This proposal [...] would raise the issue of the proper basis for the composition of the Lords, and would be widely seen to be a decisive step in the direction of an all-appointed house, and away from a democratic basis for the second chamber; again without a proper national debate of the rationale. [88]

Unlock Democracy wrote that peers who are appointed for fixed terms would be "far more likely to be loyal to the leader who appointed them than peers who have been there a long while",[89] while Dr Barber warned that, as Members leave, over time it would increase the proportion of those who owe their appointment to the Prime Minister or party leaders of the day, thus potentially reducing the chamber's independence.[90] The Green Party argued that, while "this may be appropriate as a transitional measure to an elected system, [it] is not a long term solution".[91]

40. Fixed term appointments for the Lords have a long track record of support and this was reflected in the evidence that we received, which highlighted strong backing for a move away from appointments for life. However, a compulsory scheme would undoubtedly require new legislation to give effect to the proposal and, for it to be truly successful, it would most likely need to be accompanied by other reforms. Compulsory fixed terms should be discussed as part of any future debate on wholesale reform of the Lords. In the meantime, we support proposals for a non-statutory scheme under which nominees would be invited to give an assurance that they would retire after a certain number of years. While we accept that it lacks the strength that a statutory regime could provide, we conclude that it has the potential to have an impact on the size of the House of Lords over time and could help to give momentum to other smaller-scale reforms. Accordingly, we invite the party and cross-bench associations in the Lords to make their views on this matter known to us in writing.

77   Ev w40 Back

78   Ev w46 Back

79   Q 17 [Baroness Hayman]; Q 158 [Lord Jay]; Q 86 [Lord Goodlad]; Q 87 [Lord Hennessy]; Q 128 [Dr Ballinger] Back

80   Ev w16  Back

81   Ev w25  Back

82   Ev w29 Back

83   Ev w41 Back

84   Ev w46 Back

85   Ev w41  Back

86   Ev w52 Back

87   Ev w7. See also Ev w5; Ev w29 Back

88   Ev w29 Back

89   Ev w33  Back

90   Ev w5  Back

91   Ev w21  Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 17 October 2013