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

6  The introduction of a retirement age

41. As Dr Ballinger's written evidence makes clear, the idea of a retirement age is not entirely unknown to the House of Lords: currently 26 Members of the House of Lords (the Bishops) are subject to compulsory retirement at age 70, though some are kept on beyond retirement by being appointed life peers.[92] However, for the vast majority of Members of the House of Lords, appointments to the Lords are for life. The introduction of a compulsory retirement age would require legislation to remove the Writ of Summons from those who have been given it for life.

42. In 2011, the Leader's Group on Members Leaving the House looked in detail at whether a compulsory retirement scheme ought to be introduced. It found that, based on the membership figures at the time, a retirement age of 70 would remove almost half the Members of the House. A cut off point of 75 (mirroring the arrangements for Supreme Court judges) would have removed 221 Members, and even raising the age to 80 would have removed 115 Members. More recent evidence that we received from Dr Russell stated that introducing a retirement age of 80 would result in the departure of around 130 current Members of the Lords, and a retirement age of 75 would result in the departure of around 230.[93]

43. Although a retirement age could reduce the size of the House, the proposal prompted concern among witnesses. A number of submissions suggested that the introduction of a compulsory retirement age would be an arbitrary and discriminatory measure. Reflecting the views of a number of individuals and groups that submitted evidence to us on this particular issue, the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Policy Committee stated: "it is difficult to justify such an arbitrary provision and particularly at a time when fixed retirement ages are being abolished across the public sector". It argued that the peers that would be removed would not necessarily be the least useful, "they would simply be the eldest." It continued: "age discrimination of this sort would be no more democratic or acceptable than the imposition of a minimum age".[94] Alan Renwick noted that many Members of an advanced age make "an exceptionally valuable contribution".[95] Dr Ballinger told us that "it would be very difficult for a Parliament, having said that most organisations should not have a retiring age, to impose one on one of its Houses of Parliament".[96] He added:

    A retirement age would not, without a drastic and arbitrary effect, solve the issue of the size of the House of Lords' membership; nor would it accord with the principles of competence, rather than age, on which other organisations are now for the most part required to take decisions about their employees.[97]

44. Other concerns focused on the political implications of such a scheme. Dr Barber warned that introducing a retirement age could have the unintended consequence of increasing the proportion of Members who owe their allegiance to the Prime Minister or leadership of the day, possibly affecting the independence of Members.[98] A related point was made by Alan Renwick when he wrote that it could give party leaders an incentive to appoint young Members upon whom they could exert influence for many years. He stated: "while there is much to be said for having larger numbers of younger members, this should be done rationally rather than in response to perverse incentives".[99] The Campaign for a Democratic Upper House argued that the proposal would "break the rationale for the alleged independence of the House, that its members are there for life."[100] Nor would retirement of those over 80 be party neutral, according to Dr Russell, because there are fewer Labour and Liberal Democrat peers over 80, compared to Conservatives and Crossbenchers.[101]

45. Dr Russell, Dr Ballinger and Professor McLean all suggested that if a compulsory retirement scheme were implemented, there ought to be an appeals procedure for peers reaching the retirement age who wished to show (to a body that would have to be set up for the purpose) that they continued to make an important contribution.[102]

46. We accept the view that the introduction of a retirement age in the House of Lords would be both arbitrary and discriminatory and could result in the loss of much-valued expertise. It could also have an undesirable impact on party balance. For these reasons, we reject the option of a compulsory retirement age as a way of reducing the size of the House of Lords.

92   Ev w46 Back

93   Ev w41 Back

94   Ev w7. See also Ev w2; Ev w10; Ev w25; Ev w29  Back

95   Ev w23; See also Ev w29, Q 68 [Lord Tyler] Back

96   Q 128. See also Q 158 Back

97   Ev w46 Back

98   Q 134 Back

99   Ev w25  Back

100   Ev w30 Back

101   Ev w43 Back

102   Q 131. See also Ev w8; Ev w15 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 17 October 2013