7 Voluntary retirement |
47. Procedurally, until 2011 the only option available
to peers to "retire" was to take a leave of absence.
However, in line with the recommendations of the Leader's Group
on Members Leaving the House, an informal voluntary retirement
scheme was introduced in 2011. This scheme allows Members to write
to the Clerk of the Parliaments indicating their wish permanently
to retire. As of July 2013, only three Members had taken advantage
of the scheme, and two of those had been non-attenders for some
years. The broad
consensus in the written evidence we received was that the current
voluntary retirement scheme had not been effective and had had
no notable impact. 
48. According to David Beamish, "the fundamental
weakness of the informal voluntary retirement scheme is the lack
of an incentive".
Lord Hunt of Wirral told us that, at present, "the benefits
attaching to membership" are a "significant incentive
David Beamish explained that Members are entitled to claim £300
in respect of any day on which they attend the House of Lords.
He also highlighted other benefits to membership, including IT
equipment and access to facilities and papers, before noting that,
"in the absence of any offsetting incentives, retirement
is unlikely to be an attractive option for many members".
49. The 2011 Leader's Group report suggested that
it would be worthwhile to investigate whether a "modest pension,
or payment on retirement" would provide peers with an incentive
to take up voluntary retirement whilst also providing an overall
saving to the taxpayer.
This idea was discussed in some of the written and oral evidence
we received. David
Beamish's evidence confirmed that savings could be made, "provided
that those retiring are not replaced by new appointees, as the
compensation would relate only to the daily allowance, whereas
the savings would extend to travel costs which would no longer
be incurred, and to the provision of accommodation and facilities."
However, despite this, there was little support for this type
of financial incentive among those who gave oral evidence to us;
Lord Hennessy, for instance, stated that the public "would
not understand" the rationale behind such a move.
Another financial alternative discussed in David Beamish's evidence
was a proposal that the House might withhold some financial or
other support from those who have, for instance, reached a certain
age, or served for a certain number of years, or attended fewer
than a certain proportion of sittings, or some combination thereof.
David Beamish noted that "gradual withdrawal of financial
support would provide a way of showing that the House is serious
50. Another option we discussed with witnesses was
the introduction of a ceremony to mark the service of retiring
Members. As Lord Hennessy stated, the lack of take-up of the voluntary
scheme is partly due to the fact that "if people depart they
would like some recognition of what they have done for the House.
It does not necessarily have to be financial, but some sort of
acknowledgement of services rendered might be worth exploring."
He suggested creating a "decommissioning ceremony" and
argued that "people would like rites of passage and the recognition
of good service and so on. It could be done with dignity."
Lord Hunt of Wirral concurred: "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
51. The evidence we received suggested that, if the
voluntary retirement scheme is to be more successful, it is imperative
also to address the key political disincentive that is currently
hindering take-up, namely that peers are reluctant to leave voluntarily
because they are concerned about the impact their departure will
have on party balance. As Dr Russell explained: "any member
taking voluntary retirement at present simply weakens their party/group,
with no guarantee that they will be replaced. Until a proportionality
formula is established, any such system is likely to fail."
52. Lord Hunt of Wirral suggested that voluntary
retirement could be more actively promoted by party leaders and
the convenor of Cross-bench peers and that "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 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".
Dr Russell suggested that an appropriate goal might be to establish
equality between the two main parties in the short term, with
volunteer retirees sought to reach this target if necessary. She
noted that here, the present position is "propitious because
Labour retains only a small numerical advantage over the Conservatives
(222 to 213)." She went on to argue that:
Equality might therefore be relatively easily
achieved. But agreeing such a formula would be delicate, and would
almost certainly need to be agreed through cross-party talks,
particularly if party peers were being asked to cooperate with
the retirement element. No such formula would succeed if it were
53. There was broad consensus in the evidence
we received that the voluntary retirement scheme introduced in
2011 has not been a success and it has clearly had no notable
impact on the size of the House. We believe it is incumbent upon
the party leaders in the House of Lords and the Convener of the
Cross-bench peers actively to encourage peers to consider retirement.
Although this will undoubtedly be a delicate task, it is very
much in the interests of parties and Cross-benchers to see the
size of the House reduced in an equitable manner. We support the
idea that some form of ceremony in recognition of service provided
to the House should take place for peers who decide to take voluntary
A STRENGTHENED LEAVE OF ABSENCE SCHEME?
54. One other option we discussed with witnesses
is whether the current leave of absence scheme could be strengthened.
As recently as 2012 the scheme was bolstered to bring it into
line with the recommendations of the Leader's Group chaired by
Lord Hunt of Wirral. As a result of this, the Clerk of Parliaments
now writes at the start of each session to Members who have attended
rarely in the previous session inviting them to apply for a leave
of absence. The invitation can be accepted or declined according
to the decision of the individual Member. Members who do not reply
within three months are granted a leave of absence automatically.
Since May 2012 it has led to 16 peers agreeing to take a leave
of absence and a further four being granted a leave of absence
after failing to reply within three months. As a result, the number
of peers on a leave of absence is now 42, much higher than in
recent years. Lord Hunt of Wirral told us that the fact that the
innovation had encouraged a number of peers who had been attending
to take a leave of absence highlights its success.
55. In his written evidence, David Beamish detailed
how the scheme could be further strengthened through changes to
Standing Orders, "making more forceful use of the leave of
absence scheme to reduce numbers".
The House could set a minimum level of attendance
required of its members [...]. Such a rule would have to allow
for exceptions, where members had a valid and time-limited reason
[...] for being unable to attend. It has also been suggested to
me that there ought to be a mechanism (perhaps via a committee)
for exempting especially distinguished members. [...]
The question then arises - what could the House
do to those who failed to comply? [...] I do not believe that
a Member could be suspended in such circumstances. However, I
believe that it would be within the House's power to deem such
Members to have applied for leave of absence. Such leave is, by
definition, voluntaryenforced leave of absence, without
the option of terminating it, would be tantamount to suspension,
as well as being a contradiction in terms. It would therefore
be essential that leave granted in such circumstances could be
terminated in the normal way, by the Member giving three months'
notice of his or her intention to return to the House. This would
allow Members to mend their ways, and return to the House, on
the understanding that they would henceforth attend more regularly.
On this basis, I believe a strengthened leave of absence scheme
would be lawful.
56. Since the House of Lords strengthened its
leave of absence scheme, take-up has increased. We welcome suggestions
to bolster this scheme further by setting a minimum level of attendance,
with appropriate exceptions. As with the issue of voluntary
retirement, we believe that the political parties in the Lords
ought to do more to encourage take up of the leave of absence
scheme and should offer their support for a strengthened scheme,
with a view to implementing it within this Parliament.
103 Ev w50 Back
Ev w2; Ev w5; Ev w15; Ev w30; Ev w32 Back
Ev w50 Back
Q 92 Back
Ev w50 Back
"Members Leaving the House", Leader's Group on Members
Leaving the House, HL Paper 83, Session 2010-2011, 13 January
2011, para 47. Back
Ev w9; Ev w10 Back
Ev w50 Back
Q 72 ff Back
Ev w51 Back
Q 72 [Lord Hennessy] Back
Q 109 Back
Q 192 Back
Ev w41. See also Ev w52 [David Beamish] Back
Q 164 [David Beamish] Back
Ev w43. See also Q 131 Back
Q 190 Back
Ev w52 Back
Ev w52 Back