Political and Constitutional Reform CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Dr Nicholas DJ Baldwin

Analysis of the contemporary, post-1999, House of Lords and of its activity highlights a complex set of relationships involving, in most cases, the capacity to influence, rather than determine; the ability to advise, rather than command; the facility to criticise, but not obstruct; the competence to scrutinise rather than initiate; and the desire to ensure that light is shed upon what is going on, rather than to have things covered by a veil of secrecy. In short, what can be seen is the ability of the House of Lords to ensure that the Executive is required to explain and justify its actions (or inactions) and that the House of Commons be “required” to “think again”.

Undoubtedly, since the removal of the vast majority of the hereditary peers—all but 92—in 1999, the House of Lords has grown in importance in a variety of ways, not least as a raiser of grievances, as an agent of oversight and, above all, as a forum for scrutiny of the Executive. It can be argued that the House of Lords as it exists today is not only better equipped than previously to scrutinise the Executive but also that it possess both the experience and a unique authority to do so without challenging the ultimate authority of the elected representatives of the people in the House of Commons.

Edmund Burke observed that a constitution must compensate, reconcile, balance, and unite into a consistent whole, the various anomalies and contending principles that are found in the minds and affairs of men.

He saw the British Constitution as standing on an equipoise with steep precipices and deep waters on both sides and cautioned that, in seeking to prevent it from leaning towards one side, there might be a risk of it toppling over on the other.

The way forward therefor is to build on the reform of 1999 in a variety of ways, namely by:

1.Establishing a statutory Appointments Commission (through which all nominations would have to be considered and approved—including those nominated by the Prime Minister in order to be a Minister in the House of Lords);

2.Removing the remaining hereditary members (to be achieved through the mechanism of (a) making each of the individuals concerned life peers and (b) repealing the relevant part of the 1999 legislation);

3.The introduction of either an age of retirement or a requirement to retire after “x” number of years as a member (or indeed a combination of the two).

Turning to each of the specific points raised by the Committee:

The desirability, practicality and effectiveness of mechanisms for reducing the size of the House of Lords, including the following:

[ ]No longer replacing hereditary peers in the House of Lords when they die: Covered by item 1 above.

[ ]Measures to remove persistent non-attendees:

[ ]A moratorium on new peers: I do not believe this to be a good idea—although a mechanism to ensure that (perhaps within certain limits) new members could only be added as replacements for existing members leaving. I would also argue that any new members that are appointed should be appointed not for life but for a limited period—as per item 3 above.

[ ]Fixed-term appointments for new peers: Covered by item 3 above.
[ ] A retirement age for peers: : Covered by item 3 above.

The effectiveness of the current voluntary retirement scheme for peers introduced following the recommendations of the Leader’s Group on Members Leaving the House: If one is to judge the effectiveness of the scheme by the number of members who have taken up voluntary retirement, it would not appear to have been very effective. In order to encourage more individuals to retire it could be argued that some form of financial incentive (pension) should be provided to those who do retire.

The desirability and scope of a mechanism to expel peers who have been convicted of a serious offence: I believe that any peers who have been convicted of a serious offence should be expelled and that devising a mechanism to achieve this would be very desirable.

The desirability, composition and remit of a Statutory Appointments Commission: Rather than try and reinvent the wheel, I would argue that the current Appointments Commission be put on a statutory basis.

The scope for establishing a consensus about the principles which should determine the relative numerical strengths of the different party groups in the House of Lords, and for codifying such principles: I believe that it would be desirable to establish a cross-party consensus in this regard (taking into account the various party strengths as well as the strength of the crossbenchers). I similarly believe that a consensus could be reached based upon two principles, namely (i) that no individual party should have an overall majority in the House, and (ii) that the balance should be derived from the level of popular support (% of the vote) achieved either at the most recent general election or from an aggregate of the level of popular support achieved at the two most recent general elections.

6 March 2013

Dr. Baldwin is a member of the Study of Parliament Group as well as an associate of the Centre for Legislative Studies. He has written extensively on politics. His publications include Mastering British Politics (2007, 1999 and 1996), Parliament in the 21st Century (2004), Executive Leadership and Legislative Assemblies (2006), Legislatures and Executives: An Investigation into the Relationship at the Heart of Government (2004), Second Chambers (2001), Beyond Settlement: Making Peace Last After Civil Conflict (2008), Legislatures of Small States (2012), and contributions to The House of Lords: its Parliamentary and Judicial Roles (1999), The Law and Parliament (1998), The House of Lords at Work (1993), Parliament & Pressure Politics (1990) and Parliament in the 1980s (1985) as well as a large number of journal articles, other articles, reviews, etc.

He was special assistant to a group of members of the House of Lords in the early 1980s.

Prepared 16th October 2013