A smaller House of Lords: The report of the Lord Speaker's committee on the size of the House Contents

4Developments since the publication of the Burns Report

The Prime Minister’s response to Burns

51.As the Burns Committee’s report is explicitly designed to be implemented without requiring legislation, new peers would continue to be appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister. The whole system proposed by the Burns Committee is, therefore, dependent on current and future Prime Ministers voluntarily adhering to the appointment limits and proportions outlined in its Report.53

52.The Prime Minster wrote to the Lord Speaker in response to the Report on 20 February 2018. She described the Burns Report as “thorough and careful” and “a serious attempt to take the challenge presented to them”.54 She set out that, after making a small number of “legacy” appointments arising from the previous general election, her intention was to act with restraint when making “further appointments over the remainder of this Parliament”.55 She however emphasised that any restraint on her part would only have a limited effect on reducing the size of the House, unless House members themselves were willing to retire. Equally, however, her letter acknowledged that during the debate on the Burns Report in the House of Lords in December 2017, “a number of speakers made clear that, without an assurance of restraint by the Prime Minister, they would be reluctant to take advantage of their ability to retire”.56

53.The Prime Minster identified two separate types of recommendations in the Burns Report: those “which are necessary to achieve the reduction in the size of the House of Lords”; and those which would “establish mechanisms by which the House would thereafter by maintained.”57 The Prime Minister expressed caution about the constitutional issues associated with the second set of recommendations, which she suggested would have “a significant impact on the composition and, therefore, the character and functions of the House of Lords”.58 These issues, she suggested, would “require careful thought and wider engagement, particularly with the House of Commons”.59 In this category she particularly identified the proposals for fixed 15-year terms.

54.We welcome the Prime Minister’s letter to the Lord Speaker and her commitment to show restraint in making appointments for the rest of the Parliament. However, in order to ensure progress, it is essential that this commitment is made more concrete. As such we urge the Prime Minister to commit to the principle of two-out, one-in, as proposed by the Burns Committee, and to the future appointment formula based on general election results.

The Second Report of the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the size of the House

55.A year after its initial Report, the Burns Committee published a second report on 24 October 2018, commenting on the Prime Minister’s letter, and setting out the departures and appointments since the General Election in June 2017.60 The Burns Committee welcomed the Prime Minister’s suggestion that, following a period of restraint, arrangements could be formalised, and it re-emphasised the importance of capping the membership of the House of Lords.61 It accepted that the introduction of fixed terms for peerages was a constitutionally significant measure, but re-emphasised the “robust advice” that it had received from leading experts that these proposals were “constitutionally and legally sound”.62

56.The Burns Committee noted that in the year since the general election, departures had exceeded those estimated in its first Report–representing 36 departures, compared to the annual proposed benchmark of 31. However, proposed appointments had also overall been exceeded, reaching 25 in the period since the general election. Nonetheless, the Burns Committee accepted the Prime Minister’s description of the 13 appointments that she made on 18 May 2018 as a “legacy issue”, and conceded that these should not be included in the overall calculations.63 When this factor is taken into account, the figures fall within the numbers set out in the Burns Report as shown in table 3 below.

Table 3: Departures and Appointments for House of Lords Year 1 after 2017 General Election


Expected Departures Year 1

Actual Departures Year 1

Expected Appointments Year 1

Actual Appointments Year 1

Adjusted Appointments Year 1





































Source: Second Report of the Lord Speakers Committee on Size of the House, 24 October 2018

57.We are encouraged by the overall figures for year 1 in the Second Report of the Burns Committee. These figures do seem to support our recommendation above that the rate of reduction could be increased through cooperation of the party groups.

Published: 19 November 2018