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

Conclusions and recommendations

History of Reform of the House of Lords

1.For over 100 years, there has been only incremental reform of the House of Lords. Each step has been limited, usually responding to long held demands that have come to represent a consensus. This applies, for example, to the 1911 Parliament Act, the 1958 Life Peerages Act and the 1999 House of Lords Act; but taken together, they represent radical reform. In future the 2014 House of Lords Reform Act, which introduced the right for life peers to retire, may be seen in the same light. Meanwhile larger-scale reform proposals, such as those of the 1918 Bryce Commission, the 1968 Parliament (No. 2) Bill and the 2011 House of Lords Reform Bill, have often failed. Numerous others have never even reached a decision point in Parliament due to failure to reach agreement. The experience of the last century demonstrates that only incremental reform has succeeded. While never excluding the possibility of radical reform, when there is consensus on the next essential step, smaller incremental reforms are possible, and indeed necessary and important. In the end these can lead to radical change over a longer period. (Paragraph 13)

The problem of an ever-growing House

2.There is widespread agreement that addressing the size of the Chamber is now an indispensable imperative, and that this has become the “unarguable next step” in the proven process of incremental Lords reform. There are serious concerns that the House of Lords’ growing size and cost has a direct impact on the Chamber’s ability to conduct its important functions. While more far reaching reforms should continue to be discussed, reaching agreement has always been difficult. Addressing the size of the House of Lords is an urgent political priority which must not be delayed. (Paragraph 24)

A House of Lords of 600 Members

3.The effect of implementing the Burns Report recommendations is the very minimum reform which should be contemplated. We support the objective of reducing the size of the House of Lords and capping the Chamber’s size at a maximum of 600 members, but we recommend that this be achieved more quickly that the rate set out in the Burns Report. We recognise that gaining consent for this reform depends upon avoiding unreasonable pressure on existing members to retire, but we urge the leaders of the party groups in the House of Lords to agree to strict retirement targets. We hope a faster rate of retirements is possible while maintaining the equal contribution basis outlined in the Burns report. (Paragraph 32)

Formula for new appointments

4.It is important that the Prime Minister commits to the proposed cap and to limiting appointments in line with the proposed appointment formula. The adoption of this formula is a vital aspect of the proposals to reduce the size of the House. This system would make appointment of peers more transparent and set out clearly, as called for by our predecessor committees over many years, a constitutional convention that appointments to the House of Lords should reflect the results of the most recent general election. (Paragraph 35)

5.In order to provide confidence in the Prime Minister’s commitment to the proposed cap and limiting of appointments, this should also be set out in the Cabinet Manual. (Paragraph 36)

Oversight by HOLAC

6.We welcome the proposals in the Burns Report to strengthen the role of the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC) in ensuring nominees are made aware of what being active member of the House of Lords entails. We recommend that all political parties and HOLAC provide a written statement of nomination setting out why a person is being nominated for a peerage and how this qualifies them to contribute to the House of Lords. The person nominated should also make a written statement prior to the nomination being approved, setting out how they intend to contribute to the work of the House of Lords, in particular to the scrutiny of Bills and other legislation, and in general to the work of the Committees of the House. This statement would be published when the peerage is announced. (Paragraph 39)

7.The current membership of the House of Lords, as Lord Bew pointed out to us, in many areas does not reflect the country which it serves. While changes have started to be put in place, it is important that new appointments better reflect the make-up of the UK, in areas such as gender, region, ethnicity and religion. We recommend that HOLAC be given the role of monitoring and reporting on the diversity of nominees and peers for all groups. It should publish recommendations identifying which groups or communities require better representation, which should be aimed particularly at the political parties responsible for the majority of nominations. (Paragraph 40)

15 year fixed terms

8.The introduction of 15-year term limits for new life peers is perhaps the most radical element of the scheme and it will immediately create two classes of peer with all existing peers remaining appointed for life, and all new peers for a fixed term. There are members of both Houses who have been highly effective parliamentarians for far longer than 15 years, and this fixed term could remove peers at the peak of their effectiveness. However, the questions that some might raise about 15-year term limits should not become an impediment to the adoption of the rest of the Burns Report proposals. In particular, the formula determining appointments and the cap on the size of the House can be implemented without adopting term limits. A fixed term limit is desirable but not essential and should continue to be kept under consideration. (Paragraph 43)

The Prime Minister’s response to Burns

9.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. (Paragraph 54)

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

10.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. (Paragraph 57)

11.We welcome the initiative of Lord Fowler to set up the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the size of the House, and the hard work and care taken by the Committee to produce its Report reflecting a consensus and its follow up Second Report. We are pleased that the Report has been widely welcomed in the House of Lords itself, and that peers are showing willingness to act. The Report has produced an achievable system for reducing the size of the House of Lords without need for legislation. The early indications from the Burns Committee’s Second Report are that, with commitment from all parties, this reform can succeed. (Paragraph 58)

12.The broad scheme of the Burns report presents an opportunity which must not be missed. This is a minimal incremental reform, which will fall far short of the aspirations of many who wish to see abolition or an elected Upper House; but the House of Lords itself should take the opportunity to make this reform, given that it does not require legislation. Adopting this reform does, however, not remove the pressure for more fundamental reform of the second chamber. (Paragraph 59)

13.While we recommend the non-legislative proposals set out in the Burns Report as an achievable next step for addressing the problem of the size of the House, the task of reforming the second chamber of the UK Parliament must not be put on hold until the issue of the size of the House of Lords is “solved”. This small incremental reform should not halt the pursuit of more radical reform to the second chamber, 107 years after the Parliament Act 1911 was passed only as a temporary expedient. (Paragraph 60)

Published: 19 November 2018