The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, I am delighted to be able to report to the House the announcement made by Clarence House this morning, which I am sure many of your Lordships will have already heard, of the engagement of Prince William to Miss Catherine Middleton. I understand that the wedding is due to take place in spring or summer of next year. I am sure that the House will wish to have an opportunity in due course to convey a more formal message to Her Majesty the Queen. In the mean time, your Lordships will, I know, wish to join me in conveying our heartfelt congratulations and every good wish to Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for making that very brief Statement. I realise that there will be time in due course for official tributes but, for now, I just wish Prince William and Miss Kate Middleton the warmest and heartiest congratulations from these Benches also.
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, there are few things more exciting in life than watching a young couple make their public commitment to each other and step out in life together. We on these Benches very much wish to be associated with the words of the Leader of the House in congratulations and very good wishes to the young couple.
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, from this Bench I should like to express our great delight at this wonderful news. We wish His Royal Highness and Miss Kate Middleton our very best wishes and assure them of our prayers not only today but in the months to come.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, any death in prison custody is tragic. The number and rate of self-inflicted deaths of women in custody has declined from a peak of 14 in 2003 to three in 2009. This year there has been one self-inflicted death in custody. We will continue to work hard to reduce this further by focusing on care planning for each individual woman in custody and by seeking to ensure that all agencies concerned work effectively together.
Lord Sheldon: I thank the noble Baroness for that reply, because it is rather useful. But is it not unacceptable that the female prison population has increased by 30 per cent over the past decade? In January 2009, there were 4,199 women in custody, one-third of whom had no previous convictions at all. According to the Corston review, there should be custody for women only for serious and violent crimes and for threats to the public. In the 10 years to December 2009, there were 69 self-inflicted deaths of women in prison. Women are often imprisoned for minor offences and the impact is on their children. What action are the Government taking to change this?
Baroness Northover: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that question and for ensuring that we focus on this important issue. He is quite right: if you look at the sentencing pattern for women compared with that for men, you will find that we are a law-abiding sex, it seems. Although only 5 per cent of prisoners are women, they are in prison for lesser offences than are men. That, surely, is not how it should be. In many cases, those women are extremely vulnerable; there is a high incidence of mental illness, drug abuse, other substance abuse and so on. The noble Lord is also right that they usually have dependent children. The previous Government took the Corston report forward and sought to address this. We will be doing as much as we can to take that further forward. I point the noble Lord in the direction of the sentencing review that is shortly to come out.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, women prisoners are over three times more likely to inflict self-harm as their male counterparts and have higher levels of psychological distress than male prisoners. What will the coalition Government be doing to deal with this unacceptable situation and ensure that when women enter prison-and we hope that far fewer will do so in future-they are properly assessed for appropriate treatment?
Baroness Northover: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right; there are high levels of self-harming among women prisoners. I point her in the direction of my previous answer. The first thing is to address the disproportionate sentencing of women to prison, and I hope that that can be looked at in the context of the sentencing review. I hope that noble Lords, like the noble Baroness, will play a full part in looking at that and ensuring that it addresses the issue of self-harm. If we can divert women from prison, that will be very helpful. For those who are in prison, there has been a positive shift to address the issue, led partly by the moves of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to ensure that prisoners are covered by the National Health Service rather than by the Prison Medical Service. There is a
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Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, given the high levels of social, psychiatric and emotional disorders among the women prison population, does the Minister agree that much more needs to be done to improve the training of prison officers and people on the front line who are dealing with these girls on a daily basis?
Baroness Northover: Yes, that is the case. Quite a lot of investment has gone into training prison officers; if I can find the page in my brief, I will find how many have been trained. I seem to remember that something like £600,000 has gone into supporting them and a large number of prison officers are now trained to look for the tell-tale signs. Clearly, though, that is still insufficient.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The noble Baroness will be aware that one of the reasons for the encouraging reduction in the number of tragic deaths has been the enhancement of the health service provided by primary care trusts within the prison setting. Is she as concerned as I am that, as a result of the abolition of primary care trusts, the replacement GP consortia will not be in a position to provide the kind of enhanced services that we have seen introduced in the past few years?
Baroness Northover: I thank the noble Lord for that question. Looking after prisoners will come under the national commissioning board rather than the GP consortia. The board will work in conjunction with the GP consortia to deliver the best possible care to those in the locality, working with other specialists and the public health service, which will be much more locally based.
Lord Bates: My Lords, on a recent visit to Low Newton Prison, a women's prison in Durham, I met the families of inmates who had been imprisoned for credit card fraud. Not wishing to diminish the seriousness of that crime, I just wonder whether it is right that we should separate women from their families, at a cost of £30,000 a year to the taxpayer, for credit card fraud, when they would be better placed back in their homes, working in the community and paying off their debts.
Baroness Northover: I agree with my noble friend. It is extremely important that in this kind of case we address the issue of rehabilitation and try to ensure that there is no reoffending rather than put people in prison. I hope that the sentencing review later in the year will help to address this kind of issue.
Baroness Northover: I have not seen those specific figures but I have seen a lot of evidence indicating that there are far too many women in prison. The damaging effect on them and their families knows no bounds. It is therefore extremely important that this is urgently addressed.
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, in view of the pressure that the prison budget is liable to come under, can the Minister say whether the sorts of useful interventions that come through education, and particularly the kind of education that comes through the arts organisations in prisons, will be protected? It has a particularly beneficial effect on the sort of prisoners she has been talking about.
Baroness Northover: The key thing is to cut reoffending and to rehabilitate. That is the best way to protect the public and to redirect those women to other things. All of these aspects will be looked at in terms of their efficacy.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): My Lords, scientific evidence indicates that TB in cattle will not be eliminated without addressing transmission from badgers. The evidence used to estimate the impact of badger culling and vaccination on TB incidence in cattle is set out in our consultation document. For culling, much of the evidence comes from the randomised badger-culling trial, which was recommended by the noble Lord in 1997. For vaccination, it comes from laboratory and field studies.
Lord Krebs: I thank the Minister for that helpful Answer. As he has indicated, I declare an interest as the author of the 1997 report that led to the so-called randomised badger-culling trials, which were set up to test whether culling is an effective way of controlling TB in cattle. I ask the Minister two questions. First, does he agree with the estimate of his own officials that, based on the results of the randomised badger-culling trials, long-term intensive culling of badgers would lead to a 16 per cent reduction in the incidence of TB in cattle over nine years? Even this modest reduction, which would leave 84 per cent of the problem unaffected, would be achievable only with highly effective, large-scale, long-term culling. Otherwise, culling will make the problem worse. Secondly, does the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington, agree with the policy of culling?
Lord Henley: My Lords, on the first question, I accept what the noble Lord has to say, but ongoing monitoring since the end of those trials indicates that the positive impacts on herd breakdowns within the culled areas have lasted for a considerable number of years after the culls have ended and that those areas have seen a reduction of some 28 per cent in the incidence of TB. So there is a considerable reduction. We have never said that culling is the sole answer. We have always made it clear that we believe that other measures will need to be taken and that we need to use
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Baroness Browning: My Lords, I was the Minister who set up the committee so ably taken forward by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. Back in 1997, we recognised that bovine tuberculosis was out of control. It had spread down from the moors in the south-west peninsula and has since come south, right down almost to the coast across Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. It has also spread to Gloucestershire, has headed up to Herefordshire and is now up as far as Cumbria. Has my noble friend looked at the research work being carried out in the Republic of Ireland, particularly in East Offaly? Certainly, prior to setting up the inquiry into bovine tuberculosis, the then Government looked at how culling had been used in the Republic of Ireland. I hope that he will take that research work into account.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. I assure her that we have looked at research carried out in all countries. It is clear that one cannot eradicate bovine TB without also addressing TB in the wild animal population. That seems clear from the evidence in all other countries. My noble friend is also right to emphasise to the House the importance of this issue. Last year more than 25,000 cattle had to be compulsorily slaughtered. We think that bovine TB is Britain's biggest endemic animal health issue.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the Minister said that the Government had consulted the Chief Scientific Adviser. Can he say whether the Chief Scientific Adviser is in favour of, or opposed to, a cull?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I refer the noble Lord to the Written Answer that I gave some time ago which stated that he had been consulted, was aware of what we were doing and was happy with the consultation that was taking place. I make it clear that it is only a consultation that we are conducting on this matter at the moment.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, does the Minister agree that any pilots that take place, whether they involve culling or vaccination or both, should have independent monitoring, data collection, analysis and assessment if they are to have credibility and be of use?
Lord Henley: The important thing to emphasise to my noble friend is the fact that we are at this stage only consulting on a badger control policy. Having consulted and taken advice, we then propose to issue licences to farmers and others who wish to cull and/or vaccinate badgers at their own expense. We will then look at the results of that process.
Lord May of Oxford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that while there remain uncertainties, two things are known: first, that in the initial several years after beginning to kill badgers in a defined region, things get worse; and, secondly, if culling is maintained over
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Lord Henley: My Lords, that is not the case at all. I have made it clear that we have consulted the Chief Scientific Adviser and he is happy with the consultation. What we are talking about at this stage is a consultation. I also make it clear to the noble Lord that the scientific evidence is clear and suggests that an active badger culling carried out on a sufficient scale-I emphasise the words "sufficient scale"-in a widespread, co-ordinated and efficient way over a sustained period will reduce the incidence of bovine TB in cattle in high-incidence areas.
Baroness Quin: May I therefore ask the Minister, in view of his reply, whether there will be a cull or not, because there is confusion within the Government? At precisely the same time as the Minister of State was announcing to farmers that there was going to be a cull, the Secretary of State said that she would await the scientific evidence. Which is it?
Lord Henley: My Lords, there is no confusion in the Government at all. We have made it quite clear that we are consulting on this issue. When we consult, we consult for those reasons. We do not consult, as the party opposite did, having already made up our minds.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what estimate they have made of the cost of organisational changes required to implement the proposals to reform the Department of Health's non-departmental public bodies; and whether the cost will be allocated to that department's budget.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, the Government have announced that administration costs will reduce by a third in real terms across the health sector. This will impact on the Department of Health's arm's-length bodies. Currently, we cannot determine the exact costs, as they will be affected by how the reduction is distributed across the health sector and how much is met by levels of natural wastage. The department's spending review settlement will meet these costs.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: I thank the noble Earl for that reply. He will, I am sure, have listened carefully to the debate last week on the Public Bodies Bill. He will have heard half a dozen of your Lordships raise concerns about two health bodies in particular-the
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Earl Howe: My Lords, we will obviously have an opportunity to debate these matters in Committee on the Public Bodies Bill, but I would just make a couple of general points. There are clear synergies between some of the functions performed by the HFEA, the HTA and the Care Quality Commission-they all license treatment. In addition, there is significant read-across to the potential scope of a new research regulator. All political parties at the election were agreed that we have too many of these bodies-too many quangos-and we have to reduce the cost of administration across government as a whole. We can debate at greater length the merits, and perhaps demerits, of the Government's proposals. I look forward to that debate.
Earl Howe: My Lords, the key point to make about our proposals around the HFEA and the HTA is that we are not proposing to change the functions or alter the provisions of the underlying statutes. All we are doing is proposing to transfer various functions in different directions. As for the independence of the advice, I see no reason at all why the current independence should not be maintained under the new arrangements.
Baroness Deech: My Lords, is the Minister aware that a pre-legislative scrutiny committee gave an opinion two or three years ago that there was not a read-across between the HTA and the HFEA and that they had different skill sets? It accepted evidence that there was no money to be saved and that there would be a considerable loss of experience and probably money in bringing the two together. Does the Minister agree that we cannot keep revisiting this issue, which has been so thoroughly looked at?
Earl Howe: They are different skill sets, but I am not aware that Parliament has visited these issues, let alone revisited them. As I said, we will have the opportunity to do that, but the proposals we have outlined will ensure that the teams that are currently involved in inspection activities will be kept together. I see no reason why they should not be.
Earl Howe: The advantages will come from collocating all aspects of public health in one place, including the Health Protection Agency. I emphasise that there will continue to be independent advice on health protection. We will have a clear line of sight in all public health matters from the Secretary of State right down the chain to local authorities and to public health programmes implemented on the ground. We do not have that at the moment.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Is the Minister aware that, in health services in general-and I apply this also to these bodies-there is a tendency that if someone leaves a post, it is kept unfilled? Will the Minister assure us that, instead of allowing that to happen on an unspecified basis, the Government will make sure that if a post is essential it is retained and not left simply because a person has given up their job?
Earl Howe: My Lords, my noble friend makes a good point. We need to distinguish between posts that are administrative in nature, where we will see considerable reductions, as I have mentioned, and posts that relate to clinical activities. There is obviously a clear case for the latter posts to be advertised and filled where necessary.
Baroness Thornton: Will the Minister explain to the House why the Human Tissue Authority and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority have been included in the Public Bodies Bill when some 28 other NDPBs-I apologise to the House for that-were listed on 14 October in the announcement made about quangos? Will the Minister also explain whether an impact assessment has been done on any or all of these bodies, and when we might see the results of that? How many people does he expect will be made redundant, and at what cost?
Earl Howe: My Lords, the impact assessment will be published as soon as we know the size and shape of the costs involved. As I mentioned in my original Answer, we do not know that at the moment because we do not know about natural wastage, the grades of the people who will have to leave, and so on. The main reason why those two bodies have been included in the Bill is that our proposals, when we finalise them, will be very simple. As I have outlined, they will involve reparcelling the current functions of the bodies in different directions. That is not a difficult thing to do: it can be done very easily by secondary legislation.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, I can confirm that the proposals in the White Paper Universal Credit: welfare that works are compatible with the United Kingdom's obligations under the International Labour Organisation's Convention 29 on forced labour.
Lord Christopher: My Lords, I am obliged for the Answer, which does not take us a great deal further than it did last Thursday. I have two concerns. One is the obvious Question that I tabled, and the other is that what is proposed at the tail end of exercises with those who are on benefit is clearly without any constructive objective whatever. This is a fascinating document, written 80 years ago. It is an interesting social read. There are 33 articles and I will read just three lines.
"For the purposes of this Convention the term forced or compulsory labour shall mean all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily".
I have been in touch with the ILO this morning and I believe that it is looking at the jurisprudence that has gone on in the past few years. Will the Minister explain how what they are doing meets that objective?
Lord Freud: The mandatory work activity is designed to help a small number of customers to get back into the labour market, with labour market disciplines. If the noble Lord is referring to the attitude of the ILO on the matter, ILO experts produced a report on it in 2007 in which they accepted that this kind of work to help people back into the workplace was acceptable.
Lord Freud: I thank my noble friend for that question. As noble Lords will be aware, Convention 29 was originally designed with colonialism in mind and was then applied more generally. We do not think that the programmes that we are looking at apply in any way to ILO Convention 29 or, indeed, ILO Convention 105. Likewise, the Joint Committee on Human Rights looked at the European Convention on Human Rights in this context and found that these programmes do not apply.
Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Christopher has raised one of a number of interesting questions about the Government's welfare proposals. Another relates to what the Minister said last Thursday on hardship payments. In response to my noble friend Lord McKenzie, he said:
Lord Freud: My Lords, if I have forgotten what is in the White Paper, I stand reprimanded. In practice, we are looking to take elements of the hardship payments and the Social Fund generally and to localise them, including some of the loans. We are also looking at putting other elements into the universal credit. No hard decisions have yet been taken in this area. We are looking to finalise the restructuring of the Social Fund as we go into the next few weeks and introduce the Bill.
Lord German: My Lords, I am not surprised that the Minister has found that the ILO agreement suits the welfare reform proposals before us. However, does he agree that a symbol of a good welfare system is not how many people are locked and trapped within it but how many can be helped to get out of it? Is that not the reason why the welfare reform proposals are before us?
Lord Freud: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for putting his finger right on the point of these proposals: this is a measure to help people back into work. I should point out that a very similar measure, the Work for your Benefit scheme introduced by the previous Administration, was looked at by the Human Rights Joint Committee in the light of Article 4 of the ECHR, and it was found that it in no way went against people's human rights or constituted forced labour.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the Minister mentioned the universal credit, which I and, I think, most of the House very much welcome. It will bring together half a dozen benefit payments into one. At the moment, as the noble Lord will know, some payments, such as tax credits, go to the mother, whereas others, such as JSA, may go to the father. How will the Minister ensure that with a universal credit mothers' incomes are protected?
Lord Freud: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that question. With regard to the wallet and purse issue, we are giving each household the option to decide who gets the universal credit. We are also exploring whether couples can decide to divide the credit between them. Again, that is a decision that we have to finalise.
That Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Monday 22 November and Wednesday 24 November to allow the Finance (No. 2) Bill and the Equitable Life (Payments) Bill to be taken through all their remaining stages on those days.
That Standing Order 40 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with today to allow the adjourned debate on the second reading of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill to be taken after the motion in the name of Lord Strathclyde.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, I am delighted to open this short debate today on the interim report of the Leader's Group, which was chaired admirably by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral. The group was established in July with the terms of reference,
The group has consulted widely and today's debate provides a further opportunity for consultation. I look
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We should begin by rehearsing the context of today's debate. Over some time, there have been comments by a number of noble Lords that they would like to find a way to leave the House, although not usually to surrender their title at the same time. In every Session since 2007, such comments have distilled around the House of Lords Reform Bill, a Private Member's Bill first introduced as far back as 2007 by my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood. We have the inestimable pleasure of the Bill's resurrection once again this Session. Although my noble friend is not down to speak in today's debate, we have only to wait until 3 December when the Second Reading of the Bill is scheduled.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: The noble Lord does not need to wait until 3 December. I remind him that, in the days before we were locked together in unholy matrimony, as Leader of the Opposition he opposed my Bill, which included primary legislation on this very subject that is now recommended by the Hunt committee. Can I look forward to his support the week after next?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I say again what a pity it is that we will not hear the noble Lord's full speech this afternoon. The luxury of being in opposition was that I could make these decisions on my own. As a member of the Cabinet there is a process to undergo, but I shall let him know well before 3 December whether the Government will support his Bill on this occasion. That was the first point of context-the debates that we had on my noble friend's Bill.
The second point of context is that a system of leaving the House has existed since 1958 under the leave of absence scheme. When the scheme was introduced, Lord Home predicted that some hundreds of Peers would avail themselves of it. I hear the same forecasts today. When I took my seat in 1986, there were 1,096 Peers with Writs and 133-12 per cent-had taken leave of absence. That figure rose to 169-more than 15 per cent-in 1987-88. Today, 738 Members are eligible to sit and just 19-2.5 per cent-have taken leave of absence. Clearly, the reported tide of desire to leave the place is not being reflected in the leave of absence scheme. One question that we are all interested to explore is: what is the mystery ingredient that would translate the mere 19 on leave of absence into the hundreds that some have hoped for? After all, average daily attendance here this Session is 424, which is well over 300 fewer than our total number.
The third important context is the coalition agreement, which announced that the Government will publish a draft Bill for reform of your Lordships' House. The draft Bill will be published in the new year and will be scrutinised-no doubt in some detail-by a Joint Committee of both Houses. The draft Bill will include plans for transition. I can give an undertaking to the House that we will be looking to see whether the fruits that ultimately emerge from the Leader's Group and from this debate will help point us in the right direction for transitional arrangements. I very much hope that they will.
My noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral and the other members of the Group are in the process of considering the options for reducing the current size of the House. Today's debate gives noble Lords a further opportunity to add their views about what steps, if any, should be taken. The options fall into three broad categories, which are covered in the interim report. First, there are steps that could be taken by the House itself, without the need for legislation, to provide for retirement. While there may be some disadvantages to this approach, at least it could be done quickly. It would provide a means of retirement that many Members would like to see. The other two options would require legislation. One option would provide the legislative underpinning for permanent voluntary resignation. The other would involve an element of compulsion, which could involve, for example, Members being excluded on grounds of age or length of service or the holding of elections to determine which Members should remain in the House.
I should touch briefly on the subject of financial provision, simply in order to rule out any payment for retirement for the time being. In the current context it would simply not be understood by the British people.
Although the context is clear, today's debate is not about wider reform. It is not even about the Government's view on whether and how Members should be allowed, or made, to leave the House. Today's debate is about consultation, about hearing the views of as many noble Lords as possible and about giving them the opportunity to respond to the options set out in the interim report. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral and I look forward very much to hearing those contributions.
One great problem that we always face is that, when we consider retirement or some other arrangement, we feel that we should wait for the big Bill that will reform the House of Lords as then all such problems will be settled. Although every now and then my hopes rise-they are about to rise again in the coming year-we cannot wait for the passage of a Bill for reform of your Lordships' House. Even if a Bill comes before us sometime in the summer of next year, it will have to go through at least two rounds before the Government find the courage to use the Parliament Act 1949-which I very much doubt they will-so the status quo may continue, much to my regret. We will have to tackle the problem of the size of this House independently of the future reform of your Lordships' House. For that reason, we ought to take this interim report very seriously and hope that the committee will come back with some more solid proposals.
I want to lay down a couple of principles. First, nobody should be compelled to go away, under any circumstances. We should have no scheme under which people feel coerced to leave your Lordships' House, because we are a self-governing House and our principle of self-government also means respect for every Member of the House, regardless of what and how much they do. That principle has to be respected. Secondly, if we
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I know that I am advocating a very mild, passive road, but I think it very important for the smooth working of your Lordships' House that we respect each other and let each person decide how much he or she will contribute to the House while they continue to be a Member. That leaves us with those who want to retire voluntarily and those who-we could mildly suggest this to them-have not been coming to your Lordships' House, who could perhaps be asked to consider that possibility.
We could suggest that, if people retire, they could continue to have access to the House's facilities, which may be a point that they are worried about. If people could be allowed access to the facilities of the House, they may be willing to take retirement. Although they cannot attend your Lordships' House, they may be able to do other things, so that would be one way out. Perhaps a letter should go out to ask people whether they wish, for whatever reason, to take permanent leave of absence, as it were, to see what the response is.
There is an urgency to the matter, because the size of this House-including the number of working Members of this House-is getting beyond management. We are overcrowded. I know that we are only excluding people who do not come here any way, but sooner or later we will have to discuss other means of managing the size of the House much better on a day-to-day basis. However, that is for another day.
In the mean time, if we can get people voluntarily-almost gladly-to take leave of the House, that would be very welcome. I hope that we will make it non-discriminatory and will do it with as much dignity and respect for the Members of your Lordships' House as possible.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who has almost made my speech for me, but as a member of the working group, I wanted to add a few words about how I have approached this matter. I start by saying that it has been a pleasure to serve on the group. We are very ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, and have very good support from the staff here.
The group is working well together. We are committed to this House, to its work and to its Members, and we seek to arrive at a set of proposals which can command confidence and a broad base of support. We are considering the reduction of the size of this House as it is currently constituted. Although reform of this House is, in a way, the elephant in the room, we, like the noble Lord, Lord Desai, do not believe that this is a matter that can be left for resolution until that time.
There is no doubt from our consultation, both formal and informal, that there is an overwhelming view in this House that ways have to be found to allow
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We have received more than 80 responses, but it is always difficult to know what to infer from the people who did not respond-whether their silence is an indication that they are happy with the size of the House. I think not; informal views, as well as those responses to the consultation, suggest not. There were many comments to the effect that there should be no further creation of peerages. With the new intake hotly tipped to be announced next week, that seems a forlorn hope. In any event, although there is an issue about the number of new Peers coming to this House, I do not think that any of us can really contemplate trying to pull up the drawbridge. If our main and enduring purpose here is to provide expertise, we have to ensure that the expertise is up to date.
Suggestions on how to deal with the issue can broadly be split into two categories. The first is what I call "compulsory redundancy", although that is not a term I would use formally. There were suggestions that people over a certain age, or who had a certain length of service, or who fell under a qualifying attendance threshold could be disqualified. Some noble Lords thought we should have elections based on the precedent set by the hereditary Peers. Perhaps predictably, for each of those suggestions, there was a persuasive counterargument showing why it would not work.
The second set of suggestions favoured a more voluntary approach with provision for permanent leave of absence in which Members could retain not just their title but the ability to come into the House and use some of the facilities, as the outgoing hereditary Peers were able to do. Many Members took the view that realistically this is not an option that would be taken by large numbers of noble Lords-the point made very effectively by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. If the aim of the House is to reduce the numbers significantly, this option would probably have to be encouraged by agreeing a modest pension or a one-off compensatory payment based on recent attendance, although whether, in the current financial climate, it would be possible to match the reality with noble Lords' expectations, I am not sure.
My definite preference is for a more voluntary approach. I believe it sits better with the ethos of this House to find its own solutions to the problem. Evolution has always worked better than revolution with regard to this House and might be more swiftly agreed than something more prescriptive. I hope noble Lords will give particular attention to the innovative suggestion of what we call "associate membership" of the House. This would be entirely voluntary and would enable noble Lords to continue to use the House facilities, retain membership of all-party parliamentary groups and be considered for Select Committee membership where their expertise would be useful to the House.
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I genuinely believe that this idea has much to commend it and would like to hear from other noble Lords. It is a way of reducing the overall size of the House in a way which keeps the expertise and is not unduly harsh on people who have given many years of active and loyal service to this House.
Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, I suspect that many of us are going to say almost exactly the same thing, perhaps using slightly different words. The final paragraphs in Appendix 2 of this welcome report contain the key message that any permanent leave from your Lordships' House would require primary legislation, which is, as we know, not an impossible task, but one that does not necessarily lend itself to speedy action, and speedy action may be what is needed.
A wider question has already been touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Desai. It is familiar to all your Lordships. It is whether reforms, such as the ones suggested in this report, are to be abandoned in view of the radical reforms that we are promised. I am of the opinion that smaller reforms are urgent and desirable. The rationale for this is that whatever is contained in the Lords reform draft Bill that we are promised for the new year, there will have to be a transitional period. No one denies this, but the question is how long that period should be. Pro-election advocates say, with some irritation, that we have been deliberating House of Lords reform for at least 100 years and that it is high time that we got on with it. However, even they cannot deny that reforms, both radical and incremental, have been taking place. The 1958 Act and the 1999 Act have had a profound impact, and the House of Lords is a very different place because of them. Lesser reforms happen almost imperceptibly. They include changes in how business is handled, such as delaying powers, greater use of Grand Committee, more opportunities for shorter debates and the appointment of a Lord Speaker with the attendant outreach programme, which is having an exponential effect on educating the up-and-coming generation on what this House does. The perception that this is a House shrouded in outdated and outmoded conventions and in need of a thoroughgoing shake-up may not be entirely accurate.
The second point that should be made is that the way in which parliamentary democracy works in the UK is a result of hundreds of years of practice, trial and error, and change and reform. Each change has had to bed down and, in some cases, has been reversed. The essential point is that the unknown and unintended consequences of major changes to the unwritten constitution are only revealed over time.
What is needed is a combination of care and caution when tampering with the legislative process. Profound change over the past 50 years or so and the need for a decent transitional phase from one system to another persuade me that we should be looking not only at incremental reform, but at implementing such reforms as quickly as possible. A House of Lords with an efficient machinery within and without the Chamber that enables it to carry out its major functions better is what we must aim for.
This brings me back to the question of taking permanent leave of absence. I do not think that anyone would seriously disagree that this House is overwhelmingly full. As I have said, this is the largest second Chamber in the world, which makes us liable to ridicule and justifiable criticism on grounds of cost alone. Closer examination shows that perhaps one-third rarely, if ever, attends.
Broad estimates indicate that this House needs about 400 to 450 Members to service the committees as they currently exist, and to take account of the fact that this is a part-time job. We will have close on 800 Members by the end of this year and the political leaders wish to do something-hence this report from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, and his team.
Several solutions are listed in the report and I should like to put forward three non-mutually exclusive suggestions that again have been adumbrated by previous speakers. First, primary legislation should be introduced to allow those who wish to take permanent leave to do so. The second would be to stop appointing new Peers of whatever grouping: just put a moratorium on the whole process. While one is at it, why not disassociate the conferring of a peerage with an automatic seat in this House? The third, as has already been said, would be to introduce different categories of Peers such as associate Peers. If we can agree that perception is important if not all, perhaps we could have a system of categories such as working Peers, regular attendees, non-working Peers such as those who attend, say, less than 10 per cent of the time, and retired Peers who have not attended at all, let us say, within the past 12 months, with, of course, suitable exceptions for those who have been temporarily infirm. Again, I have said in this House that more than 30 Cross-Bench Peers have not attended in the past two or three years. I would be extraordinarily happy to write to these people-sensitively, nicely and politely-to ask, "What's up?".
All the above, including, as has been said, associate Peers, could have varying degrees of access to the Library and Dining Rooms, and attend the Chamber, perhaps by sitting on the steps of the Throne but not by actively participating. This would be a start and would at least indicate to the sceptical public that not only is this House aware of the torrent of Members but that it is doing something about it. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, and all those on the committee for looking at this problem in such a constructive way and for allowing the maximum opportunity for consultation.
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, I wonder whether the experience of those who have occupied this Bench may be of some assistance as we consider
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One downside is that time spent on the Bench may be quite short, depending on the age of the new Lord spiritual, who could have spent anything up to seven years or even more as a diocesan Bishop before joining your Lordships' House. It is therefore not uncommon for a Lord spiritual to serve only a three or four-year term, and indeed for some considerably less before their retirement arrives. So it is worth noting that the same might apply to parts of your Lordships' House if an upper age limit were installed that was too low.
While Bishops will do their utmost to attend this Chamber as frequently as possible, it has to be recognised that another downside of being a Bishop in active service is that time spent in this Chamber can be squeezed because of diocesan, regional and other national responsibilities. But a real positive in having serving Bishops means that membership is linked to an active occupation outside the Chamber. I know that there are others in an active occupation outside the Chamber, and it means that, certainly in our case and that of other noble Lords, the Member is in contact on practically a daily basis with a wide cross-section of the community. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln, not in his place today, pointed out in his submission to the Leader's Group:
"The difficulty with Life Peers must be that although they may have been appointed on the basis of their then current activities and abilities to represent certain interests and concerns, they continue to sit in the House long after those criteria are no longer being met".
However, neither I nor my brother Bishop from Lincoln would want to say that all life Peers should stand down when they cease to hold the offices or exercise the roles on the basis of which they were appointed; certainly not. Indeed, very occasionally certain Bishops have been granted life peerages on retirement from their dioceses. They go on to contribute widely to the life and work of your Lordships' House, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, is clearly a fine example of this.
I warm to the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, summarised in paragraph 13 of the report, that a voluntary permanent leave of absence be offered, which in effect amounts to leaving the House. If it is thought that to delay change again is unbearable and that an ever expanding number of Members of your Lordships' House is beginning to look ridiculous in the eyes of the general public, one example from the Bishops' Bench might be considered: a temporary cap on numbers entering the House, at least until possible further reform is in place. Until such time, could consideration be given to a one-in one-out policy on
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Finally, and again based on but not exclusive to the experience on this Bench, I hope that careful consideration will be given to the many benefits that can link membership of your Lordships' House to an active occupation outside the Chamber.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for giving us this opportunity to debate a vital subject, and I should like to spend a few moments explaining why it is important. Like my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market, I and the other members of the Leader's Group, all of whom are now present in the Chamber, are here primarily to listen. We shall meet tomorrow morning to go through each and every contribution that is made to the debate to ensure that we learn all the lessons that can be learnt from the points made.
First, I am acutely aware of how sensitive an issue this is for all noble Lords. When my noble friend the Leader of the House first asked me if I would chair the Leader's Group and showed me the mission statement-to identify options for allowing Members to leave the House of Lords permanently-I was reminded of an impossible task I was once set by a previous Prime Minister, who said, "But, David, as a lawyer you can always explain the inexplicable"; I should have added, "and defend the indefensible". I am grateful to all of your Lordships for the confidence and support you have been good enough to show me and my colleagues on the Leader's Group in our taking on of this difficult task. I am also grateful for your willingness to share with us your experience and understanding of this House. I thank also the other members of the group for the wisdom, humour and openness which they have brought to our discussions.
In approaching our task of identifying the options for allowing Members to leave the House permanently, I have been unsure about whether we are being asked to find a short-term solution to a long-term problem or a long-term solution to a short-term problem-an issue to which the noble Lord, Lord Desai, has already referred-and, until the Deputy Prime Minister's cross-party committee publishes its draft Bill, that will remain the case.
However, it is clear that there is an immediate issue which has to be resolved. We are all conscious of the increasing difficulty at times of finding a seat in the Chamber; of the increasing difficulty of finding a slot for an Oral Question; and of the occasions when the length of a list of speakers means that the time available for individual speeches is inconveniently short. Put simply, to quote a very great person, we need to consider how to manage our increasing numbers,
The written submissions received by the group are as diverse and wide-ranging as I thought possible. I should have expected that from a collection of independent-minded parliamentarians. The common
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Inevitably, as evidenced by the right reverend Prelate, the options proposed are influenced by our different experiences of the House and of life outside. Inevitably, some options are more realistic than others in terms of public policy. One objective of the Leader's Group in giving in our interim report the range of options proposed was to remind everyone of the wide range of views on a single issue which it is possible for thoughtful and principled people to hold.
My noble friend Lady Scott and the noble Baroness the Convenor have just outlined the concept of the associate membership. A number of other Members have already raised it. We look forward to hearing any further views on that.
The objective of today's debate is to hear the views of your Lordships on the range of options which have so far been proposed and perhaps to identify any other possible solutions. I am grateful to my noble friend the Leader of the House for facilitating today's debate. There will be an opportunity for everyone to consider submitting further written comments to the group-we have put a deadline of 23 November on that.
Today's debate is a further consultative exercise. The Convenor spoke of an immediate moratorium on new appointments to the House. I recognise that that may seem like a sensible move to some because of the need to manage our numbers, but it is not an idea which has very much attraction because the expertise and currency of your Lordships' House have to be refreshed from time to time. To say to our political leaders that they will no longer have the opportunity to reinforce their troops, particularly when the political landscape changes substantially as it has done this year, would be a significant step which I would not want this House to take. I should mention to the Convenor that there is a view that we should separate the honour of a life peerage from the role of a Member of the upper House.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: Perhaps I may ask my noble friend two very short questions. Whatever may be the option, is it not wholly essential that the due process by which any Member of this House has imposed a leave of absence should first be accepted by the House? Secondly, in respect of all our peerages, whether life peerages or hereditary peerages, ought not the approval of Her Majesty the Queen be sought as a matter of courtesy?
Lord Hunt of Wirral: The best and most direct answer to my noble friend on his two questions is that we will obviously report with our recommendations. If legislation were required, it would have to be debated in this Chamber and eventually have to go to the Sovereign for Royal Assent.
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, in following the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, I express on my own behalf-and, I am sure, on behalf of all Members of the House-our appreciation of the work that he and the small group of noble Lords mandated by the Leader of the House have already done, and the help that they have already tendered your Lordships' House. Although he has indicated his optimism that a degree of consensus is arising, the very fact that we have this interim report and are having this debate suggests that we have not yet arrived at that consensus. I hope that after today his optimism will be fully justified, because it would be helpful. I have some doubt about it, not least because, in addressing this relatively limited issue of permanent retirement from your Lordships' House, another issue keeps getting folded in-the size of your Lordships' House.
There are a whole lot of contributory factors to the size of your Lordships' House. If we look at this proposal as the solution to the problem, we may be tempted not to move forward on something that is itself a reasonable proposition simply because it will not solve the wider problem-that being that a substantial number of new Peers continue to come in. Until we turn the tap down a little, if not off, simply working with the plug in at the other end will not necessarily provide a resolution.
I also have a certain scepticism, mirroring that of the Leader of the House, as to how far these changes in retirement will make a difference to the number of noble Lords who are active in the House. After all, if we simply ask those who are older or unable to be present or to participate in the work of the House to take retirement, it may reduce the overall numbers of the House, but it will make absolutely no difference to the number of noble Lords present at Question Time or to the crush that many noble Lords feel. Those who are not here then will still not be here. It will also make no difference in the main to the expense of running the House-although, in deference to the noble Baroness, I do not think that your Lordships' House, despite its size, is anything like the most expensive Second Chamber in the world. In fact, I suspect that it is substantially one of the cheapest. Dealing with the question of retirement will not make much difference to expense or to the number of noble Lords on the Benches during Question Time, but that does not mean that we should not move ahead with it for its own sake.
A lifetime commitment is increasingly unusual in today's world. We heard an announcement today from the Leader of the House about what we very much look forward to and hope will be a lifetime commitment-that of the young prince and his belovèd. Lifetime commitments are a very rewarding thing when people
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Similarly, with the improvements of medicine and all sorts of other things, there is an increased average life expectancy and an expectancy of productive, active years in your Lordships' House. But sadly, as will be an increasing problem for all of us in society, there is an increasing number of years that are not particularly productive. Those can be problem years for Members of your Lordships' House and their families as well as for commitments to loved ones and other sets of responsibilities. Many may, because of increasing physical or mental frailty, no longer feel able or be able to serve in your Lordships' House. It is appropriate to create a context in which it is possible for those who wish to, and in some cases perhaps should, for various reasons, to take permanent retirement from your Lordships' House. However, there is concern among some who would otherwise take retirement about some specific issues. First, there is sometimes a concern that if one left the House it would by a factor of one reduce the number of Members of one's party. As the right reverend Prelate has observed, that may make an adverse difference, and colleagues may wish for a Member to stay when he or she may wish to go because it affects the number of votes-and sometimes these can be quite substantial. I therefore wonder whether there would be some value or assistance to your Lordships' House if an understanding was reached, first, that there would be an overall broad limit on the number of its Members and, secondly, with due deference to the numbers in political parties relating to the votes in the last election, a principle previously enunciated, that when a Member took permanent retirement, it would in some way affect the number of nominations that came forward from the Prime Minister.
For a significant number of Peers-this is perhaps more true of some backgrounds rather than of others-the giving up of remunerative work for quite a number of years by Members of your Lordships' House has left them substantially poorer than they might well otherwise have been. I will make one comparison, which I hope that noble Lords will kindly attribute to the strange background I come from rather than thinking it a proper comparison with your Lordships' House. I remember discussing with a former member of the IRA the problems he was having after the ceasefire and the end of IRA activities. He said, "There is, you need to understand, no pension scheme for the IRA". That is of course a wholly other circumstance, but there is no pension scheme for Members of your Lordships' House and there are noble Lords who do not have substantial personal resources but who have, under command from Her Majesty and with a real
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The noble Lord the Leader of the House has said that no more money is available. However, I am not so sure that, in the country at large, the question of people who have given service having some modest recognition of that when they retire is quite such a difficult issue as some Members of your Lordships' House think, particularly if it is linked to those who have had a certain minimum number of years of service and is related to the amount of service they have given in, perhaps, the last three years of their time. That may be an important issue. Mention has also been made of the considerable attachment that many noble Lords make to the House and to their colleagues. If there was some kind of arrangement allowing them to return to the House to engage with colleagues and use some of the facilities without being involved in any way with the process of legislation and scrutiny, that might well fulfil some of their own personal attachments but would leave a lower number of Members of the House.
There is and will be much more to say about this, but I simply caution, as I did earlier, that in considering this question we should not make the best the enemy of the good in the sense of trying to make this issue of retirement resolve all the other issues about the size of the House and the way it functions, then set it to the side because it simply does not accommodate all of those requirements. It has a purpose in itself and, if one made progress on that, there is nothing to say that the wider questions cannot be returned to at an early stage when we are clear about the proposals for your Lordships' House, even before the end of this Parliament.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, having listened to the remarkable contribution of my noble friend Lord Alderdice, it made me realise how complicated this whole issue really is. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, who has shown today how conciliatory and understanding he is, has done a tremendous job with his committee to produce this interim report. However, I am not going to be very helpful for I am bound to say that I find the whole subject totally disagreeable.
We have all experienced some riveting debates in this House. I look back on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which always sticks in my mind. Contributions were made to it by, for instance, the noble Lord, Lord Winston, the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, who I see is in his place, the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester. They have produced some of the most stimulating, intellectual and philosophical debates to which one could ever aspire to listen, everyone trying to find a way through a deeply difficult ethical subject. No other House, no other Chamber, in any other parliament in the world could produce that form of debate and one of that quality. Many people know this and acknowledge it.
But now what is going to happen? Reform of your Lordships' House is being peddled around the political arena again, in an effort to find some so-called perfection. All that we have is going to be thrown to the birds if we are not careful. Now we are debating how your Lordships can leave your Lordships' House when your Lordships have had enough-or, worse still, when others think that your Lordships have had enough. If I were not in this Chamber, I would suggest that we have all gone stark staring mad, but that might be considered to be somewhat inappropriate language for your Lordships so I will temper it by saying that I think that your Lordships may be misdirecting yourselves.
The fact is that anyone who is made a Peer is in receipt of a huge honour, one that is bestowed on them by the monarch. When your Lordships are made a Peer or inherit a peerage, the patent that each Peer receives says that he or she is elevated to,
It is difficult to see how a Peer should henceforth be able to say, "I think I've had enough now. I should go off and do something else". Frankly, I find the proposal little short of offensive. Even if we were-wrongly, in my mind-to allow Peers to go, how would you get them to go? The usual way, I suppose: offer them money. A thousand pounds? No, there would not be any takers there. Five thousand pounds? None there either. Fifty thousand pounds? Well, there might be a flicker of interest. But how can you be paid not to do that which you have not been paid to do in the first place? The public row would be something terrible. Can one imagine how the Daily Telegraph would love it, and would probably misdirect us all at the same time? Or would we have a Star Chamber, in which various Peers sat in judgment on their colleagues and said, "He's past it, poor fellow. He's over 80"? I suppose that at this point I should declare an interest. All I would say is that there is nothing wrong with being over 80.
If you say, "Get rid of those who don't attend", that is fine, but they are not the problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said. If you say, "Get rid of those who don't speak", that is fine too-but they are not the problem either. It is the chattering classes who are the problem. Of course, there are too many people in the House; we have had to billow over to below the Bar. That is a pretty humiliating fact, but whose fault is it? It is the politicians'. That applies to the leaders of all the parties, including my own, and we have to live with that and realise that that is what has happened. They have made the absurd mistake of making too many Peers. That does not mean that we do not welcome each new Peer as he comes-of course we do-but it is a question of numbers.
They now say, "Help, help, we've got to do something about it". People say, in that curiously absurd phrase, "Well, we are where we are and now we must proceed from here". That is a way of saying, "We have made an appalling mess of things but let's not refer to it. Let's
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As usual, it is the politicians who have mucked it up. You cannot continue to alter the constitution just because politicians have played fast and loose with the arrangements. I hesitate to say it but these absurdities never happened in the "good old days". By the "good old days" I mean the very good "good old days", before the Life Peerages Act 1958, which some of us remember, even though most of your Lordships were only in knee pants. Then there were arrangements such as the Salisbury/Addison rules, which enabled the House to get over the problems of the day. But along came a Labour Administration which got rid of practically all the hereditary Peers, the Law Lords and the Lord Chancellor. Some of us were ridiculed as silly old right-wingers when we said that if you start tinkering with the constitution in this way you do not know where it will end-and it is a fact.
There were around 1,200 Peers before the House of Lords Bill was passed. The number then dropped to 666; it has now got to 738 and rising. The result is that more than three-quarters of the Labour Peers who now sit in the House and more than half the whole House were made Peers under the Labour Administration. If we start messing around with the House again by inviting or allowing people to leave, with or without a cash handout, we will invite total ridicule. I am almost certain that we will also do so by allowing the House to be wholly elected. For reasons that we need not rehearse today, I am totally against that.
My noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach properly let the cat out of the bag last week. He was followed today by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. My noble friend Lord Taylor said that it was the coalition Government's aim to have a mostly elected but partially appointed House. I find that an astonishing announcement. It was never what the Conservative Party wanted. I suppose it is the pound of flesh that the Liberal Democrats extracted as part of forming the coalition. The Liberal Democrats, bless their hearts, have some very funny ideas. We may be bound together with them but they are a pretty arm's-length body-to remind noble Lords of a phrase used by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe last week about quangos.
We should remind ourselves that your Lordships' House stands high in the opinion of people and organisations. We are part of that. Do not let us destroy it further by allowing people to choose to buzz off when they feel like it. After all, there is leave of absence. I am bound to tell your Lordships that I think it is wrong even to consider this. It would be a constitutional disaster.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, he referred during his very interesting speech to funny ideas. For the record, would he like to comment on the views that he held at the time of the Life Peerages Act about the role of women in your Lordships' Chamber, and whether he has changed those views?
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Baroness has produced the old chestnut. I am bound to tell her that I was giving the views of a young man, and the views of young men are always wanted to be known, are they not? I gave the views that I held at that time, which is what I thought and what a number of other people thought. Of course, things have happened since then and I have changed my mind. Peers are allowed to change their mind; even coalition Governments can change their mind. I do not have any regrets about that and I do not have any regrets about saying it because, after all, the noble Baroness will remember that it is important to know what young people want; and I consider myself still to be in that category.
What a ridiculous situation the coalition Government have got us into. First, they make 50 new Peers immediately on taking office-nearer 60, I believe-and the House has to sit early so that they may all be introduced before the Summer Recess. Next, they tell us that they are going to produce another 50 new Peers, I think before Christmas. Then they suddenly discover that there is no room in the Chamber for them to sit, so they set up a Leader's Group to decide how to get rid of enough of the existing Peers to make room for the new boys. One does not need to be Einstein to have foreseen this farcical situation. If anyone thinks that enough Peers are going to absent themselves voluntarily, by taking leave of absence, to make an adequate impact on the seating problem-the bums on Benches problem-they must be living in cloud-cuckoo-land. Therefore, they are going to have to be sacked, and in order to sack Peers who sit here at the command of Her Majesty, as conveyed by their Writs, it will be necessary to pass primary legislation to which Her Majesty will have to assent. That has been confirmed by the Clerk of the Parliaments, and that will apply whatever grounds for sacking them are decided on.
I turn to the idea of paying Peers to go. The Freedom of Information Act is still with us-worse luck-and your Lordships may be quite certain that, the moment that the press get hold of a whisper about money being paid to Peers to go away and twiddle their thumbs at home, all hell will break loose. I wonder what sort of sum per Peer the advocates of this suggested piece of bribery had in mind. Any amount that I can envisage the Treasury being prepared to part with would be nothing but an insult to most Peers. Another issue for us hereditary Peers is that I do not see how any of us could decently accept a penny in view of how our friends and colleagues were sent packing in 1999. They were not offered a golden
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Incidentally, it might have been a good idea to have one hereditary Peer on the Leader's Group, but I do not suppose that it matters. I really am rather sorry for the group, which has been asked to perform a miracle and has produced a very readable report that says virtually that miracles are no longer available. What a mess this Government have got us into. I do not see any way out of it. Cancelling the next batch of new Peers would stop the situation getting worse, but it would not undo what has been done.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, there is no greater admirer of your Lordships' House than myself, but I think that it is agreed that the House has become too large. Perhaps I can remind your Lordships that this House is second only in size to the National People's Congress of China, which has rather a greater number of citizens than the United Kingdom. According to my research, this House is the only second Chamber in any Commonwealth country that is nearly double the size of the first, so there clearly have to be some changes to our size.
The interim report of the group led by my noble friend Lord Hunt offers three main options. The first is an age limit, for which it is suggested that 75 might be the right age. That would get rid of about a third of your Lordships-some 250-and the size of the House would be about 500. On the face of it, that may be a sensible suggestion, but as we have heard from many of your Lordships-and as has been demonstrated by my noble friend Lord Ferrers-there are many in this House who are capable of giving virtuoso performances well beyond that age. However, a limit is certainly something that your Lordships must consider. On the second option, there is general agreement that a Peer who does not attend the House should not be allowed to remain. That must make sense. The third option is to consider length of service. To achieve a cut of about a third, the length of service would have to be 15 years. In my case, I would have overstayed my welcome by at least twice that amount-although some of your Lordships might therefore think that option to be a good idea.
However, whatever option is chosen-I perhaps prefer one defined by age-there should be transitional arrangements. We have heard from my noble friends on the Front Bench that there could be a form of grandfathering-so grandfathers, and even those who are not grandfathers, would be allowed to stay-which must make sense. However, we need to consider that, if High Court judges and right reverend Prelates have some age limit, such a limit must be sensible at least for any new Peers coming into this House.
My main point is that, if we do not come up with a sensible way forward, it will be imposed by another place. We cannot debate out or ignore reform. We know that something is coming. Unless we engage
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While I do not think that there should be a moratorium on new Peers, I plead for some restraint on the numbers who are appointed to this House. If we have too many Peers, that will complicate how we take reform forward.
Finally, I thank my noble friend the Leader of the House for providing an opportunity for this debate and, in particular, for the fact that the debate is untimed. If there is one example of why debates in your Lordships' House need reform, it is the debate on reform of your Lordships' House that took place on 11 October-for which I was unable to be here-when each speaker was allowed two minutes. The business managers for both the Government and the Opposition should be ashamed of that. I thank my noble friend for producing the report, which is welcome and should be taken seriously. I enter a plea that, if we do not work with another place to come up with sensible ideas for reform, those will be imposed on us without our having any input into what happens in the future.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, because I absolutely agree with him that if we do not do something ourselves, we will have change visited upon us. There has been an air of unreality in the debate so far.
I should like to start by looking at this issue the other way round. I am absolutely certain, although my experience is not as great as some, that this House has a valid and crucial role in the constitutional and political life of our country. I am also persuaded that, come 5 May 2015, it will be significantly changed. Other noble Lords may take a different view. Longer-serving noble Lords have said to me, "We've heard all that before. We can sit tight and do nothing and wait and see what happens". I think that we should be much more practical and pragmatic, and think carefully about what the nation would expect from this institution come May 2015. I will answer that question by saying that by then the size will need to be reduced. There is a case for an institutional size for the House of Lords of between 400 and 450 Members. It would have a purpose and would do its job more efficiently. The question is how to get from where we are now to 5 May 2015 and to a position where we can withstand what might be coming in our direction from the House of Commons or wherever.
I will make one other broad point. I spent a lot of time working happily on the House of Commons Commission in my previous existence. It seemed that there was more of an institutional determination of what was in the House of Commons' interests among
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This committee has done excellent work. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is a very serious politician for whom I have enormous respect. However, he has been given a very difficult job. Someone has to come up with recommendations that we can vote on and agree, otherwise nothing will happen. If nothing happens, by 2015 something very unpleasant may be visited on us. I invite noble Lords to contemplate grafting grandfathering on to electing a third of the Chamber, and to contemplate what that would look like. We would start with 730, although by that time it will be 800, probably more-and then we would elect a third on top of that. One could go out on to the highways and byways of the United Kingdom and try to explain how that makes sense. I would not like to try that, because I do not think that it makes any sense whatever. The good thing about the coalition agreement and the changes that are being made is that we know that we have a five-year period in which to start thinking carefully about this. It does not make the decisions any easier, but we know the timeframe. We must make use of that time.
I always enjoy the virtuoso performances of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, but he recommends doing nothing-and doing nothing is dangerous. I invite noble Lords who do not believe me to talk to some of the staff. Ten days ago, I witnessed some of the custodians downstairs trying to deal with people coming in through a Peers' entrance. Many noble Lords do not, as they should, give notice of the fact that they have guests. Sometimes the guests come in big numbers. When new Members come in, it is a natural thing to want to bring in guests and show them round. That is important and I make no complaint about it. However, the system that we have down there was designed for a much smaller House, where people were much closer to one another and Members were much better known to the staff who protect us. I make clear that on this occasion there were no complaints, but the staff were overwhelmed. I do not know whether anyone has ever asked them whether in their heart of hearts they believe that they can give us the level of protection to which they have always aspired, but I think that a House of this size makes that impossible. Therefore, if this is to be done properly, serious new security arrangements, for example, will have to be organised. I could give lots of other examples of what would really need to be done if you were going to be thirled to a House as big as this, and it is not just a question of accommodation-Oral Questions would be the least of your problems. I think that we should also take the staff into consideration.
I have the great privilege of being the chairman of the Information Committee. I am still quite new at it but I enjoy the work and, with colleagues, I am responsible for looking after the Library. For the first time I am looking at graphs relating to usage that are all exponential. I can tell noble Lords about costs per Member and I can tell them how many Members are active. The answer is 420. They make proper requests for information at the Library and they receive a service. However, that service will be diluted. If we leave things as they are until 2015, noble Lords can forget the levels of service that they have enjoyed in the past unless we move to digital support mechanisms, although I know that some colleagues are not as comfortable about that as others.
Therefore, if we do nothing, we will walk blindfold into a situation in which we will be behind the curve when this tsunami of change occurs. It is only my view that such change will happen and other noble Lords may have a different view about it, but even those who do not think that it will happen will have to admit that there is a risk that serious change will come in our direction and, if we do not get ahead of the curve, we will deserve all we get.
I want to say two other things. First, I believe that using age as a basis for any change would be discriminatory. I would want to see a House that reflected the population of the country, and the fact is that people are living longer. We must not forget that, and I would want people here, as already happens, making sure that that point of view is available when important policy-making occurs. If the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and his committee decided to investigate the matter and to give people commissions to look into the issue, we could with a little ingenuity-I promise your Lordships that there are mechanisms, skills and procedures available-arrive at an index of activity that demonstrated whether people were contributing substantially to the work of the House. For my money, I think that we should certainly consider moving in that direction, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will look at that seriously. I would be very happy, working with the staff in the Library and others, to assist in that process if, as I hope, his committee deemed it a sensible thing to do.
My second point is that you have to be realistic about asking people to relinquish their roles here. Why would anyone in their right mind want to leave this place? We are looked after, it is comfortable, it is collegiate and it is warm in the winter. What is not to like about the House of Lords? It is a wonderful place to be, and anyone who wants to leave it must be off their trolley. Therefore, I think that one has to be practical, and I make an offer to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.
I think that it is possible-the skills are available to us within the House-to work out the marginal cost of Members' use of the Library and so on. There are businesses all over the country that do that kind of thing. They carry out cost-benefit analyses of how, if you reduce your staff load over the distance, you save money. It is an invest-to-save policy. There are distinguished civil servants among our number who have been doing that for years. Therefore, there is a
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Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: Yes, I have thought about that. It is an important question, but there are commercial and business standards for reducing workloads that are long-term cost-effective to an institution. I would be brutal and say that the needs of the institution are such that we have to change the system of introducing new Members-whether by elections or otherwise is a debate for another day. The figure could be worked out and justified by saying how we arrived at the per head offer. It would not be age discriminatory as that would be indefensible.
My plea to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is that we must do something about this, although I know that it is not for his committee to decide. He must come to a conclusion and make a recommendation. I hope that he will think seriously about the practical approach that I have suggested. I know that I may be in a minority, but if he does not do that, the danger is that we will stagger on to 2015, which is not in the long-term interests of this institution. I am convinced about that.
Lord Grenfell: We are all agreed that we need to do something about the size of the House, but I am having difficulty in following the noble Lord's logic. His party is a driving force behind the movement for the abolition of the House of Lords as early as possible, so why is he saying that we must do something now to reduce its size when his party's policy is to abolish it? I am not sure about the logic of his plea to do something immediately. That also applies to what the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said. Why the hurry to do something immediately if your intention is to abolish the House, which would take care of the problem?
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: The Liberal Democrat policy might be slightly out of date, but I thought that we were in favour of a substantially elected House, which is a long way short of abolition. Maybe the noble Lord knows more about it than I do. I am making a practical suggestion; I am not making any value judgments. I am giving a practical reaction to what I think will come from the House of Commons in the next five years.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral on his report, and indeed his committee on producing a number of options. People have been critical and said to me that this report should have come up with much more definitive proposals. I do not agree with that at all; I think that it lays out all the options that are open to us. They are all unpalatable; we have to choose the least unpalatable of them.
We have to ask: why are we in this position? There is no doubt that the previous Labour Government seemed to be committed to an elected House, yet they were determined to stuff this House like a Strasbourg goose with Peers. We have now reached the point, as has been pointed out, of becoming an object of ridicule. The problem must be addressed. If it is not, the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, is right that it will be addressed for us. It is our duty to try to grip this.
I am confused by our new coalition, which has come up with a rather strange formula that somehow the results of the election should be represented in this House. As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, has pointed out before now, this is the first time that the Government have a majority over the Opposition in this House, so I do not know why it is necessary to put in so many extra Members. We now have a Government who are more committed to an elected House-I totally oppose that and believe in an appointed one-than any previous Government have been.
We have to ask the Liberal Democrats, as our coalition partners, why they are particularly keen on an elected House and are, at the same time, putting forward many of their friends and supporters to become new Members of this House-they thereby exacerbate the problem that we shall face should we get an elected House. I know that my noble friend Lord Tyler follows me in this debate; perhaps he would explain to the House what seems to me to be that conflict of interests. I know it is irresistible if one has the opportunity to bring one's friends in here, but one has to look at the constitutional implications of what one is doing.
We have to look at how we can reduce the numbers. I shall start with what I am totally against-I do not think that some form of compulsory retirement of those who are too old is the answer. I think that a judgment based upon what age people are is an arbitrary one. There are certain Members of this House who are completely ineffectual and are quite young and there are other Members of this House who are quite ancient and extremely effective, and I think that we would miss them desperately if we produce some arbitrary age limit by which we pick them out. I think that length of service is equally arbitrary and should be discarded as an option as well.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that voluntary retirement is a wonderful idea, but without massive financial inducements I do not think we are going to see serious numbers leaving voluntarily, so we need to start looking at other options. I originally put down that I thought that a moratorium on new Members would be a good idea; I certainly accept, like my noble friend Lord Astor, that perhaps some restraint should be made on the number coming in. It is absurd that
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When we consider what we should do to address the problem of numbers, I come down to the least of all evils and that is a form of election, very similar to that which was carried out by the hereditaries to reduce their numbers. To talk in round figures, if a party has 200 Members here and it is thought to be right to reduce numbers in the House overall by 25 per cent, then they would vote for the 150 they felt should stay. Noble Lords would make a number of considerations in that election as to the contribution people have made-the amount that they attend the House, or whatever-but who is better to judge who should stay and who should go than our fellow Members within our parties, or, indeed, on the Cross Benches, where they would have to do the same thing? This would have the advantage of removing from the Executive the odium of making arbitrary decisions about who should go and who should stay, which commends it in many ways.
I do not believe, unfortunately, that we can entertain the idea of compensation in any form. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is absolutely right; it would be totally unacceptable to public opinion if we were to pay people for no longer being here. It is very sad that that is the case, because people being forced to leave this House would undoubtedly suffer financial hardship, but I am afraid that that is just the way of the world: it is very tough, but in the times of economic hardship in which we are now living, it would be completely unacceptable to pay people for having left this House.
We have to address this problem, we have to do it ourselves and we do not have the option of waiting for legislation to come along at some later date. This problem has to be gripped and it has to be gripped now.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I am very tempted to follow my noble friend and try to explain the massive underrepresentation of our party in the past, particularly when the leader of his party refused to make appointments from our Benches. As I understand it, all our new recruits have already committed themselves to vote for substantial radical reform when they come here, which is a step in the right direction.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and his colleagues, because it is a very good report. It has the advantage of brevity, which is not always the case in your Lordships' House, and I confess that I have changed my mind as a result of his and his colleagues' persuasion. I thought that we had a relatively simple issue here, and that as long as we avoided either excessive financial remuneration for those leaving or some enormously bureaucratic IPSA-like machinery, we could find some way through. I am not sure that that is the case.
I also thought that the key issue was the disentangling of the honours system from service in Parliament. I think that that is a critical issue. As the noble Baroness the Convener of the Cross Benches said, we must face up to that as soon as we can. Whether we have to wait for the wholesale reform that I will come to in a minute, I am not so sure, but I am persuaded by the report that the issue is a great deal more complex.
However, I am also persuaded, as is my noble friend Lord Kirkwood, that if we have to wait for the full reform package, which I estimate can come as a Bill-not a draft Bill-only in the Queen's Speech of May 2012, we must do something earlier than that. There must be an interim solution. That is why the report is so helpful. It has caused me to react in two distinct ways-which are, potentially, I have to say, in conflict.
First, noble Lords may have examined table 3 on page 11. I am staggered that in Session 2009-10, 79 Members of your Lordships' House did not attend on one single day. As I understand it, that does not include those who had taken leave of absence; 79 Members who thought that they still were active Members of the House never attended on a single day. Why should the taxpayer pay for them to continue to stay away? That would be totally illogical. As my noble friend Lord Alderdice has already said, they are not here, so there is no point in paying them to stay away; nor, if we now introduce new qualifications, should we encourage them to come, because that would make the situation even worse.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, has misunderstood me. I was suggesting that it would be wrong to pay them not to come in future, because they are not here anyway. That is all I am saying. I think that the noble Lord made a similar point earlier, and I am very sorry if he misunderstood me.
Why should we now recompense people who, frankly, turn up only to draw that allowance-who do not make a contribution, do not speak, do not ask Questions and perhaps only occasionally vote as the Whips tell them? That is not a real contribution to the work of your Lordships' House. Occasionally, I hear Peers say that we can take credit for being unsalaried. As has already been said, if you are not salaried, surely that precludes any redundancy payment or pension payment, by definition.
I was struck by the contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. We should consider very carefully taking a leaf out of the Bishops' book. The idea of one in, one out, is admirable. Whether the different party groups and the Cross-Benchers would find that acceptable I do not know. As I understand it, when those on the Bishops' Bench take retirement on an orderly basis, they do not get any golden goodbyes.
Incidentally, it is important to think for a moment about why the Bishops are here. They are not here to be the conscience of the nation; they are here because their ecclesiastical ancestors had to be in the counsels of the monarch of the time because they were hugely important landowners-feudal barons. They were important at Magna Carta. It was important to have them on your side if you wanted to go to war because they had a lot of money.
I am told on good authority that in medieval, feudal times, there were more Lords Spiritual than Lords Temporal, including abbots and abbesses. The first women in the English Parliament were pre-Reformation abbesses. That was nothing to do with the conscience of the nation, and predated the established church. I may be misled; I am a historian rather than a politician really, underneath, but perhaps there is a Henry VIII lesson for us here. If there is a political and practical imperative, that will have to take precedence over every other consideration. That is why my noble friend is so right: we simply cannot wait to have a new solution imposed upon us.
I did not think that I would ever say this, but I have to echo the words of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers-that is something new for me. I thought he was absolutely right. If I were really devious-and, of course, I am not-I would support the most absurd, ludicrously generous retirement package for those who cannot be tempted to go otherwise because it would undoubtedly increase and harden the public's support for reform of your Lordships' House, which I believe in. That seems to me to be the right answer. If we want to get this on the road, let us be ludicrously generous because that will increase the public's support for real reforms, but I do not think that is what is here.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord was kind enough to say that he agrees with something that I said, but he came to the most astonishing conclusion. Can he tell me how what I said made him come to that stupid conclusion?
Lord Tyler: My Lords, the noble Earl should take credit for persuading me, as he has this afternoon. He said that the public would never wear a really generous package to persuade people to retire. That has been echoed by other noble Lords. I believe he is right, but my view is that if we were to go down that track, it would simply increase pressure for the real reform package that I hope will come in due course.
I come to my conclusion. I believe that we are living in a fool's paradise if we really think there is a huge reservoir of public enthusiasm for your Lordships' House in its present form, just because the other place is so unpopular. Therefore, we have a risk ahead of us. If we were to introduce such a generous new regime to persuade people to retire in the interim period, it would damage the reputation of this House. If this issue is addressed with the usual mixture-which we have had this week-of self-satisfaction and isolation from public opinion by some Members, the public will say, "Roll on reform" and amen to that.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, can the noble Lord correct what may have led to a misunderstanding on my part? He appeared to be advocating a system of removing people, or people going from your Lordships' House, on the basis of how often they have spoken or intervened at Questions. As a former Whip, it rather filled me with terror to think that those reading it could think that their way of guaranteeing their place in future would be related to how often they spoke from now on. Would he like to correct that quickly?
Lord Tyler: The noble Baroness makes a very fair point. If I had had a bit more time-and I am conscious that there is a very important debate to follow-I would have said that I had a great deal of sympathy with the point made by my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom. There is a good case for the one in, one out idea that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn referred to, and there is a good case for the party groups and Cross-Benchers deciding, as was the case with the hereditaries, who should go. That is probably going to be the best way forward. As I hope I have indicated, I think a very generous financial package would be discriminatory, an age would be discriminatory and trying to make the package dependent on a certain level of activity in the House is, for the reasons the noble Baroness said, also going to be most ineffective. I have much more sympathy with my noble friend. That will surprise him too.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, my contribution will be comparatively brief because I am just recovering from a severe cold and I have a slightly troublesome cough that may well interrupt what I am saying.
More than 21 years ago, in 1989, I received a life peerage in the Birthday Honours List. I accepted it with great pleasure and pride. I regarded it as an outstanding honour. For someone whose father had been a primary school head teacher in a mining village in Durham county and whose grandfather was a miner, in my youth I could never have contemplated such a possibility. That honour and sense of pride has stayed with me through all the 21 years and more in which I have served in your Lordships' House.
I was grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for commenting on my contributions to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. I have had many wonderful experiences in this House. On behalf of your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology, I chaired inquiries into international investment in UK science, into research in the National Health Service and on complementary and alternative medicine. I take pride in the fact that the reports of those inquiries in every respect had a significant influence on government policy, as did the ad hoc Select Committee on Medical Ethics, which I chaired from 1990. It has been an immense challenge and a wonderful experience to be a Member of your Lordships' House over the past 21 years.
However, when I read this splendid report, on whose production I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and his colleagues, the possibility-I say no more than the possibility-of an honourable retirement began to have its attractions. I know that with passing years it is possible for one to take leave of absence, but one can still withdraw that leave of absence. On leave of absence, you are still, nevertheless, a Member of the House. I regard my Writ of Summons by which I have a peerage for life as something that I treasure and greatly enjoy.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, made a most wonderful and entertaining, if slightly iconoclastic, speech-he always entertains and adorns the House and is well worth listening to-but the point that I want to make
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If the committee or working party or Leader's Group comes out with a final report that makes such a retirement a possible option for Peers, in the fullness of time-I am not prepared to say how long-I would be prepared seriously to consider it. However, that would be on three conditions. First, I trust that, if an honourable retirement were possible, there would be no question of my relinquishing my title. If I relinquished my title, I can imagine the views of my friends and colleagues in the community in which I live. They would assume that in losing the title I had committed some serious misdemeanour, which is a matter that I would not be prepared to consider.
Secondly, I hope that we would have the opportunity of what are often referred to as club rights; that is, the right to a limited return to the House, as with the hereditary Peers, to entertain friends and family from time to time to lunch and to show them around the Chamber and the House of Commons. Today, I showed around one daughter, two granddaughters with their husbands and five of my seven great-grandchildren. I gave them lunch. It would be a pleasure to bring them back in a few years' time to see them as they grow up and to see how much they remember of the visit today. Club rights are important.
I know that several Members have spoken about financial questions, which are very tricky. They are sensitive and extremely difficult. As the Leader said, the public at large would not be at all enamoured of an idea whereby substantial payments on retirement were introduced. However, paragraph 39 of the report suggests:
"Most respondents suggested that any financial provision should be cost-neutral (that is, that it should pay out no more than a member might otherwise have expected to claim in expenses, on the basis of past patterns of attendance) and that it should be available only to those who had been regular contributors to the work of the House".
The other point that I would like to make is that I trust there will be no suggestion-not even a hint-of compulsion. When I chaired the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics, I recall that one of the reasons that we decided not to recommend the legislation of euthanasia was because elderly and vulnerable people might feel under unremitting pressure through feeling that they were a burden on their families or that others regarded them as ancient and no longer worthy of staying alive. They might then be
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Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, perhaps I may add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Hunt and the members of his committee on their very clear report which, as other noble Lords have said, is commendably brief and to the point. It contains a great deal of factual material from which no doubt each of us can find evidence to support our particular views or prejudices as the case may be. My particular view or prejudice concerns, first, the reputation of the House; secondly, the effectiveness of the House; and, to a much lesser extent, the number of Members of the House. I say that because, as many noble Lords have pointed out, the answer to that lies not here but with the activities of the party leadership.
I know that the House has important Second Reading business to conclude after this debate, so I will cut straight to the chase, and if the need for brevity makes me sound unusually brutal, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me. First, I entirely support the point made by my noble friend Lord Astor about the need for the self-regulatory framework to be followed. It is consonant with the way in which we have operated ourselves in the past and it enables us to keep control of our destiny. I strongly support that point of view.
That having been said, put simply, I am firmly of the view that there should be a compulsory retirement age for membership of your Lordships' House. In my commercial experience, it is a hard and unpleasant but inevitable fact that mental agility and performance decline with age. The point and the rate of decline may vary, but decline there is, and it is difficult to argue that the list of compulsory retirement ages set out in paragraph 19 of the report is based entirely on prejudice against age. It is not, it is based on experience. There are additional examples not given by my noble friend. When the directors of public companies reach the age of 70, they are subject to compulsory annual re-election. Of course I accept that there will be hard cases and exceptions to the rule, but the outside world has found a compulsory retirement age to be of value, and I argue that your Lordships' House cannot be an exception. For we are not just responsible for helping to run a company, a court or an ecclesiastical see, we are participating in the governance of our country, for which there can be no higher responsibility. Therefore the dignity of the House demands that each of us shuffles off the stage before we start dribbling into our All-Bran.
As to age, it seems to me that the age of 80 is pretty satisfactory, but if it is not to be 80, I would say 75 rather than 85. But I am afraid that I would go further because, like the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, I find it astonishing that, according to table 3 in the report, each year between 40 and 80 of our colleagues find it impossible to attend the House at all and take no part in our proceedings. I argued in my letter to my noble friend's committee that there is a need for a cross-party
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The process must be conducted with absolute dignity. The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, said much of what I want to say. It is not in our power to refuse club rights or the right to sit on the steps of the Throne: in effect, to refuse anything except the right to speak and vote in the House and its committees.
My noble friend Lord Hamilton put his finger on the issue of a financial settlement when he said that that would not be possible in the present circumstances. However, if in future years the financial sun rises a little, the proposals made by my noble friend Lord Alderdice may be worth revisiting. I accept the danger of this leading to nominal attendance and box ticking, but I argue that that risk is far less than the risk of doing nothing.
I take part in the Lord Speaker's outreach programme, an excellent innovation, and I never fail to learn from my visits to schools. In one sense, the classes are like a mirror in which one can see a reflection of oneself and this great institution, often with slightly uncomfortable results. For the information of noble Lords who wish to see how we are seen, the most frequently remarked upon website is TheyWorkForYou.com. Many A-level students go there to see how we, in our individual ways, are performing our roles as members of the legislature of the United Kingdom. While one should not be guided only by the views of 18 year-olds, it is not easy to argue the case that the laws of our land can be made, in part, by men and women of very great age whose attendance at Parliament can be spasmodic to say the least. My private view is that unless the House grasps this issue, there is a danger of a press campaign, which could rapidly run out of control, to the detriment of all this House stands for and the reputation of the many Members who give so freely of their time.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, it is a joy and a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. I apologise to the House because I had to leave the Chamber for a period during the debate and so have not heard everyone. However, everyone I have heard said something to commend itself to me. It is not a black and white issue. In producing the report, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and his committee must have felt that it was like treading on eggshells when trying to avoid people taking offence at some of the suggestions.
When I entered the House in 1983 there were 1,200 Members. I do not possess information about the assiduity of those people-how they applied themselves to doing the job-but clearly, although the House was large, its make-up ensured that it governed itself. The nature of the House today has radically altered from what it was 30 years ago. There are far more, to use a clumsy phrase, "working Peers" now, or Peers who look upon their membership of this place not only as an honour and a pleasure but as a duty.
I come to this issue on the basis that if we do not take a decision ourselves, someone else will take the decision for us. This has been said more than once. At the same time, I am not galvanised into saying that we have to do this by 1 April or even 1 September next year. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, whom I deeply respect from 20 years' experience in the House, would be wise to prepare the ground carefully before we take major steps.
The group should take on board the views of Members of this House before coming to its own view. We need to find out, for instance, how many people who are not vocal but who have an interest would be prepared to leave the House with what has clumsily been called a "package of honour". I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Walton, for drawing attention to paragraph 36 of the report, which in effect states that the group needs to take into account the view of those who would wish some recompense for leaving. If the average number of days on which the House sits is 150, and the average attendance is 120 days at £300 a day, a Member is entitled to claim £36,000. He would forgo that if he was no longer a Member. A calculation has to be made as to how one weighs that kind of consideration.
Of course, a variety of circumstances exists around the House. Some people have good pensions; others do not. There are people for whom coming here provides only a second or third income, but the nexus of money plays a part. If there is to be no element of compulsion in leaving the House, there has to be some incentive. I have not spoken to all my colleagues, but I have a strong suspicion that many, like me, fought very hard to get into this place and will find it particularly hard to leave with a thank you. That is not being mercenary, and I shall not talk about the figures.
Age is important in the make-up of the House; I am not saying that it should be a criterion but it is important. When I first came into the House, four of my colleagues on the Labour Benches-Manny Shinwell, Douglas Houghton, Fenner Brockway and Philip Noel-Baker-were well into their nineties. Manny Shinwell rose to his feet on his 100th birthday and made a marvellous and entertaining intervention. We have just celebrated the birthday of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who is 96 and attends every day. We know that he has physical problems, but he is as sharp as a tack. He speaks his mind and he votes-always the right way. He is steeped in it.
I have no hang-ups about age, but people are old and getting older, and because of the call of their party-this goes for Members on all sides-and their love of this place, they drag themselves here when they would be much better off at home. When the group
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On the question of a contribution, I have been as disgusted as everyone else in the House that the record shows that a number of colleagues-I think it was 79 or 80-do not attend at all. If that figure is broken down, I think we will see that it involves people on all Benches, not just one. People like that should be excluded from any inducement to leave, although we should take into account the non-attendance of those who have domestic responsibilities; we have to be a bit tolerant of that. We have to sell the package produced by the committee not only to the House but to noble Lords' families and friends. I think the phrase, "an honourable settlement", was used. We need something that is seen in general by the public to be worthy of this place.
Anyone who has been here as long as I have-and I have been here for nearly 30 years, and 10 years in the other place-will respect the institution. This is not a party issue, but an issue in which all parties are involved. I picked up from one or two contributions the suggestion that parties should have some say in how to reduce the number. If we have 750 Members at the moment, which in a few days will be up to 800, and we want to get that down to 400 or 450, there has to be an incentive to people to leave voluntarily. That is not a dirty word; it is a sensible way in which to meet the problem-and there is a problem because, with the number of incoming Members after the election, conditions are becoming if not intolerable then worse and worse. So on practical grounds there is a case for doing that. I know that this issue is all wrapped up in forthcoming consideration of the legislation, but, so far as I am concerned, the committee would be wise to be as broad as it can in its final recommendations. Before it makes them, however, it should trawl the options by questionnaire. We have those options in writing, but the committee should put a bit of flesh on their bones and consider them.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, it has been a fascinating debate. All sorts of views have been expressed, but there is one thing on which we can all agree-that the House is too big. I am not saying that its size prevents it doing its job properly. Obviously not. But I am saying that it could still do its job properly if it was half the size and that, as a matter of principle and common sense, this House should be smaller, not bigger, than the House of Commons, whose Members have to represent constituents. But while the House of Commons is coming down in size, this House is growing. Unless something is done, it will grow with each succeeding year.
This continual growth is an inevitable consequence of our being a nominated rather than an elected Chamber, because after every general election resulting in a change of Government, there must be an influx of new Peers if only to correct the party balance and give the new Government reasonable representation. We are not here today to discuss the respective merits of a nominated or elected House, although, clearly, after a transitional period, a wholly elected House would present no numbers problem. But we are here surely to recognise that, if we remain a nominated House, the size of the House and the cost of running it will go up and up and the public's blood pressure will go up correspondingly. Those who wish the present set-up to continue had better try to do something about it; otherwise those who do not wish to see the present set-up continue will be rubbing their hands, because they will see us sow the seeds of our own destruction.
One thing could be done at once. It would not reduce the size of the House but would make a modest contribution towards limiting its future growth. Legislation could and, in my view, should be introduced to alter the terms on which new Peers are appointed. They, or some of them, could be appointed without the right to sit in the Lords. That was hinted at as a possibility by the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza. They, or some of them, could be appointed with the right to sit if, and only if, a vacancy occurred when, as a result of deaths, the membership of the place fell below a cap set by legislation. The right reverend Prelate hinted at that. I then wonder whether various devices could be used to stop incoming Governments being able to use the excuse that they had to pack the place with new Peers just to give themselves proper representation. For instance, an outgoing Government could say that a number of their Members, while keeping their right to attend, would happily give up their right to vote. I am sure that there would be no shortage of volunteers. Sensible arrangements like this could do an awful lot to ease the pressure.
In my view, we have to think up ingenious schemes like that because the only real alternative-compulsory retirement on age or other grounds-would be fraught with difficulties and dangers and, in some cases at least, cause real unfairness. Let us be clear: it might be thought right to deprive a long-standing non-attender of the right to sit or, as suggested in the Steel Bill, to deem that he has taken permanent leave of absence. Surely, it would be another thing entirely to remove from the House a person granted a peerage for life by Her Majesty when he or she is willing and able to continue carrying out the duties of that office. To do so would, in my view, be nothing less than a constitutional enormity. I also wish to point out that it would be unfair to the House, because it is very difficult to think of any cull that would not sweep up and out of the House the useful with the not so useful: the elderly statesman along with the Peer of declining powers; the Peer who only comes to draw his allowance along with the Peer who comes rarely but, when he does, speaks on a subject on which he is the acknowledged expert.
I simply cannot imagine that my noble friend Lord Tyler would really like that outcome, although it would be the result of what he suggests. I really do not think that my noble friend Lord Hodgson would want that
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As for voluntary retirement, I am sure we can all agree that legislation to provide for this would be entirely proper and that there could be nothing wrong at all in the powers that be trying to persuade people to go voluntarily. In my view, however, such persuasion would not be very successful-I share my noble friend Lord Kirkwood's views on that-and it was for that reason that I wrote to that group suggesting some modest financial incentive.
Obviously my noble friend Lord Alderdice is thinking along those lines as well, but I have to disappoint him: I have changed my mind, like the Deputy Prime Minister. Originally, I thought of only a modest payment, not more than the equivalent of what an individual had drawn in allowances in the previous year, and I concluded that at the present time, of all times, it would be quite impossible to persuade the public that compensation, even at that modest level, would be appropriate. In short, such payments would be much more effective in inflaming the public than in persuading colleagues to go.
So, no compulsory retirement; no offers of compensation; legislation to provide for voluntary retirement; arrangements between the parties to change the party balance by some Peers, after an election, giving up the right to vote; and, most important of all, a change in the law so that becoming a life Peer does not necessarily carry with it the right to sit in this House-that is my modest contribution to a difficult problem. I close by thanking my noble friend Lord Hunt and his colleagues for all the work that they are doing on this matter.
Lord Cobbold: My Lords, may I intervene in the gap? I apologise for not being here at the beginning of this debate but, having listened to the very able contributions from all sides, I wanted to stress my strong belief that a fixed period of service is the best way to move forward and that a figure of 20 years is probably right, although it could be less-perhaps 15. That idea is better than the limit by age.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to wind up from the opposition Benches on this interesting debate. Today's debate has acted as a trailer for the Private Member's Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, on 3 December, which we are all looking forward to hearing the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, respond to-although I am not sure that he quite
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I have had the pleasure of being a member of the Leader's Group. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, for his chairmanship, which is of the highest order. As we have seen, there are, like many things in your Lordships' House, many different views among noble Lords in relation to potential retirement options. That has been seen in the evidence from the 80 or so responses that the group has received, it has been seen in this debate and no doubt it will be seen if substantive proposals are put forward to your Lordships' House.
We have heard some interesting contributions today. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn spoke about the "one in, one out" principle, a model which, although fascinating to your Lordships, many noble Lords are not entirely convinced of, though I detected some enthusiasm from the usual channels around the House. My noble friend Lord Graham and the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, made some interesting points about Members' expectations and the potential of financial inducements. That would be difficult, though, not only at the current time but at any time, although we await the response of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on that point, notwithstanding the lack of hope and expectation that he gave on that question in his introductory remarks.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred to the extraordinary debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the agreement, after a seven-hour debate, to extend the purposes for research that the authority could give. I was the Minister during that debate and I well remember the extraordinary quality of contributions, not least from the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, who played an absolutely critical role in the discussions.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, also recalled what he described as the good old days before the Life Peerages Act. I have to say that one or two of us here are quite well disposed towards that Act, as indeed we are to the noble Earl. He and my noble friend Lord Strabolgi offer wonderful examples of the contributions that Members who have many years' experience in your Lordships' House can make. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that they illustrate the problem of simply picking one option, such as an age of retirement. They show that what might, on the face of it, be a simple, straightforward approach comes with many difficulties.
The question of retirement from your Lordships' House is a very sensitive matter. If the House is to come to a view on this, it must be involved in discussion and eventual decision. That is why this debate is important. I hope that noble Lords will reflect on the encouragement that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, has given Members to continue to provide evidence and submissions to the group. I noted that my noble friend Lord Graham suggested the development of a questionnaire, which no doubt members of the group will want to consider.
Before we come to consider the retirement options, we need to reflect on the purpose of this second Chamber. Our debate has, to an extent, wandered somewhat wider than the question of retirement. It is somewhat ironic that the Leader of the House, though genuinely concerned about the size of your Lordships' House, is shortly to welcome another 50 or so new Members to it. I ask the noble Lord to address this matter. Could it be that he is rather more concerned to ensure that the Government win every Division that takes place in your Lordships' House than about the size of the membership? If that is the intention, it clearly undermines the ability of the House of Lords to be a revising Chamber. If a Government cannot be defeated and do not fear defeat, how can this possibly be an effective revising Chamber? I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that that is of much more concern to the public than the size of the Chamber.
The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, made some interesting points but it seems unlikely that the House would agree to mandatory retirement in the absence of a full reform package. I favour a voluntary approach, on which the group has come up with some useful ideas. I particularly commend the idea of voluntary retirement, which the noble Lord, Lord Walton, spoke about, or the associate membership advocated by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market. I hope we can make that associate membership as attractive as possible. It might embrace the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, which one can trace back to the 1960s and the intention then to place hereditary Peers in a category of non-voting membership whereby they would none the less be allowed to speak in debates. There are some excellent examples of how we might deal with that issue.
Of course, the proposals are mainly aimed at non-attenders or infrequent attenders, of which we have many. Noble Lords have referred to the 79 Members who were unable to attend one day of your Lordships' House in the 2009-10 Session. A further 68 attended between one day and less than 10 per cent of the sittings. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, would say that that does not really deal with the problem of space and facilities, as the Members in that category make very few demands on the space and facilities. However, it would be a start and might get our number down to about 600, so such a proposal is well worth pursuing.
A number of noble Lords have suggested that we go further. I am sure that when they come to substantive reform of your Lordships' House, the Government might be tempted to go for a cap on numbers and a cull of current Members in order to meet that cap. That clearly is one of the options being considered and is a sort of development of the right reverend Prelate's "one in, one out" proposal. However, I urge the Government to exercise caution in going down that route. Noble Lords have referred to the election of the hereditary Peers as a result of the 1999 Act to reform your Lordships' House. However, we should recall that the original intention was that no hereditary Peers would go forth into the new House, so in a sense the election was a reprieve for many hereditary Peers. That election took place in very quick time indeed, but even then one observed certain hereditary Peers changing
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I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, that we need to address the inevitable changes coming to the second Chamber and that we need to work with the other place. As an advocate of reform, I have always felt, though, that the successful passage of a reform Bill would be influenced by the generosity of any transition package put forward. Therefore, I would argue for a decent length of time to be allowed for as regards existing Members going forward into the new situation. That is what I have always understood the term "grandparenting" to mean. The problem is that I do not think that the members of the coalition who wrote that part of the agreement understood it in that way. Legislation that has gone through this House over the past 20 or 30 years is clear that grandparenting means that experienced members of a profession who go forward into a new situation where they are subjected to regulation continue as members of that profession. That suggests to me that active Members of your Lordships' House should go forward into the transition period. Therefore, I caution the Government against adopting any arbitrary approach to culling the number of Members in your Lordships' House. I think that it would be much better, particularly in the next year or so, for us to concentrate on a voluntary approach.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, in his excellent leadership of this group, has shown the way in which that might be done. I very much hope that we enjoy the support of your Lordships' House in taking some of those proposals forward.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, what a fascinating, good natured and good humoured debate this has been. Noble Lords have dealt with this extremely interesting subject that affects all of us with great sensitivity, which is what it requires. This is my opportunity to respond to it. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I will not give the Government's view, any more than he gave the Opposition's view, as this is still a consultative process and, clearly, we have not made up our minds on what we should do about retirement from this House or about a longer-term transition under a reform process. However, as I said earlier, a Bill will be published early in the new year, which will, no doubt, allow us the opportunity to examine these issues.
As for the Bill of my noble friend Lord Steel, which we are to debate on 3 December, the response that will be given from this Dispatch Box will not be my response but will reflect the carefully considered view of the Government on the merits of my noble friend's case. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, questioned the need to have new Peers. Other speakers in the debate admirably made the case for needing new Peers. We need to freshen up our numbers from time to time and we will be doing that very soon. If the only motivation for doing that is to allow the Government to win more Divisions, we would not be giving the Labour Party any extra Members at all. I can confirm that the Labour Party is currently the largest party group in the House of Lords, and after the new Peers enter the House it will still be the largest single party in the House of Lords. Even the coalition is still a minority and will continue to be a minority in the House as a whole.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I am afraid that is the case. If we take that into account, then the coalition Government have a practical majority in your Lordships' House. Over the years this House has developed a wonderful reputation as a revising Chamber. However, with the greatest respect, if the House is not able to cause the Government to think again, how on earth can it be a revising Chamber?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that I have absolutely no doubt that in the rest of this long Session the Government will be defeated on many occasions, not least with the support of Members of my own party and, indeed, of the coalition. As the noble Lord rightly says, this is a revising Chamber and we have all been here for long enough to know that that is exactly what happens.
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