I note that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde suggested that if were to look at that kind of approach the small parties be exempt from such a process. I noted as well the exchange between my noble friend Lord Ridley and the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, in specific regard to UKIP.

Such an approach, as has been already acknowledged, is not dissimilar to that followed by the hereditary Peers when it was decided to reduce their number. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hereditary Peers who are Members of your Lordships’ House. They make a very important contribution to our work. Any idea of removing the hereditary by-elections is a fundamental question about our composition which should be considered in the round as part of a wider approach to reform.

As to encouraging more Members to retire and the progress that we have made there, I pay tribute to the Lord Speaker. It has been rightly acknowledged that she has done a lot in a very sensitive fashion to encourage retirement. It is right that retirement becomes a fundamental part of our culture, because it should be recognised as a decision of public service when noble Lords feel that the right decision for them is to retire, when they can no longer contribute in the way they feel the public have a right to expect. I agree with my noble friend Lord Naseby that retirement is working. Thirty-five noble Lords will have retired very soon if we include those two noble Lords listed as having given their notice.

Other noble Lords put forward different ideas. The noble Lord, Lord Low, referred to attendance limits. The noble Lords, Lord Stone of Blackheath and Lord Desai, and others talked about withdrawing allowances as a way forward. They are all interesting ideas. I should be explicit that I categorically cannot support the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, that there should be some financial incentive from the public purse for noble Lords to leave your Lordships’ House.

My noble friend Lord Caithness raised some important points that contribute to our effectiveness and the perceptions that people have of us. My noble friend Lord Astor reinforced the importance of the Salisbury/Addison convention, which is so important to maintaining our legitimacy as an unelected House. I was very pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, state that the Liberal Democrats now respect the Salisbury/Addison convention. That is good news indeed.

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I will not get into the detail of some of the ways in which our function as a House is affected by size, except to say that I agree with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and others who made the point that, as we are right now, we are doing a good job. We often do ourselves down about how we are operating. Although I will not rattle through the various statistics, contrary to what some people say—certainly my noble friend Lord Attlee—if we look at 2013-14, when average attendance was at its largest, our average speaking time in Questions for Short Debate was seven minutes and more than 10 minutes in balloted debates. So it is not quite always as people would have us believe.

Although I say that, I was also pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, acknowledge that she agreed with my sentiments, expressed when opening the debate, that the gap between the headline figures in terms of our size versus our average attendance is muddying the public understanding about our work. That is important.

Baroness Hayman: I was not stressing that point; I was stressing that I believe that the size of the House interferes with the quality of work we do. I apologise for taking the time of the House, but I was really encouraged by the noble Baroness’s opening remarks that there was political dynamism behind doing something. I have to say that in these remarks she has talked about not being overambitious and not being fixated, but without political dynamism or real determination from the political leadership that she brings together, we will have an infinite number of discussions, such as I have taken part in in the past nearly 20 years in this House, and we will not make progress.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I hope that, in the remarks that I am about to make before I conclude, I will be able to give the noble Baroness some more assurance. All I have tried to do in my remarks in the past few minutes is to highlight that starting with some things—if we were to start at that juncture—would mean us biting off more than we could chew. I am absolutely committed to making some progress in this area. There is the political will from me, and there have been signs of that from the Opposition and the Liberal Democrat Benches. Although the Convenor is not here this evening, I know that the same feeling is there.

We need to make progress, and I think the noble Baroness has given us a compelling example of how we can best make progress through the legislation that she so successfully achieved in the previous Parliament. We have to take steps and we have to set the direction of travel, but we have to start somewhere. We will start by coming together with the group leaders, as I have already said, soon after the Conference Recess.

Baroness Smith of Basildon: I apologise to the noble Baroness, as I had hoped not to have to intervene. She has rightly said that the Official Opposition are keen to have such talks to make progress. However, I asked several questions about the role and commitment of the Prime Minister and some other issues around these talks, but she has not responded to any of them. Can she please do so in writing?

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I think I have responded to what the noble Baroness referred to in respect of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and the Conservative Government in our manifesto have committed in this Parliament to massive reform of the kind attempted in the previous Parliament, which failed because the House of Commons would not get behind the legislation. We will not try that in this Parliament. This Government and Prime Minister have given us an opportunity—a period of stability—to address important matters that are necessary for us to remain an effective second Chamber. That is what I want us to do, and I think we should seize that opportunity. It is an opportunity that I, for one, am very enthusiastic about and on which I want to see some progress. I will give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Campbell-Savours: The noble Baroness referred to all-party discussions. Twenty-six Conservative Peers are to be introduced to the House. If these discussions are to be meaningful, may I suggest a freeze on further appointments after these latest introductions? If there is no freeze, it will make a mockery of the discussions.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: As my noble friends behind me are urging me to state, of course I will not agree to conditions as I go into these talks. There will be 26 Conservative Peers joining your Lordships’ House, and I am very much looking forward to welcoming them. There will also be 19 Peers from opposition parties. That is because they are borne out of a Dissolution list that reflects the outgoing Government.

Lord Campbell-Savours: That is nonsense.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I feel really disappointed. We have spent about six hours today debating this really important matter. I felt that we started off with a real sense of willingness for us all to get together and see some real progress on this important issue. That is what I want to see us do. I want us to make progress in the areas where we ourselves have some control, where we can do something about it. Instead of us looking to the Prime Minister to come up with the answers, and looking for him to take control, let us make some progress. Let us have some action on those areas where we can make progress. That is what I want us to do. I give way, finally, to the noble and learned Lord, and then I will draw my remarks to a conclusion.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I am very grateful to the Leader of the House. I accept what she says, notwithstanding my party’s long-standing commitment to substantial reform. We recognise that that is not going to happen in this Parliament. She is right that we should therefore take this opportunity to work constructively to make progress, and we will enter these talks on that basis, in a constructive spirit. However, I would like the noble Baroness, having listened to the debate, to tell us what she thinks that progress will be: two years from now, will the House be smaller than it is now, the same size or a bit larger?

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, if we get together—the noble and learned Lord, the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, when he is in his new position as Convenor—and enter into these talks in the spirit that I believe the House wants us to enter them in, we will make progress. That is what I want us to do.

Motion agreed.

Life Peerages Act 1958

Motion to Resolve

9.03 pm

Moved by Lord Pearson of Rannoch

To resolve that this House considers it an abuse of the constitution for any new peerages under the Life Peerages Act 1958 to be conferred on persons intending to take the Liberal Democrat party whip until at least 12 new peerages under that Act are conferred on persons who intend to take the United Kingdom Independence Party whip.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch (UKIP): My Lords, I shall be extremely brief. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, chided me for not including the Scottish National Party in my Motion and remarks. The reason for that omission is that, regrettably, it does not want any seats here, let alone the 35 which its performance at the last general election would give it under the Liberal Democrat coalition policy.

One other important suggestion has been brought home to me during this lengthy but creative debate. We should not concentrate so much on the total size of your Lordships’ House as on average daily attendance. The Library tells me that, as of last week, actual membership was 775, but our average daily attendance is only 483. Yet, before most of the hereditary Peers left us in 1999, we numbered some 1,325 Peers, but the average daily attendance was only some 446, so it is not much more today. Of course, it is daily attendance that costs taxpayers money. Peers who do not attend do not get the daily allowance. If the public understood that better it might do something for our suffering reputation.

That said, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have supported me. Ever an optimist, I hope that the Prime Minister will take note of our debate. I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

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House of Lords Reform Act 2014

Motion to Resolve

9.04 pm

Moved by Lord Steel of Aikwood

That this House considers it desirable that on the Dissolution of each Parliament those members of the House aged 80 or over should retire from the House under section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014, save that such members should elect 12 of their number to remain as members of the House for the following Parliament.

Lord Steel of Aikwood (LD): My Lords, the Leader of the House has every reason to be pleased with the debate. We have taken note. We have been unanimous in saying that they have to get on with reducing the size of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Norton, was right to say that the various suggestions put forward are not mutually exclusive—mine certainly is not. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, is right that we do not necessarily need more legislation. We can do a lot by the will of the House. In that spirit, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

House of Lords Appointments Commission


9.05 pm

Moved by Lord Lea of Crondall

That this House calls on all political parties to work together, in conjunction with a statutory House of Lords Appointments Commission, to ensure that recommendations for future appointments to the House (including those arising from the internal mechanisms of the parties themselves) are made with a view both to enhancing the reputation of the House and to ensuring an appropriate balance between the political parties.

Lord Lea of Crondall (Lab): My Lords, many speakers have acknowledged the central feature of my Motion, which is that the size of the House, which has been the single most important point in the debate, depends on numbers coming in as well as number going out. I am glad to know that that is now generally accepted. I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

House adjourned at 9.05 pm.