The next steps: Draft Bill, Joint
188. We took a variety of evidence on the difficulties
of the transition from the current chamber of more than 750 to
the smaller final chamber. This is one of the most intractable
of the practical difficulties surrounding reform, and we found
that wishful thinking dominated many of the contributions we received.
189. The White Paper suggests that members of the
second chamber should be allowed formally to retire when they
feel "they can no longer make a full contribution".
They could be offered a "winding-up allowance" and "resettlement
grants" to help them to adjust.
Similar suggestions came from the Liberal Democrats.
190. Some witnesses suggested that the process of
reducing the number should be left to the passage of time.
According to the actuaries, an average of 18 life peers are
predicted to die each year over the next decade.
At that rate, and without any retirements, it would take more
than a generation for the chamber to reach its final size. The
appointments commission would find it difficult to achieve its
task of rebalancing the second chamber to make it more representative.
191. This approach does not seem to us to be satisfactory.
It is too dependent on a series of individual decisions by current
peers, and there is no guarantee that the "stayers"
will be those who have most to contribute to the work of the chamber.
The quality of accountability could diminish as a result. We propose
that a more active approach should be adopted, if the Government
are serious about second chamber reform.
192. The remaining hereditary peers should leave
the House when the Act takes effect. The hereditary peers have
contributed greatly to the public life of the country over many
centuries, but the whole basis for membership of the second chamber
is now changing and we agree with the widespread opinion that
the remaining hereditary peers should leave when the relevant
legislation is passed.
193. We recommend that the remaining hereditary
peers should leave the second chamber when the reform Act comes
194. We now turn to the existing life (or "patronage")
peers. We agree with many of our witnesses that since 1958 such
peers have contributed greatly to the public life of the country.
Their ranks include some of the most distinguished figures of
the past half-century. We believe that, despite the need to move
to a more legitimate and democratic second chamber, existing life
peers have a role to play in the future of the second chamber.
195. However, we do not agree with the Royal Commission
and the Government that the life peers should retain their membership
for life. We believe that the climate has changed, and that membership
of the legislature can no longer be seen as an inalienable individual
right. Our priority is the effectiveness of the institution in
carrying out its work, and in this context we believe that life
peers should be retained only for a further fixed period, to lend
continuity to a changing chamber. The Committee is also in favour
of some appropriate arrangements for a resettlement allowance
or pension which would be offered to peers who wished to leave
the second chamber, particularly where there is hardship. However,
we would not support a scheme which appeared to offer excessively
generous payments regardless of commitment or hardship in a hurried
attempt to reduce the size of the second chamber. The appointments
commission should make no appointments until this date. We are
relaxed about the retention of club rights.
196. We recommend that all life peers should remain
in the second chamber until the next general election. An appropriate
scheme of payments should be offered to members who wished to
withdraw from the second chamber. The appointments commission
should not make appointments until the next general election.
197. The question then arises of how the number of
life peers is to be reduced, as we believe it has to be if reform
is to proceed, and the reformed second chamber is to be of an
acceptable size. Here we follow an interesting recent precedent.
We have been impressed by the experience of the election held
among the hereditary peers in late 1999. This had the advantage
of drawing a clear line under the hereditary issue and giving
a dignified opportunity for those peers who wished effectively
to retire to do so. It is our sense that those peers who were
successful in the election have been endowed with greater confidence,
legitimacy and status by their victory.
198. An election or elections for life peers, held
at the same time as general elections, would offer an opportunity
for peers to consider in their own time whether they wished to
run for continued membership, propose themselves for nomination
or direct election, or to retire.
199. This transitional arrangement, we believe, would
enhance the second chamber's capacity to hold government to account,
and combine gradual change with the momentum of reform. It will
also ease the path for the Appointments Commission to produce
a more balanced and representative second chamber. There are various
options for the organisation of these elections; a single election
would be simpler, but would lead to the sudden loss of much experience
and expertise. The organisation of two elections would be more
complex, but would enable the transition to be more gradual. At
Annex B, we provide one possible model to illustrate the changing
composition of the second chamber as elections are held, to coincide
with the next two general elections (so reducing the number of
life peers to 250 in the first election, to 100 in the second
and removing them altogether by the time of the third election,
200. We recommend that one or more elections should
be held among the life peers, at the same time as general elections,
to reduce their numbers by stages to zero.