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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 251-ii i
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Political and Constitutional Reform Committee
House of Lords reform: what next?
Thursday 27 June 2013
Dr Meg Russell, Dr Stephen Barber and Dr Chris Ballinger
Lord Jay of Ewelme GCMG
Evidence heard in Public Questions 114 - 161
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Taken before the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee
on Thursday 27 June 2013
Mr Graham Allen (Chair)
Mrs Eleanor Laing
Mr Andrew Turner
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dr Meg Russell, University College London, Dr Stephen Barber, London South Bank University, and Dr Chris Ballinger, Oxford University, gave evidence.
Q114 Chair: Meg, Christopher, Stephen, thank you so much for joining us this morning. This is part of our ongoing inquiry on the small changes around House of Lords reform, so House of Lords Reform: what next? I warn you that some of my colleagues may try to lead you into big-scale questions on the second Chamber. Resist that temptation and they will do their best to resist that temptation. This really is about what we think we can achieve, what we can get consensus around, what we can get broad support around to move a few things on a little bit, not reopening the whole question about fundamental House of Lords reform.
Would you like to kick off by saying anything by way of an opening statement, or do you want to jump straight into questions?
Dr Barber: First, it is a really welcome development in the wake of what has happened with the 2012 Bill, and one that-certainly on the grounds of the proposals that have so far been discussed-seems to have some support across both Houses, which I think is welcome, and the idea that even fairly modest reforms can have quite a significant impact over time. On that basis, I suggest that not only does the Committee think about things in terms of a package rather than individual measures, which I think has been the nature of the discussion so far, but in terms of not just the immediate impact, but what might happen in years to come, given that we have been waiting for full-scale reform for quite a long time. In doing that, perhaps it might be instructive to think not just about the practicalities but the principles behind which a package of measures is proposed. For the most part, reformers have been less interested perhaps in the efficiency than the legitimacy arguments and so any attempt to increase legitimacy, perhaps even democratic legitimacy, would encompass the idea of principle, but might even increase the ability to command consensus across the Houses.
Q115 Chair: Meg, did you want to say a few words?
Dr Russell: I would say three things by way of context and to point to what I think are the key points. The first one, as you are well aware-and as Chris Ballinger will tell you-is that historically, as well as internationally, the facts tell us that large-scale second chamber reform is very difficult to achieve. Historically in this country, it has been the small incremental reforms, which were seen at the time as inadequate and simply dealing with the most urgent and problematic issues, that have succeeded and large-scale reform has failed. That is the historical context.
In terms of what those most urgent problems are, from looking at the evidence that you have taken so far and reading through the written evidence, you have been focusing a lot on routes out of the Chamber. I think the more urgent question is about routes into the Chamber and regulating appointments, not just thinking about how people leave. I don’t deny that thinking about how people leave is important, but the danger is that you somehow manage to reduce numbers through the kind of mechanisms you were talking about, for example, with Peter Hennessy and Philip Norton, of parties voting down their numbers and so on. You get down to a manageable size but if you are not regulating those who come in, the same problem will simply recur.
The third thing is that there has been a lot of emphasis on what can be done with legislation, and obviously the Private Member’s Bill going on at the moment and the things that Nick Clegg has said, but I don’t think you should rule out what can be achieved without legislation. Particularly that route into the Chamber is entirely in the hands of the Prime Minister and a lot can be achieved by the Prime Minister simply changing his practice. You can put a bit of political pressure on the Prime Minister and you can achieve a lot without the need for a Bill, although a Bill may be important for other changes to occur.
Q116 Chair: Chris, did you want to make a statement?
Dr Ballinger: I will say three things. First, despite what Meg says about the ability to do a great deal without legislation, I think really the key blocks, and particularly the nature of the membership of the House and writ of summons and the appointments process, need legislation to tidy them up, otherwise we are at risk of getting hamstrung for years to come on the complexities of peerage history and tradition. A short Bill that will draw a line under all that and say, "Right, this is how Members of the Lords are appointed and this is the basis on which they are appointed" would clear out all of that. I think back to those long discussions with the Committee for Privileges of the House of Lords about the nature of the peerage and whether you can or can’t exclude Members from 1999. We need to get rid of all of that now. We are not in the 13th or 14th centuries; we are in the 21st century and we need just to say, "This is how it works".
Secondly, everything you will discuss in your report has already been discussed in many reports in the last 100 years-and I can provide your Clerk with previous Clerks’ reports, if she likes, to save her time-but don’t be too bound by history, pick and choose what is relevant to now. The world is very different from when Lord Bryce published his report; it is very different from Lord Rosebery’s Select Committee; it is enormously different from when Lord Salisbury was debating this in 1956. So pick and choose the bits that are relevant for now.
Thirdly, do not worry too much about consensus. Everybody strives for consensus, but consensus has never been at the heart of House of Lords reform. All those piecemeal reforms that have gone through were enormously controversial at the time and deeply opposed. Thinking even of life peers, Lord Salisbury said, "We shall have to push it through against the opposition of the Labour Party, just as they pushed through their proposals in 1947 to 1949". The things that we now see as accepted were deeply controversial. Choose something that is appropriate, reasonably fair and achievable and then let people realise 20 or 30 years later that of course they agreed with it at the time.
Q117 Mrs Laing: Looking at consensus, the watered-down, final version of the Steel Bill, as it left the House of Lords, achieved consensus in the House of Lords. Dr Russell, you referred to something that you also said in your written evidence to us, that the lesson of history is that incremental reform matters and that it has a far greater chance of success than more ambitious proposals. That has become quite obvious to this Committee, which is why we are doing this inquiry. Would you like to expand upon that?
Dr Russell: I think I would like to invite Dr Ballinger to expand on that. I can tell you a bit about history-I have a chapter in my forthcoming book on history-but he has written an entire book on the history of Lords reform, so that might be better directed to him.
Dr Ballinger: I should probably table my book. On the question about incremental reform and consensus, I was looking back in advance of this hearing to the 1950s, just before life peers came in. There was a big question, do you have life peers or do you have a slightly wider Bill that limits the number of hereditaries and so on? The consensus in the House of Lords at that time was that the longer Bill, with a limit on the hereditary peers numbers, with election of themselves by themselves, would be absolutely the way forward, and probably even a cap on the number of life peers. There was widespread consensus among Members of the House of Lords at that time. It did not get through. It didn’t get through because it did not suit the House of Commons and it did not suit the Government of the day.
It depends how one looks at consensus. Often we find there is consensus on the principle, "We think there should be fewer Members, we think there should be a cap, we think there should be some kind of change", but when you get down to the detail, that consensus melts away or you find that it is a consensus among reformers and those who are very keen, as we found in the 1960s, but the consensus is not shared by the workaday people on the backbenches who say, "This will make the Lords more powerful not more sensible and we didn’t get elected to the House of Commons to do that".
Q118 Mrs Laing: Fair point. Dr Barber?
Dr Barber: I think Chris makes a very sound point on consensus. My interpretation of what the Committee is trying to do, which is small-scale reforms that can command consensus, is not the idea of getting agreement right across both Houses, but sufficient agreement to be able to get something-a package of measures-through. What are the limits of that, and what is the most ambitious package of reforms that can be achieved under current arrangements?
I also agree with the comments about how the relatively modest incremental change has altered completely the nature and composition of the House of Lords over time.
Q119 Mrs Laing: That is a very good point. Would you care to expand upon that, how those incremental changes-
Dr Barber: Again, Chris is a the real expert here, but if we compare the House of Lords today with the House of Lords 100 years ago, even 60 years ago, it is a very different beast in terms of the people who are in it and how they got there. There are very few hereditaries these days compared with appointees. There are far more cross-benchers or independents and so forth, and greater representation of women for instance, which pretty much reflects the representation in the House of Commons. That is all a result of incremental change, some relatively large, some much more minor. But I think in saying that, even a package of welcome small-scale reforms is not a substitute for properly sitting and looking at full-scale reform of the House of Lords in time, and obviously that is a question for other people on a different day.
Dr Russell: I agree with my colleagues that consensus is an overused term. If you go out seeking consensus in the broadest possible and the most proper sense of the term, you are never going to achieve it. Of course, it was the watered-down Steel Bill, as you referred to it, that got through the House of Lords and it was pretty weak. It was voluntary retirements and removal of those with serious criminal convictions, I think, nothing else.
As Chris says, often the problem is not the House of Lords, but the House of Commons. If the House of Commons could agree on what was needed, we would have had reform before now, and that is the serious obstacle. But some things can be achieved through a consensus of just one-the Prime Minister. I think legislation is desirable, and we can go on and talk about things like removal of the remaining hereditary peers and so on that can only be achieved through legislation, but I am a realist and I think you need to go for the low-hanging fruit. If there are things that you can achieve without a Bill, you should press for those as hard as you can.
Q120 Mrs Laing: Thank you. You talk about "obstacle", because the obstacle is the elected representatives of the people coming to a conclusion in the House of Commons. Obstacle to what? We are all trying to achieve a better House of Lords, a more relevant House of Lords, and you have all alluded to that.
Just to get it on the record, Mr Chairman, we all, around this table and people who pay attention to this issue, know that the House of Lords today is not as the newspapers describe it. Every time we have a state opening of Parliament, you have that same photograph of lots of elderly gentlemen wearing ermine, whereas day to day, if you walk through the House of Lords, let me put it this way, are you likely to meet an elderly gentleman wearing ermine-or who are you likely to meet? What is the difference between the House of Lords today and the House of Lords of 50 years ago? I don’t mean 100 years, we are not doing history. We are talking about how things are developing in the current age. What is the difference between 50 years ago and has any progress been made?
Dr Russell: That is a very nice example and it is not a frivolous or a trivial one, I think. I put some evidence to the House of Lords Information Committee a few years ago when it was looking at communications and outreach by the House of Lords, and I said perhaps one of the most important things-the most important thing-that the House of Lords could do if it wants to change its image with the public is for peers to cease wearing those robes on the day of the Queen’s Speech, because if they did not wear them those photographs could not be broadcast around the world and reproduced in all the newspapers, making people think it is this kind of antiquated institution.
There are undoubtedly lots of things that need to change, so I don’t think it is a perfect institution by any means, but if you go up there, you see pretty ordinary men and women wearing pretty ordinary clothes, going about their business of legislating and scrutinising, as you would in any parliament around the world. It has the same proportion of women as the House of Commons, it has larger numbers of minority ethnic members than the House of Commons does, and it is, ironically, more representative in party proportional terms of the way that the electorate voted at the last general election than is the House of Commons.
Q121 Mrs Laing: But is that ironic? It is deliberate, is it not?
Dr Russell: It is not entirely deliberate. One of the things that I noticed that was overstated, I felt, in written evidence to you was the extent to which there is a conscious rebalancing after every general election. I say in my evidence, and we said in our House Full report that was published a couple of years ago from the Constitution Unit, that it is a completely unachievable and crazy goal to try to change the balance in the House of Lords to match the last general election. If you did that every time, the numbers would be through the roof. David Cameron has not done that; Tony Blair did not do it. It was notably, having come into Government in 1997, not until 2006 that Labour had a single peer more than the Conservatives. So you can overstate the extent to which that rebalancing goes on, but there is clearly a tradition of appointing from all sides. Thankfully, unlike in Canada, where the Prime Minister appoints only from their own party, there is that tradition and it does result broadly in something that is kind of proportional, but it is not an exact science.
Q122 Mrs Laing: But you are assuming, in saying that about the growth in numbers, that there would be only appointments and you said a few moments ago-very sensibly, if I may say so-that we shouldn’t just be looking at going out but coming in. So the remarks you have just made about numbers increasing presupposes that nobody leaves. Could I turn my question to a possible approximation to rebalancing by removal of some peers and appointment of others? Have you considered that?
Dr Russell: I think that is not quite right. Even if you have an exit route, if you have an attempt to rebalance the House as a whole to match the last general election, you are going to have a real problem keeping a cap on numbers. The only way that you could achieve that would be by requiring a certain number of people to leave by party. You wouldn’t achieve that, for example, by having 15-year terms and one-third appointed every five years because you might not be able to achieve through that incoming third the balance that you needed, depending on the existing balance among the other Members. So you would have to have quite a curious mechanism. My argument has been that if you are going to have an element of proportionality, you need to do what every package for either an elected or an appointed House over the last 15 years has proposed, which is have balance among those going in, not attempt to balance the House as a whole.
You would have the perverse result, if you tried to balance the House as a whole, that it would be completely proportional to the last general election vote and therefore could argue that it was more legitimate than the Commons, albeit appointed. Even the proposals for election have been that you have a proportional tranche going in making up one-third, and the remainder have been there for longer, and therefore the House itself can never claim to be fully proportional, and that is probably a good thing.
Q123 Mrs Laing: Would it be so awful to require people to leave?
Dr Barber: I do not think so. You had an interesting discussion two weeks ago, I think, about the idea of different groupings in the House of Lords having a vote along the lines of how the hereditaries did back in 1999.
Q124 Mrs Laing: In fact, the word that was used by our witnesses then was "brutal". Need it be brutal?
Dr Barber: Peter Hennessy’s argument against it was that it might be distressing. The idea that people should have a seat in Parliament for life because otherwise it might cause them distress is a rather strange constitutional principle.
Mrs Laing: Especially to those of us who are elected.
Dr Barber: Especially to those of you in the House of Commons. I think the kind of more serious reservations of it would be partly the things that Meg has just alluded to. It is not just about dealing with the House as you see it now, but what of the future? Is there going to be a cap and therefore what does that mean about future reflecting of popular opinion, or are you going to have a trigger-every time you hit 600 or 700 there is a vote in the House? That is problematic. The other side of it is back to this idea, and I think it is not what most people want, of a self-selecting and self-appointing Parliament. I can see why, within the Westminster bubble, that sort of thing would be attractive-we can have these votes in and we can decide upon this-but I am not sure voters and taxpayers out there will quite understand. They will wonder why these decisions are being made for them.
Q125 Mrs Laing: I do not quite understand that point. Don’t they make the decisions when they elect the House of Commons?
Dr Barber: There are two points. One was the question that you asked, which was about removing Members of the House of Lords, and the discussion you had two weeks ago was about party groupings within Parliament, therefore deciding who stays and who goes, and that excludes the decisions of voters.
Q126 Mrs Laing: Don’t parties normally do that anyway? In every election for the House of Commons, the party chooses its candidates in every place, and in every election for a county council or a district council or a parish council, the party or grouping chooses its candidates. Isn’t it so?
Dr Barber: They do, but the electorate then also has a vote against a name on a ballot paper, and increasingly there are some moves towards primaries. I am not sure if they will take off. But it is slightly different from groups within Parliament deciding who are the best people to be in here.
Q127 Chair: I am having trouble deciding whether Eleanor is leading the witnesses astray, or whether the witnesses are leading Eleanor astray, so if you would stick to the subject, the smaller reforms.
Mrs Laing: I will stop that one.
Dr Russell: Could I go back to your original question? I do not want to give the impression that I am opposed to measures to get people to leave. I think that is a necessary part of a package, but I don’t think it is sufficient. If all you do is come up with a set of proposals that reduces numbers, the numbers will very quickly balloon again unless you have something at the other end controlling those who enter.
In terms of the brutality point, I didn’t entirely agree with Peter Hennessy. I am not sure it has to be brutal. I think the key thing, as I say in my written evidence, is coming up with a formula for what we think the party balance should be. We need that for who comes in, for new entrants, and I think that is relatively easy. It is based on the last election, entrance every year or entrance once every five years or whatever. What is more difficult is agreeing the starting point. Do we consider the current balance fair to build upon, or do we think that ought to be rebalanced in some way? I think it would not be right to balance that to the last general election and then have incomers based on previous general elections, because that would give an advantage to the existing Coalition, but obviously if you rebalanced over the last three general elections you would be giving a bit of benefit to Labour. The suggestion in my paper was that maybe equality between the two main parties, which is where we roughly are now, would be a good starting point.
In order to get the numbers down, you have to have some agreement about what party balance it is that you are trying to achieve. I think the main reason why the voluntary retirement scheme thus far has failed is because there is no guarantee that if somebody removes themselves, retires, they are not simply weakening their party, because there is no agreement about what the party balance should be. So, getting that agreement is essential. If you got it, you could then have a mechanism within parties to reduce, and I think it is quite likely that you would achieve quite a lot of reduction through voluntary retirement rather than forced retirement, if you like-voluntary redundancy before compulsory redundancy, through voting if necessary. But people are not going to retire voluntarily until there is a cross-party agreement about what the balance should be. That is the main obstacle.
Q128 Mrs Laing: That is a terribly important point. Dr Ballinger wanted to come in on that.
Dr Ballinger: Can I come in on the question of brutalism? In 1999, 90% of the hereditary peers were ejected from the House of Lords at the same time. If you are worried about brutalism, you would never have tolerated that. That is far more brutal than any suggestions I have seen, so there are good precedents for brutalism. My problem with the brutality of a retirement age is that now it is expected that most organisations do not have one and I do think it would be very difficult for a Parliament, having said that most organisations should not have a retiring age, to impose one on one of its Houses of Parliament. So there is a fairness argument, perhaps, rather than a brutality argument, and that is why I think it is much more helpful to move to a system where you appoint people on the basis that they will be there for a fixed term, whether it is 12, 15 or 20 years. 100 years ago Lord Bryce recommended 12, and that was seen as a very sensible idea at the time, so it is not revolutionary.
It is much clearer to manage people’s expectations when they go in and then you do not have the problem of somebody saying, "I am 80 but I am still compos". You say, "You have served 15 years and thank you very much. That was the deal". I think that is the way to go. The Wakeham Commission did a calculation and they worked out that if you gave every life peer in the House a 15-year term instead of their life peerage, you would have only about 43 members left at the end of those 15 years. So, in a sense it dealt with the problem of transition from one system to another and you could adopt that again now.
Q129 Mrs Laing: That is a very important point. How would you encourage people in their 30s and 40s to accept an appointment that was only for 15 years? If somebody is doing very well in whatever walk of life they are in and they are aged somewhere between 37 and 43, then you try to persuade them to accept an appointment to the House of Lords, knowing that in their mid-50s they will be out, what would they do then?
Dr Ballinger: They would become president of the World Bank or they would become a leading QC or they would go and sit as a High Court judge, which they couldn’t do as a member of the House of Lords. So I can imagine some lawyers would rather like to come in for 15 years before they go on the bench.
Q130 Mrs Laing: It would probably suit lawyers wanting to go on the bench, but what about the other 99% of the population?
Dr Ballinger: Some people would say, "This is not the right time of life and I am not ready and I don’t have enough to give yet" and that would be fine. Some people would say, "I am in the prime of my existence. I am vigorous, I am energetic. I have my experience dealing with an aspect of the real world and I want to bring it to the service of Parliament". Life is not over at 55. The state pension retirement age is going up and up and up, so there is plenty that they can do.
Q131 Mrs Laing: That is exactly the question I am asking. It certainly is not over and people of 55 have enormous financial and other obligations and then, having done a fulltime job for 15 years, they would be out.
Dr Russell: I think you can overstate the problem. If you look back at appointments over the last 15 years-I can’t remember off the top of my head what the number is; I know it is in a footnote in my book-there have been about five people appointed under 40. The majority of people appointed to the House of Lords go in at 55-plus, so 55 through to 70 is not a bad term. As Helene Hayman said, and as I said in my written evidence and some other people said in their written evidence, I think you probably would need some kind of mechanism. Iain McLean, talking about the retirement age in his evidence, called it an appeals procedure. You would need some kind of a procedure to allow some people, perhaps in exceptional circumstances, to stay on, because having people who have the benefit of more than 15 years in Parliament is a good thing. It occurs in the House of Commons as well in the House of Lords and you would not want to lose that institutional memory. So you are talking about maybe 15 years plus a possible 10 years more and, if you are appointed at 55, that is plenty.
Q132 Chair: We are going to have to move on now. Another small-scale change could be the ending of by-elections for hereditary peers. What is your view on that?
Dr Russell: I think it is a highly desirable reform. I think it is difficult in practice to achieve because it requires legislation. David Steel tried to do it in his Bill. There is a very small but vocal minority in the House of Lords who oppose it. The great majority of peers support it. I think they see it is necessary in order to improve the standing of their House, because again the other thing that goes around the world, along with those pictures of people in their ermine-trimmed robes, is the news that it contains people who are there by accident of birth, and that doesn’t do the reputation of the British Parliament any good. So, mainstream opinion wants to end it, but in practice you can only end it with legislation and that can be opposed. Even a Government Bill would face opposition from a small vocal minority and the Government would have to be prepared to face that down and see it through. Personally, I think they should, but it would take a little determination, because it is not entirely consensual.
Dr Barber: I think it is time to end the by-election. The simplest way is just to convert them into life peerages and it would be less brutal in that case, of course. David Steel’s Bill I think found 300 amendments against that particular provision, aimed really at stopping it. Of course, many of the hereditaries believe there was a deal put in place there in 1999 that said that they would stay until or unless there was second-stage reform. While the kind of outcome of this inquiry, or indeed the Bill that is currently before the House, cannot be considered as that second stage, I wonder if, within a package of reforms, there was some inclusion of a very modest amount of democratic legitimacy, whether some of arguments would be at least neutralised, if not overcome.
Dr Ballinger: It is the perfect time to abolish the by-elections. I am not sure why they were ever put in and I am not sure that those who were behind the Bill are quite sure why they ever agreed to them either. The manifesto in 1997 for the Government was extremely clear, that the complete removal of hereditaries was not at all dependent on any form of second stage of reform. For political reasons, they thought it best to allow 92, then for unfathomable reasons they thought it best to allow the 92 to self-perpetuate.
But for all those who think that a deal was done in 1999, first, of course we have moved on and the House has moved on. Secondly, I would like to see any of them argue that a Parliament can bind its successors and that a Government of one complexion can bind a Government of another complexion. So, in a sense, it is a nice political debating point. There is no constitutional bar at all to their removal by legislation and it is a question of whether it is worth a candle in terms of the political fallout because, of course, the Government-or indeed any backbencher-can’t guillotine this through the House of Lords in the way that it could programme and then guillotine it through the House of Commons.
Dr Russell: I think Chris is completely right in all that. In retrospect, that deal was a mistake, and certainly agreeing to the by-elections was a mistake, because gradually the hereditary peers would have been dying off were it not for the by-election provision. I think in your report you could present this as a small, incremental but radical and modernising step that a Deputy Prime Minister who wants to be remembered as having done something important for the House of Lords could notch up against his name. I think it does take a bit of determination to do it and it would be an achievement that this Government would be remembered for. There is something else, as you-
Mrs Laing: Mr Chairman, I wanted to ask Dr Russell to say that again, just to make sure everybody gets that.
Dr Russell: It was in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, and I think one of the great tragedies of the last 10 years is that the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill was lost in the wash-up due to opposition from, it has to be said, people who are now in Government. I suspect that they regret that in the same way as Labour might regret the 92 hereditary peers.
It might be worth considering whether there is anything that can be done to make the hereditary by-elections less bad through changes to standing orders. The requirement to have the by-elections is in the 1999 Act, but the detail of how those by-elections happen is in House of Lords standing orders, and they are much easier to change. So you could, for example, change this crazy system whereby only the hereditary peers in the Labour Party and in the Liberal Democrats who choose successors, which can result in an electorate of two or three. You could change it to elections by the whole House, for example, simply by changing standing orders.
Q133 Chair: I am going to move on, because we have our next witness coming in at 11, so if I can move on a little quicker. Not everyone needs to comment, unless you really feel obliged to.
Non-attendees, should we remove those? If so, how?
Dr Russell: Not very important, I think is the answer. The problem in the House at the moment is the number of active Members. It is not the overall number of Members. If you look back over time, we had about the same number of Members, 789 in 1968, and only 291 of them attended a third of sittings, but today we have nearly 600 attending a third of sittings. It is the increase in attendance that is causing the problems. Yes, you would get the numbers that appear on the House of Lords’ website down, but removing the people who already do not turn up wouldn’t really change very much in terms of how the House is functioning.
Dr Ballinger: If you want an effective system, you have to do it by legislation. There is no effective system that I can see by voluntary not turning up or by standing orders but, as Meg says, the issue now is the same as it was in the mid-1950s when this was being introduced. If you are too tough, you will bring the backwoodsmen out and more people will turn up as a result, which will be deeply counterproductive.
Q134 Chair: Is retirement a way to reduce the size of the House, as a small change? Should there be a retirement age and, if so, what is your ideal? Stephen?
Dr Barber: I agree with the comments that Chris made a few moments ago. Where you have things like the Equalities Act and it is now illegal in other walks of life to discriminate against people on grounds of age, it would be a retrograde step to introduce it within Parliament. I also have the other kind of concern that may or may not materialise, but if you were to introduce a retirement age, it could have the unintended consequence of increasing the proportion of Members who owe their allegiance to the Prime Minister of the day or the leaderships of the day and so it could have a maybe marginal effect on the independence of Members who sit there.
Dr Russell: A retirement age of 80 would get rid of about 130 Members. Many of those are probably in the non-attending category. A retirement age of 75 would get rid of about 230 Members, so it would be a simple way of getting the numbers down but it has these equality problems. I think the way forward is to agree what the party balance in the Chamber needs to be. You have to get people from the party groups to sit down and agree between them what the party balance should be and what size the cap should be. If you can get that agreed, I think the party groups will be able to sort it out for themselves, encouraging people to go. There are many people who attend the House out of duty to their party. Frankly, they would probably rather retire, but they don’t want to give up their seat because they feel it would strengthen the other side. If you can get cross-party agreement about what the size should be and what the balance should be, I think it can be easily sorted out through discussion in party groups and you would get volunteers. Of course, many of those would be over 80, but you might get some over 80 who remained, who are active and whose contributions are still appreciated.
Dr Ballinger: But you can’t enforce retirement without legislating to remove the writ of summons from those who have been given it for life. If you are legislating, you might as well do something intellectually and socially more interesting, like fix the terms, rather than impose an arbitrary retirement age.
Q135 Chair: Would expelling peers who have committed serious offences, as a small-scale reform, help the situation?
Dr Russell: I think everybody agrees with that.
Dr Ballinger: But it would not reduce the numbers radically, or at least one hopes not.
Q136 Mr Turner: I think we are still trying to be too radical, although we are very unradical in what you are doing. I wonder whether we could, as you suggested, approach it from a different angle. Let us assume the number of peers is going to remain at 800. Could we at least legislate that there should be no more than 800 and then we could work out how you fill the gaps when people die? It could lie entirely with the Prime Minister. I guess that is what he would most favour, so people may have to work on him, but the gaps would then be filled at the rate they are dying. That will ensure there are not going to be consistently more and more peers. Is that an acceptable start?
Dr Russell: I think that is maybe realistic, to cap the size of the House where it is now. You could move to a formula of one in, one out; for example, you can’t appoint anybody unless somebody goes, but I think you will run into difficulties-I am sorry to keep coming back to this-unless you have an agreed proportionality formula. The risk is that if you introduced a hard cap and then the Prime Minister could appoint up to that cap, you might gradually move to the Canadian situation, where the Prime Minister does only appoint from their own party and it is a sort of rush to fill the seats until your party is out and then the opposition starts trying to fill it with their people. That does the reputation of the institution no good and the danger is you move away from proportionality.
If Tony Blair had appointed only Labour peers-I know he has a reputation and he did appoint a lot of peers and he appointed more Labour peers that non-Labour peers-that would have been 400-odd Labour peers put in and then David Cameron would be frantically trying to catch up by putting in Conservative peers. You can’t have that, so you need a proportionality formula as well as a cap.
Q137 Mr Turner: Just before you leave, I do not know what the figures are, but if 800 was the upper limit, how many die over five years?
Dr Russell: I have the figures here. In 2010, 24 died, in 2011, 11, and in 2012, 21. That is an average of 19 per year. David Cameron has put in 120-something, which means it is going to take, at current rates, about seven years for that to be compensated for by death. So we are well ahead of the death rate, if you like. Even if no more appointments are made, we are still on an upward trajectory.
Q138 Mr Turner: So we are on about 20 per year die and therefore, assuming 20 gaps were filled, it could not be more?
Dr Russell: Yes, but if the kind of people that Eleanor Laing is talking about are put in, that death rate is going to go down and another thing you have to be careful about. That is a problem with introducing a retirement age: you create a perverse incentive for a Prime Minister to appoint younger people so that their people will be there for 50 years. If you appoint somebody at 30 with a retirement age of 80, you will guarantee that that Labour person or that Conservative person, assuming they do not change their allegiance, is going to be there for 40 or 50 years. So there are all sorts of perverse incentives that can be created, and ultimately you have to regulate the party balance. I just keep coming back to that.
Dr Ballinger: If you think you can legislate for a number cap, I would rather that you thought about legislating for a cap on the number of Lordships of Parliament, not a cap on the size of the peerage, that is to say the number of peers who could sit in the House of Lords and who could be summoned to the House of Lords. That would produce a cap on the number of people sitting and voting. The Prime Minister could recommend for appointment however many people he liked and, when you have that cap of numbers of Lordships of Parliament, you can then move to the discussion, if you have not agreed it beforehand, of how the proportions of that 400 or 600, or whatever you want would be formulated, probably a discussion including the Appointments Commission as regulator, in a sense.
Q139 Mr Turner: Sorry, I am a bit behind here. You are suggesting that there be peers who are not peers of Parliament who are created, which is a kind of badge but nothing more?
Dr Ballinger: Yes.
Mr Turner: But my 20 or so would remain and those peers would get the summons, so there is nothing else beyond that that is different from what I proposed earlier?
Dr Ballinger: No, but it would lay the foundations for the next stage of incremental reform to refine this system. Once you start detaching the number of seats in the upper House from the number of people who are created with the honour of a peer then-
Q140 Mr Turner: But doesn’t that exist already in creating, for instance, Scottish peers or Irish peers or-
Dr Ballinger: You could create, of course, a hereditary peer without adding to the numbers of the House but very few Prime Ministers-I think nobody since Margaret Thatcher-have done that. So, in a sense, we would be at that system. The Governor of the Bank of England could be created a peer on retirement but he would not necessarily get a seat in the House of Lords as a result, unless he was selected for that on some other criterion. That would produce the cap and then there could be a discussion, which may be a constitutional one or it may be one within party groupings, about how people then wanted to select their 20 or their 100 within that.
Mr Turner: I see what you mean.
Dr Russell: This possibility of breaking the link between the peerage and membership of the House of Lords is an incremental reform that wasn’t in your issues and questions paper but it is an incremental reform that has been part of almost every reform package published over the last 15 years, that there is a break between becoming a peer and becoming a Member of the House of Lords. I think there would be some merit in doing that in order to allow purely honorific peerages to be given. I think there is still a small element of confusion about whether, when you are awarded a life peerage, it is an honour or it is a job. Increasingly, it is a job, but that is an example that Chris just gave, of people retiring from certain positions who perhaps we want to honour but we might not necessarily always want to give them a seat in the legislature.
Dr Ballinger: I will take the last 15 years and add the last 115 years. It has been a very constant and very forward position, couched in different language, but it has been a constant theme of detaching the peerage from the membership.
Q141 Mr Turner: The problem is that I feel it is much more likely that you would get a fixed number and you could then spread it among the parties, and of course they, whoever they are, would try to ensure that the appointments would be made for a relatively young peer rather than elderly peers. We are talking about the Prime Minister making them all young, but that would happen over the whole width if we gave these nominations to the different parties.
Dr Russell: Going back to your point about the cap of 800, I have heard you in previous sessions questioning this, how quickly can we get the numbers down and the idea of one in, one out and so on. I would suggest a slight modification to your proposal, which is that maybe you have an absolute cap of 800, although we are above it at the moment, of course, and you must not be misled by the figures on the House of Lords’ website that say there are 750 people. There are over 50 people out there who have the right to return. Quite a lot of non-attenders, following the publication of David Hunt’s report on retirement, were encouraged to take leave of absence. The leave of absence figures have gone up a lot, so there are a lot of people who have the right to return. I think there are over 800, but supposing you had an immediate cap of 800, rather than a rule of one in, one out, how about a rule of one in, two out until you get to a lower cap of 650? The ultimate cap is no bigger than the House of Commons, so you can say every year, we evaluate how many people have died, how many vacancies there are, and the number of vacancies created is half the number of departures, and we do that until we get to 650. It would take quite a long time, but I think that would be a defensible system.
It has occurred to me in preparing for today that one of the difficulties with the present system-and again this is something I think you could usefully recommend, and I do not know whether Lord Jay is here, because he might have views on it-is that nobody at the moment has oversight of the size and party balance in the Chamber. The House of Lords Appointments Commission does a very good job of picking independent Members and vetting for propriety, but nobody has oversight of the Chamber as a whole, how it is ageing, how many people have left, what the balance between the parties is doing, who deserves more appointments and so on. I think it would be a proper next step to give that responsibility to the Appointments Commission to report every year on the state of membership, for example. If you were saying something like one in, two out, an annual report that said how many vacancies there are and proposed what the appropriate balance between the parties for those vacancies might be, based on general election votes, I think would be a useful way forward, no legislation required, very gentle, easy to do, and the Prime Minister can respond to it as he sees fit.
Q142 Chair: I am interested in exploring your views on the Appointments Commission. Meg, you just mentioned a couple of things that they might consider, but do other colleagues have any views on the role of the Appointments Commission, its remit, its basis, its future?
Dr Barber: The question that was put by the Committee was whether the Appointments Commission should be put on a statutory basis. I do not feel very, very strongly about it because I think in the immediate term at least it will make very little difference, it will not change the way it operates unless you want to change its powers, which is perhaps more substantial. It might be seen as somewhat premature before we have even a sense of what the constitutional settlement might be in the medium term around the House of Lords, and that might emerge around the time of the next general election.
My other reservation is back to the point I made a few moments ago, which was about how we are drifting towards perhaps installing a self-selecting, self-appointing Parliament, and just be careful if that is really what we want, and what we want to recommend.
Dr Ballinger: If there is no need to put the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis, there is nothing to be lost by having it on a statutory basis. If you think there is something to be gained, we should certainly have it on a statutory basis. That is the first question.
The second is, what should its remit be? At the point at which we get down to this question of having perhaps a cap on numbers and relative compositions we need some kind of body to refer these questions to. Historically, the arbiter of things like leave of absence has been the Clerk of the Parliaments. I think it would be more helpful to take that out of the Clerk’s remit. He has an ongoing relationship with those who are appointed. I do not know his views on it but it would be very interesting to canvass those. If you are going to put it somewhere, it seems that creating the Appointments Commission as a regulator of this-this is light-touch regulation.
If parties are choosing their 100 Members within the cap, maybe they choose and then they put their mechanism for choice to the Appointments Commission, who then scrutinise it and say, "Well, this seems not to be discriminatory". It may be that level of scrutiny, but you need some kind of body to report to and some kind of body to say, "Right, so the mechanism we have agreed is going to have this effect in the next Parliament". That seems to me a very appropriate job for a statutory Appointments Commission. So at that point it would need the independence that a statutory footing would give it.
Dr Russell: I think the Appointments Commission should be the body that polices the size of the Chamber and the party balance of the Chamber, and ideally it would do that to an agreed formula and an agreed cap that the parties themselves had established. It would then report every year how many appointments were due to each party and invite nominations from the party leaders. I would like to see it go one step further, as the Public Administration Committee in the past has suggested, that parties should put forward long lists of candidates from whom the Appointments Commission can choose, or, at the very least, the Appointments Commission should be able to steer the parties a little in terms of the types of people it is looking for in order to deal with things like regional imbalances, gender imbalances and even imbalances in professional expertise. They try their best to do that. I think they do a very good job of appointing independent Members and considering the balance in the House as a whole but they have no control whatsoever of the balance that comes from the parties. Again, there is no body at the moment with oversight of that balance across the Chamber, and I think that would be a useful way to go.
Q143 Chair: I am conscious that our next witness is here, but one last quick question from us is about redundancy and pension payments as an incentive to retirement. Do you have a snapshot view on that question?
Dr Barber: I personally would not have any problem with it. I heard David Steel suggest that it could be the total sum of the previous year’s allowance and that might be an appropriate way to go in order to justify it to the public purse.
Dr Russell: I am not sure that financial inducements in the end are going to be the thing that does it. As I say again, ad nauseam, the thing that is going to do it is the parties agreeing the balance between them. You then leave it to the parties and the cross-bench group to negotiate with their Members. If it turns out you can’t get enough people to go without some kind of financial settlement, maybe there has to be an element of that. I think you might get volunteers even without, but you need that formula.
Dr Ballinger: Peers are not employees of the House and so I have some issue with the concept of redundancy payments. Give them due notice that, when the reforms are implemented, say at the next general election, they will have had to look for other things and allow them to rest on their wits to get another kind of occupation that will pay them enough. If you are worried about the very old, one hopes that they already have the kind of pension provision that may not be available to the younger generation in 30 years’ time anyway.
Chair: Chris, Meg and Stephen, thank you very much indeed. You have been extremely informative. Thank you so much for coming in.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Lord Jay of Ewelme GCMG, Chairman, House of Lords Appointments Commission, gave evidence.
Q144 Chair: Lord Jay, welcome. Thank you for joining us this morning. Would you like to start with any comments or are you happy to jump straight into questions?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: I am very happy to answer questions, Chairman.
Chair: Fantastic. You have been patiently sitting listening to our witnesses. Perhaps the first question should be what do you think of what you have heard from them and us so far about the Lords Appointments Commission?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: I just came in at the last few minutes. I agree with much of what was said. We may get on to the question of a statutory basis. I have always been in favour of having the Appointments Commission on a statutory basis, for two main reasons. One is that I think if you are appointing people to the legislature you should be accountable to the legislature for those appointments rather than accountable to the Prime Minister of the day. I also think that if we are moving more towards seeing the House of Lords as a member of the legislature, which does not challenge the House of Commons, but complements it, that should be on a statutory basis rather than accountable to the Prime Minister of the day. I think there are two almost constitutional reasons for wanting to see it on a statutory basis.
There are also some quite good practical reasons, and if there was an idea that the Appointments Commission should do more than it now does, particularly if it is going to be choosing among party political lists, I think it has to be on a statutory basis and has to be accountable to the House rather than to the Prime Minister of the day for that.
Q145 Mr Turner: Can you give us a sense of what you think the House of Lords Appointments Commission’s key achievements have been?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: It has two principal roles. The first is to appoint people to the cross-benches and the second is to vet party political appointees. What it has done in its first and in many ways principal function-it has, since it was set up, appointed 63 Members to the cross-benches-is focus on merit, on people who are really going to bring something to the House of Lords. Increasingly over the last few years it has focused much more on ensuring that those who do come in are going to make a commitment to play a full part or a large part in the House. That is moving you along the spectrum from honour to job. I think over time it has increased the quality of people coming on to the cross-benches. It has certainly increased the diversity of people coming on to the cross-benches. The figures for gender diversity, ethnic minorities and for disability are considerably higher than they are for the House as a whole. I think that has been an important achievement.
One of the things that we are asked to do in the Appointments Commission in making our appointments, effectively on merit and on the willingness to play a part in the House, is to reflect the diversity of Britain as a whole, and that is a terribly important consideration in our work. It does mean you have to think, "Well, at the end of the year are we going to have appointed five white males? If so, we have failed in our job. How do we devise the systems to ensure that there is proper diversity?" That has been important.
I think it has raised the quality, it has increased the diversity and it has increasingly ensured that those who are coming into the House of Lords as independent cross-benchers will play a full part in the affairs of the House.
Q146 Mr Turner: Would I take it that the cross-benchers whom you have appointed contribute to this excessive number and excessive activity that makes the House of Lords a problem, when before there were 250 who turned up occasionally and 400 or 500 who did not?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: That has been the trend, as I understand it, over the last 30 years or so. The decision was to abolish most of the hereditary peers and replace them over time with people, whether from the cross-benches or whether party political appointees, who play more of a part in the affairs of the House than was the case, say, 20 or 30 or 40 years ago. I think having cross-benchers who play an important role in their field of expertise and more widely has contributed to that, but I do not think it is the major factor.
Q147 Mr Turner: What is the major factor?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: I think the abolition of most of the hereditaries and their replacement over time with people, whether from the cross-benches or as party political appointees, who are appointed very largely because they are going to be playing a full part in the affairs of the House. That has shifted the balance away from those who are there for hereditary reasons and who might turn up from time to time, and those who are there because they are going to want to and will play a full part in the affairs of the House.
Q148 Mr Turner: Okay, but what is a regular contribution?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: That is an interesting question and it is one that we are asked at virtually every interview we have. I don’t think it can mean being there all the time, because one of the benefits of the House of Lords is that you have people who have had and who still have and are gaining expertise in other things that they then bring to the House of Lords. That is very important in holding the Government to account. It is very important in the legislative process. Sorry, I have forgotten your question.
Mr Turner: What is a regular contribution?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: I say to people if they ask that question that we would expect you to be there a good two days a week at least and to be there when there are important debates and votes in which you wish to take part. You can’t say to people who are doing an important job somewhere else as well, "Be there a full four or five days a week" but you can say, "You must turn up pretty regularly and be seen pretty regularly and be playing an active part either on the floor of the House or on committees". I think that is working quite well. It is harder and harder and harder. Democracy has broken out among the cross-benches and you now have to apply to be on a Select Committee rather than its being done somehow rather opaquely behind closed doors. There are an awful lot of people who want to be on Select Committees, more than are able to be accommodated, which I think is a good sign.
Q149 Mr Turner: What is your view of the new Appointments Commission as envisaged by Baroness Hayman, which will give exclusive competence to your commission?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: I think the proposals in her Bill are, for the most part, perfectly workable, provided of course the commission is on a statutory basis. You can do those functions only if you are on a statutory basis, it seems to me, and if you are reporting to the House. I do not think you can easily do it if you are reporting to the Prime Minister and you are unsure how many you are going to have to appoint each year and so on. But I think the proposals that she has put forward for the size of the House, for the size of the commission, for the functions of the commission and so on are perfectly workable.
There are one or two points that I think would need a little further work. At present we have a committee of seven of whom four are independent and those who are independent are appointed by the public appointments process. I would personally like that to continue because I think it is important that, even if you have a statutory commission, the independent members are not just chosen by the Speakers but are appointed through some kind of appointments process so they are seen to be independent of the House. I think that would be one point.
Q150 Mr Turner: Am I right or am I wrong that Baroness Hayman is saying-this is something I should have checked before I arrived this morning-on exclusive competence, that they are the only appointments through which membership of the House of Lords should follow?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: Except for the bishops, I think I am right in saying.
Q151 Mr Turner: What you are saying is that the Prime Minister will not be allowed to appoint anyone and you think that will pass in the House of Commons?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: Does someone have the text? I don’t think it says that. The Prime Minister can still put forward nominations and there will be nominations, as now, to the cross-benches. But it will be the role of the Commission to approve those nominations, taking into account, for example, diversity. Party leaders will continue to put people forward and under these proposals the Prime Minister can continue, as he now does, to make certain prime-ministerial appointments but those will then be judged by or agreed by the commission on the basis of certain criteria that are set out. I think that is doable.
Q152 Mr Turner: Do you believe that the Prime Minister is willing to hand this power over to you?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: That is a different point.
Mr Turner: I am sorry. I thought that is what you were saying.
Lord Jay of Ewelme: No, that is a completely different point. I thought the question was whether, if we were to have a system such as that proposed in Baroness Hayman’s Bill, I think that would be workable. Yes, I think it would be workable, with one or two points that I think would probably need a bit of amendment when the Bill was going through the Commons and the Lords. Whether I think the Prime Minister would be prepared to agree that the commission should be on a statutory basis is another matter altogether. There is a degree of quite desirable patronage in the present system that Prime Ministers may well think they would like to keep. As I say, I think that it would be good if it were on a statutory basis, and if it were on a statutory basis, it could more or less work as set down here in the draft Bill. I am not at all sure that that will come to pass, although I hope it will.
Q153 Mr Turner: I understand. Finally, as you know, the number of appointments to the House of Lords has slowed down quite considerably recently. Can you explain why?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: Yes, I can. It is true that the appointments through the Appointments Commission have slowed down. When I took over five years ago it was agreed by the Prime Minister of the day that the commission should continue with the rhythm that it had had in the past, which was five or six appointments a year. That continued until about 18 months ago when it looked for a moment as though reform might happen, or at least be proposed, and at that point I think the view was that it would be sensible to wait, have a sort of moratorium before reform happened. When it became clear that reform was not going to happen, I think there was a view that both political and cross-bench appointments should continue. Whereas we were operating on the basis of five or six a year, we are now operating on the basis of two a year. That is just two appointments through the Appointments Commission.
I should make it clear that, in addition, the Prime Minister has the right by convention to appoint up to 10 cross-bench peers in each Parliament. That is the convention, so that is two a year. Supreme Court judges, when they stop being Supreme Court judges, come back into the Lords. I think there have been three in the last year or so. The Prime Minister also has the right to make ministerial appointments, of which I think there have been six since the last election. In addition to the two coming in through the commission, there are now other routes in that are, by comparison with the two, quite substantive.
The other point, if I can just make a point on diversity, is that the vast majority, if not all those coming in through other routes are white males, against whom I have nothing, as you can imagine, except that I think that the House of Lords should be genuinely diverse.
Q154 Mrs Laing: Do you agree with our previous witnesses to this Committee who suggested to us that the House of Lords is at present too large?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: Yes.
Q155 Mrs Laing: Is there a correlation between the size of the House of Lords and its effectiveness, or is it just that we perceive that there are too many people to do the work that has to be done; it is too expensive, not enough space for them?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: I think there is a correlation on effectiveness because people come into the House of Lords and they want to play a part in the House of Lords. They want to be able to speak in debates. They want to be able to ask questions. They want to sit on a Select Committee or a Joint Committee with the Commons. That is getting harder. In my view it is not a question of whether you can find a seat. It is whether you are able to make a useful contribution to the work of the House, and that is becoming harder. I think that, as it goes on going up inexorably, that will become more of a problem and it also makes it more difficult. Going back to a question I was asked earlier, "How often should I be there?" the harder it is to find something useful and productive to do, the harder it is to explain to busy people that you think they ought to be in the House two or three days a week. I think there is a correlation between size and effectiveness and commitment of Members of the House of Lords to the work of the House.
Q156 Mrs Laing: That is a very interesting answer. Thank you. I think it takes us steps ahead in what we are looking at. You have just described the House of Lords. For the record, would you like to make a comparison between the public perception of the House of Lords, due to the photograph that the newspapers and television always print on the day of the state opening of Parliament of hundreds of old men in ermine? Is that the House of Lords as you perceive it?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: No, it is not. It is like when you go abroad, if someone wants to characterise an Englishman they have him wearing a dark suit and a bowler hat. It is outdated. It is useful, it is helpful, but it is completely wrong. The House of Lords today is largely composed of people who are there because they want to be part of the legislature. They are serious about taking part in debates, serious about taking part in committees and serious about voting. Of course, there are gradations of seriousness, if you like, but for the most part, the people who are there are there because they want to play a part in the legislative process of this country, and I think that is right and good. What worries me slightly is that the larger the House gets, the harder it becomes for that to be the actual and perceived role of the House of Lords. We need a second Chamber. We will not get on to the question of appointed or elected, but the role of a second Chamber, not in any way to rival the Commons but to complement what the Commons does, I think is very important for a democracy of our size and complexity.
Q157 Mrs Laing: Thank you. You will be aware, I am sure, of proposals for small-scale reforms that could reduce the size of the House. Would you like to comment on any of those reforms, and which do you think would be the most effective, if any?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: I have read Baroness Hayman’s Bill and I find it quite difficult to see how the measures in it are going to make a substantive difference in the near future in the size of the House. Certainly, I think the measures in that Bill are important and necessary and will have an effect, but I think if you are going to reduce the size of the House from its present 775, say, down to the size of the Commons, or ideally less than that, there is going to need to be some other method.
I was listening to what Meg Russell was saying earlier. I think there is quite a lot of scope for the parties agreeing among themselves how they are going to do this and then the parties and the cross-benchers saying to people, "Look, we have agreed we need to reduce by a certain number over the next five years. People who leave will keep their title and maybe they can keep some sort of dining rights, but we do need to continue the process of getting the House of Lords down to a size where it can operate as a really effective second Chamber". It can be done and needs to be done, but it will need something more, in my view, than is in this draft Bill.
Q158 Mrs Laing: If there were a retirement age of, say, 75 or if there were a fixed term for life peerages-the amount usually mentioned as an example is 15 years-would that make it more difficult for you to find high quality people who wanted to come into the House of Lords under your Appointments Commission?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: I don’t think these days you can have a retirement age. There are people who are extraordinarily active and make really important contributions in their 80s, and at times in their early 90s, and I don’t think you can say, "You are just too old". I do think that you could certainly have a time limit of, say, 15 or 20 years. I do not think that would make any difference to people coming in. If you are thinking ahead 15 years, whatever age you are, it is quite a long time. If you are going to have 15 years as a Member of the House of Lords, with the other advantages that brings, that is going to be quite an attraction.
Q159 Mrs Laing: Thank you. Are there any other small-scale reforms that we have not as yet discussed? I know you are aware of the reforms that are on the table. Are there any others, particularly ones that would not require primarily legislation, which would help improve matters? There might not be. I don’t ask the question with anything in mind.
Lord Jay of Ewelme: There is nothing that strikes me as being something that is not in the Bill and that you have not been looking at that would make a big difference. You can always tinker around the edges a bit with things.
Q160 Mrs Laing: If the provisions in Baroness Hayman’s Bill-or what was Lord Steel’s Bill that is now coming in as a Private Member’s Bill introduced by our colleague, Dan Byles-were to be introduced, do you think the effectiveness would be limited? Sorry, that sounded like a leading question but I think you said something like that earlier. Lord Jay, what do you think the effectiveness would be?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: I think it is a very good Bill. I have spoken to David Steel quite a lot about it over the years. I have been very much in favour of it. I am sorry he dropped the statutory basis for the Appointments Commission when it went through the House of Lords, although I understand why. I am glad it is back now and I hope it stays, although, as I said earlier, I am not certain that it will. I think it is an important and necessary Bill that will make a difference. However, as I said just now, I don’t think that in itself it will bring the House of Lords down to a size that would be the right size for an effective second Chamber in our legislature.
Q161 Chair: Lord Jay, thank you very much. Are there any points you feel are left unsaid or any summary that you would like to put in front of us?
Lord Jay of Ewelme: One point in Baroness Hayman’s Bill that is a good proposal is that the Appointments Commission would be required to apply the diversity test to all the various streams that it was looking at, because I think in that way you would end up with a more diverse House, a House that was seen to be more representative of 21st century Britain. The commission could go back to the Prime Minister or go back to the party leaders and say, "There are some really good people on this list, but it does not reflect the diversity of Britain as a whole". In that way, over time, I think you would also help increase the perceived legitimacy of the House because it was seen to be more representative of Britain.
Chair: Lord Jay, thank you so much for your time this morning. Obviously, you are at liberty to drop us a line if you have any further thoughts on any of the things we have talked about. Thank you very much for coming.