PART 4: WHAT SORT
44. Composition needs to be understood against a
number of interrelated factors which encourage the qualities of
membership we have been discussing.
45. We envisage that in order to retain the benefits
of a House whose members are not necessarily full-time, salaried
party politicians, the reformed House will have to remain at about
the same size as the present House.
46. In the second stage of
our inquiry we shall give further consideration to the exact eventual
size of the House - something which will in any case depend on
the number of spaces, if any, required for ex officio members
such as law lords and bishops. At this stage we propose simply
that the House should comprise about six hundred members. This
represents little change from the present House without the 92
hereditary peers, but we recognise that transitional arrangements
may necessitate an increase in size before equilibrium is reached.
47. The present system of life membership encourages
a high degree of independence, because members do not need to
think at all about reappointment or re-election. A short tenure,
by contrast, would limit the independence of all those members
other than those with no wish for reappointment or re-election.
That is not to say that all the arguments are in the direction
of a very long tenure. At the end of a very long term, elected
members might be seen to have lost the representativeness and
legitimacy which they had at the time of their election. Members
appointed on account of their particular background or expertise
might have lost touch as a result of their service in the House.
48. A balance has to be
struck, and our view is that a tenure for all members of some
twelve years is about right. While members should be able to resign
their seats earlier, we consider that members who do so should
not thereby be able to stand for election to the House of Commons
at least for a certain period, perhaps three years.
49. Some of the options we set out below involve
a mixed House of appointed and elected members, on the basis that
neither arrangement on its own would produce the right blend of
members. Some commentators have feared difficulties with a "mixed"
House on account of certain members appearing to have greater
"legitimacy" than others, but the House has for a considerable
time been a mixture of appointed and hereditary peers. However,
we do recognise that a significant element of elected, full-time
members is likely to demand support and facilities which have
not been sought in the past by members of the existing House.
50. One difficulty which may have been underestimated
in the course of recent debate is that of gaining the interest
of the electorate at a time of disappointing turnouts at all elections.
Recent experience of, for example, elections to the European Parliament
makes it doubtful whether there would be a substantial turnout,
even for an election of the whole House. Consideration should
be given to having full postal ballots and/or combining the elections
with other elections - for example the elections to devolved institutions.
Moreover, while it is one thing to ask the electorate to decide
the entire membership of a second chamber, it is another to ask
it to decide on only a proportion of the membership. Especially
if the proportion is a small one, there is likely to be a feeling
that the election does not matter much, and there must be a risk
of very small turnouts and high votes for fringe candidates, both
of which could imperil the reputation, legitimacy and effectiveness
of the reformed second chamber.
51. Getting the right balance in the matter of appointments
is a difficult but vitally important matter. The Royal Commission
opposed the use of political patronage: "Precluding any scope
for political patronage is a basic element of our scheme for the
composition of the second chamber. The abolition of such patronage
is essential if the chamber is to have the legitimacy and confidence
we do not take the view that all power should be removed from
the Prime Minister and party leaders. There are cases - such as
the appointment of a new member to serve as a Minister - where
the exercise of prime ministerial nomination is perfectly justified.
Equally it is important to ensure that appointments are made on
an independent and widely respected basis.
52. The present arrangements
do not, in our view, achieve the balance which we consider necessary
and legitimate. There should be a new Appointments Commission
established on a statutory basis, as the Royal Commission originally
However, that should not exclude the possibility of nomination
by the Prime Minister of the day, nor proposals by party leaders
and members of the public. All these nominations would be scrutinised
by the new Appointments Commission. Only the Prime Minister
would have the right to have nominations confirmed.
53. Most opinion concludes that, if the second chamber
is to be different from the first - and we believe that it
should - then the method of election needs to be different, and
elections should be held on different dates from general elections.
The context should not be the election of a government, and, in
any case, without fixed-term Parliaments there would be practical
difficulties. For example, the electoral systems recommended by
the Commons Public Administration Committee (open regional lists
or Single Transferable Vote) both have the advantages that they
provide for much larger constituencies than for MPs, minimising
the risk of overlap. "First-past-the-post", especially
if applied to a smaller percentage of a smaller sized House, would
both rule out minor parties and independents, and give an undue
preponderance to the largest party.
54. Since the nature of the reformed second chamber
which we envisage is similar to the present House of Lords, it
is desirable that there should be a smooth transition. It is generally
accepted that the 92 hereditary peers should cease to be members,
but it is equally generally accepted that transitional arrangements
are needed to avoid an immediate exodus of the remaining members.
The Royal Commission proposed that existing life peers should
be able to continue in membership of the reformed House for life.
The Government, in Completing the Reform, accepted this
recommendation, but noted (in the Supporting Documents
which accompanied the White Paper) that this would lead to significant
difficulties in the process of transition to a reformed House.
55. We are conscious that
retaining life membership for all existing life peers would mean
that for some years a substantial (though decreasing) proportion
of the House comprised an increasingly elderly group of survivors
from the present House of Lords. On the other hand it would be
difficult to devise a fair and workable means of removing existing
members, who have been led to believe that their membership will
be allowed to continue, and many of whom have planned their lives
around a long-term commitment to membership. In the second stage
of our inquiry we shall consider possible means of encouraging
voluntary retirement and smoothing the transition. At this
stage we have concluded only that we are not attracted by the
idea of compulsory retirement for existing life peers.
56. There are a number of issues which will need
to be resolved regardless of decisions taken on the numbers of
appointed and elected members in a reformed House of Lords. Prominent
among these are the future membership of the law lords and of
the Church of England bishops (and perhaps other religious representatives).
We have already said that the question of a separation of the
judicial role from the Lords is a complex matter worthy of an
inquiry of its own.
Since decisions on these issues could complicate the process of
choosing between different options, we have chosen to defer these
matters until the second stage of our inquiry. This has the practical
advantage of sparing us from answering a range of hypothetical
questions, as the handling of the question of ex officio
membership would vary with the numbers of appointed and elected
members (and would not even arise if all the members were to be
57. The level of financial support for members of
a reformed House is another important question which can appropriately
be left until the broad outline of its composition is settled.
We believe that elected members (inevitably with some representative
role) would understandably expect better facilities and support
than those which currently exist. It was only in 2001, following
the acquisition of office space in Millbank House, that it became
possible for all peers wishing to do so to have a desk. In most
cases those desks are tightly packed with several in each room.
Unless the number of members were to fall substantially, this
situation could be significantly improved only by the acquisition
or construction of additional office space in the vicinity of
the Palace of Westminster.
58. There is provision for members to recover expenditure
on secretarial help and research assistance, but the amount is
linked to attendance and even for a member attending every sitting
the annual limit would be under £10,000, far too little to
permit the employment of a secretary or assistant. The level of
research support offered by the Library is modest - a total of
six research staff and three supporting staff at present. In both
respects reform is likely to lead to pressure for change.
59. We note that there is
little sign in the reform proposals produced by the Royal Commission,
the Government or the Public Administration Committee that any
work has been undertaken on the costing of those proposals. The
present House costs under £60 million annually
(some £85,000 per member as against some £380,000 per
member of the House of Commons). A reformed House could cost substantially
more, mainly because of the need for better support and facilities
for members. We consider it essential that some detailed work
should be done on costing options.
OF THE HOUSE AND ITS LINK WITH THE PEERAGE
60. Finally, the name of the reformed House, and
its link (if any) with the concept of a peerage, are issues to
which we will return at the next stage.
55 Royal Commission Report, paragraph 13.3. Back
Royal Commission Report, paragraphs 13.11 to 13.13 and Recommendation
Excluding those created after the publication of its Report, who
should become members for up to 15 years. Back
Government White Paper Completing the Reform, paragraph
94. Supporting documents, pages 69-73. Back
See paragraph 25 above. These matters are dealt with rather too
sweepingly in the Commons Public Administration Committee Report,
paragraphs 150 to 159. Back
Up to 45 further offices will become available for occupation
in October 2004 as a result of the purchase in 2001 of Fielden
House in Little College Street (House of Lords Annual Report 2001-02
(HL Paper 153), paragraph 55). Back
Expenditure in the financial year 2001-02 totalled £56,318,000,
including the cost of purchasing Fielden House. Of this, £32,060,000
was in relation to peers' expenses and administration and £24,528,000
in relation to works services (House of Lords Annual Report 2001-02,
Appendix E). Back