Members Leaving the House - Leader's Group on Members Leaving the House Contents


FIGURE 1

Members Leaving the House

Introduction

1.  We were appointed by the Leader of the House, as he announced in a Written Statement on 27 July 2010[1], "to identify options for allowing members to leave the House of Lords permanently". We invited all members of the House to volunteer their views, and in November published a summary of the suggestions set out in the submissions we received, as the basis of further consultation[2]. A debate in the House on 16 November 2010[3] allowed us to listen further to the views of members, and since then we have received a number of additional comments. We are grateful to all those who have given us the benefit of their experience and understanding of the House, whether in writing, in private discussion or in debate. We are also grateful to Dr Meg Russell, Reader in British and Comparative Politics at the Constitution Unit, School of Public Policy, University College London, for a most helpful memorandum which we publish as Appendix 1 to this report.

2.   As a result of this consultative process, we have identified a range of options. Inevitably, the range of opinion is equally wide and it is unlikely that a single solution will command the support of all. However, the common feature of all the views which have been put forward is a sincere concern for the effective functioning of the House, and for its reputation. With that in mind, we are confident that it will be possible to find a way forward. In this report, therefore, we examine further the advantages and disadvantages of the options which have been outlined, and make recommendations of our own. We invite the Leader of the House, to whom we make this report, to determine what the next steps should be, in consultation with the other party leaders and the Convenor of the crossbench peers.

Prospects for reform

3.   As we acknowledged in our interim report, consideration of this issue takes place in the context of the Coalition government's plans for "a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber"[4]. The cross-party committee chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister is preparing a draft bill which will then be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny before it begins its passage through Parliament.

4.   Some members have suggested that, in that context, it is not desirable or productive to consider the options for retirement from the current House. Some think that to do so demonstrates a lack of commitment to more comprehensive reform; others that to make the current House more defensible weakens the case for more comprehensive reform; others still that any change in membership is the beginning of a slippery slope to a reform which they would not support.

5.   We are of the view that the work of the Deputy Prime Minister's committee makes our consideration of options for members to leave the House permanently no less timely or relevant. Legislation to reform the House will take time to be enacted, and in the meantime it is desirable that the existing House should be enabled to function as effectively as possible. Moreover, the Government intends that there should be an orderly process of transition to a reformed House, and we hope that our discussion of the likely consequences and implications of various options might assist that process.

The size of the House

6.   At the heart of the issue we have been asked to consider is the fact that the House of Lords has no fixed number of members and no provision for a member to leave the House permanently. New peers are created in varying numbers, and at varying times, on nomination by the Prime Minister of the day and (since 2000) after scrutiny by the House of Lords Appointments Commission. There is no formal or commonly-accepted description of the role of a member of the House, and reasons for appointment are varied—to honour a significant contribution to public life, to enable Parliament to benefit from specific professional expertise or experience, to strengthen the capacity of one political party or another, or a combination of all of these. The graph shows how the size of the House has fluctuated in recent years.

FIGURE 1

Membership* of the House of Lords by Session**

*Includes Peers without Writ of Summons, on Leave of Absence, disqualified as senior members of the judiciary or disqualified as an MEP

**As at the end of each session

†Incomplete session, as at 10 December 2010. This potential total figure includes those Peers appointed in October and November 2010, including those not yet introduced.

7.   The Constitution Unit has repeatedly drawn attention to the potential problem of the size of the House, noting the "potential conflict between rebalancing the House after every general election and keeping its size manageable"[5]. Since the partial reform of the House in 1999, this is an issue which subsequent considerations of further reform have sought to address in recommendations about the overall size of the House and fixed terms for members whether appointed or elected. During an extended period of government by one party the potential problem was not acutely felt, but would become more urgent if governments were to change more frequently. The problem will persist if the desire to rebalance the composition of the Chamber makes it necessary at times to appoint more new members than can be expected to depart through 'natural wastage'. In addition to political appointments, the House of Lords Appointments Commission periodically proposes new members. The general increase in life expectancy also plays its part in contributing to the growing size of the House.

Existing arrangements

8.   A life peerage cannot be surrendered, and therefore life peers are not currently able to resign or retire from the House of Lords. Although the Peerage Act 1963 made provision for a hereditary peerage to be disclaimed for life, the House of Lords Reform Act 1999 repealed that measure in respect of those hereditary peers who successfully stood for election as members of the House. Therefore neither life peers nor the "excepted hereditary peers" are able to retire or disclaim their seat in the House.

9.   The position of the Lords Spiritual is different. The Ecclesiastical Offices (Age Limit) Measure 1975 requires that bishops and archbishops vacate office at 70 years of age; when they retire from their sees, they cease to be members of the House (though bishops and archbishops have subsequently become life peers).

10.   A variety of other legislative provisions disqualify certain classes of members from sitting and voting in the House in specified circumstances. Members who hold certain judicial offices are disqualified for as long as they hold that office[6]; life peers who are elected to the European Parliament as long as they hold that office[7]; a member who is adjudged bankrupt (or, in Scotland, whose estate is sequestered) until the bankruptcy or sequestration is terminated and its termination recorded in the Journals of the House[8]; a member convicted of treason until he has either suffered his term of imprisonment or received a pardon[9].

11.   The broad position that members of the House are unable to retire or disclaim their seat was temporarily varied by the provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. Section 41 of that Act provides that members of the House of Lords are to be deemed resident, ordinarily resident and domiciled in the United Kingdom for the purposes of income tax, capital gains tax and inheritance tax. For a transitional period of 3 months following the coming into force of the Act, it was open to members of the House of Lords to terminate their membership of the House and so choose not to be subject to that deemed status. Five members availed themselves of that provision before expiry of the three-month period on 7 July 2010, and so ceased to be members of the House. There is no further opportunity for members to leave the House under the provisions of the Act.

12.   It may be seen from this account that, although there is no general provision for members to leave the House permanently, legislation has on a number of occasions and for a range of purposes varied the terms of membership of the House. In particular, the precedent of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 demonstrates that there is no constitutional obstacle to enabling a member to leave the House, and that the Consent of the Crown can be obtained to place the Crown's prerogative and interest at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of such legislation. The bill which initiated that legislation (the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, as introduced in Session 2008-09) also contained a provision which would have allowed a member to resign by means of notice to the Clerk of the Parliaments, without any stipulation as to the circumstances in which such resignation could be effected. However, after the Bill had been carried over to Session 2009-10, the provision was removed in the "wash-up" prior to the Dissolution of Parliament, because of Parliamentary opposition.

13.   Lord Steel of Aikwood has, in several consecutive sessions, introduced a private member's bill containing provisions for reform of the membership of the House. Part 3 of the current House of Lords Bill [HL] contains provisions to allow members to apply for permanent leave of absence; to deem a member who fails to attend the House during the course of a session to have taken permanent leave of absence; and to provide that a person granted permanent leave of absence shall no longer be a member of the House of Lords. These proposals have attracted a certain degree of support on every occasion on which they have been debated. However, for a variety of reasons the bills have not made significant progress. At the second reading of the current bill, Baroness Verma made plain the Government's reservations about the bill's proposals in the context of a wholly appointed House, at a time when the Government are committed to bringing forward proposals for a mainly or wholly elected second Chamber as a matter of priority[10].

Implications of a growing House

14.   The implications of an increasingly large House are various and, for the most part, not new. However, the significant increase in numbers this year has highlighted them most particularly. The differing implications are susceptible to differing solutions, so the recipe for change is not straightforward. It depends in large part on which issue is judged to be the priority to address. We seek in this report to identify options which, alone or in combination, could address a range of potential problems.

15.   The first effect of a significant increase in numbers is the risk to the reputation of the House. It is unhelpful for the second Chamber to be regarded as of excessive size at a time when the Government intends that the number of members of the House of Commons should be reduced. The standing of the House as a serious Parliamentary forum is compromised by its apparently unchecked growth and by a lack of understanding of the reasons for further new appointments.

16.   The second effect is the difficulty of conducting business effectively in such a large House. This is conspicuous in the shortage of seats in the Chamber (particularly at Question Time), but increased competition for opportunities to initiate business, reduced speaking times in time-limited debates, waiting lists for membership of select committees and increasing pressure on the mechanisms of self-regulation in the Chamber are all further indicators.

17.   A further effect of an increased number of members is pressure on the services provided by the House administration. Levels of demand for procedural, research and information services, as well as for practical resources such as accommodation and refreshment outlets, are all increasing. Provision of Parliamentary papers and ICT equipment and support also increases as numbers rise. Hitherto the administration has contained costs by means of efficiency improvements, but rising numbers of active members will inevitably eventually have consequences either for standards of service or for costs. The consequences of the new system of financial support for members are not yet clear and will, of course, depend on member take-up, but increased numbers are likely to mean increased overall costs in this area.

18.   Debate on this subject has seen much comment on the number of members who, though not on Leave of Absence or otherwise disqualified, attend either not at all or very occasionally. Clearly, they have no impact on the pressure on business or services, and might therefore be said not to be a problem. On the other hand, they are significant to the reputational issues which we outlined above, and in particular to the perception that the House is not a serious place of business.

Support for change

19.   Support for change — that is, for the implementation of some provision by means of which members might be enabled to resign or retire from the House — has been articulated repeatedly in debate, by members on all sides of the House. When on 29 June 2010 the Leader of the House first indicated that he would appoint a Group to consider this issue, one speaker after another welcomed it, recognising that a smaller House is not only desirable but imperative[11]. On 16 November, again, one speaker after another agreed that change was necessary[12]. Several speakers suggested that the House should engage actively with change, and seek a sensible way forward, since the alternative was to have change imposed without any input from the House.

20.   A respected, but small, minority of members is of the view that no provision should be made for members of the House of Lords to retire. They hold that a peer, having received an honour bestowed by the monarch for life, is bound by that until death. They do not think it appropriate that a peer should be allowed to choose to give up the responsibility which they have previously accepted, and cite the terms of the Writ of Summons which every peer receives from the Queen as creating a lifetime obligation[13].

21.   We recognise that this view is strongly and sincerely held but we are not persuaded that it is a sufficient response to the situation in which we find the House. Given the less-than-perfect position in which the House currently finds itself, we see no advantage in declining to take the current position as the starting point for change. There is nothing to be gained by wishing ourselves to be where we are not.

22.   Dr Russell observed that previous successful reforms of the House of Lords "have been piecemeal responses to certain elements that the majority sees as no longer defensible. The inability to retire from the chamber may perhaps be the next indefensible element which is due for such a reform"[14].

23.  On the evidence of our extensive consultations, we are confident that there is a broad consensus in the House in support of a provision to enable members voluntarily to leave the House permanently, in order that the overall size of the House may be reduced as soon as possible. We hope that this broad consensus might now be taken as the starting point for a way forward.

Leave of Absence

24.   At present, the only way in which a member who is unable or unwilling to attend the House may be released from the duty to do so is by application for Leave of Absence. The history and operation of the Leave of Absence provisions are set out in a memorandum from the Clerk of the Parliaments, printed as Appendix 2 to this report.

25.   As the Clerk of the Parliaments explains, some members take Leave of Absence because a professional commitment makes it impossible for them to participate in the work of the House for a period, after which they anticipate returning to active membership. Others take Leave of Absence when ill-health or infirmity make continued attendance difficult, and in those circumstances often are unable to return to the House. In the absence of any provision for a member to leave the House permanently, Leave of Absence provides an opportunity for those who, for whatever reason, are unable or unwilling to play a full part in the work of the House, to step down from active membership.

26.  We recommend that the Leave of Absence arrangements should be strengthened, along the lines proposed by the Clerk of the Parliaments. At the beginning of each session of Parliament, in addition to writing to those currently on Leave of Absence, the Clerk of the Parliaments should write to those members who attended on 3 or fewer occasions in the previous session, inviting them to take Leave of Absence. The past practice, whereby Leave of Absence was automatically granted to those members who failed within a stipulated period to reply to such a letter from the Clerk, should be revived.

27.   The Clerk of the Parliaments also raised the possibility that the period of notice required for termination of Leave of Absence might be increased to 3 months. However, he concluded that this might serve as a disincentive to a member to take Leave. We agree that for some members contemplating taking Leave of Absence the possibility that they could terminate the Leave with only one month's notice could be a reassurance. But on balance we recommend that the period of notice required to terminate Leave of Absence should be extended to at least 3 months, to discourage members from terminating Leave once granted.

28.   We hope that these improvements to the Leave of Absence arrangements can be implemented by the House straightaway. Given the expected length of the current session, we recommend that the Clerk of the Parliaments should write as suggested in paragraph 26 above as soon as the provisions are agreed to, and not wait until the beginning of a new session to write for the first time.

Voluntary retirement

29.   Whilst reinvigoration of the Leave of Absence proposals would be helpful, the fact that a member on Leave of Absence may, for any reason or none, have the Leave terminated after due notice means that there is no certainty about a member's long-term intention. It creates doubt about the effective strength of the parties, as well as about the overall size of the House, and does not provide a way for members to leave the House permanently. In the circumstances in which the House currently finds itself, therefore, more is needed.

30.   It is clear that for some members of the House, for whom the practicalities of continued participation in the work of the House might begin to be burdensome, an honourable and dignified means of retirement would be desirable. Other personal factors which might influence a member's view of his or her role in the House include a change in family circumstances, a change in location which makes regular travel to London difficult, or an awareness that the professional or public experience on which the member has drawn in contributing to the work of Parliament is no longer sufficient to enable a full part to be played. Any or all of these reasons, when combined with an awareness of the institutional interest of the House that the overall size of membership should be reduced, could make voluntary retirement attractive. As Dr Russell observed "it seems unfair on members that the honour of serving in the House of Lords should be a life sentence from which there is no escape"[15]. For a conscientious member who has played a full role in Parliament, and takes his or her commitment to the House seriously, an honourable release from obligation could be welcome.

31.  We recommend that the House should introduce arrangements to allow members to retire from membership of the House permanently, on a voluntary basis. Whilst we are advised that legislation would, strictly speaking, be necessary to override the entitlement to a Writ of Summons, we do not think this should be an impediment to responding to the desire in the House for early implementation of a scheme whereby a member could give notice of his or her wish permanently to leave the membership of the House.

32.   We also recommend that the departure of a retiring member after distinguished service should be marked by the House in some suitable way, perhaps analogous to the ceremony of introduction by which the beginning of a member's Parliamentary career is marked. We suggest that the Lord Speaker might have a particular role to play in maintaining connections with retired members.

The role of the party leaders and Convenor

33.   If voluntary retirement is to make any significant impact on the number of members in the House, then its implementation will need to be very carefully handled. We recommend that the party leaders in the House, and the Convenor of the Crossbench Peers, should take on an enabling role to offer advice, and make themselves available for discussion with those who might contemplate retirement. They could also seek assurances about the willingness or ability of members to participate fully in the House in future. We think it entirely reasonable that those who do not attend, or who attend only rarely, should be invited to consider their position. Of course, there will be circumstances in which infrequent attendance will be inevitable, for example during a period of illness or for the duration of a particular responsibility, but these circumstances will usually be known to the leader concerned. We also think it reasonable that those who attend as a matter of form, but do not contribute to the work of the House, should be invited to consider their position. Of course, not all Parliamentary work entails speaking in the Chamber or asking questions; again, the leaders will be well-placed to make this judgment.

Balance in the House

34.   One of the obstacles for anyone contemplating an end to their participation in the work of the House, whether at present by Leave of Absence or in future, potentially, by retirement, is the uncertain consequence for the balance of parties and groups in the House. Since there is no pre-determined size for the House, and no generally-accepted understanding of the proportions in which each party and group should be represented, a member contemplating retirement could have no firm expectation that a new member of their party or group would be appointed to take their place. A member might therefore be reluctant to take advantage of such provisions for fear that their party or group would be weakened, and there is certainly no incentive for party managers to encourage their members to retire.

35.   Dr Russell suggested that a clearer principle for maintaining party balance in the Chamber should be established and that it should be policed by the House of Lords Appointments Commission. She suggested that such oversight would enhance transparency and maintain public trust in the appointments process[16]. We do not think it realistic to expect that this can be agreed separately from the wider reform debate.

36.   However, we recommend that the party leaders and the Convenor should develop a new understanding, in the light of the recent change of Government, about the proportion of seats in the current House on which it would be appropriate for each party or group to rely. This will enable members contemplating retirement to have greater confidence about the effect their retirement will have on the ability of their party or group to function effectively.

Associate membership

37.   As we noted in our interim report, it has been suggested that a new category of associate member should be created, to which members might opt to belong. The advantages of such a scheme are that it would reduce the overall size of the House, whilst keeping available the expertise of those who have had long experience of the House and have played a significant part in public life but now wish to reduce the scale of their involvement. It could complement a provision for voluntary retirement, providing a potentially attractive option for those who are unable to make a full commitment to the work of the House.

38.   Various options have been suggested as to the opportunities which associate members might be afforded—

  •   to attend and speak only in proceedings off the floor of the House
  •   to participate in business in the Chamber other than legislation
  •   to be co-opted onto select committees
  •   to be involved in informal discussion groups of specific issues before the House
  •   to continue in membership of All-Party Parliamentary Groups.

39.   Those who advocate such a scheme hold differing views about the classes of business which associate members should be permitted to take part in, and whether their participation should require specific invitation in each case; and about whether they should be entitled to claim an allowance for attendance.

40.   The recommendation of a "two-tier" membership is not unprecedented: in 1968 a Government White Paper[17] recommended that the House should have voting and non-voting members and that voting members should meet the condition of attending no fewer than one-third of sittings of the House. Whilst the White Paper was approved by a substantial majority in both Houses, the Government decided not to proceed with the bill to give effect to its proposals after over 80 hours in Committee of the Whole House in the Commons, because of the implications for the rest of the Government's legislative programme[18].

41.   The Clerk of the Parliaments has advised us that legislation would be required to establish a scheme for associate members. Clearly, the constraints on legislative time, and the potentially controversial nature of such provisions, make this a significant obstacle to implementation. However, without legislation it would be open to an associate member to revert to "full" membership, because of their entitlement to a Writ of Summons, at any time. A "revolving door" of that kind would not be acceptable. Moreover, issues of privilege might arise unless legislation clarified the standing of proceedings in which associate members were permitted to participate.

42.   The introduction of different categories of member, in the shape of a scheme for associate membership, would represent a very profound change for the House and could give rise to tensions between the two classes of members. Creating two classes of member might have the further effect of creating "second rank" business. Moreover, the increasing size of the House means that places on select committees and delegations are already much sought after. Levels of participation by "full" members in all areas of the House's proceedings, whether on or off the floor of the House, might make it difficult to offer many opportunities to associate members.

43.   For all these reasons we recognise that it is unlikely that a two-tier membership could be implemented quickly. However, it is an option which could complement a provision for voluntary retirement and assist in bringing down the numbers in the House. It could also be of value in the transition to a reformed House, and we recommend that it should be further considered with those purposes in mind.

Financial provisions

44.  The Leader of the House has ruled out "any payment for retirement for the time being. In the current context it would simply not be understood by the British people"[19]. Many members share the view that any form of financial provision for those who retired from the House would be publicly unacceptable. We agree that it would be inappropriate for a reduction in the number of members of the House to occasion any additional cost to the taxpayer.

45. As we acknowledged in our interim report, however, the financial circumstances of individual members of the House vary very significantly. Members receive no remuneration for their work in the House, and there is no pension scheme. Many members of the House have forfeited the opportunity for earnings and pensions elsewhere, in order to undertake public service in Parliament. These points have been made in debate and the possibility has been suggested of compensation for those who, by retiring, would forgo the possibility of claiming substantial sums in financial support.

46.   The idea has also been introduced in debate of an "invest-to-save policy", whereby a calculation could be made of the marginal costs of support for each additional member in the House and that proportion of the budget of the House could then be offered as an incentive to a member to retire. We are attracted by this "value for money" argument and think it likely that, with appropriate actuarial and accountancy input, it would be possible to identify the potential saving to the public purse which could be achieved if the membership of the House were to be reduced significantly without delay. From this potential saving it would be possible to offer either a modest resettlement payment on retirement, or a periodic payment on the lines of a pension, without incurring any additional long-term cost to public funds.

47.   We recommend that a reduction in the number of members of the House should result in an overall saving to the taxpayer. We recommend that the possibility of offering a modest pension, or payment on retirement, to those who have played an active part in the work of the House over a number of years, should be investigated in detail, though on condition that this should come from within the existing budget for the House and should incur no additional public expenditure. We further recommend that any such payment should be available only to those who choose voluntary retirement within a limited period after its introduction.

48.   We recognise that a modest payment of the order which might be possible as an "invest to save" measure would not materially improve the position of those whose participation in the work of the House over many years has prevented them from taking up remunerative work and securing an adequate pension. We recommend that a fund, resourced entirely by voluntary contributions from members and at no cost to public funds, should be established to assist retired members who might otherwise experience financial hardship. The fund should be administered by the Lord Speaker, with advice as appropriate from the leaders of the parties in the House and from the Convenor of the Crossbench Peers.

Compulsory retirement

49.   As we noted in our interim report, our terms of reference envisage only voluntary retirement, but many members who responded to our consultation advocated arrangements by which members could be required to retire, and therefore we consider those suggestions here. In consideration of conditions under which compulsory retirement from the House might be imposed, members have discussed criteria of age, length of service and record of attendance. Strong and plausible arguments have been deployed in support of each of these criteria, both in debate and in other responses to our consultation. Equally, there are strong arguments against each.

50.   Those who would favour compulsory retirement from the House on reaching a specified age cite the existence of an upper age limit for most other public positions including the judiciary. They suggest that increasing life expectancy creates implications for a lifetime commitment that might not have been foreseen at the outset, and that with the passage of time the expertise for which a member was appointed to the House inevitably becomes less current and applicable. On the other hand, the implementation of an upper age limit would deprive the House of much wisdom and experience. It would also be contrary to the increasing trend elsewhere in both the public and private sectors to abolish fixed retirement ages, and to legislation to prevent discrimination on grounds of age.

51.   Those who favour compulsory retirement after a fixed length of service suggest that this would ensure that the expertise on which the House relies was regularly renewed, and that it would facilitate the appointment of younger members. It was also suggested that a fixed length of service would open up the membership of the House for a wider range of people each for a shorter average term, and that this would be to the benefit of the work of Parliament. On the other hand, it is argued that such a measure would deprive the House of some of its most active members, and could alter the capacity of the House to take the long view, so eroding one of the characteristics which most usefully distinguishes it from the House of Commons.

52.   The criterion for compulsory retirement which commanded most widespread support was that of infrequent attendance. There is an increasing expectation in the House that every member should "pull their weight" and that, in a serious Parliamentary chamber, there is no room for those who are unwilling to fulfil their role as Parliamentarians. On the other hand, it was argued that such a criterion would result in the departure from the House of members who, because of commitments in other walks of life, attend only irregularly but whose contributions are greatly valued when they do. It is also true that a provision to exclude infrequent attenders would do nothing to solve the problem of overcrowding, and could have the perverse effect of encouraging some to attend more frequently than they would otherwise have done. We also acknowledge that frequent attendance is not the same as constructive participation in the work of the House.

53.   There is some support amongst members for a variety of schemes by which the parties and groups in the House should elect those who should be excepted from compulsory retirement, to achieve an agreed optimum number. It is argued that that would produce a logical and reasonable selection of those who are active and well-regarded, and that there would be an element of self-selection as well since many might choose not to stand for election. Those who oppose a scheme of this sort argue that the resulting "party beauty contest" would be unseemly, that inappropriate power would be wielded by the party whips and that the inevitable electioneering amongst members would adversely affect the character and functioning of the House.

54.   It is clear from our consultations that any basis for compulsory retirement would be resisted as unfair — in breaking faith with the spirit of the grant of a life peerage — and as arbitrary and counter-productive. It is most unlikely that the House would agree to compulsory retirement other than in the context of full reform, and any attempt to implement it would be likely to result in a protracted and unseemly Parliamentary struggle.

55.   For all these reasons, we do not recommend any of the options for compulsory retirement from the House in the current circumstances. However, we recognise that, if very few members opt to retire voluntarily, the pressures for compulsory retirement will become more acute and the arguments more compelling. Moreover, the transition to a reformed House could be achieved more readily if voluntary retirement were to be widely accepted. If it is not, the transition is likely to be more disruptive for the whole House as well as for individual members.

56.   Whilst we do not think that compulsory retirement would be desirable in the context of the current House, we agree with those who suggest that there is no room for those who are unwilling to fulfil their responsibility as members of Parliament. It is for that reason that we recommend that those who attend very infrequently, without good reason, should be encouraged to take Leave of Absence or, once enabled to do so, to retire.

57.  We hope that implementation of a detailed scheme for voluntary retirement will result in a sufficient reduction in the number of members of the House to secure an orderly and smooth transition (which will inevitably be a protracted process) to the reformed House which will be proposed in draft legislation. If this proves not to be the case, then further provision will be necessary. In those circumstances we suggest that, notwithstanding some of the potential difficulties outlined above, further consideration should be given to an arrangement whereby the different groups in the House elect those who should remain. We suggest that this is the least arbitrary course, and would result in the selection of those whose work in Parliament commands the respect and support of their peers.

Arrangements after retirement

58.   Most of those members who support a provision for voluntary retirement have suggested that those who retire should retain their titles. We recommend that, since a life peerage is conferred for life, retirement from membership of the House should not affect the use of a title.

59.   Many members also suggested that retired members should continue to have some access to Parliament and we agree that this would be a reasonable expectation. In 1999, the House decided that those hereditary peers excluded under the House of Lords Act should be entitled to continue to use certain facilities of the House. In the event, that entitlement has been exercised to a very limited extent, and has not affected the provision of services to members of the House. The differing circumstances of departure make it likely that members who retired voluntarily would wish to maintain a more lively connection with the House, and we recommend that members who choose to retire should continue to receive a Parliamentary pass and be entitled to use certain of the facilities of the House of Lords. We consider that this is an appropriate arrangement to make for those who, acknowledging the institutional interest of the House that the number of members should be reduced, opt to retire. We also recommend that consideration be given to designating one of the galleries in the Chamber for the use of retired members.

Franchise for retired members

60.   A crucial detail necessary to any scheme for the voluntary retirement of members of the House was drawn to our attention by a member who, for reasons of age and increasing infirmity, is currently on Leave of Absence. She pointed out that members of the House are not entitled to vote in a General Election, since they have the opportunity to influence public affairs through their actions in the House. Clearly it would not be appropriate for members retiring from the House to be entirely disenfranchised. We recommend that members who permanently renounce their entitlement to sit and vote in the House of Lords should be entitled to participate in Parliamentary elections, although we recognise that this would require legislation.

Need for review

61.   In considering all the possible options for allowing members to leave the House of Lords permanently, we have recognised the difficulty of predicting what the consequences might be. Having recommended an entirely voluntary route (at least for the time being) we cannot predict how many members might choose to leave the House, or what the impact on the overall composition might be. We recommend that the consequences of any changes arising from our recommendations should be reviewed at an early date and, in any event, in the light of future proposed legislation for reform of the House.

Future appointments to the House

62.   Our terms of reference relate exclusively to options for members to leave the House, but in response to our consultation members have referred to a number of matters relating to new appointments to the House. Whilst these are beyond our terms of reference, they are significant to the potential impact of our recommendations, and we therefore consider them in the paragraphs which follow.

63.   One of the reasons for an excessively large House is the variety of reasons for which new life peers are appointed. In consultation, most members agreed that it was no longer appropriate for a seat in Parliament to be conferred on anyone simply as an honour, without the expectation that they would contribute constructively to the work of Parliament. We recommend that in future the honour of a life peerage should not automatically entail appointment to membership of the House, which should be reserved to those who are willing to make a significant commitment to public service in Parliament. This recommendation is well-precedented, having been previously suggested by the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords (chaired by Lord Wakeham) and the House of Commons Public Administration Committee[20].

64.   As long ago as January 2000, the report of the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords recommended that future appointments to the House should be for a limited term, rather than for life[21]. Had this recommendation been implemented the problem which the House now faces would be greatly reduced. We recommend that any further appointments made to the House in the absence of wider reform should be for a limited term, renewable if necessary. This would ensure that the intrinsic problems in the composition of the current House do not continue to be exacerbated.

65.   Dissatisfaction with the increasing size of the House has inevitably been heightened by the number of new appointments made since the change of Government in May 2010. Dr Russell describes as an "unrealistic and politically unrealisable goal" the provision of the coalition agreement that appointments should be made with the objective of creating a second chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election[22]. She suggests instead that a balance amongst new appointments would be a realistic objective[23].

66.   In debate and in comments to us, many members have emphasised that consideration of arrangements for members to leave the House is compromised by the continuing appointment of substantial numbers of new peers. A variety of suggestions have been made to address the point, including a moratorium on any new appointments to the House until the number of members has dropped naturally to an agreed level; a temporary cap on the number of new appointments; and a policy of one-in one-out, as is the case with the Lords Spiritual. Other arrangements to avoid the need for an incoming government to rebalance the House by means of new appointments have also been suggested, for example by an outgoing government undertaking that a certain number of their members would not exercise their right to vote in the House.

67.  Whilst we cannot recommend that there should be a moratorium on new appointments to the House — since, while the purpose of the House is to provide expertise, we must ensure that that expertise is refreshed and kept up to date — we do urge that restraint should be exercised by all concerned in the recommendation of new appointments to the House, until such time as debate over the size of membership is conclusively determined.


1   HL Hansard 27 July 2010 col WS147 Back

2   Consultation on Members Leaving the House, Interim Report of the Leader's Group on Members Leaving the House, Session 2010-2011 HL Paper 48 Back

3   HL Hansard 16 November 2010 cols 673-711 Back

4   The Coalition: Our Programme for Government 20 May 2010 Back

5   Appendix 1 Back

6   Constitutional Reform Act 2005 Back

7   European Parliament (House of Lords Disqualification) Regulations 2008 Back

8   Insolvency Act 1986 Back

9   Forfeiture Act 1870 Back

10   HL Hansard 3 December 2010 col 1736 Back

11   HL Hansard 29 June 2010 cols 1661-1785 Back

12   HL Hansard 16 November 2010 cols 673-711 Back

13   The terms of the substantive part of the Writ are as follows-"Whereas Our Parliament for arduous and urgent affairs concerning Us the state and defence of Our United Kingdom and the Church is now met at Our City of Westminster We strictly enjoining command you upon the faith and allegiance [for Lords Spiritual, the word "love" is substituted for "allegiance"] by which you are bound to Us that considering the difficulty of the said affairs and dangers impending (waiving all excuses) you be personally present at Our aforesaid Parliament with Us and with the Prelates Nobles and Peers of Our said Kingdom to treat and give your counsel upon the affairs aforesaid And this as you regard Us and Our honour and the safety and defence of the said Kingdom and Church and dispatch of the said affairs in nowise do you omit" Back

14   Appendix 1 Back

15   Appendix 1 Back

16   Appendix 1 Back

17   House of Lords Reform (Cmnd 3799) 1 November 1968 Back

18   HC Hansard 17 April 1969 vol 781 col 1338 Back

19   HL Hansard col 675 Back

20   A House for the Future, (Cm 4534); The Second Chamber: Continuing the Reform, Public Administration Committee, 5th Report 2001-02, HC 494 Back

21   A House for the Future, (Cm 4534) Back

22   Appendix 1 Back

23   Dr Meg Russell, 22 November 2010,
http://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/constitution-unit-news/221110 
Back


 
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