Fifteen year terms for new members would be a startby Terry Burns / November 10, 2017 / Leave a comment
“It so happens that if there is an institution in Great Britain which is not susceptible of any improvement at all, it is the House of Peers!”—Lord Mount in Iolanthe, by W S Gilbert
When I agreed to an invitation by the Lord Speaker, Norman Fowler, to chair a committee to look at how to reduce the excessive size of the House of Lords, I did so in the knowledge that it was not our task to complete the second stage of the reforms initiated by the House of Lords Act 1999. Indeed, whatever your views on the composition of the House, it is necessary only to glance at the astonishing number of failed attempts at reform since Lloyd George’s day and the 1911 Parliament Act to realise what a hubristic ambition that would be in the current political climate.
In fact, regardless of the political climate, experience since most hereditary peers were removed from parliament under the 1999 Act has shown that the way to improve the House is by taking small, consensual steps which seek to address the weaknesses of the House without imperilling its strengths.
This approach has recently borne fruit with the passage of two private members’ bills allowing for formal retirement and expulsion (under certain conditions) from the House. Yet these Acts will not prevent the House from resuming its seemingly inexorable increase in size which was only temporarily stalled by the exclusion of the hereditary peers. Neither, with Brexit under negotiation, is there any realistic prospect of passing further legislation to address a problem which the House itself agreed unanimously on 5th December 2016 must be tackled.
In considering its approach, the committee placed emphasis on providing the “practical and politically viable options” requested by the House. Accordingly, we agreed that our proposals should be capable of implementation through the House’s existing powers and without legislation. This prevented us from considering matters such as the number of hereditary peers and bishops which can be changed only through legislation.
But equally it has enabled us to put forward a set of proposals which, given a fair wind by the parties, could lead to a House capped at 600 (down from 826) for as long as it remains an appointed chamber. This would not be achieved through stagnation of the membership:…