Ministers earn rebuke from Commons committee and campaigners after appearing to rely on retirements and ‘PM’s restraint’ to reduce size of Lords.
The government have dismissed a consensus in Parliament in favour a smaller House of Lords, in a response to the Commons’ Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.
The refusal to back change, in a statement from Minister for the Constitution Chloe Smith MP [see link above], has earned a rebuke from committee chair Sir Bernard Jenkin MP.
Both chambers of Parliament – the House of Commons through PACAC, and the House of Lords through the Lord Speaker’s Committee  – have now called for a concrete moves to a smaller second chamber. However, the government have repeatedly ignored calls for reform, saying it is ‘not a priority’. That is despite Ministers planning to impose a costly mandatory voter ID policy.
Sir Bernard Jenkin MP criticises the government for urging ‘more time’ to discuss the issue of Lords reform: “The Government has now had over a year since the publication of the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the Size of the House Report (Burns Report), and almost a year since the Prime Minister wrote to the Lord Speaker saying the Government needed more time to consider the longer-term issues.”
The government’s dismissal of change will only increase calls for a substantive overhaul. As Sir Jenkin notes: “This small incremental reform should not halt the pursuit of more radical reform to the second chamber, 107 years after the Parliament Act 1911 was passed only as a temporary expedient…this important constitutional issue must not be overlooked especially at a time when there is such widespread support for these proposals for what is clearly recognised as the ‘unarguable next step’.”
In a letter to PACAC Chair Sir Bernard Jenkin, Chloe Smith MP writes: “It is the restraint of Prime Ministers in making appointments, along with a commitment from Peers to retire at the appropriate time, that are crucial in reducing the size of the House of Lords in the shorter-term. And these should be the priority” – suggesting it is official government policy to simply wait for Peers to quit (or pass away) as a ’strategy’ for cutting Lords numbers.
Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research at the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“By dismissing even this minor reform, the government is saving up problems for the future. In the face of growing calls for an elected second house and a consensus across Parliament for a smaller chamber, the government needs to reform this oversized and undemocratic chamber.”
“The government’s plan to reduce the size of the Lords by waiting for peers to retire or pass away and relying on Prime Ministers to exercise ‘restraint’ in their appointments is not a solution – concrete action is needed to bring our Parliament into the 21st century.
“The government’s claim that ‘other issues’ are dominating the agenda, brings into question why they continuing with unnecessary and expensive plans to impose voter ID. Lords reform is more pressing: the time to tackle the injustice of an unelected house is long overdue”
“While the government delays, the Lords becomes ever more outdated and tarnished with expenses and lobbying scandals. It is time for a much smaller, proportionally-elected chamber representing the nations and regions of the UK.”
There is currently a hereditary peer ‘by-election’ going on – a process which has been branded ‘absurd’ by the ERS: https://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-information-office/2019/Notice-by-election-12-02-19.pdf A Bill by Lord Grocott to abolish the process has been repeatedly ‘talked out’ by hereditary peers.
Notes to Editors
Appointments since Jan 1st 2018:
- Con = 11 appointed (5 retired; 3 died). Net = +3
- Crossbench/non-affiliated = 6 appointed (8 retired; 4 died). Net = -6
- Lab = 3 appointed (4 retired; 13 died). Net = -14
- LD = 0 appointed (3 retired; 1 died). Net = -4
 In October 2017, the Lord Speaker’s Committee released plans to reduce the size of the Lords to 600 in 11 years’ time and move to 15 year terms by 2042 – by which time NASA plans to have landed humans on Mars.
Over 170,000 people signed a petition calling for abolition of the Lords last year: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/209433
Read the ERS’ report on the Lords: The High Cost of Small Change: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/publications/the-high-cost-of-small-change/
As of June 2018, of the 564 peers whose place of residence is known, 306 (54%) live in either Greater London, the South East or the East of England. The East Midlands, West Midlands and North West are all highly under-represented – with just 5% of peers listed claiming they live in the North West, compared to 11% of the public. https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/new-figures-reveal-lords-is-dominated-by-ex-politicians-and-south-east/
In the 2010-2015 parliament, £360,000 was claimed by peers in years they failed to vote once, while 109 peers failed to speak at all in the 2016/17 session. Sixty-three of those claimed expenses – claiming a total of £1,095,701. 33 peers claimed nearly half a million pounds between them while failing to speak, table a written question or serve on a committee in 2016/17.
Despite claims of ‘independence’, ERS analysis shows that nearly 80 percent of Conservative peers didn’t once vote against the government in 2016/17. Of the Labour peers who voted, 50 percent voted against the government more than 90 percent of the time. And non-partisan crossbenchers often don’t turn up – over 40 percent voted fewer than 10 times last year: leaving decisions in the hands of the party whips.