Lord Rennard: We need to reduce the size of the 'embarrassingly large' House of Lords

Posted On: 
17th February 2017

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard believes that a moratorium is needed to reduce the numbers of new peers.

"If the number of new peers created had been capped at 20 per year since 2010, and hereditary by-elections ended, then the size of the House of Lords would now be below that of the size of the House of Commons (650)" writes Lord Rennard.
Credit: 
PA

Threats to abolish the House of Lords if it asks the House of Commons to reconsider the Government’s approach to a ‘Hard Brexit’, and next week’s BBC documentary about the Lords, will both put peers under the spotlight. Monday is also the final day for submissions to a Committee established by the Lord Speaker to look at ways of reducing the embarrassingly large size of the House of Lords (over 800).

Lord Tyler and I have made a submission pointing out that the causes of the inflation in the number of peers are the number of peers appointed since 2010 (261) and the failure to end the process of holding by-elections to replace hereditary peers (there have been 20 of them since then). If the number of new peers created had been capped at 20 per year during this period, and the hereditary by-elections ended, then the size of the House of Lords would now be below that of the size of the House of Commons (650).

So we have suggested that the Committee asks the Government to commit to accepting either a moratorium on all appointment to the Lords until (say) the next General Election (with perhaps a maximum of three exceptions for ministerial appointments).  Alternatively, we have suggested that there should be a cap on all appointments to the House of any kind set at (say) 50% of the number of members leaving the House in the previous year. This would allow all groups in the House to refresh their numbers to a very limited degree.

No measure to reduce the size of the House will have any long term effect if there are more appointments which make up for any ‘reductions’. Most measures that have been suggested in order to reduce the size of the House (such as introducing an age limit, length of service limits, election by party groups to reduce their numbers, or introducing criteria based upon attendance and contribution) would require the introduction of primary legislation. This is beyond the remit of the committee and in any event the Government is unlikely to find time for it in the next two years.

In our submission, we have argued that, any legislation introduced in this Parliament should provide for the majority of members in future to be elected (with no more than a smaller number of members to be appointed by an Appointments Commission established on a statutory basis) and in such a way as to reduce the present size of the House significantly. In a parliamentary democracy, we believe, the only sustainable method for deciding who should be added to a House of Parliament – and who subtracted – should be democracy.

Lord Rennard is a Liberal Democrat peer