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This debate pack summarises developments in House of Lords Reform since 2015. The House of Commons Library has a separate briefing paper which outlines House of Lords Reform – developments in the 2010 Parliament.

The Government’s position on Lords reform

The Conservative Manifesto from the 2015 General Election stated that

We will ensure that the House of Lords fulfils its valuable role as a chamber of legislative scrutiny and revision

While we still see a strong case for introducing an elected element into our second chamber, this is not a priority in the next Parliament. We have already allowed for expulsion of members for poor conduct and will ensure the House of Lords continues to work well by addressing issues such as the size of the chamber and the retirement of peers.[1]

On 14 September 2015 the Prime Minister responded to a Parliamentary Question on the Government’s policy on Lords reform. The Prime Minister said:

We have already supported changes allowing for the expulsion of members for poor conduct and will work to ensure the House of Lords continues to function well by looking, with others, at issues such as the size of the chamber and the retirement of peers.[2]

During a debate on House of Lords Reform on 15 September 2015, Baroness Stowell of Beeston, the Leader of the House of Lords, announced her intention to establish cross-party discussions on addressing the size of the House of Lords.[3]

Continued concern over the size of the House of Lords

Members of the House of Lords have continued to express frustration with the size of the House through questions in the House. On 21 July 2015 Lord Campbell-Savours asked “why do we not avoid public ridicule, bite the bullet and ask the Prime Minister to freeze the size of the House by adopting a new formula: one retirement or one death equals one new appointment?”[4]

In an oral PQ in the House of Lords on 25 June 2015, Lord Campbell-Savours asked what proposals the Government had for the appointment system in the House of Lords. In response, Baroness Stowell of Beston, the Leader of the House of Lords, said that appointments to the Lords remain a matter for the Prime Minister, and that:

If and when a Dissolution Honours List marking the end of the previous Parliament is published, it would be surprising if it did not reflect the fact that there were two parties in government. More importantly, the message I want to direct to all noble Lords is that, regardless of party balance, this House has a very important role in the legislative process, and in doing our work, this House is not, and should not become, an alternative platform for party politics.[5]

The creation of 45 new peerages in the Dissolution Honours list announced on 28 August 2015 caused further disquiet.[6] On 22 October 2015 Alan Brown MP said that:

Since I was elected in May, 44 new Lords have been sworn in to the other place, despite this Government’s pledge to cut the cost of politics. Given that, yesterday, even the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) expressed his concern about the performance of the other place, will the Leader of the House now agree, on the second time of asking, to bring forward a debate in Government time on the merits, performance and value for money of the other place—because we might now all agree on abolition?[7]

In a debate on House of Lords Reform in the House of Lords on 15 September 2015, Baroness Stowell of Beeston said that “this Government are clear that the House cannot keep growing indefinitely”. She said that “As Leader I am conscious of our responsibility to examine and address the question of our size”.[8]

She stressed the importance of ensuring any approach to answering the question of the size of the House was as simple as possible. She suggested:

That is why some of the simpler, although sensitive, approaches such as age and term limits, which will doubtless attract commentary this afternoon—both positive and negative—deserve further consideration.[9]

She also said announced that “now is the time to begin discussions on a cross-party basis”.[10] She indicated that there was support for talks from other party leaders, and that they would begin after the Conference Recess:

From my conversations with the leaders of the other groups, I sense that there is now a welcome and shared will to move forward, which is why I now want to convene discussions with the other leaders and the Convener to drive this process on. I will lead those discussions in the months to come and I have scheduled our first meeting in the weeks following the Conference Recess. I hope that today’s debate can provide the backdrop which will inform that process as it gets under way, because however we proceed, all Benches must play their part.[11]

In the same debate Lord Steel of Aikwood suggested having a “cut-off” age at which members of the Lords had to retire:

if we had an automatic cut-off with anybody over the age of 80 at the end of each Parliament departing, it would enable the House to be refreshed after each election without the numbers becoming excessive. In fact, if this had happened at the last election, 158 Members would have left. If it happens at the end of this Parliament, 260—including myself—would have to go. I think that that is probably a very good thing—I am not referring to myself, but to the generality. It would enable an incoming Government to make new creations without the numbers becoming excessive.[12]

Retirement from the House of Lords

Voluntary retirement from the House of Lords was placed upon a statutory basis by the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. In effect, this replaced the non-statutory voluntary retirement scheme in place since 2011. Members can retire under the 2014 Act by giving written notice to the Clerk of the Parliaments specifying a date upon which they want to retire. 37 members of the House of Lords have retired under the Act, including 33 members in 2015.

Strathclyde Review

On 26 October 2015 the House of Lords twice amended a motion so as to decline to consider a statutory instrument that would have implemented the Government’s policy on tax credits. This prompted some to question whether the House of Lords had acted properly in voting down a statutory instrument, and whether it had encroached on the financial primacy of the House of Commons. Others stated that the Lords had acted within its normal competence and no conventions had been broken. The incident drew attention to these conventions and how they operate when the Government lacks a majority of members in the House of Lords.

As a result, the Government announced that Lord Strathclyde would conduct a “rapid review” of the relationship between the two Houses.[13]

Lord Strathclyde published his report on 17 December 2015. In it he recommended that there should be a new procedure, set out in statute, which would allow the Lords to invite the Commons to “think again” when there is a disagreement on a statutory instrument between the two Houses. The Commons would then be able to insist on its view. He also suggested that a review should take place, with the involvement of the House of Commons Procedure Committee, into the circumstances in which statutory instruments should be subject to Commons-only procedures. Lastly, he suggested that it would be appropriate for the Government to take steps to ensure that “too much is not left for implementation by statutory instrument” in order to mitigate excessive use of the new process.[14]

The Government are yet to issue a formal response to the recommendations of the Strathcylde Review. In a statement in the House of Lords, Baroness Stowell of Beston said that the Government would allow a full debate on the Report in the House of Lords in the New Year before the Government responded in full. The Lords debate took place on 13 January 2015.

[1]     The Conservative Party Manifesto 2015

[2]     PQ 9202 [House of Lords: Reform], 14 September 2015

[3]     HL Debate 15 September 2015 cc1750

[4]     HL Deb 21 July 2015 c1000

[5]     HL Deb 25 June 2015 c1694

[6], Press Release: Dissolution Honours, 27 August 2015

[7]     HC Deb 22 Oct 2015 c1155

[8]     HL Debate 15 September 2015 cc1748-1749

[9]    Ibid c1750

[10]    Ibid c1750

[11]    Ibid c1750

[12]    Ibid c1754

[13]    HC Deb 28 Oct 2015 c349

[14]    Ibid cc350-351

[15]    Strathclyde Review: Secondary legislation and the primacy of the House of Commons, December 2015

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