Does size matter?

44587A total of 45 new peerages were announced today.  As it is a dissolution honours list, it is not surprising that it is notable for the number of former MPs included, not least those who have served in Cabinet, such as William Hague, David Blunkett and George Young, and distinguished long-serving members, such as Alan Beith.  Not all are politicians.  The list includes a former student of mine, BPLS graduate Kevin Shinkwin, who has been active in promoting disability rights since he graduated.  The breakdown in party terms (Conservative 26, Lib Dem 11 and Labour 8) means the net benefit to the Conservative ranks is seven, not exactly likely to make the difference between winning and losing in many divisions.

However, the focus of discussion has tended to be the effect on the size of the House.  It contributes to the Topsy-like nature of the House.  I have made the point before that we are too large in terms of membership.  The size is a problem in both cosmetic and practical terms.  The cosmetic aspect derives from those who never attend.  They place no burden on financial or physical resources, but they are a problem in that they are members who make no contribution.  They inflate the size of the membership to no effect.  The practical problems derive from those who do attend.   There is not space for all peers who wish to attend Question Time or the big debates.  They add to the cost of the House.  If the new creations are regular attenders, they could add in the region of £750,000 to £1m a year.

My own view, reflected in the provisions of the Steel Bill, is that the House should work towards a membership that is below that of the House of Commons.  In the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber (the body responsible for promoting not only the Steel Bill, but also what became the House of Lords Reform Act 2014 and the House of Lords [Expulsion and Suspension] Act 2015), we are exploring ways to achieve a reduction in the size of the House.

However, we need to keep things in perspective.  The House of Lords Reform Act 2014, enabling peers to retire, has already had an effect.  The number of peers who have left under the provisions of the Act now stands at 32.  The net effect of the new creations is thus not as great as otherwise it would be.  Furthermore, the Act removes peers who never attend during the course of a session.  That will take effect next year.  Being crowded for space in the chamber is also the exception and not the rule.  In most debates, finding a seat is hardly a problem.

We need to keep in mind the work of the House.  The primary consideration should be quality, in terms of the House fulfilling the functions expected of it.  The House adds value to the political process, not least in scrutinising legislation.  It is able to do so by virtue of a membership that is distinguishable from the Commons in terms of experience and expertise.   The latest peerages tend to have political experience.  We need to have creations that have expertise, not least those whose expertise is current, as well as those with experience outside the world of politics.  To refresh the House with such people, without continuing to grow and grow, we should and will continue to pursue ways of reducing the overall size of the House.  But in doing so we should simply be driven by a fixation with numbers.  We need to reduce quantity without sacrificing quality.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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28 Responses to Does size matter?

  1. English European says:

    Many thanks, as always, for your very informative posts on this interesting subject. Regarding the removal for non-attendance provisions, are you aware of any estimates as to how many peers are likely to be caught by that in the first year?

    Also, one idea to reduce the number of members of the House of Lords over time is the introduction of “term peers” – that is, peers who are appointed for a fixed number of parliaments rather than for life. Allowing the appointment of term peers, as an alternative to life peers, would surely not be opposed by the government as they would not lose any rights they currently have. In practice, however, you could see many new peers being appointed as term rather than life peers – particularly when you consider the “rebalancing” that incoming governments like to do. It may also make governments more likely to appoint younger peers – perhaps someone in the 30s for a couple of terms would be more attractive than as a life peer for potentially 50 years.

    Would this be effective in reducing quantity, as you put in? Is this something that you would support?

    • Lord Norton says:

      Many thanks. Term limits constitute one of the options being considered. I am not sure it will emerge as the preferred option. A short term of one Parliament would address the re-balancing conundrum that you mention, but may not be attractive to those appointed. Longer terms would not address so neatly the rebalancing issue.

      • That’s interesting to hear. When you say “term limits”, does this mean restricting _all_ new appointees to a set number of terms or does this mean giving prime ministers the _option_ to appoint term peers (possibly in addition to other appointed as life peers)?

        The latter would bear some resemblance to the practice after the introduction of life peers in 1958. My understanding is that the prime minister retained the prerogative to advise on the creation of hereditary peers although I understand only three hereditary peers were actually created.

        By making it optional, you would allow an element of experimentation, so that prime ministers could see how it would work and it would significantly mute any opposition. After all, why would anyone object to giving it a go?

      • Jonathan says:

        Andrew, there were some 45 hereditary barons, 20 viscounts and 5 earls created after 1958 (not counting royal princes). Regular creations of hereditary peerages ceased under the Wilson administration in the mid-60s. The three you are thinking of are those created by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. The Prime Minister could indeed create new hereditary peers. They would not be automatically entitled to sit in the House of Lords, but could stand in by-elections.

  2. Tory boy says:

    LN, I agree however, I think the size of the house should be no less than 600. I am also against a retirement age (it’s very ageist), or terms of office. I agree with Baroness Hayman’s act that peers who don’t turn up in a ‘session’ of parliament should be removed. You must listen to the below prgoramme from 53 minutes in with Baaroness Trumpington she is brilliant as ever.

    • Lord Norton says:

      An age limit is also one of the options, though not one I find the most attractive. We have some outstanding peers over 80 and some not so outstanding who are well under 80. The provision to remove peers who do not attend for a session is in the 2014 Byles Act, not the 2015 Hayman Act.

    • I would be interested to understand why you disagree with terms of office? Isn’t it a sensible solution to the otherwise ever-expanding house?

      • James Hand says:

        Both age limits and term limits are arbitrary. While the House needs to be smaller and new people introduced both age and term limits could deprive the House of a depth of experience.

        I fear that the Byles Act (Norton-Steel-Byles Act?) may, based on last year, only see 1% reduction (as peers attend to avoid the cut?). If the bar was raised to 10% then roughly 10% may go (based on same figures) which may be better and not be too damaging in terms of experience (even in a part-time House 10% doesn’t seem too much to ask). However, I’d prefer an evolutionary reset mechanism allowing a democratic-injection via internal election to reflect % votes in election (as per a 2009 article Poor attenders would face removal there but in a potentially less arbitrary way.

      • Thanks James Hand, that’s interesting to hear. Is that opposition based on the imposition of term limits on _current_ members? If so, would you also object to limits for _new_ peers? Or more particularly, giving the Prime Minister the option of appointing new members for a fixed term or, if they chose, as life peers?

        This would have a significant impact in the long term, albeit that it wouldn’t have a substantial impact at first.

      • James Hand says:

        @AndrewTurvey – If there were long-term peers and term-limited peers that would address some of the concern of lost experience but I am not sure about two such classes of peers. A system such as that mooted by @LordNortonLouth at HL Deb Vol 754 col 952 could have immediate effect and allow for a better balancing (and while the re-balancing would likely have only small effect on membership following the initial cut, some members could return after a voluntary or electorally-required break). While there are criticisms of such a system, I have previously rebutted a number of them at

      • We already have multiple types of peers – hereditaries, life peers, “peoples’ peers”, lords spiritual. I’m sure their Lordships could cope with having another class!

        The question to ask is do we want a quick fix or a permanent, sustainable solution. Term peers give you the latter. Whilst the impact won’t be immediate, an advantage is that this reform could be enacted in this parliament, even with a conservative majority in the Commons.

        And of course it’s not an “either/or” reform. You could always combine this reform with other measures, including a one-off ‘thinning’ along the proportionate lines you mentioned or raising the bar for retirement so, for example, those who didn’t vote at all in a session would leave along with those who didn’t attend.

      • James Hand says:

        All the ‘types’ you mention serve on the same terms once appointed (bar the Bishops) – the extra class on different terms is an unnecessary (but a possible solution) in my view.

        You pose a false question by asking ‘do we want a quick fix or a permanent, sustainable solution’ as we could have both as you go on to note. Your preferred solution needs an additional step to achieve that. My preferred solution (a ‘recurring Weatherill 2’ if you like) does not. Whether it could be achieved simply through a change to Standing Orders is open to debate but any Bill could be very simple.

  3. maude elwes says:

    Size has always mattered no matter what the ‘don’t want to cause offence’ brigade tell you.

    There are far too many people parading themselves as Lords and Baronesses in our parliament. Especially when most of our legislation is enforced from outside our boarders. This farce the toad breath have pushed through regardless is an insult to us all. What good are these losers to the people who are footing their bill? They are no more worthwhile than the welfare abusers we read so much about in our papers and of course the daily benefit scrounger half hour we see each day on TV.

    Most of the ‘Lord’ participaters I hear spout off in some interview or other should be ashamed of their lack of communication ability and often lack of knowledge on the subject they tell us they want us to know about. It is a shameful waste of our money altogether. The more I see and hear these Klingons the more I feel the entire shamble should be done away with altogether. Shut the place down and throw them all out on their ear.

    If we need people to fulfil the ‘work’ of a second chamber, then, a job should be given to each and every employee that has ‘the ability’ to carry out the task at hand. There should never be one person in this Parliament of ours who is on a dodgem ride to nowhere. Politically correct inmates are a luxury only those with deep pockets should be paying for out of their own bank account, if they want them so badly. It should not be fobbed off on the tax payer. It is a gross miscarriage of justice to line those rows of leather for political party donors either. Or, indeed, because they are relatives or familiars.

    The way to stop it is to have all working people in every kind of employment, right across the country, not work at all for two days a month until our government starts to respect the citizens largesse. See how quick they stop this utter crock they are pulling off in order to rub it in our faces in it.

  4. tizres says:

    It is on record that Mr Cameron created 76 new peers during 2010, yet 56 were ‘on the advice’ of Mr Brown, more than was created under his stint partly because Mr Blair did not follow the norm. Why is this skewing not challenged?

  5. tizres says:

    What constitutional problems would be caused if no members of the Lords were affiliated to political parties?

    • Lords are appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister. It’s his decision – why would he appoint someone if he didn’t think they were going to follow his party line when in the Lords?

      • tizres says:

        Andrew, it is normal for the PM to recommend for peerage those who are active members of parties who do not form part of the governing party.

        I really couldn’t say whether the PM of his/her time knew whether all would vote in line with the proposer’s party. Perhaps you might like to look over recent voting records?

  6. labeldesalis says:

    Could’nt Lady Deech be seen as bringing the House into disrepute and expelled, or at least be considered disloyal, by questioning its present very good set up?

  7. Another obvious option for reducing the size of the Lords, albeit only slightly and only slowly, would be to remove the current practice whereby the 92 hereditary peers are replaced through a by-election when one dies or retires. This is surely one of the most controversial aspects of the House of Lords in a democratic system. You could either abolish the by-elections or remove all hereditary peers’ entitlement to sit in the Lords altogether, appointing the current incumbents as regular life peers.

    Is this also one of the options that the Campaign is considering?

    • Lord Norton says:

      Yes, that was one of the provisions of the Steel Bill. There is general support in the House for closing off the by-election option for hereditary peers. When we had a vote on it, even most hereditary peers who took part voted to remove it. The problem is trying to achieve the change through a Private Member’s Bill. Because a few hereditary peers oppose the change, they employ stalling tactics. We can only get it through with Government support and no Government has yet proved willing to support it through introducing a measure of their own or providing additional time for a PMB.

      • maude elwes says:

        Which proves, LN, how much the Labour party needs to elect Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. That way we will at least have a fighting opposition in the Commons. Presently all we have are the losers who feel it is enough to ‘abstain’ from any vote they feel they really want to back but are afraid their constituents will find out and get shot of them in an instant.

  8. Charlie Young says:

    Lord Norton, I understand that on average around 580 Peers attend the House each sitting day. If the number of Peers was capped at around 650, would this have any impact on space, etc at all if the 580 (admittedly not all the same people) kept attending. Surely a number much below 580 would need to set as the cap to have any impact on proceedings?

    • James Hand says:

      Lord Norton may perhaps/hopefully have more to add but in recent years the average number has been around 480 rather than 580 (although it was closer to 380 in 2009/2010). As you note they aren’t the same people each day and so a cut in total numbers is likely to have an effect – albeit watered-down – on the average (unless the cut only removes non-attenders). In 14/15 the ‘average’ peer attended around 64% of the time (against 57% in 2009/10) although over half attended over 70% of the time (but that would seem far too high a threshold for any potential cut-off in what is a valuable, part-time House).

      • maude elwes says:

        Surely the sensible answer is to look at who attends and why. What do those showing up offer? Is it worthy of the tax payers largesse?

        Call me cynical but my suspicion is, those who have no reason for being there in the first place, as they are shove ins of one kind or another, are the ones who turn up regularly in order to pick up the £300, plus expenses. Just as the so called Daily Mail ‘welfare scroungers’ manage make it to the pay out office they are allocated to. Or, is that the post office on a Wednesday? So many fat hogs barely able to stand up or speak the language, who are, of course, a great asset to the British public and our way of life. They all manage to roll out of bed for that easy pay day, don’t they? We British have an ability to be done from top to bottom, seen by no other group of stooges as blatantly as here. Supporting all the flotsum and jetsum of the planet in order to have enough to be sure we get stabbed relentlessly in the back.

        What should be published is the list of those on red benches that are there because they bought their way in, are politically correct show pieces, or, burnt out politicians too drunk or too bent to keep their heads up without the ‘buddy’ brigade carrying them on our backs.

        The place has to be closed down if we want a return to an idea called democracy.

    • James Hand says:

      Thanks. John Rentoul is wrong about the Clegg Bill – it was even worse (the constituencies wouldn’t have been identical to the European ones as they would be slight differences rendering the whole thing even more confusing). I do agree that a party-dominated list system would increase patronage. However, an evolutionary change such as that mooted above would dilute the patronage of the parties and allow those are aren’t pulling their reasonable weight (at whatever variable level that may be) to step-down (temporarily or permanently) or be thinned-out at the re-set stages rather than applying an arbitrary cut-off.

      However, if major reform is sought, then the powers of the House should surely change (e.g. become a federal chamber) but, particularly if abolition was being considered, the Commons would need radical reform first or we would end up with greater executive power and worse outcomes.

  9. maudie33maude elwes says:

    This guy being interviewed in this video, says size matters very much when it comes to saving our own laws and our people from a mass takeover. It is a long viewing that pauses frequently. It takes about two hours to see it in full.

    • maudie33maude elwes says:

      The link in the above post did not include all the segments. It started much later than the beginning. Which is important if you want to follow the full gist.

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