A 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.