House of Lords: Appointments Debate

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Department: Leader of the House
Thursday 30th January 2020

(4 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Tyler Portrait Lord Tyler
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to review the criteria for appointments to the House of Lords.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, the House of Lords Appointments Commission is an independent, advisory, non-departmental public body. It plays an important function in vetting appointments for life Peers to ensure the highest standards of propriety.

Lord Tyler Portrait Lord Tyler (LD)
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My Lords, could the Minister tell your Lordships whether the criteria for appointment of political nominees to your Lordships’ House are exactly the same as those for independent Cross-Bench Peers? If not, why not?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, there are various established criteria for appointments to your Lordships’ House, whether distinguished service in a particular field or the potential contribution that the individual can make to the work of your Lordships’ House—or, indeed, both those things—subject to vetting for propriety. I come back to that point because it is central to the issue he has raised. All nominations are subject to independent vetting for propriety by the House of Lords Appointments Commission before appointment. That must underpin any future consideration of this matter.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, the issue of appointments to your Lordships’ House goes right to the heart of any reform we would see for this place. The Minister will be aware that your Lordships’ House has supported two methods of reform: first, ending the by-elections for hereditary Peers, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, with the overwhelming support of this House; secondly, the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, on how to reduce the size of the House and bring some balance into appointments. The only reason why we have not had any reform is that it has been blocked by the Government. In the light of the new commission that the Government intend to set up, can the Minister tell me whether he, the Leader of the House, the Chief Whip or any senior member of the House of Lords leadership team have discussed with the Prime Minister the Burns report and ways to take this forward?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, these are matters under discussion. The Government have not yet decided what will be in the scope of the commission, as the noble Baroness knows, and whether that will include the role of the House of Lords. We will make an announcement about that in due course; the point of my saying this is that the two processes could go side by side rather than together.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, could the Minister spell out for us exactly what vetting for propriety entails?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, regrettably I cannot do that as I do not have the privilege of being a member of your Lordships’ Appointments Commission, so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Bew. I will write to the noble Baroness, having consulted him.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, in view of the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, on reviewing the criteria for appointments to the House, could we carry out such a review to establish why, given the Liberals’ performance at two general elections, we have ended up with more than 100 Liberal Peers?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, I would think the Liberal Democrats’ adherence to the principle of proportional representation should raise various questions in their minds on that issue.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, this House is I hope aware that since 2000, the Green Party has won in general elections between 1.8% and 4.3% of the vote, yet my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and I make up less than 0.3% of the membership of this House—I am aware noble Lords may think we are more. Will this be addressed and reviewed for the Green Party and other underrepresented parties?

--- Later in debate ---
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, we have all welcomed the arrival of the noble Baroness to this House and her contribution to it. As she knows, the Conservative Party manifesto committed to looking at the role of the House of Lords and to reviewing the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts in a constitution, democracy and rights commission. Inevitably, swept up in that will be the kind of question about representation she has posed.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister may remember that I was in the coalition Government as Lords Minister responsible for attempting to put a scheme for Lords reform through this House. He may recall that the level of enthusiasm for reform from the Labour Front Bench, as well as from many on the Conservative Back Benches, was moderate to say the least. If we are moving towards reform, does the Minister now accept that the only way we can form a consensus is on a second Chamber which is largely elected on a regional and national basis for a long period?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, as I said yesterday, the Government believe that it is important for citizens in all parts of the United Kingdom to feel connected to the legislature and politicians and for there to be trust in our democratic institutions. That is one reason why we have committed to establish the commission that I referred to. However, the issue of regional representation is almost certainly germane to any consideration of the role of this House.

Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB)
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But, my Lords, would the Minister accept that there has been concern and support for reform of the role of the appointments commission, particularly putting it on a statutory basis and making explicit the criteria against which it judges applications? Does he accept that, at a time when we are trying to re-create trust in our institutions, the casuistry of the different criteria for assessing appointments to the Cross Benches and those nominated by the political parties causes problems regarding suitability and capacity to participate in the work of the House, and that it would be helpful to have very similar criteria for both sets of appointments?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, I recognise the noble Baroness’s concern on this matter and I shall ensure that the points she makes are fully considered.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab)
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My Lords, may I take the noble Earl back to the question from my noble friend on the Front Bench about the Burns committee report? That report had significant support in this House and is focused on taking reform forward without the need for legislation, using what one might call the natural processes already available to us. Is the leadership of the House pressing the Prime Minister to take seriously the recommendations of the Burns report?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, I think we can all agree that our numbers in this House need to reduce. However, in the light of the Government’s commitment to review the role of your Lordships’ House, with all that that entails, it is difficult for me to go further as I cannot pre-empt the conclusions of that review.