Leaving the Lords permanently

Baroness Murphy
No, not me, well not yet…

Lady Deech mentioned the rumours that are flying around in one of her blogs so I thought I’d keep you up to date about what’s happening. During a debate on reform of the House of Lords, on Tuesday 29 June, Lord Strathclyde announced he would be setting up a Leaders’ Group to investigate the options for Members to permanently leave the House of Lords. A Leader’s Group meets informally and does not have the powers of a Select Committee but can make recommendations for consideration.

At present neither life peers nor elected hereditary peers are able to retire or disclaim their seat in the House; only the Bishops and Archbishops retire at a fixed age of 70. The new Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 allows for peers who are not deemed to be resident, ordinarily resident and domiciled (ROD) to terminate their membership of the House of Lords if they wish to maintain their non resident status

The group, chaired by Lord Hunt of Wirral and including representation from all sides of the Lords, will identify options that would allow Members to leave or retire from the House of Lords. I am the crossbench member of the group, which has begun its work. We will be meeting during recess so as to produce some options for the House to consider in the autumn.

Members can at present take Leave of Absence for the remainder of the Parliament, some do when they are ill or too frail to attend. Many others simply do not turn up. Out of nearly 800 members now perhaps half are not regular attendees and perhaps 100 or so never appear (they’re cheap though!) The average age of peers is 68, meaning that we are an aged house and some would say too aged. But a compulsory retirement age is being phased out for the rest of society; it would seem strange to introduce one in the Lords.

There have been many attempts to introduce a retirement possibility recently, notably via David Steel’s recurrent Private Members Bills on constitutional reform, which by the way garnered massive support from backbenchers of all sides of the House.

All ideas gratefully received but no jokes please, I’ve heard them all already.

I’ve always had a soft spot for David Hunt, who as a junior minister in the department of local governemnt back in 89-90 and was the poor minister responsible for trying to find ways to make the Poll Tax more palatable. A colleague and I working in mental health were delighted when he accepted our arguments that people with serious long term mental health problems like dementia should not pay poll tax on the basis thay could not properly exercise choice about how it was to be spent. To our surprise (and I suspect to the deep irritation of the Department of Health, who feared it would be unworkable), I suspect he was keen on anything that made the  tax look more human, he accepted our arguments and while the Poll Tax died, the exemptions live on in a number of different kinds of exemptions from council tax . So people with mental health problems who are exempt from council tax have cause to be grateful to Lord Hunt.

20 comments for “Leaving the Lords permanently

  1. Croft
    23/08/2010 at 2:31 pm

    “The group, chaired by Lord Hunt of Wirral and including representation from all sides of the Lords, will identify options that would allow Members to leave or retire from the House of Lords.”

    I thought I remembered reading the leaders groups was only having members from the main parties – or was that something else?

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      23/08/2010 at 6:13 pm

      Croft: I think you are thinking of the Government’s working group set up to draft the Bill for a largely or wholly elected House, which has no cross-benchers or indeed any back-benchers from the main parties.

      • Croft
        24/08/2010 at 11:16 am

        Thanks for clarity – I thought it was probably another committee but wasn’t sure of the name – frankly the Lords’ ad hoc arrangements are as clear as mud at times.

  2. Len
    23/08/2010 at 2:54 pm

    I hope something good comes of it, though I did also hear that another leader’s group was going to be announced before the recess to consider procedural reforms – is there any news on that?

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      23/08/2010 at 6:14 pm

      Len: Yes, that was also announced by the Leader of the House and has been set up under the chairmanship of Lord Goodlad.

      • Len
        23/08/2010 at 8:59 pm

        Ah, thank you Lord Norton – a good choice, I think; an independent and sound mind from what I’ve read, not to mention his excellent chairmanship of the Constitution Committee!

        I don’t suppose we have any idea yet when these leaders groups might report, what with the supposed draft Lords Reform bill coming up?

  3. 23/08/2010 at 2:59 pm

    Baroness Murphy,
    What would the average age of the unseated hereditaries be?
    It would be entirely unique in the history of the world I think but alo I am sincere in saying it might do to allow hereditaries to elect additional seats from the youngest fifth of their number. Preserving the roll as it was those who inherit early would be eligible for an additonal few seats elected by the whole roll of hereditaries. Instructions would be given and assented to urging that preference be given to worthies who seem particularly tied to and aware of their (younger) generation. This would create an offset as there were always a few quite young peers before and now that experience is so defining a smaller but real percentage would be gotten from the old source.

  4. Lord Blagger
    23/08/2010 at 7:25 pm

    A colleague and I working in mental health were delighted when he accepted our arguments that people with serious long term mental health problems like dementia should not pay poll tax on the basis thay could not properly exercise choice about how it was to be spent.


    So since the electorate in general are not allowed to exercise any choise as how money is spent or raised, are we going to be exempt tax too?

    When are you putting a bill to the house to this effect?

  5. 23/08/2010 at 7:58 pm

    Precisely, but inclusively, what is the purpose of the Upper House ?

    Upon that definition and its ensuing parameters the reasoning and planning for the future of both the Upper House and its various memberships should be firmly founded and developed.

    Similarly, what is the purpose of the Lower House ?

    What that of the Other governance powers: the Judiciary ?

    What is the purpose of the many and various Civil-Service branches ?

    What is the purpose of The People ?

    What the purpose of other governance-level national-institutions:

    the Education sector ?

    the Media ?

    the Religions sector ?

    the National Hospitals Service ?
    (( we’ve never actually had a focal Health-maintenance and health-building service, which should have been instituted upon the UN 1978 Declaration of Primary Health Care instead of as actually quickly happened sweeping ‘health care’ under the same roof as the long pre-established and monopolistic ‘primary medical care’, thus usurping and doing-away-with primary-health-care, which contained also a better spirit for supporting ‘primary-self-care’, and instead continuing only BMA-dominated ‘medical care’ in its place.
    The above is apposite to what has been going around about the future of the Upper House, for neither of these two ultra-major People-Supporting-Services namely the BMA and the House of Lords has yet seen their way clear to bringing themselves up-to-date, as not just top-down directive rescuers and commanders of disadvantaged-people but as all-kinds-of-people’s demonstrative leaders.

    “The Life-Experience sector”, and we certainly need such a select sector to be publishing the names, experience, and abilities of its Membership, which could well total as many as 60 million for the whole of Britain, from which could be narrowed-down and ‘called-up’ for non-legislatory duty any or all those having the experience necessary towards giving evidence and informing the preparation-stages of Bills, and similarly communicating with the existing colleges and libraries of knowledge such as the Universities, and of expertise such as the Peerage, and in particular with the current expertise in the House of Lords.


    The radical reform that is clearly indicated by our modern progress is nothing less than a new and ultra-large Non-legislative House of Knowledge and Life-Experience.

    Such a House could contain every class of expertise from the Workplace Employment Sector including Academia, Judiciary, Civil-Service, Media, Human-Development services, and so on and so forth, through a special department of ‘visiting foreign experts’ to a comprehensive representation from Life-experience as distinct from mere secondary and tertiary Job and Book-reading experience.

    Such a Mega-House, with many departments, many discussion chambers, many committee-rooms, many large-screen viewing halls, and library-rooms, and revolutionary access for The People (as distinct from ‘The Public’ which loosely definitive term unfortunately would include large amounts of raggle-taggle tourists and dysfunctional ‘sticky-beaks’)
    such a House would not only cost less than the one-off 2012 Olympics ‘investment’ but would be long-lasting-functional, 24/7/52/Decade/Millennium; and if its membership were immediately begun and possibly suitable sites be allotted now, all over Britain, the British Non-legislative House of Knowledge and Life-Experience would be a World-Unfinished-History “first”, as should befit both the old and the much-needed and overdue future “new” Britain.
    The first major reform need is to constitute a much larger House than either the Lords or the Commons could ever be, simply for tens of thousands of accomplished, resiliently-capable, young and life-experienced experts, non-legislatively. Purpose: to be the natuonal centre f Knowledge and Life-Experience feeding the Parliaments and other Constitutional Government Powers, and also providing a National Knowledge Centre, Archive, and electronic computer ‘Library’ for The People and for the WorldWideWeb if feasible.
    A top-priority is also to allot a large number of seats in the Upper Legislative House to some of that non-legislative house’s
    accomplished and resilient young experts.

    There may be other high-priorities also…

    After which could come the re-distribution of places for any number of the existing body of Peers and of seated-members.
    Certainly both the pre-legislation and the passing of legislation stages need this radical reform, to have fit, healthy and young bodies-and-minds “seated” as the major regular-attendance workers and consultants in the Non-legislative House and especially as the Bill scrutinisers, amenders, discussres, debaters, and public-advisers in the Legislative Upper House.

    Expertise can not be measured by the number or depth of wrinkles on a Baroness’s face nor by the length or hirsuteness of a Lord’s beard.

    The constitution should be made more resiliently flexible.

    Any citizen, especially any Peer or other-expert, should be called-up for governance-service when required.

    Given a “holding-house” for such potential and latent experts, and for ‘semi-retired’ or otherwise only-partly-available Peers, all-round strength could be achieved.

    A Non-legislative Mega-House of Knowledge and Life-Experience could especially include first-resort Method III participatorily-cooperative needs, hows and affordable-costs order-ing, and therein Win-Win-Win problem-solving, all fuly completed well-prior to final legislaion-processes themselves during which the House of Commons wold therefore no longer “need” to rush legislation through without exhaustive-scrutiny, and the House of Lords would no longer feel any lack of room for a necessary and sufficient number of its members to be comfortably and inter-commnicatively seated.
    Your ideas about “year-on, year-off” and suchlike would fall into place, and with such a new Mega-House supporting an optimally small and inbiasedly originated number of seats in the same magnificent historical building and rooms they at present occupy, would help Britain to achieve an Unfinished Historical and world-exemplary “first”.

    I heartily recommend a thorough and “six-thinking-hat” public-discussion month, year, and decade, for the above far-seeing radical-reform proposal.


    and abilitiesone to be part of the Constitution and as a huge Non-Legislative House supporting both the two Legislative Houses in Westminster and the other high-govefrnance ‘Colleges’, Establishmentarian-Societies, and National Institutions

    • Gareth Howell
      31/08/2010 at 7:10 am

      JDSM has a certain view of Heaven that I do not share.

      A Mega chamber for mega debates.

      There are far too many already, and heaven’s design specifications are not so unpleasant.

      I currently reside in paradise, which I have also been redesigning.

      • 31/08/2010 at 9:59 pm

        Gareth Howell: You’re getting it all wrong again.

        JSDM has no such “view of Heaven” as you attempt to state; so logically since Gareth Howell considered ‘sharing’ what never existed, Gareth Howell has been choosing to not share in a ‘Nothing’ that is but a figment of his own imagination.

        JSDM has never put forward the phantasmagoria of “A Mega chamber for mega debates”: Gareth Howell must be having a nightmare, but again of his own imagination.

        JSDM has repeatedly argued not simply for a reduction in the number of spuriously-politicking “debates” and implicitly in that reduction, a reduction in the amount of “debating”-chamber space and time used, but strongly for and in favour of an increase in the number of Discussion places (and of “friendly win-win-win needs & hows recognition and participatorily-cooperative problem-solving” places) and for a great increase in the parliamentary quality of those two basic mind-functional necessities (discussion; and Method III problem-solving) and for an even greater percentage-increase in the People’s voluntary (but citizenship-points-inclusive) acquisition and progressive development of those same kinds of two-way communication and multi-way problem-solving ablities (‘skills’ if you will).

        JSDM’s point is that by creating an entirely new (read the following words very carefully please Gareth) Non-legislative Knowledge and Life-Experience House the membership of which should number tens-of-thousands (again read carefully Gareth) of non-legislating workplace and life-experienced non-political and non-competitive Experts; whose Duty or Job will be to impart (their) knowledge and experience primarily upwards to the existing Two Legislative Houses, secondarily to legitimate and essential non-legislative Bodies, and tertiarily at a ‘Public-Library’ sort of level to British citizens.

        JSDM feels glad that Gareth Howell is also currently residing in a kind of paradise;

        but must hasten to warn others that should they depart from GH’s example here and choose to use the capital initial letter
        (P aradise) in any similar context, they will have placed themselves vulnerable to a thought-correction of dual enormity, first because by common-or-garden understanding Paradise needs no ‘redesigning’, and secondly by similar Theologicality (mmm ?)
        since God’s owns Paradise, since that God can do no wrong, and since that God already designed Paradise, Paradise is already perfect -in fact Perfect; thus to go in There and start re-designing it would be a Sin, a Blasphemy; and anywa would be logically quite inconsistent.

        Do what you like in your own paradise, but by inference from your reaction, Gareth I have to add “not in my backyard”.
        (JohnSydneyDentonMiles 2159T31Aug10)

  6. 24/08/2010 at 12:54 am

    The answer to the constitution of the House of Lords is quite simple. It should consist of the heads of various professions, bodies, interest groups, religions and so on, so that, say, the President of RIBA is given a seat in the House of Lords to represent British architects, the Chief Rabbi is given a seat to represent Jews, the head of the Royal College of Nursing etc. etc. etc. There should be a committee of the House of Commons who review the list of bodies who are represented say every 5 years or so. This way the House of Lords would consist of a cross section of the most able and experienced people across the widest range of disciplines, interest groups and so on. One could even allow for nominations and elections over the internet (get 100,000 signatures and your in sort of thing). The wisdom and experience of those who have risen to the top of their area of expertise/ineterst is made available to the nation without challenging the democratic legitimacy of the House of Commons. You could add an element of appointed peers as well. Personally, I would give a seat to those who have proved their loyalty to their country by bravery in battle, say all holders of the Military Cross or higher. Such people can be trusted to be above party political interest I think and they would lend a certain legitimacy to the House it currently lacks. I would also add the heads of county councils. One could even call them Earl of Norfolk or whatever, thus going back to a situation where an Earl actually represented his county. Why not? Come on, be brave!

    • 24/08/2010 at 2:10 pm

      GrahamSeniorMIlne (a keyboard slip, not some mysterious special Service like MI 5 or MI6 ?)

      I wholeheartedly support your lead for a disinterested cross-section of all expertise, ‘above’ party-poliicking, to occupy the future British Upper House.
      Beware, however, about such un-scrutinised inclusions as “holder of the Military Cross”; even a VC could have performed the feat whilst in what psychologists call ‘an altered-state-of-consciousness’; or even been in an ‘inverted’ state, such as the crazy motorcyclist who got perverse kicks out of running into old ladies hobbling across streets, and usually killing them – but I certainly do not correlate the latter ‘cowardly’ inverted-mind state with VC, MC & MM, George Cross and Mentioned-in-Despatches categories of self-sacrificial courage.

      Is there a specialist psychologist on-line, please, to throw more light onto this matter ?

      Could the posting Peer call upon such expertise, at this stage ?
      Similarly we should be very careful about giving preference to an “Interest Group” before ensuring that every Needs-Set, especially of the Impaired or other wise ‘weak-voiced’. is represented.
      In response to your call for us to “come on and be brave”, I’d go a step further than simply naming the representaive head of a county “Baron Berkshire” whatever, and introduce a citizen-title consisting of the ‘class’ of one’s expertise and one’grade or performance level therein.

      Thus I could become ‘John Miles SL4 of PL6 99YM Devonshire’ (SL = Sustainworthy-Lifestyling; 4 = fourth highest grade out of a total of (say) 100; PL6 99YM might be my postcode, and I would bring and advocate the Needs, Hows and Affordable-Costs situations of Sustainworthy-lifestyle people of Devon).
      If only because our true forthcoming ‘People-Participatory’ Democracy should be able to call-up any citizen for special knowledge or expertise, life-experience, or representational or advocacy service. that we should be Win-Win-Win participating in creating such a Form of Address.

      Cetera paribus.


  7. Baroness Murphy
    Baroness Murphy
    24/08/2010 at 8:11 am

    Croft, As Lord N says there is a group of party politicians writing a draft bill to introduce an elected house. Our retirement group obviously has to take account of their work in devising solutions for our terms of reference. We are also conscious of the possibility of interim stages where there is overlap between two types of peers, elected and appointed. But whether or not there is major change in the manner of appointing new peers we still have a problem of how to reduce the numbers now.

    Frank WSIII. I haven’t a clue what the ages of the non-elected hereditaries is although most people don’t now lose their fathers until they are in their 50s or older so I guess they are pretty old too, although one of the good things about many of the elected hereditaries is their relatively young age; I think there is now broad agreement that the remaining 90 will be phased out…relatively easily if one just stopped by-elections for replacing the ones who die. It will only take 50 years that way…(a short time in constitutional history)

    • 24/08/2010 at 12:51 pm

      Baroness Murphy,
      I certainly hope that the hereditary peers are never phased out. I frankly would rahter see the last Earl shooting out the stained glass windows as the new troops of the future’s European Commonwealth of Happy and Prosperous Primates comes in. However, what will be will be. I am glad you notice the relative youth of the hereditaries — thanks for your response. I am sure many of your readers think I am a “wannabe” English-American pseudo-noble seeking to curry favour when I write such things. But truth is oft stranger than fiction. I hope Lords remains Lords and not Lords Lite however, that is true.

      • Senex
        25/08/2010 at 12:40 pm

        Frank: The Standing Orders of the House of Lords is something you might find interesting:


        The side notes give the year when the order was established.

        • 25/08/2010 at 4:44 pm

          It is indeed very interesting. I am not sure whether I will devote the time and attention to mastering it which would be easier if I printed it but I print little. It would not change my recommendation I believe. I am just try to grsp the larger issues now as summarized by others:

          Thanks, I will look at it again…

          • Senex
            26/08/2010 at 10:19 am

            Frank: I don’t suppose anybody noticed that your link was to a Microsoft Silverlight video on the Parliament site. What it does, and BBC take note, is allow you to enter an offset starting point in the URL something that the Democracy Live site does not do in its embedded Adobe Flash player. The Parliament site also offers you a choice of player. Come on BBC, Parliament is ahead of the game, do you think its time to play catch up?

  8. Senex
    24/08/2010 at 5:46 pm

    Sorry, but leaving the house voluntary is a dereliction of duty besides once the house looses its appointments as a one off event the matter becomes redundant as the election process itself affords the opportunity to leave. The house could reinstate the 25 barons mentioned in Magna Carta 1215. Lets see the Pope this time around try and annul things.

    I was trying to discover when the 75 members of the indirectly elected Dutch Senate (Eerste Kamer) allowed its members to voluntary leave or retire but I don’t think they have one because again the election process itself affords an opportunity every four years to leave.


    Of interest: the Senate is not bound by lower house (Tweede Kamer) coalition agreements, there is no electioneering, the Senate does not amend lower house legislation but either approves or rejects it and they make extensive use of pre-legislative scrutiny to deliver their verdict on a bill.

    The site has a short film “The Senate presents itself” which will resonate with members of the house in terms of what the Senate does and the type of individuals elected.

  9. ptgowadia
    15/11/2010 at 1:17 pm

    I would like to make two suggestions to the leader’s working group & to the House of lords about looking at this issue in the long term.

    In the long term, I believe that there is a strong case for limiting the number of appointments to the Lords.

    Somthing that the Lords respect is precedence, and there is a precdent in this field that could come in handy. It is the Irish peerage.

    Under the Act of Union with Ireland, one Irish peerage could only be created after three existing peerages had become extinct, until the total reached 100, where the total number was to be maintained.

    Perhaps, the curent House of Lords needs to take similar action, say a new peerage only after 4 existing life peerages has expired, until the membership of the House reaches a fixed number, say 400. This could be trialed for the rest of the life of this Parliament & perhaps not apply for the first 3 months after an election, to enable the government of the day to mould the lords to its needs.

    Another unrelated suggestion would be that a higher rank of life Earls & Viscounts could be created, purely for honour, without seats in the lords, while life Barons sit in the House of Lords, as at present.

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