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.