Anyone interested in the way the House of Lords currently works – and should work in future – must get hold of the interim report titled Consultation on Members Leaving the House.
In brief the case for reducing the number of Peers is compelling: increasing costs, not enough room for all to get into the Chamber or have desks, excessive size compared with the Commons and (most persuasively) “damage to the credibility of the House occasioned by the large number of members who take no active part in proceedings.”
Ever since I arrived here I have been appalled and embarrassed by the number of Peers, even including a few former Cabinet Ministers, who use the place as a convenient private club, with good parking and subsidised catering. They never speak or even ask a question, let alone contribute to a debate. Whether they draw a daily allowance for turning up I do not know.
This report gives some hard figures. In 2009/10 289 Peers attended on 75% or more sitting days, 135 on 50% to 74% days, 103 on 25% to 49% days, 67 on 10% to 24% days and 68 at least once but less that 10%. BUT 79 never attended on a single day ! It could be interesting, too, to examine the relative attendance rates of crossbench Peers and each party, but this report tactfully omits this information.
In the circumstances I cannot take seriously some of the suggested remedies to this serial non-attendance. Giving retiring Peers “dining rights”, let alone offering the opportunity to speak but not vote, seems totally inappropriate. As for the idea that they should be awarded an honour “on the lines of the armed services’ Long Service, Good Conduct medal”, or that their “life peerage might be converted into a hereditary peerage”, I can only suppose that somebody was taking the mickey.
One thing is certain. The sooner we disentangle the supposed honour of a peerage from the responsibility to work in the second house of the UK legislature the better. The draft Lords Reform Bill now under construction in the all-party group cannot come too soon.
Meanwhile please don’t just respond to this blog, but get hold of this report and submit your own assessment of the issues on which it invites comment.