Despite calls for “wholly elected” Lords, Clegg supports Cameron’s peer packing


Lords reform is back in the news. The Guardian’s Allegra Stratton tells us that a no vote to AV could trigger a big push for change to the second chamber while a prominent group of cross-party parliamentarians have told David Cameron to stop packing the Lords with new peers.

The UCL Constitution Unit’s report, ‘House full: Time to get a grip on Lords appointments‘, which is supported by 15 peers and MPs, makes eye watering reading. As the chart below shows, in his short tenure as Prime Minister, David Cameron has already created 117 new Lords. Indeed, even taking into account Gordon Brown’s 32 resignation honours and Labour’s 13 resolution peers, David Cameron is creating peers at a rate ten six times faster than his predecessor, Gordon Brown, and three times twice as faster than as Tony Blair.

Speaking at the Institute for Public Policy Research yesterday on “the new politics“, Nick Clegg reiterated his support for a “wholly elected second chamber”. I asked him whether it was possible to hold that view alongside support for the rapid increase in the number of new Lords appointments. As Sunder Katwala mentioned in his blog on the event, the Deputy Prime Minister failed to answer my question but his office were good enough to get back to me.

A spokesman for the DPM told me that Clegg did not support UCL’s call for “An immediate moratorium on Lords appointments, to be lifted only once the number of members eligible to attend the chamber has dropped below 750″. The spokesman went on to say:

“The Government will be bringing forward a Draft Bill next month proposing a wholly or mainly elected House of Lords. This will be elected using proportional representation in order to ensure it is reflective of the way people voted.

However, introducing this will take time and in the meantime Lords appointments will be made with exactly the same aim – creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election. The current system of appointing peers will therefore remain until the Government’s reforms are in place.”

Supporting a wholly elected House of Lords and making the most rapid set of appointments in a generation strike me as inconsistent positions. Could Clegg’s pragmatic approach have anything to do with the fact that the Lib Dem cohort in the Lords has increased by 24 to 93 since the election – a whopping increase of 35%? New politics, indeed.

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  • Ed W

    Why do you oppose a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election?

  • Matt

    Surely if you support PR in the Lords, it makes sense to make appointments such that the Lords proportionally represents the results of the last election until the reforms can be brought through. What’s the alternative? Keep the makeup of the Lords unrepresentative of the public?

  • paul barker

    The Coalition is commited to 2 reforms of The Lords, a long-term goal of an entirely or largely Elected body & a short-term attempt to bring the numbers of Peers in the Party Blocs in line with vote shares. Appointing more Peers is the only way to do it right now.

  • http://splithorizons.blogspot.com/ Duncan Stott

    The make-up of the Lords is meant to reflect the proportions of the national vote at the last general election. That means a glut of new Lords needs to be added to represent the shift from Lab to Con. What I don’t understand is why so many new Labour Lords have been appointed.

  • Sunder Katwala

    Ed W,

    The principle was invented in the Coalition government. It had not been mentioned previously by the Conservatives, nor the LibDems.

    1. Every previous post-war Conservative-led government had a Lords majorirty (inbuilt, due to the hereditaries) yet won a Commons majority on a minority share of the vote. Never once did Margaret Thatcher or John Major

    So David Cameron is the first Tory prime minister to experience what every prevous non-Tory prime minister has always experienced: governing without a Lords majority. But, after forming a coalition, he suddenly discovers a commitment to Proportional Representation – in this respect, and in this respect only.

    2. The post-1999 assumption has been that governments would not have a majority of peers.

    The government claims this government should have one – because it is a Coalition – invoking a new principle which would not have given a single-party government a case for a majority … .Clearly, they made up the rationale. Can anybody find me a Cameron proposal in favour of this principle before May 2010?

    These were the party breakdown of Peers last May.

    The Coalition began with 37% of all peers (compared with 30% of peers for the last Labour government) and had 54% of peers with a party affiliation. Having 60% of party affiliated peers would be fair. Why is having more than 50% of all peers, including cross-benchers, justified?

    http://www.nextleft.org/2010/05/st-augustines-new-politics-does-peer.html

  • Mr. Sensible

    I remain totally opposed to an elected second chamber, as I think such would create a carv and copy of the Commons.

    You need an effective revising chamber with the expertees necessary to insure that laws are effective.

    I am, however, concerned at the government crowding the Lords whilst cutting the number of MPs.

  • http://munguinsrepublic.blogspot.com/ Tris

    Surely Ed W, if the Lords must always reflect the makeup of the Commons, either there will have to to be a way of getting rid of the unwanted ones when the next election comes along and changes the make up of the Commons, or the next prime minister will have to ennoble a pile more. Over 20 years, even given that some of them will die off, we should have an upper house in the region of 2000. These people are there for life and have to be paid for.

  • Anon E Mouse

    I also do not understand why so many Labour MP’s made it to the Lords – has the peerage system changed?

  • Robert

    Well of course Clegg back it he will be part of it in four years time.

  • http://www.timworstall.com Tim Worstall

    Will, please do try and read the damn reports you comment upon.

    Cameron’s first year of peers includes a) the resignation honours. This is Brown’s pay off to those who supported him over the years. and b) the dissolution honours, those retiring and kicked out MPs who get appointed to the upper house.

    This is made very clear in the report. 55 of those 117 “Cameron” peerages fall into this class (these classes). And 54 were working peers, a number of Labour names among them.

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  • Ed’s Talking Balls

    Sunder Katwala,

    Out of curiosity, why the reference to post-war Conservative-led governments? As far as I’m aware, there have been a number of Conservative and Labour governments and now a coalition. ‘Conservative-led’ just strikes me as a strange expression.

    On the issue of Lords reform, I have to admit I’ve been well behind the curve. In the past I saw it as unimportant and something which could comfortably be kicked into the long grass. No longer.

    It’s a real problem. Cameron clearly needs to redress the balance so that his legislative programme isn’t stymied. But this process could carry on ad infinitem, so that when Labour next get back in there’ll be a whole glut of Labour appointees, and so on. Where do we stop? When the Lords reach 10,000 in number?

    While I can’t see the merit in nor appetite for further elections (just imagine the pitiful turnout), there simply has to be a mechanism for removing corrupt and/or ineffective Lords, and perhaps we should introduce fixed terms. I also think there has to be a cap, even if for no better reason than sheer confines of space.

    This is an issue which requires very careful thought. I hope it receives such thought and doesn’t simply become one of those issues to which the government of the day pays lip service but then leaves to get worse.

  • Anon E Mouse

    Tim Worstall – My point exactly.

    Will Straw – Are you beginning to get as jittery as others in the PLP about Labour’s hopes in the future if they continue to follow their current plans? Your posts lately seem to be reaching more and more…

  • paul barker

    What I said at 3, still true.

  • http://www.leftfootforward.org/ Will Straw

    Tim – Fair cop on the resignations honours but even if you take Brown’s 32 peers + the Labour’s 13 dissolution peers into account, that’s still a whopping 72 new peers. On a pro rata basis, this is 79 peers – more than double Blair’s rate and six times Brown’s. Still eye watering.

    And what of Clegg’s hypocrisy? Sunder is absolutely right, the Coalition Programme policy to equalise the House of Lords is an undemocratic fix for the Government.

  • http://www.timworstall.com Tim Worstall

    Hey, I’m UKIP, recall? Any system of PR for the Upper House is going to increase our representation hugely. Go for it.

    Might even stand myself. As if that’s not a good enough argument for you all to be against PR for the Upper House.

  • http://hubpages.com/profile/ktarcus Kevin leonard

    PR for the lords bye all means but restrict the numbers to 299 and ensure there is to be no whip system in the future.
    It would not be a hard thing to do..in a simplistic way double up on the “new” constituencies come 2015 first elect the government then disband the house of lords and hold elections six months later, who cares if that means 900 out of work lords? those who wish to stay on the gravy train would have to work for their own tickets as they would have to stand(with tax payers help) on their own accord and not with the backing of a party behind them. Saying they support the views of whatever party would be allowed but electioneering with party money or indeed their own money would be banned.
    No National presentations by candidates would be required as all they would be looking to do is secure the votes of their constituents.

  • Ed W

    Sunder,

    Maybe 60% of all party-affiliated peers is fair, but it’s certainly not the principle that determined the number of Lords during the last government. As you point out, Labour had 30% of all Lords, or 44% of all party-affiliated peers. This on a 35% share of the vote – certainly not fair by your yardstick.

    If we are to assign the number of Lords to the coalition in the same ratio to share of vote as Labour had, they should have 51% of all peers, i.e. a majority. Fair’s fair!

  • Ed W

    Tris and others – this is supposed to be a stopgap before an elected Lords is introduced. If this government fail to introduce an elected Lords, I hope it becomes larger and more unwieldy with every election, until it gets so unworkable that it has to be replaced. Lloyd George had the right idea all along.

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