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Number of appointments has 'undone progress', says report

9 May 2021

Much of the substantial progress made by the House of Lords in reducing its size has been undone by recent appointments, the Lord Speaker's committee on the size of the House has concluded.

The committee, chaired by Lord Burns, was appointed by the former Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, in 2016 to examine practical ways to reduce the number of Members. The committee’s fourth report has been published to coincide with the departure of Lord Fowler as Lord Speaker.

In previous reports the committee recommended that:

  • the numbers of Members be capped at 600
  • a "two out one in" system should be adopted
  • 15-year fixed term limits should be introduced
  • any political appointments should be linked to election results.

The committee finds that the 'out' part of the formula to reduce the size of the House to 600 is on track with its original recommendations, as 119 Members have left the House since 2017 – exactly the number the Committee recommended – but in the same period there have been 113 new appointments, nearly double the Committee's recommended limit of 60.

The Committe'’s recommendations were originally designed to be implemented without legislation over a period of years. However, the committee have now concluded that this approach is too vulnerable to political events. They have advised that the priority is to implement a binding cap and achieve a much faster reduction to 600 Members than originally planned.

For the first time, the committee also recommended that hereditary peer by-elections should be stopped but highlighted that this can only be achieved through legislation.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Committee, Lord Burns said:

"The House of Lords is anomalous among legislatures in having no limit on its size, and until we put that right there is nothing to prevent it continuing to grow. Our committee set out some practical solutions to reduce its size to 600 and keep it there, which were supported by the House in 2017.

"The Prime Minister at the time, Theresa May, also signalled a desire to reduce the size of the House and adopted the Committee’s recommendation that she should act with restraint in the number of new Members she appointed.

"However, the evidence shows that a voluntary approach is no longer working and any progress that has been made is being undone by too many appointments. A new approach is therefore required if we are to make serious progress in this area."

Lord Speaker's comments

The Lord Speaker, Lord McFall of Alcluith said:

"Lord Burns and his committee have done important work and have proposed practical solutions to address the size of the House and as Lord Speaker, I plan to raise these issues at the highest level. Now is the time to redouble our efforts and accelerate progress, not to give up. Ultimately, a smaller and more effective House will be of greater benefit to the public we are here to serve."