Sunday, 21 June 2015

How Many New Conservative Peers Should There Be?

In the next few months, there should be a Dissolution Honours List and a list of working peers, while the Conservatives have already been adding new peers who have become Government ministers - such as Ros Altmann as Minister for Pensions, Richard Keen as Advocate-General and Francis Maude as Minister for Trade & Investment.

One accusation that the former Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government had to face from Labour was that it was somehow packing the House of Lords, with Labour coming up with concepts as "de facto majority" and "political peers".

If the number of peers is supposed to reflect the votes cast as the previous general election, then how many peers should there be?

The current list at the Parliament website gives:

  • Conservative - 228
  • Labour - 212
  • Crossbench - 178
  • Liberal Democrat - 102
  • Bishops - 26
  • Non-affiliated - 24
  • Democratic Unionist Party - 4
  • UK Independence Party - 3
  • Plaid Cymru - 2
  • Ulster Unionist Party - 2
  • Green Party of England & Wales - 1
  • Independent Labour - 1
  • Independent Liberal Democrat - 1
  • Independent Ulster Unionist - 1
  • Independent Social Democrat - 1

Please note that I am using how peers self-identify, rather than how they vote. I am not getting into games that Lord X is Crossbench but votes with party Y z% of the time so is "really" one of party Y's peers.

This gives the Conservatives a little over 29% of the House of Lords.

We can look at the result of the May 2015 general election and compare the number of votes to the number of peers a party has:

Party Votes Peers Votes per peer
Conservative 11,334,576 228 49,713
Labour 9,347,304 212 44,091
Liberal Democrat 2,415,862 102 23,685
Democratic Unionist Party 184,260 4 46,065
UK Independence Party 3,881,099 3 1,293,700
Plaid Cymru 181,704 2 90,852
Ulster Unionist Party 114,935 2 57,468
Green Party of England & Wales 1,111,586 1 1,111,586

The party that gets the worst deal from this is the UK Independence Party, closely followed by the Green Party of England & Wales. The collapse of Liberal Democrat support means that they have the best votes-per-peer result.

If we were to treat all the parties to the same votes-per-peer result, then we would get:

Party Current peers Entitlement New peers needed
Conservative 228 479 251
Labour 212 395 183
UK Independence Party 3 164 161
Liberal Democrat 102 102 0
Scottish National Party 0 61 61*
Green Party of England & Wales 1 47 46
Democratic Unionist Party 4 8 4
Plaid Cymru 2 8 6
Sinn Féin 0 7 7**
Ulster Unionist Party 2 5 3
Total 554 1,276 722

[* Unlikely to accept any peerages offered]

[** Very unlikely to accept any peerages offered]

Even when we ignore the Scottish National Party's and Sinn Féin's entitlements, that is still 654 new peers needed to keep the House of Lords proportional.

And it gets worse. The Crossbench peers and the Non-affiliated make up 202 of the membership of the House of Lords - which is 25.7%. To keep this ratio, there would need to be 428 - hence the creation of 226 new Crossbench peers.

So, a proportional House of Lords would need 880 new peers created - bringing it to an unmanageable and bloated membership of 1,666.

One way round this is to just accept that the Liberal Democrats will be over-represented. While the aim of a proportional House of Lords is laudable, there is no fixed end-term for membership - members, unless expelled or resigning, serve until death. So a party which has seen its support collapse will end up over-represented due to peers appointed during the good times remaining.

The Guardian reports that several defeated Liberal Democrat ministers (Danny Alexander, Vince Cable, Simon Hughes and David Laws) have turned down peerages - although it is silent on whether Ed Davey (who, along with Alexander and Cable, was one of 3 Cabinet ministers to lose their seats) has refused. Or indeed, whether he was even offered one.

In my opinion, there should be a small number of peerages granted to Liberal Democrats who retired (Annette Brooke, former deputy leader Malcolm Bruce and former leader Ming Campbell) and Ministers of State who were defeated (Lynne Featherstone, Steve Webb), former Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, and - along the lines of the peerages given to Clementine Churchill, Dora Gaitskell and Elizabeth Smith - a peerage for Carole MacDonald. And for the Liberal Democrats, that's that - maybe a few after the May 2020 general election, but nothing like the large numbers created since the late 1990s.

When we ignore the Liberal Democrats, the best votes-per-peer result is Labour's. If we give every party (except for the Liberal Democrats) the same ratio, then we get:

Party Current peers Entitlement New peers needed
Conservative 228 257 29
Labour 212 212 0
UK Independence Party 3 88 85
Scottish National Party 0 33 33
Green Party of England & Wales 1 25 24
Democratic Unionist Party 4 4 0
Plaid Cymru 2 4 2
Sinn Féin 0 4 4
Ulster Unionist Party 2 3 1
Total 452 630 178

From this, it is clear that - until the House of Lords is reformed - there can only be very limited peerage creations.

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