Lords' new Speaker wants number of peers cut by at least a quarter


The new Speaker of the House of Lords has called for the number of peers in Parliament's second chamber to be slashed by a quarter or more.

Lord Fowler admitted there were "passengers" among the 799 peers who contribute little to the business of the House.

He suggested their ranks could be cut to fewer than 600, to ensure that the unelected House is smaller than the House of Commons, whose membership is due to be reduced from 650 to 600 at the 2020 general election.

Lord Fowler, who was elected in June and sat as Lord Speaker for the first time on Monday, urged peers to take action to slim down the chamber before reform is forced on them.

He told The House magazine: "I don't think that we can justify a situation where you have over 800 peers at the same time as you're bringing down the Commons to 600 MPs.

"The principle, it seems to me, is that we should have fewer Lords. We should certainly not have more peers than there are Members of Parliament. I think that's a principle that would probably find agreement amongst most of the House."

The Lord Speaker - who served as Norman Fowler in the administrations of Margaret Thatcher and John Major - said the presence of inactive peers was stopping the Upper House from getting the credit it deserves.

"There are - how should I put it? - a few passengers," he said.

"I don't disagree with that. But the characteristic of the Lords is that it's hard-working and conscientious."

He stressed that, as Lord Speaker, he cannot personally make a decision on numbers.

"It's up to the House. It's not my decision. I'm the servant of the House and I underline that," said Lord Fowler. 

But he said there was "a very broad consensus" within the House of Lords about the need to reduce numbers, and suggested that it was time to reach agreement on the principle that it should be smaller than the Commons, as a step towards fixing a number.

"Frankly we've been faffing around on this for some time now," he said.

"And my fear would be that unless we take the initiative here someone else will take the initiative - like the Government - and seek to force something upon us.

"I think that would be rather foolish. I think we make a great merit of being self-enforcing, self regulating.

"We shouldn't allow the questions on reform, change, to drop off the agenda. I think we should look at it, the House of Lords should look at reform and change and not leave it other people."