I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend.
That White Paper did not become a Bill. There was a banking crisis at the time, and, as we have seen over the past 100 years, it is never the right time to reform the Lords. There is always a good reason not to change. However, the present House of Lords is unsustainable, simply on a practical level. If the current pace of patronage were to continue, its membership would rise to about 1,100. There would be so many peers that, soon, every town in the British isles would have its name in some Lord’s title. There is also a health and safety issue, with so many bodies in such a limited space, all trying to squeeze through the Division Lobbies.
Some say that the answer is to limit the numbers, but I have little confidence that the House of Lords could do that. For example, there was a debate recently in the Lords on a proposal to change the way in which their lordships address each other. One peer said:
“I think it is a retrograde step to start changing an age-old custom, particularly when it comes to ‘noble and gallant’, ‘noble and learned’ and ‘noble friends’. As I said on an earlier occasion, a right reverend Prelate shall ever be a ‘right reverend Prelate’.”—[
Official Report, House of Lords,
The motion was lost. Change comes hard to the House of Lords. At some point, however, the numbers will have to be dealt with. Does anybody seriously believe that numbers can be dealt with, and patronage not?
Reform of an unelected House in which some Members sit by virtue of their birth and others sit courtesy of their friends is inevitable. Reform of the House of Lords is as inevitable as reform of the expenses of Members of Parliament. Then, as now, this House thought that it could hold back reform, but it could not do so. This issue is not about us preserving our privilege and our position; it is about what is in the public interest and what makes for good governance. The electorate are changing. Social media are changing the way in which we interact with our electors, and their expectations of us are changing.
I am in the same position as many Members of Parliament, in that more people voted for other candidates in the last election than voted for me, but I represent the constituency of Stockport: those who voted for me and those who did not. In this House, we value that constituency link, and many of the issues that Members pursue are pursued on behalf of constituents. Indeed, there are many examples of excellent cross-party co-operation on issues that do not, and should not, divide the parties. Part of the frustration for Back Benchers in this House results from getting Ministers to listen to those issues and to make sensible amendments to legislation.
I believe that, if Ministers knew that they faced a more assertive House of Lords, they would be less inclined to dismiss the genuine concerns of Members of this House about particular aspects of policy or legislation. They would know that, even if they could dismiss the concerns in the Commons, they would face the same concerns in the Lords, but without the same willingness of the Lords to back down as they do now. Ministers might also consider giving this House more time to discuss Bills. That might put a stop to successive Governments making amendments in the Lords that they have refused to make in the Commons, thus sending out a message that the Commons is ineffectual.
There are many excellent Members of the House of Lords whose opinion and expertise I value. This is not about the power and privilege of the House of Commons versus the power and privilege of the House of Lords; it is about improving governance in the public interest, and improving the way in which we fulfil our role as representatives of the public. It must ultimately be about the people we serve.