Parliament and the Public — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:17 pm on 16th June 2009.

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Photo of Lord Selsdon Lord Selsdon Conservative 8:17 pm, 16th June 2009

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to be able to serve under the noble Lord, Lord Renton, who reminds me of so much of the best of our political system. He pats you on the shoulder, you feel good, you look down and six months later your arm has gone.

I ask some simple questions that I have been asked. Why are we here? What do we do? Why do we do it and who do we do it for? When I came to this House, 45 or 46 years ago, I was one of those chinless wonders: a hereditary, Conservative, merchant-banking Peer who ought to be put down. I have been attacked all my life. I find and feel now a great opportunity for your Lordships' House to take a lead. The question is, who do we represent?

When I first came here, I was told that, if anyone wrote to you from a constituency, you did not reply. Of course, you did not have any writing paper or stamps, so it was a costly business to reply. You passed the letter to the representative of the people, the elected Member of Parliament, with a little note, and he would reply. You were told that you did not communicate outside with people; you did not represent them. You represented certain ideas. Then you say, why has it all changed? Now we are looking at outreach and reaching out to people. The interesting thing is that they want to hear from us.

Your Lordships, I am told, have great expertise and experience. I happen to have one of those databases that demonstrates that. Let us take a few subjects. Defence is very important at the moment. Among the 174 people in your Lordships' House who served in the Armed Forces, we have two former Secretaries-General of NATO and goodness knows how many Chiefs of the Defence Staff. I am not trying to say that there are not so many in the Commons.

Let us move on to health, which is pouring out of your Lordships' House. There are 124 or more experts. Go into business or the media. As the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, knows, the lists of people in the media are enormous. There are so many former Secretaries of State for foreign affairs and so many ambassadors that we do not even know who they are; we have to scratch and look them up, and they change their names. We have all the expertise that anybody could wish for. The question is, how do we deliver it and to whom?

I took a simple view. I said I will represent somebody and decreed myself in the mirror one day—if you have an oval or convex mirror, you can look good or bad, I was told in hotels. I looked and said, "I am going to represent the 19 million people who did not vote in the last election, the 20 or 18 million British subjects who live abroad and I would represent everybody in Her Majesty's Realms and Territories". I asked if they would please write to me. Of course, nobody wrote to me; not many people write to me, but they send me e-mails and jam up my system.

I would like to relate to people; I would like to meet people. I think your Lordships' have a lot more to offer than they realise. However, our role above all must be complementary to the House of Commons and not a replacement.