House of Lords: Size — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:48 pm on 12th December 2013.

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Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat 3:48 pm, 12th December 2013

We may both of us lose more hair before that happens; even so, I welcome his support.

There was in both Jack Straw’s White Paper and the Bill a specific, careful, planned reduction in the size of the House. Can we expect those proposals in the Government’s 2012 Bill to see the light of day again? There is a mystery here. I heard just recently in your Lordships’ House a distinguished Member—indeed, a distinguished former Member of the other place—say that the Government’s Bill had been defeated. Not so: that is a myth. It was not defeated. On 10 July 2012, the House of Commons gave the coalition government Bill a record majority at Second Reading of 338 votes. Even more significantly, there was a substantial majority of supporting MPs in all three major parties: 193 to 89 Conservatives; 202 to 26 Labour; and 53 to zero Liberal Democrats.

As we all know, the Labour leadership, understandably perhaps, refused to support a programme Motion—any programme Motion—so the Leader of the House had to announce that no progress could be made. The Prime Minister sought agreement to press on but failed to achieve it. The Bill was pulled, not defeated. Indeed, had Labour not sacrificed its principles and manifesto promises on the altar of temporary expediency, there would now be a reform Act, or one on its way, as a result of the Parliament Act. The problem of the long-term size of the House would have been solved, but by the votes of our fellow citizens rather than by the contrived patronage or blackballing of party bosses.

We can all speculate about the outcome of the next general election in May 2015. Maybe there will be a dramatic swing to the right. Maybe it will end up with a coalition between UKIP and the Conservatives, but I think that that is unlikely. It therefore seems to me that in May 2015, which is not that far ahead, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt and I may well see a consensus in the other place that we should make progress on a Bill with that considerable support. This problem, so well identified by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, may therefore be on its way to a solution, not because of what the parties say but because of what the people say.

Winston Churchill was once a great Liberal—some people think that he lost his way later on in life—and at one point he said, “Let’s trust the people”. I think that that would be my position.