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House of Lords Reform — Motion to Take Note (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:33 pm on 15th September 2015.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 4:33 pm, 15th September 2015

That is very welcome. It is not just within our respective parties but in many other parts of the House that there is a view that we should do that and look at some of these fundamental issues in a proper context.

From these Benches, our quest for a better whole will not prevent us seeking improvements in the component parts where possible. That is why I will respond positively to the invitation from the noble

Baroness the Leader of the House to engage and find ways in which the Government, the Opposition and, indeed, the Cross Benches can improve the workings of this House, albeit short of the democratic mandate that I would like.

One such measure would be to end the system of hereditary by-elections to the House. As my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood said in 2011:

“I do not see that in the 21st century we can possibly stand up and say that people become Members of the British Parliament by heredity and election by three or four people”.—[Hansard, 21/10/11; col. 474.]

As I understand it, when it was introduced, the by-election system was supposed to be a temporary measure until the then Labour Government’s “second stage” of Lords reform. But like the promise of the 1911 Act, we are still waiting.

The role of patronage in the appointment of Members could be significantly reduced, with a stronger role for the independent Appointments Commission, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall. A more radical change to membership, but one that would be consistent with the thinking of the 2012 Bill, would be to introduce time-limited appointments rather than membership of the House being for the rest of one’s life. This would address some of the concerns of ever-increasing membership, while ensuring that membership is refreshed.

The main premise of the Motions before the House today is that, if we reduce the size of your Lordships’ House, everything will be fine. Respectfully, I profoundly disagree. There are fundamental issues to be addressed in our ever-evolving constitution, of which the role of the House is but one. I continue to believe, and make no apology for it, that democratic reform of the House would go a long way to addressing some of the criticisms that have been levelled at us in recent weeks. But in the absence of democratic reform, I undertake to work constructively with the other Benches in your Lordships’ House to improve our composition, our processes and, I sincerely hope, our reputation. However, I urge the Leader of the House, in the haste to resolve a seating shortage, please do not lose sight of the deep-rooted challenges facing this Chamber.