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My Lords, I quote from a very interesting little article in the New Statesman the other week by Mr Peter Wilby, a former educational correspondent on the Guardian:
“Are the Tories secretly planning to kill off the House of Lords in its present form? It is hard to reach any other conclusion from David Cameron’s extraordinary ennoblement of failed and discredited politicians alongside obscure Tory donors and former special advisers. Now the house has more than 800 members, it has become a joke, even to those who were previously among its firmest supporters”.
In my view and in the eyes of the electorate, this House looks quite ridiculous. All the good work by very talented men and women is now sidelined in a sea of ridicule. A very small number of individuals, party donors, expenses cheats and vendors of access have undermined the credibility and reputation of this institution. It is in that climate that Mr Cameron now intends to stuff not just 50 or 35 Conservative Peers—whatever it is—into the House. This is only the first group; there will be further groups in the next 12 months.
We know he has a problem because the Government want their business to get through, but he created the problem by bringing into this House a disproportionate number of Peers in the last Parliament, many of whom were Liberal Democrats. This is not the first time that he has stuffed the House. He stuffed it with 110 Peers in the period between May and November 2010, putting so much pressure on the introductions system that, in the Procedure Committee, we had to carry two reports that year—the first and third reports—recommending an arrangement for an increase in the daily intake of Members. A Motion was put before the House to do that, and I suspect that it will have to come before the House again. We are in a position to block it if we wish to slow down the process of introduction.
I want a cap and have a partial solution for that: one death equals one new appointment, and one retiree equals one new appointment—what I call the policy of substitution. That approach, in a rather simplistic way, would immediately cap the numbers, but the problem of the disproportionality remains. In the procedures and practices debate earlier this year, I predicted that the Liberals would be reduced to a rump, which they were; that there would a be a huge increase in the UKIP and Green vote, which there was; and that all that would be followed by a further invasion of a large number of Liberal Democrat Peers, who in my view should not be taking their seats in this House at this stage. I recognise the immense contribution made by people like Menzies Campbell and Alan Beith over many years in the House of Commons, but I still do not believe that they should be coming in at this time on the basis of the present arrangement. They should come in on the basis of the policy of substitution which I referred to.
My long-term view has remained the same from the day I was appointed to this House. I believe in either indirect or direct elections, and everything else is a compromise. In the interim, however, how do we proceed to reduce the numbers? The document produced by the Library sets out a number of possible arrangements, such as severance and the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, for the 80-plus option. But we could consider a two-tier system of membership: voting membership and non-voting membership. How would you divide the voting membership from the non-voting membership? You could have internal elections, which I suppose could reflect proportionality, or you could have another system which is more blunt but which to some extent takes into account the system proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. You could have a system whereby those who remained in the House after the age of 80 would simply not have a vote; those under 80 would vote. That would enable those with huge experience who were still clear in their thinking to come to this House and give it the benefit of their judgments and then leave without voting. It would provide them with flexibility in their later lives and yet bring to the House the benefit of their knowledge.