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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:21 pm on 15th September 2015.

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Photo of Lord Wakeham Lord Wakeham Conservative 5:21 pm, 15th September 2015

My Lords, getting up to speak at this stage of the debate, I find that there have been so many interesting points that different people have made that I feel like abandoning what I was going to say and trying to comment on what other people have said; but I will resist that and try to say what I originally intended.

First of all, we ought to say that in spite of what everybody says, this place still does a pretty good job in what it is supposed to do. I do not think we should run ourselves down so much that people think we are a complete shower, as some people might have implied. Secondly, I accept that there are too many Peers in the House of Lords for us to do as effective a job as we ought to; we do not need as many Peers as we have. Therefore, if we could think of some ways of dealing with that, it would be right.

I congratulate the Leader of the House on her speech; I thought it was absolutely excellent. She employed the right tone for trying to see whether we could have some sensible discussions on what are extremely difficult issues. We have had various attempts over the years; and I see a former Lord Chancellor sitting over there who was very much involved in removing the hereditary Peers from this House. We ended up then saying that we needed 100 of them here, and as a matter of fact, the 100 who remained kept the House going. They were the hardest-working Peers in the whole place. Thank God we did that, but we did not succeed on that basis in reducing the numbers of people who regularly turned up. The leadership of my noble friend the Leader of the House has brought a highlight on the retirement of Members, but there is nothing new about that. Members have been able to retire for hundreds of years: we just do not turn up; we do not come. We all could have retired long ago if we had wanted to, but putting this emphasis on it has made people start to think about the numbers, and it is to her credit that that has been done.

The new law that criminals can no longer sit in this House, while an entirely creditable thing, is not—I sincerely hope—going to change the numbers significantly in the future. I hope the House will indulge me if I go back to 15 years ago, when I produced a royal commission report that a lot of people said was very good—it was balanced; it was this and that and the other thing—and then they did sweet nothing about it. It is interesting to reflect on why that was the case: the reason was that we had attempted in the royal commission to find a balanced solution that gave something to everybody. Actually, however, nobody—but nobody worth while—was prepared to compromise in any way. The result was to go on as we were. The lesson there is that we must find a consensus. The Prime Minister and Government are absolutely right in not bringing forward substantial legislation to reform this House until we can achieve some form of consensus. That is what we must do, and that means everybody will not get what they absolutely want. They will get some but not all of it.

What do we do now? As I listened to the suggestions, I should have made a list. On one side would have been those that require legislation. Forget about those—they will not happen for the next few years—so what can the House do without legislation? There is a great deal more we could do to find solutions if we set about that properly. They will not be perfect solutions and they will be, in my view, only temporary. It will be five or 10 years before any reform of this House comes into effect. It will probably be 10 years from now, even if it starts in the next Parliament. However, there are a lot of things we could do to deal with the numbers. My noble friend the Leader is absolutely right. She should work together with the other leaders of the parties to see whether we can work out some practical, sensible solutions. All sorts of things to do with allowances and so on can be done.

It would not be sensible for me to suggest in detail what should be done because once you start those sorts of negotiation, as with the reform of Europe, if you announce your final objectives then everybody wants to criticise them. We should genuinely have negotiations between the parties to see whether we could find practical solutions to deal with some of the problems. I am certainly prepared to write a letter to my noble friend to set out some of my thoughts on that but it is unhelpful to start a discussion by saying what you want to achieve at the end of it. We will not achieve everything but there is no reason why this House cannot do a number of things. We must find a majority that want to do them. In the interests of Parliament and recognising that we do a good job, I say that there are too many of us here—that is my recommendation to my noble friend.