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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:27 pm on 15th September 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench 5:27 pm, 15th September 2015

My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, I cannot resist temptation. I will not go through the Hayman formula for the basis on which to reduce numbers in your Lordships’ House. We are only a third of the way through the speakers already. We have had myriad suggestions and will have a few more. We will have many repetitions of suggestions.

I have nothing particularly novel to suggest to the House. In principle, I like the idea of term appointments but I would be more radical in divorcing membership of your Lordships’ House from the honours system completely in future. It is also important that, although I understand the Leader’s call for simplicity, we do not choose an instrument that is so blunt that it leaves us with a House of only recent appointees and none of the corporate memory that is often of great assistance to the House in its purpose. Purpose is important.

Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I think size matters, too. The size of the House at the moment is a barrier to public understanding of what the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, just said, which is absolutely true: the House does a very good job on a range of issues on which we have a common understanding. We cannot fight through the current level of disbelief in the necessity of a House of this size. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said he had not heard a good argument for reducing the size of the House, but public perception is a good argument. We can no longer say that the play is wonderful but the audience is terrible.

I did a lot of media commentary at the end of July. It was not a happy experience, but it left me in no doubt that, although it may have been sparked by the behaviour of an individual, we are in something of a perfect storm so far as the House’s reputation is concerned. The number of appointments, the seemingly random nature of how we decide the size of the House and the continued use of the prerogative are causing great damage to the reputation of the House.

There is also another argument about the working of the House, and the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, referred to this. I do not believe that ever-increasing numbers are allowing us to do our job of scrutinising the Government—of holding them to account—better. You have only to look at the truncation of speeches in debates and the inability of people who are often world experts to get in at Question Time to see that having more and more people does not make us more and more productive. It is tremendously important that we tackle the size of the House.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that nothing will happen unless the Leader of the House is able to create the political will among the leaders of the other parties and the Convenor to take this forward. The key is not to have the detailed list of how we are going to do it, but to create the sense that action will follow the statement of principles. For the statement of principles, I would go for a cap on the size of the House before the next general election that reduces it to below the size of the House of Commons. I may not win that one—450, 550 or 602 might be a better number—but we must have a number and one that will not be exceeded in future.

What is more difficult, and on which we also need political agreement, are the implications for party strength within the House. If we come up with a formula for retirement at 80, for example, it disadvantages one party against another—it is a non-starter. It will never happen. The more difficult task of deciding where we are and how we will accommodate the reduction within the groups is the most important thing that group could do.

Finally, we seem to be developing, if not inventing, conventions about membership of your Lordships’ House with regard to temporary civil servants. We need conventions governing the principles on which appointments are made to this House after a general election. No one will get a Prime Minister to give up completely his prerogative over appointments, but there is a real case for public discussion and decision about how the results of a general election should be reflected in the proportionality of groups in this House. Unless we crack that one as well, we will be having the same debates after another general election.