We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
My Lords, in 1997 when I arrived in this House, I received wise words from my mentor and introducer Lord Weatherill, who stressed the need for incremental reform of this House. He pointed out that there would be moves for long-term, permanent reform, but said that he favoured slow but steady changes that would do much to underpin and strengthen public trust and confidence in this House. Concentrating on raising public trust and confidence should be what this debate is all about. My noble friend the Lord Privy Seal, the Leader of the House, talked about our core purpose and how right she was in stressing that we complement. My definition of “complement” is that we make, shape and revise laws and check and challenge the Government of the day. In that way, we fulfil our purpose. Size is very important, but it should never seek to dominate our agenda to the exclusion of the need to demonstrate our experience and knowledge. As we discuss the Motions before us, I urge all noble Lords to be realistic. As my noble friend Lord Wakeham just pointed out, we should never seek to be overambitious as we will never do everything that needs to be done as quickly as we would like. My speech, therefore, is just to persuade that the right way forward is by using the power of incremental change.
I had the honour to respond to my noble friend, then the Leader of the House, and to chair the Leader’s Group on Members leaving the House five years ago. I am very grateful to Dan Byles, who pointed out that when he proposed what I call the Steel Bill, but is apparently the House of Lords Reform Act, he was intent on delivering “very modest reform”. That is why he succeeded. I am very grateful, not only to him but also to the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and other noble Lords for their key role in securing the changes implemented as a result of that Act. Since then, as we have learnt in this debate, the number of voluntary retirements has risen to 35 and I single out for praise and thanks our Lord Speaker, for the initiatives she has taken to ensure that colleagues can now retire with honour and dignity. That was just one of our key recommendations and there are many others.
My colleagues on that group—the noble Baronesses, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, Lady Murphy and Lady Scott of Needham Market, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and my noble friend Lady Sharples—and I organised a widespread consultation on a range of issues relating to the future of the House. Eighty-three colleagues put forward suggestions. Many of them have already participated and will be participating in this debate, and I still have all those pages of suggestions, which are a wonderful reservoir of advice. We said in paragraph 36 of our report,
“that the party leaders and the Convenor should develop a new understanding … about the proportion of seats in the current House on which it would be appropriate for each party or group to rely”.
In paragraph 57, we said that if voluntary retirement did not result in a sufficient reduction,
“further consideration should be given to an arrangement whereby the different groups in the House elect those who should remain”.
We also suggested having voting and non-voting Members. There was a great deal in that report, which I urge noble Lords to revisit.
There are many other recommendations, including my personal one in paragraph 48, that there should be a fund,
“resourced entirely by voluntary contributions from members and at no cost to public funds … to assist retired members who might otherwise experience financial hardship”.
I strongly believe that it is about time we took action to look after those of our colleagues—a rising number—who take retirement and in later years need some form of financial help. We should regard it as our obligation to assist them.
I also refer to our recommendation in paragraph 63 that the honour of a life peerage should not automatically entail appointment to membership of the House, which should be reserved to those who are willing to make a significant commitment to public service in Parliament. There are many other recommendations, so instead of urging further seminars, discussions and debates, I urge noble Lords to revisit some of the many suggestions that have been made in the past and come forward with the consensus that can enable incremental reform.