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My Lords, unlike my noble friend Lady Hayman, I cannot resist elevation, so whatever we decide after this debate about the total membership of this House, I have a rather radical proposal which would take some time to work through but may make us more effective. It attempts to address many of the concerns raised by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House about the total number of Members and their attendance.
My proposal allows us to retain the wide and rich variety of knowledge, wisdom and skills of our Members, but in such a manner that we all could contribute more in a focused and manageable way. It gives all Members of the House of Lords the opportunity to commit to a fixed period of full-time work in the Lords. In this way, the public would feel that they may hold us more justifiably to account. I have made this suggestion on various previous occasions when we have discussed the role, functions, procedures and membership of the House of Lords. I submitted evidence to the Wakeham commission, I have talked about this with Lord Chancellors and have written about it to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House.
I want your Lordships to include in your deliberations the concept of full-time and part-time Members of this House. After listening to 15 years of discussion of membership of the Lords, I am more than ever convinced that adopting a system whereby each Peer during his or her life as a Member can spend a period here as a full-timer is worthy of consideration. This scheme uses all Lords’ talents while retaining Members’ independence and skills. It allows them to carry on their work outside the House, which, after all, is what brought them here in the first place: it is their excellence in their jobs or professions which made them eligible to serve here. I believe that moving to this system, together with any changes we are discussing today, would greatly enhance our effectiveness.
So how could we move to a system in which one-third of the Members of the House are full-time, and yet still allow Lords to carry on with their work outside the House? The first innovation, which has already been mentioned, is that Members of the upper House serve for a fixed period—something that I think will eventually come—of nine years, although my suggestion could also be adapted to six, 12 or 15 years. For a third of their time—three years—Peers would serve as we do now, part-time. For example, I was managing director of Marks & Spencer when I became a Member of your Lordships’ House. So, as now, Peers would continue to work outside the House and be unpaid for their work here, except for the daily allowance.
For the middle three years, they would become full-time and would be paid a salary. They will have had three years’ notice, which is enough time to arrange a secondment from their normal employment and for their employers to plan for it; and in that first three years they will have had time to learn how this place works and therefore will have been trained for their full-time jobs. The lower-paid who come here—the teachers, nurses and social workers—and young Peers would be delighted with pay equivalent to, say, an MP’s, and company directors or wealthy professionals will take the pain of a drop in salary for three years for the sake of the honour and experience.
In the final three years of their time here, Peers would return to their work outside this place, but they would have become experienced part-timers in the Lords. They would have a great deal to offer the novices coming in, and could be mentors to those in their middle three years here starting their full-time job. Eventually, with, say, 750 Members of the upper House, there would always be 250 part-timers who were just getting involved; 250 who had been here for at least three years and were serving full-time; and 250 wise and experienced part-timers who had been here for at least six years, three of those full-time.
How we appoint or elect Members will be discussed many times, but whatever we decide on how to bring people into the House, how many Peers there should be and for how long they should serve, I feel that this suggested innovation would enhance and strengthen the changes we eventually agree to in the House.
The other convention I think we should adopt is that if noble Lords are given six minutes to speak and speak for only four, they should be able to bank the other two minutes for another day.