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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 15th September 2015.

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Photo of Lord Lee of Trafford Lord Lee of Trafford Liberal Democrat 6:30 pm, 15th September 2015

My Lords, I declare my interest as having had the privilege of serving in your Lordships’ House now for nine years and reached the age of 73. I am also a member of the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber and of its working group, supporting the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Norton, in looking at a range of options for improvement and change.

I strongly support an appointed House, which is not the position of my party. I believe in your Lordships’ House being a House of experience and expertise, but would like to see far less party political influence. All political parties have their stalwarts and zealots, but I suspect that others, carrying their party affiliations more lightly, would prefer the independence and freedom of the Cross Benches. Perhaps moving to the Cross Benches should become more than a relatively infrequent occurrence.

All of us are obviously very conscious of the rising criticism of this House following the unfortunate behaviour of some individuals, some of the more recent appointments and, of course, our overall numbers. Clearly, some changes are necessary, but I strongly believe that the silent, thinking majority of our nation want this great institution to survive and prosper.

On numbers, there is a near-universal view that 800-plus is too great. So a trimming of ermine is necessary to take the numbers down to, say, the size of the Commons after the likely boundary changes—around 600. However, I fear that the ideas put forward today by the noble Lords, Lord Armstrong and Lord Stone, are just too convoluted and complicated. So we have two clear, simple alternatives to bring down the numbers: a limit to the length of service or an age cut-off at, say, 80. On balance, I currently favour the latter, but am attracted to the idea in my noble friend Lord Steel’s Motion of a small number—perhaps up to 20—being allowed to remain past the age of 80 but being chosen by the whole House. Perhaps we could refer to this as the Tweedbank clause, from which it originated.

As for party balance in future appointments, the percentage of votes at the last general election is probably the most logical yardstick, as is the Prime Minister of the day ceasing to have near total patronage in favour of a rather broader consensus. I am attracted by some of the ideas expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Low. If one is at all fair, it is very difficult to justify UKIP not being awarded any new peerages following the last general election. I have some sympathy, therefore, with the noble Lords, Lord Pearson and Lord Stevens. Of course, some uncharitable souls have compared the 100-plus Lib Dem Peers here with the eight MPs in the other place. Our official line is that it is in the Commons that we are underrepresented.

Finally, I want to make two points on finance, which has not really been mentioned today. First, although it is fair to say that the majority of this House are probably financially comfortable or better, a definite minority have virtually no income other than their attendance allowance from here. They find life particularly difficult if they live outside London and have to pay for accommodation. Surely, some modest extra supplement is warranted for them. Secondly, retirement from this House could be encouraged by a limited financial package, which would certainly benefit the taxpayer overall. I know that this is not popular in many quarters, and probably will not come into force, but it would make financial sense.