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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:34 pm on 15th September 2015.

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Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative 6:34 pm, 15th September 2015

Thank goodness for that. There is a buzz in my hearing aid, so I know all about that. I understand that all is clear now and that I am owed another 30 seconds.

The need of the moment is to address public disquiet over Parliament as a whole. Latterly, because of the alleged conduct of a couple of Members, that disquiet has been focused on this House. We need to do something quickly. We cannot wait for a general fix of the constitution, such as my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth would advocate. We need something that does not stir up the five, six or seven hornets’ nests that were stirred up in the House of Commons when an attempt was made to fundamentally change the nature of this House in 1999.

The size of the House is one matter on which a sort of consensus is emerging. That is what the Leader of the House has, with great courtesy, picked as the focal point of this debate. A cull is obviously due, but how it is to be done and who is to do it? I agree with my noble friend Lord Hunt that it should be done by us, because we are the people who know what individuals and groupings in this House actually contribute. How it should be done was illustrated for us in 1999, by which method, as my noble friend again would advocate, the decisions on who should serve are taken within the party group. We need a method of getting that principle in place without disturbing the wasps’ nests. I suggest to your Lordships that the way is to arrive at the total we think should be the maximum for this House. It could be related to the size of the House of Commons before we know what that size is—you could either pick a number such as 500 or 600, or you could say that the number should not be greater than the number in the House of Commons at a particular date, which could change with each Parliament. The Prime Minister can then recommend as many people as he likes into the House, but periodically—every Parliament—there would be an election within the groups maintaining the proportion of their Members relative to the whole membership of the House at the end of the previous Parliament.

The electors in the groups would have to respect those proportions and, I suggest, the proportions within them of excepted hereditary Peers. To qualify, the electors would have to have served a full Parliament. You could put in a caveat of how much time they should have spent there. I remind your Lordships that it is an element of this House’s strength that we do not have to be here all the time, therefore I would not put it at a very high attendance rate. As to speaking, of course we should speak on occasion. We are called here for our judgment. Our judgment has to be expressed verbally on occasion, but it is also expressed in the voting Lobby. That is an important function, and the silent voter, provided they are not the mute voter, is not a bad thing.

I think I am into my extra 30 seconds. I am just warming to my theme, so I should give way to the next speaker.