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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 15th September 2015.

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Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 7:00 pm, 15th September 2015

My Lords, it is very nice to follow a speech from the Benches opposite that I completely agree with. I am sure that, under the new leadership of the party opposite, that will be increasingly the case. I must point out to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, that actually we have the right to limit or decrease our size as a House just by passing a Motion. However, as my noble friend the Leader of the House said, that is not the most important matter, so I will come to it last. We almost all know that we need reform; we have to get on with it and we ought to be able to look to the Government to support us in getting on with it.

I agree very much with the Leader of the House that change should be gradual. Human institutions change much better when they evolve rather than being pushed into some catharsis. Mistakes are much smaller and much easier to rectify when you can see where you are going and when each step is only a short distance in front of your face; whereas if you try to change something radically it is very easy to make mistakes. So we need to get into a position where we are allowed to have a process of continuous self-criticism and improvement. The sort of approach that we urge on schools and many other institutions should be available to us. The way people get to be Members of this House, the balance of this House, and all the other issues that my noble friends and others have been discussing today: we need to move all those matters out of this process of primary legislation—because the constipation down the other end never lets anything happen—and into a process where we can do it by agreement with the other House, by a vote of both Houses, or by something much less occasional, where we look every year or few years at how we should change. I really look to my noble friend to institute a process, as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, says: to get us something we can work with, make some changes, see how they go, and make more changes, without getting stuck in the legislative logjam.

I know that this needs to be done with consultation between the parties, so I am absolutely delighted by what the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has been quoted as saying about removing the opposition to gradual change that came from the Liberal Democrats in the last Government. It would be great to get some agreement on where to move next between the parties, but we do have to make this a matter of open debate. I very much hope that we will involve the Constitution Unit and others who can moderate the debate in a friendly way, and that we will let other people in, rather than having a closed decision made by people in this House and in politics.

When it comes to size, an effective Motion would be to resolve that, notwithstanding any practice of the House, no more than 20 new Members appointed under the Life Peerages Act 1958 may be introduced to the House in any calendar year. We can do that. If we chose to allow 10 new Members, we would be set on a course of reducing the size of the House. It is already within our powers to resolve that, but I very much hope that we will instead find ourselves engaged on a wider process of reform. If we are not allowed to do that, I think we should take action on size, but if we have a wider process of reform—if we can tackle the bigger issues, with the help of the Government, with a process involving all parties, and sharing that with the public, as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, says—that will be a much better route forward.