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My Lords, I apologise for not being present for the majority of the debate. I put my name down to speak in this debate as well as the defence debate before the usual channels decided to separate the two, and I could not decide which one to scrap from.
The Leader of the House urged us to keep it simple. The role of the House of Lords is to revise legislation, be an additional check on the Executive and be a source of expertise. In answer to the Lib Dems, it is not clear to me why you need to be elected to perform that function. However, to be a revising Chamber, it must be possible to defeat the Government of the day in your Lordships’ House, or at least somewhere in Parliament, otherwise legislation cannot be revised. The Leader and the Prime Minister need to understand that you can alter the arithmetic in this House as much as you like, but you will not stop the Government of the day being defeated.
I can remember that, in the early 1990s, despite the huge Tory preponderance, the then Railways Bill nearly died in your Lordships’ House. As noble Lords have already said, of course the Government of the day must be able to get their business through the House. The simple answer is for the Leader to tell the Prime Minister to stop appointing new Peers and making us a laughing stock. However, it is a bit late for that, as—in my opinion and that of many of my noble friends—we already have far too many Liberal Democrat Peers.
I was intrigued by the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, and my noble friends Lord Astor and Lord Ridley that we should consider some sort of cull. We should consider these suggestions very carefully. I am not sure about the committee component of the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, because it hands too much power to the Whips and to the system. In the last cull— in which I took part, in 2000—all the affected Peers were electors as well. It might be a better system, if a bit tougher on the electors. It was indeed very painful in 2000, because we were electing on the basis of capability and availability, and nothing else. It was quite tough to write down the list of Peers you wanted to consider. Obviously, the Front Bench was fairly secure, but with the middle-ranking people, you looked at the name and thought, “He’s a lovely chap, but actually we don’t need him”, and put a line through it. It was a very tough process, but we might well have to go through it again.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, was right to draw attention to the snags of a cull. I did see one hereditary Peer make a strategic move from these Benches to the Benches opposite, but the machinery on the Benches opposite was very clever and he was not successful in staying in your Lordships’ House. My noble friend Lord Horam advised us to avoid legislation. If we wanted to go down the route of a cull, we could achieve this just by choking off the allowances of unsuccessful Peers, because in those circumstances they would probably decide to gracefully retire.
I have no doubt that this House is far too big in terms of active Peers. I say to my noble friend the Leader that even before 2010 it was starting to become a bit tight. In earlier years, if I got fed up with what the Government were doing and Written Answers were not really giving me the right answers, I could roll into the Minute Room and say to the clerk, “Oral Question—first available slot to ask Her Majesty’s Government”. You cannot do that now—you have to queue up—but in those days there were fewer active Peers and it was rather easier to operate. At the very least, therefore, we need no more new Peers and we will have to consider some sort of cull mechanism along the lines suggested by noble Lords.