House of Lords: Size - Motion to Resolve (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:06 pm on 5th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 5:06 pm, 5th December 2016

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for securing this debate and for the indefatigable work of his group, along with the noble Lord, Lord Norton. I add a word of thanks to the Leader for permitting this debate. Her presence here is a very good omen.

Shortly after the last election, David Cameron kindly came to speak to a meeting of Cross-Benchers and I asked him what he thought was the optimal size of the House of Lords. He laughed and said, “A lot smaller than it now is; it is up to you to fix it”. Some of us then pointed out that a bath may still overflow even when the plug is removed if both taps are turned full on. He laughed again—and of course had the last laugh in his Dissolution Honours List, about which my noble friend Lady Boothroyd said all that we need say today.

Mr Cameron was half right: we can fix it. We do not need legislation. It would be good, once we have reform, to have legislation to underpin and consolidate that reform but we can do it ourselves. We can amend our Standing Orders; we can do it by resolution of this House. That is what we must do. I agree with all four principles put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and repeated by my noble friend Lady D’Souza and others. It is clear that we are too big, that we must go on recognising the primacy of the Commons, and that, as a revising Chamber, we need an independent element. It is probably right that we should be no larger than the House of Commons. That is enough as a framework for reform.

I do not think we should attempt today to put forward our own formula or systems for bringing about that change. We need to call for a Select Committee—as others did—and then tell it to get a move on. If I have a quarrel with the Motion, it is that it merely says that “methods should be explored” by which our size should be reduced. We want not just exploration but a recommendation to come forward from the Select Committee—a single recommendation and the one most likely to command consensus in this House.

I strongly support the Motion but would merely add one personal point of my own. We must take care, as we shrink, to leave room for those underrepresented or not represented here. It is not right that UKIP, with all those votes at the last election, should be represented by only three Members in this House. Of course, it is a pity that none of them is taking part in this debate. One would hope that UKIP Members of the House of Lords would not emulate their friends in Brussels and miss most debates and Divisions, as they do in the European Parliament. But it is democratically wrong that there are so few of them here. It is also unfair that we ask so much of the single representative of the Welsh nationalist party—superman though he is, he could do with some reinforcement. Most seriously, the Scottish National Party needs to think very hard about whether it is fair to its voters that its voice should not be heard at all in this Chamber. It is a matter of dogma, but dogma that is self-harming needs ditching.