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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 5th December 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Flather Baroness Flather Crossbench 5:45 pm, 5th December 2016

My Lords, I have been in the House for 26 years. When I arrived here I was the only Asian in your Lordships’ House, and I had this idea—quite incorrectly, as I realised afterwards—that Mrs Thatcher put me here because she thought I would be useful and that I might be able to help the Conservative Party to make contacts with the community, and so on, as I was very active in the community at that time. I waited and waited, and when the Conservatives lost the election, I realised that that was it—so I started doing things outside. I am pleased to say that I have done something that not many people have been able to do. I have been a catalyst for a memorial to the Indians, Africans and West Indians who supported Britain in two world wars. In that way, I suppose it was good that nobody gave me any work to do here.

I have been thinking a lot and have been listening very carefully, and I totally agree with one of the things that has been said. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, referred to the scrutiny of the people who are brought here. When I came here, I was under the impression that even political appointees were put through interviews at least by the Leader of the House, checked out a bit by central office, et cetera—but I do not think that is done any more. If you are a Conservative or a Labour appointee, that is what you are. I could not agree more with the idea that every person who comes to this House should go through scrutiny that is similar to what the Cross-Benchers go through. I totally agree with that and I cannot understand why it is not done

It has been said again and again that every time we speak to anybody they say, “There’s just too many of you”. We know that, and we are talking about it today. They also say another thing, which people are too polite to say—English people are very polite. They say that people in this House have cheated. They have taken money that they should not have done; they have gone to prison, which is disgraceful. Someone working in any company or organisation would not be kept there if they had gone to prison or if they had cheated—not just gone to prison. So I would add that to the list of things that we need to work on to make sure that anybody who cheats even for a small amount should not stay in this House because that ruins the reputation of all of us, not just that person. It is one of my pet peeves that we allow Peers to come back and be Peers again. It is not acceptable to me.

Another idea, mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, was a fixed term. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, was talking to me earlier. He said that when somebody is appointed, we should offer them an age limit and/or a fixed term, so they can choose whether they leave after the fixed term or the age they have arrived at, perhaps on the basis of whichever is the earlier. We will have to have an age limit—it is not going to work if we do not.

On that issue, we are not very kind to people who have been here for many years—and they keep coming. Do we know why they keep coming? Do they need help? Do they need financial support? Do we ever ask them how they are doing and how they are managing? Why should people who have given 40 years or something to the House of Lords have to skimp and scrape and then come in here for £300? It is not right. Some element of help for those Peers who need financial help should be put into the system, because that will help people to leave. They will not want to just keep coming because they need the money—because that is the worst reason to come.

I thought that what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, said about commitment was a very good point. People should be asked right at the beginning, “What is your commitment to the work of the House?”. They will obviously say “Yes” at the time, because they will want to come in.

I see that I am running over time, but I shall just bring in one more point that I heard and liked a lot. I am sorry, I have lost it now. I am not in favour of appointed Members. I am sorry, I seem to have lost my point.