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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:57 pm on 5th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Steel of Aikwood Lord Steel of Aikwood Liberal Democrat 5:57 pm, 5th December 2016

My Lords, this country is year by year becoming more federal in character, if not in practice. It is right that the committee in the other place that is going to look at more fundamental reform of the House of Lords should dust down the report of the commission that Prime Minister Asquith appointed after the passage of the Parliament Act, which recommended that a new senate could be elected by the House of Commons. Now that we have all those other legislative bodies in the UK, the opportunity for having a new upper Chamber here on the basis of a democratic election but not threatening the House of Commons is one that I would hope the committee would consider. It could include also the right to elect Members who are not involved in political parties, thus retaining in a new Chamber the Cross Benches, which are so valuable, and severely limiting the number of prime ministerial appointments. But that is for the long term and not for the debate today.

The point that I want the Leader of the House to consider is that the appointment of a Select Committee should lead to quick action because we do not actually need more legislation. Now that we have retirement on the statute book, anything more can be done by a resolution of the House. We are a self-governing House, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, have already mentioned. We can do it ourselves; it does not need more legislation and does not need to take up parliamentary time. I hope that the Select Committee will consider that carefully.

I hesitate to disagree with my dear friends and colleagues my noble friends Lord Tyler and Lord Rennard, but I do not regard an age cut-off as ageist. When you look at life outside, judges after all have to retire at 70, while the police retire, depending on their rank, at 60 or 65. The oldest age group that I know of for retirement are Lord Lieutenants, who have to retire at 75. Let us say that at the end of every Parliament those Peers who have reached the age of 80 or above, as the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, said earlier, should leave—80 and above is a very generous cut-off point. It is not ageist at all, in my view.

If that were to happen at the next election, 221 Members of this House would disappear, including me. I am therefore able to say, with some conviction, that this is a good idea. Also, since there is a clear-out at the other end of this building at every election, the end of every Parliament could also be the right time for a clear-out here. If you wanted to add to the 221, you could take into account those who appear very rarely. I am told by the Library that, in the previous Session of Parliament last year, 85 Members attended for less than 10% and 51 for less than 5% of the sittings of the House. There is scope for reducing the numbers by resolution of the House and I hope the Select Committee will take that into account. If there is a Select Committee, I would put forward these ideas in greater detail.

It is very rare in this place to be asked to repeat something one has said before, but various Members asked me to retell the story about the difficulty older people have with new technology. I did not make it up, it was actually a letter in the Oldie magazine, and this is what it said:

“I haven’t got a computer, but I was told about Facebook and Twitter and I am trying to make friends outside Facebook and Twitter while applying the same principles. Every day I walk down the street and tell passers-by what I have eaten, how I feel, what I have done the night before and what I will do for the rest of the day. I give them pictures of my wife, my daughter, my dog and me gardening and on holiday. I also listen to their conversations, tell them I ‘like’ them and give them my opinion on every subject that interests me … whether it interests them or not. And it works. I already have four people following me: two police officers, a social worker and a psychiatrist”.

I repeat that only because I believe the time is long overdue when we collectively insert a use-by date on ourselves.