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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:02 pm on 5th December 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 6:02 pm, 5th December 2016

My Lords, it is a problem to have to follow that superb story. I put on record my strong support for the work of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and for the Motion today to promote reform to achieve a reduction in the size of the House. I will speak very briefly, noble Lords will be glad to know, because everything has been said that needs to be said. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, himself said that a little bit of repetition might be helpful on this occasion, but I will keep it brief.

In particular, I support the proposal that this House should not be any larger than the House of Commons—that seems common sense. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and other noble Lords have said, the public have become all too aware, through the media’s constant reports, that this is the largest second Chamber in the world and they do not like it. We have reached the point where it is very difficult to convey to the public the very useful work done by this House because they think we are a laughing stock. They do not take us seriously because of the size of the House and their image of vastly too many of us in red and ermine gowns. We have to try to retrieve public support and the only way we can do it is by getting on and reducing our own size.

We all know that the root of the problem is that successive Prime Ministers repeatedly appoint far too many new Peers to this House. I am worried about the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that we can do all this ourselves, without legislation. I am not sure that we can cap the Prime Minister’s powers without legislation, in fact I am jolly sure that we cannot. We need the support of the whole House, and for all parties and their leaders to agree in principle that we shall not appoint more Peers than would be allowed to arrive at the size of the House of Commons. This would, of course, require us first to reduce the size of the House well below 600 so that Prime Ministers can then appoint some Peers year by year.

The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said that there is more support for abolition of this House than there is for any kind of reform. There will continue to be support for abolishing this House until we sort out the size problem. I am not, of course, talking about the need to eliminate Prime Ministers’ patronage. No Head of State has no patronage—they all do—and we would have to respect that, but this needs a cap on it. Otherwise, whatever we do with retirement ages or length of service does not matter: Prime Ministers will simply pile in new Peers and we will have achieved very little. If in this debate we can convey the very strong support of this House for a reduction in the number of Peers entitled to attend it would be an incredibly invaluable message to the public and do a tremendous amount to restore public confidence in this House. However, we have then to follow through on our commitment. I therefore also strongly support the establishment of a Select Committee to consider how best to achieve an appropriate size for your Lordships’ House. I hope that that committee would also address the really tricky issue of Prime Ministers’ patronage and how it could be dealt with so that the rest of the reforms would have meaning.

I also support the three principles which should guide such a committee: that the House should not be any larger than the House of Commons, as I have already said; no one party should have an overall majority; and Cross-Benchers should comprise at least 20% of the membership. There is overwhelming support in this House for the Motion. I hope this will ensure that the committee is set up and progress can be made.