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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:12 pm on 5th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour 6:12 pm, 5th December 2016

My Lords, with no disrespect to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who I count as a friend, I fear that this debate is largely a diversion from the real issue of the urgent need for radical reform. I personally favour replacing us with an indirectly elected senate of the nations and regions, which would have the advantage of some democratic legitimacy but without challenging the primacy of the directly elected Chamber. I would like this suggestion to be looked at by a UK constitutional commission. However, realistically, I recognise that that will not happen very soon. Therefore, I accept the need for more immediate reform to modernise the Lords and to make it more acceptable to the public. However, a change in size is only one of the many changes needed. Our archaic procedures need reforming, as does the wearing of robes, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, alluded, the swearing in procedure and the endless ceremonial. All these things make us look ridiculous and need revising.

The debate about size has concentrated on removing some existing Peers. We must agree that the retirement provision has already sensibly achieved a modest reduction. However, as my noble and learned friend Lord Morris and many others have said, before we go any further we need to stem the tide of new appointments or our efforts will have been in vain. The method of appointment needs radical reform and its procedure ought to have greater transparency. The Prime Minister tells us that we are not allowed to know about the procedure, as have previous Prime Ministers. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, there need to be clear criteria for appointment. I also argue that power should be transferred to a statutory appointments committee. I do not think that anyone has yet had the courage to make my next suggestion—namely, an end to the automatic appointment of heads of the Civil Service, the Armed Forces and other bodies. That point is conveniently overlooked by the establishment but I do not think that such appointments can be justified given what we do.

Once all that is done, current Members might be more sympathetic to, and agree to, a reduction in our number. In fact, we might make it a prerequisite that these changes should be introduced in advance of any recommendations that we make. However, any changes need to be introduced on the basis of logic, not just simple arithmetic. This second Chamber is here for a purpose. We are part of the legislature. We go through every Bill. As others have said, we all know this but people outside do not. We go through Bills line by line, often in more detail than the House of Commons. Therefore, we need working Peers. We need people to do the job in the House and in committees. As I say, we are here for a purpose. We should therefore argue in favour of keeping working Peers, not those who just covet the title or see it merely as a passport to lucrative appointment to outside bodies. That is why I favour as the main method of cutting existing numbers an assessment of past performance, including attendance, voting record, and service on committees. Like others, I support looking at removing the voting rights of those who fail to attend on an agreed percentage of days over, say, the past two or three years. If one looks at the figures, one sees that some Peers attend less than 10% of the time, a lot of whom I could name. In fact, the worst attenders are the Cross-Benchers and the Bishops. They are hardly ever here compared with others.