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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:24 pm on 5th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Geddes Lord Geddes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 6:24 pm, 5th December 2016

My Lords, I believe I have a reputation as a realist, and I will try to take such an approach this evening. First, I thank my noble friend Lord Cormack and my noble friend the Leader of the House—most particularly the latter, for giving us the time to debate this extremely important subject.

I have put down my pluses, or the things I am in favour of. I very much support the idea of reducing the size of the House but from experience I caution against going too low, not least because of the duties on the committee work of the House and the officers of the House. If we get too low, the committees would find themselves pushed for numbers. The appointment of a Select Committee is an extraordinarily good idea, which I warmly support, and I support the view, which I think was expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that the functions of the House should not change.

I will put down one or two markers for the Select Committee. I take the point that this is not the occasion to propose one’s views at length, but markers might be helpful. I certainly concur with 20% Cross-Bench representation. Interestingly, of course, that is almost exactly what it is at the moment, so there is no change there. I have to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock—I almost called him my noble friend—on the way to achieve the reduction in numbers. Although the experience of 1999 was hurtful to a number of people, it was extremely practical and worked well, and it is probably the prime way to reduce the numbers group by group. Once one has set a number, one can easily have a vote within each group. However, that raises the problem of “others”, and, as has been raised, the representation of factions that are not represented at the moment: UKIP; the SNP; the Greens, of which we have only one; and the Welsh national party, of which we have only one. Therefore that is a problem area.

I go along with what was said about the non-attendance criteria. That is an important point: those who do not pull their weight in the House should not stay. On retirement age, I disagree with the proposal of, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and other noble Lords. I am not in favour of wisdom and experience going out with the bath-water. That point of age would be covered by the elections within each group, and the group would make the decision whether a person was worth keeping on.

The Liberal Democrat overrepresentation has already been mentioned; that is clearly a major problem area. The hereditaries are also a problem area if the agreement made by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, is to be adhered to. The question for the Select Committee is whether this is the final reform of the House of Lords. I suggest that it is not, in which case that undertaking should be adhered to. On reduction, the inevitability of numbers increasing over the length of a Parliament could be dealt with by having further elections at the beginning of the next Parliament to bring the numbers back down again.

On my final point, I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, would steal my thunder. When R&R comes to fruition—I am taking a flyer at 2021—there will be a very large natural attrition of Members of this House. The Select Committee might like to hold on to that.