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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 5th December 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat 6:45 pm, 5th December 2016

My Lords, I start by apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and the House. I arrived five minutes late, but that did not stop me hearing the eloquent and forceful nature of the noble Lord’s introduction, with which he set the tone for the debate. Like most people, I agree with the supremacy of the House of Commons and, as probably everyone has already said, with a smaller House of Lords—I support the number being around 400 or 450. However, I also agree with a number of speakers who say that numbers, by themselves, are not going to solve the issues that many noble Lords have raised in the Chamber tonight. We are talking about a symptom and not the cause of the problem. I agree with a lot of what the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, said, in that we need much more radical solutions to the problems that face this House. The issue is not just reputation, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said. The issue is also relevance in a modern democracy. Would a reduction in numbers deal with the real issue of how people not only perceive this House but see it as relevant to their everyday lives? I do not believe that it would—it just scratches the surface.

I have been very disappointed that there has been little discussion about the people outside this House. Some noble Lords mentioned them, but there has been very little discussion about our purpose of serving the people outside this House. There has been a lot of navel-gazing about what the systems and structures of the House could be like with reduced numbers. To be clear, I completely disagree with what a number of noble Lords have said—that somehow the public do not understand us and it is their fault that we have a bad reputation. That is condescending and patronising to the people outside this House who do understand. A lot of people see us as distant, irrelevant and a club. To some degree, we play up to that image. So let us not say that it is people outside who somehow do not understand the workings of this House. They feel that it is like a game of Monopoly, and, to some degree, some of today’s debate has reinforced that: we will shake the dice to decide our own numbers and rules, as if somehow that will solve the problem. In fact, I have been following the conversation on Twitter, where somebody said that, “The Lords tonight are blowing their own trumpet of pomposity”—that is somebody who understands this House.

Let us think about it. What democratic legitimacy do we have to decide whether this House has a majority of government or not? What legitimacy do we have to decide whether the independents have 20% of the seats in the House? Why are the Bishops given a privileged status in this House, given that we are a multicultural country? As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, also said, why is it that former heads of the Civil Service and the military get a place in this House? What relevance does that have in a modern democracy? Many people have spoken about the age issue.

Regardless of what the Select Committee looks at, the democratic deficit is the real issue here. I have been amazed at how many noble Lords talk about this Chamber reflecting the votes at a general election but then would deny the people the vote to decide in reality what the political make-up of this Chamber should be like. We should trust the people to decide whether the House should have 20% of independents or a government majority, rather than some of us deciding in a cosy club what the make-up will be. Those who want to do that will give more power to the political parties. They will decide who sits in here. It will be people who have worked their way up the greasy pole rather than those who have been difficult and have caused ructions within their party.

We can tinker with changing the numbers and of course that would be a first step. However, it would be tinkering. Basically we would be changing the seats on the deck of something that many people do not see as relevant to their everyday lives. We need a thorough root-and-branch change if we are going to be relevant and improve our reputation. That would also mean not only reducing numbers but having elections to this place.