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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:51 pm on 5th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Judge Lord Judge Judge 6:51 pm, 5th December 2016

My Lords, I have written many notes and listened to 39 speeches. I do not know where to begin but I will begin at the beginning. We are bloated. That is not only a matter of public perception but is a fact. Public perception matters nowadays and you ignore it at your peril.

I suggest it can be seen in this way. What is our responsibility? To scrutinise and advise. What is the responsibility of the House of Commons? To legislate; to produce laws subject to listening to us, if it wishes to, and if it does not wish to, to ignore us. Yet for us to perform our function we have about 200 Members more than it has to perform its functions. There is no sense in it, no logic, and we have to address it both as a matter of perception and as a matter of fact and proper governance. We have to recognise the disproportion between our numbers—vast, huge and bloated—and our powers, which are relatively small.

The result of the perception and the fact is that we are commonly derided for the work that we do and for being what we are. If it was understood fully how attentive we are to the interests of the public when we examine legislation, the criticisms might be more moderate. However, we are derided for what we are—a bloated House.

We need a Select Committee. I agree with about 29 of the speeches which have been made so far. If I listed every noble Lord with whose speech I agreed I would take up all my time, so I shall not. We need a Select Committee to look at this to find the mechanics for dealing with the problem which most of us have identified today. With great respect to the Leader of the House, anything less than a Select Committee may convey the impression that we are taking this matter less seriously than we intend to take it and than the majority of the people who have spoken today wish it to be taken.

Once we have got our numbers down to a sensible, common-sense number, we then have to consider input and the appointments system. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, referred to how the influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished. Substitute for those words spoken in 1780 the words “Prime Minister” and you have identified the problem. The influence of the Prime Minister has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished.

The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, reminded me that the creation of Peers is unparalleled since the Scottish King James arrived in England in 1603. He created 60 knights within three months. So munificent was he in his creation of knights that one of those he knighted wrote how the office had been prostituted. He did not tell the King that and he did not refuse the knighthood. In 1611, King James created the great new rank of baronet, which was sold. One hundred people paid £1,000—which was big money in those days—to secure the baronetcy and the inheritance of a title for their family.

We have had a vast increase in the number of Peers created. Why can we not face it? Let me remind your Lordships of what happened to the Stuart kings. When they exercised their prerogative, Parliament stepped in. Ultimately, Parliament has to control the unwise use of prerogative powers. We have to persuade both Houses to do it if we have to. Obviously much better would be a convention and understanding and no suggestion of dividing the two Houses. However, that is the ultimate weapon of control of any prerogative power.