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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:16 pm on 5th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Luce Lord Luce Crossbench 7:16 pm, 5th December 2016

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, that we need to reduce the size of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who is not here at the moment, had the most interesting proposal of all, which is that those who decide to retire should retain their title and those who stay here should lose it. On the basis of that, we would be a totally empty House.

I can hardly think of a more important time for the Lords to rise to the challenge and to take a lead on the question of size, particularly against a background of a growing mistrust of Governments and of Parliament as a whole. We can also acknowledge that Ministers in this Government have given us encouragement by saying that the Lords is too large but that it must be for the Lords themselves to lead the process of reform, provided that there was a consensus, and that they would be prepared to work with Peers to take reasonable measures which could be implemented in this Parliament.

This is a challenge and an opportunity for the House of Lords. I agree with those such as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that there is a sense of urgency about this. At the same time, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, that we are at our best when we are pragmatic and incremental in our approach. There are some who have said that other things should have priority, such as composition of the House—of course, that can be tackled pragmatically as well—but, generally speaking, we have worked on the assumption in this debate that we retain our role in this Chamber, which is to accept the supremacy of the House of Commons and to have a complementary role.

To my mind, the key question is what numbers we need in order to fulfil this role effectively. That needs some coherence. Many say that it is just a problem of perception. I suggest that it is a problem not only of perception but of reality. If we face the fact that this House is steadily getting larger and that, by 2020, on past projections, we would probably reach 1,000 Peers; if we accept the extraordinary imbalances between groups and parties in this House, where UKIP has hardly any representation, the Liberal Democrats are overrepresented and the SNP, of course by its own choice, is not here at all; if we accept that we are the only country with a bicameral Parliament where the second Chamber is larger than the first, that other second Chambers around the world contain fewer Members—Canada has only 105 and the United States Senate only 100—and that there is a growing disparity in size between the House of Commons and House of Lords, all this points to a serious problem that needs to be faced.

Now, I will not repeat the parameters suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and others. They are there and they make absolute sense as the kind of framework to pursue. We clearly need a Select Committee to get into the practicalities and we must accept that whatever idea is pursued as to how to make the reductions—whether retirement at 80, a 15-year term or internal elections, the latter of which I tend to favour on balance—each of those arguments has strengths but also major flaws. This issue requires a will in this Parliament to do something about it, and that in turn requires give and take. If we have that will and the willingness to give and take, a Select Committee can achieve a result which will enable us to say that we have done something to restore public faith in our parliamentary system.