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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:20 pm on 5th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative 7:20 pm, 5th December 2016

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Luce. I place on record my thanks to my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Norton, and to the noble Lord, Lord Steel. To that I add my thanks for the work that Professor Russell has done as an academic.

We should not regret the progress made so far—or indeed forget it. Retirement was a major step forward. Making sure that those guilty of wrongdoing could not attend and will not be able to attend in future is progress. Then, of course, we have challenged the number of those who are on leave of absence. So there has been progress and there were wise words from my noble friend Lord Wakeham earlier that we should recognise that this is not something where you set up a Select Committee and as a result the whole thing is answered. It is not done that way; it is incremental.

In terms of numbers, all I am interested in is how many men and women we need to ensure that we improve performance in terms of the legislative demands that are put on an upper House. That is our primary purpose and what we should be looking at. I will make two points in relation to that. First, on the ill-fated tax credit fiasco, my friend the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, is sitting on the Cross Benches. As she will know, when I was Chairman of Ways and Means I used to have meetings with the Leader of the House to look at a Bill and see whether it was a money Bill. If it was and somebody suggested that it should go to the other place, I would talk it through with the Leader of the House and say, “Why on earth is this going to the Lords?”. We came to an agreement that it should not. I can think of a couple of instances on the margin—yet it is on the margin that people must show leadership. That is what it is about, so that whole fiasco should never have come to your Lordships’ House.

Of course, at this time, looking at the other place, every Bill is guillotined—so is it any wonder that we in this House must work more and try to improve pretty rough, shoddy work on many occasions? I am not surprised that the Liberal Democrats move certain amendments at certain times: if we get shoddy work sent up here, then we have a challenge, so part of the answer to this problem lies in another place.

Secondly, I suggest—as certainly my noble friends will recognise that I was bound to—that we might look at what Cromwell did when he abolished the House of Lords in 1649. He then discovered that actually it was a mistake and he needed to think again. He then decided that it needed replacing so, under the terms of the Humble Petition and Advice in 1657, he started the other House. The number there is interesting: only 61. Yet the range of those 61 is also interesting. Every single one of them, then and thereafter, was a life Peer, so long as that particular House existed. He had a range of experiences there: some hereditary Peers, just there for their lives, and 15 out of the 16 privy counsellors. He had ordinary former MPs and, really interestingly, there was a set mix of people from the regions. We need to think about that and the bias we have at the moment towards the southern half of the United Kingdom.

Those points are absolutely crucial, but the one message coming out to me is that Cromwell set up life Peers who had no Writ of Summons. Someone who had done wonderful work somewhere that justified the award of an honour did not automatically have to come to the House of Lords. They were made a Lord but they had no Writ of Summons. I suggest that if the last Prime Minister, who appointed 261 Peers, had either thought about or seriously considered having Lords without a Writ of Summons, many of our problems would not have arisen.

To conclude, there does need to be a Select Committee. I want a House performing in terms of vetting and improving legislation. But there must be some understanding at the other end, in the other place, that it must reform itself a bit, too. Above all, I—of all people—believe that we must maintain the supremacy of the Commons. The people there are elected, unlike those in your Lordships’ House. I do not want to be the Lord for Northamptonshire; I want to keep my seven Members of Parliament. Finally, I repeat my advice for the Prime Minister: Peers without a Writ of Summons should be seriously thought about.