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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:38 pm on 5th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Conservative 7:38 pm, 5th December 2016

I am most grateful. The noble Lord and I are not always in agreement so it is a happy coincidence that it should be so at this moment.

The situation with regard to reducing the size of the House changed quite radically once the law and the set-up were changed so that Members could retire. As has been pointed out, a considerable number have already retired. However, this is a pointless exercise if, the moment there is a reduction, the Prime Minister goes on filling in with new Members. Almost everyone is agreed on that. The royal prerogative has been heavily criticised in this respect. It is interesting to note that it is not only in this Chamber that the royal prerogative has been challenged today; it is being challenged on the other side of Parliament Square as well. Perhaps we ought to look at this really rather fundamental thing.

Part of the problem, as has also been pointed out, is that the creation of a peerage is both an honour—which of course it is—and a job. We need to distinguish between the two. What has emerged rather clearly is that we are short of a different honour. Perhaps it should be rather the same as it is for those who have retired from this House—an honour could be created which gave people that sort of facility within the Palace of Westminster. The confusion of the two roles which we in this House have is certainly very damaging.

I want to refer to something that I think was mentioned only briefly by my noble friend Lord Goodlad. We have a sudden development at the other end of the Building with regard to the House of Lords. I have always rather understood that we at this end do not interfere in their affairs and they do not interfere in ours. Then suddenly the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in the other place, chaired by Mr Bernard Jenkin, is apparently looking at the very issue we are debating. I view this with mixed feelings because one could say, “If they’re going to do that, we ought to have a committee looking into why the House of Commons introduced programming so that legislation arrives here not properly debated, and why they have abandoned their primary role of legislating”. We need to look at this rather carefully but they may come up with some useful ideas. If so, they will certainly have to take lots of evidence.

I am sure that if we carried out a survey of the membership of that committee at the other end, the number who have ever appeared at the Bar of this House during Question Time would be very small, and still fewer would have stood there through a debate to have some idea of what we are doing. I hope that if they carry out this inquiry, they will jolly well come and find out what it is all about. They will be surprised, as indeed the public at large would be, at the valuable work that we in this House do in improving legislation which, if it has been debated at all, has not been scrutinised as it used to be in previous years.

I must conclude. This debate has been extremely useful and we must carry it further. We have not been dealing with any of the detail and perhaps we should have a further debate after Christmas so that we can set out rather more clearly what the Select Committee should look at. That would give it some form of overall guidance as to what would be appropriate. None the less, we are making progress on this and if we are to do our job properly, it is very important that further progress should be made.