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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:02 pm on 5th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 8:02 pm, 5th December 2016

My Lords, when I became a life Peer, my children told me that being an unelected parliamentarian was a contradiction in terms. This is why outreach is such an important activity for me and for us. I have found that after explaining to schools, universities and other organisations the work that we do in holding Governments to account, in scrutinising and improving legislation, and in protecting the rights and lives of our fellow citizens, as well as our committee work, especially when the primacy of the other place is explained, most people support what we do. They are less concerned that we are unelected, that we have hereditary Peers and that some are part-timers. But the one thing that is not understood is our number and the cost—that rankles, and it tarnishes the work we do. That is why I think that the time is long overdue to do something about it. I welcome the debate and support the Motion.

It is not as if we are short of ideas. We have had a royal commission—in April 1999 I made a submission to it—four White Papers, draft Bills, and reports from Select Committees, academics, think-tanks, our own Clerk of the Parliaments and our own parliamentary groups. Generally, when it comes to numbers, what it boils down to is that we should be no larger than the other place—which is looking to reduce its numbers. Other noble Lords have detailed the mechanics, and I do not need to go through them, but as the noble Lord, Lord Low, and others have said, at the same time as we are reducing our numbers, the Prime Minister and the Appointments Commission must appoint only when there is a vacancy. There has to be a formula fixing the balance between the groups, perhaps relating to the result of the last three elections, but with no political majority and with some 20% to 25% on the Cross Benches. The important thing is that these measures should all happen together.

I too might add that much of the detailed work and analysis has already been done by Professor Meg Russell and her colleagues at the Constitution Unit at University College London. Conceivably, your Lordships could take things into their own hands, for example by introducing new Peers only when we think there is a vacancy. In a way, this happens with the Bishops. In addition, a move to the QEII Centre during R&R could force us to reduce our numbers by virtue of insufficient space.

I agree with other noble Lords that, to preserve our reputation, we have to get our own house in order, otherwise others will do it for us. We know that a large part of our population are discontented with mainstream politics. Some are discontented with us. Even the Prime Minister has called us bloated. Has the Leader googled “bloated House of Lords” recently? It is very instructive: there are pages of entries headed by the Prime Minister’s use of the phrase on 8 August, which can lead to fake news websites and a hashtag #CutTheBloatedLords, directing ridicule towards us. This can only damage our work and our reputation. Is this something that worries noble Lords? It does me. All the more reason why we have to get on with reforming our numbers. Let a Select Committee put a proposal to us, and soon.