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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:32 pm on 5th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 8:32 pm, 5th December 2016

My Lords, I have no difficulty in agreeing with the Motion before your Lordships’ House. I am therefore extremely tempted to follow the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and sit down now. Sadly for him, and for the House, he is not going to be so lucky.

I start with an admission. In a previous incarnation I was responsible, albeit to a modest extent, for increasing the size of your Lordships’ House. When I was chief of staff to Charles Kennedy, we got a proposal from the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, about a very modest increase in the number of Liberal Democrat Peers. We objected to it, on the grounds that it was modest, and we would rather like a few more. We tried to find out what the other parties were getting but were told that that was completely improper and we could not be told. We said that unless we got a few more we were not going to agree to anything. There was a great deal of huffing and puffing but, to cut a long story short, we ended up with 60% more than had been on the original note. This was haggling about the composition of a legislature in one of the world’s largest countries. This process was, and remains, ridiculous and unsustainable in the long term.

As my noble friends Lord Tyler and Lord Rennard have set out, my party has had a long-standing policy to elect people to your Lordships’ House and, in the process, reduce the number of Members. We believe that in a democracy legitimate power and political authority ultimately derive from the people. In the 21st century, and in a modern innovative country such as ours, it is simply wrong that the public never have the opportunity to vote for Members of this House or to hold us to account on our record. Members of this House are, individually and collectively, legislators. It is straightforward that we should be accountable, through elections, to those whom we expect to follow the laws which we enact. A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, have made a point about regional representation in your Lordships’ House which strengthens this argument. As long as we have the current system there will be a predominance of people from London and the south-east in your Lordships’ House. There is a lot of talk about rebalancing the economy and the northern powerhouse, but the northern regions are not fully represented in your Lordships’ House. Until they are, any sense of political rebalancing in terms of the balance of arguments in Parliament simply will not happen. Regional elections would help to redress that balance.

It is also worth pointing out that every other second Chamber in the world, I think, except possibly the Council of Elders in Papua New Guinea, is elected. Although they may all be wrong, and we may be—