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House of Lords: Lord Speaker’s Committee Report - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:57 am on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour 11:57 am, 19th December 2017

My Lords, I wish to make just two broad arguments: about the imperative for reform now, and the legitimacy of the committee whose recommendations we are invited to endorse by taking note of its report today.

I will deal first with the legitimacy of the committee and its report. With the commendably active support of the Lord Speaker, your Lordships’ House established a fully representative Committee to look at reforms to deal with our increasingly embarrassing, ballooning size. Collectively, each major party and Cross-Benchers determined who should sit on it and who chaired it; it is our committee. Some colleagues have questioned details or specifics in the report and, yes, there are arguments for special pleading on this or that detail. Of course Members will find reason—I trust not excuse—in each bit to criticise the whole, but surely we all have to accept that the whole package hangs together or falls together. It is most ingeniously interconnected. Surely the point is that reducing the size has always been fiendishly complex, and that the committee has done an amazing job in solving the hitherto seemingly insoluble.

Secondly, I will talk about the imperative to act now. Weight watchers have shown that the best way to tackle a problem of excess is to combine personal responsibility with collective resolve and mutual support. The alternative—drastic surgery—involves unnecessary risk, no guarantee of success and an unpredictable outcome. A Commons Select Committee, having already begun considering the matter, stands ready to report but awaits the conclusion of your Lordships’ House. The media are also waiting to pounce. Newspapers, MPs and Ministers have already made threats over Brexit, which will doubtless increase to a crescendo when the withdrawal Bill reaches us early next year.

Yet we all know that things cannot continue as they are. We number over 800 and rising. Commercial properties are commandeered in the vicinity at great expense to provide us with additional offices. Through no fault of our own, we have become not so much an embarrassment but, many say, a scandal. At a time of austerity, when everything else is cut, our numbers rise inexorably through no fault of our own—until now.

Until we set up this committee to recommend reform some among your Lordships could argue we were more sinned against than sinners. We did not fill this House to bursting; Prime Ministers did. We did not put ourselves here, others did—although we all agreed with their immense wisdom in choosing each one of us. But all that changed when we, absolutely correctly, decided to establish the committee to solve the problem. That decision—our decision—means the buck stops right here with us in this Chamber today. Find excuses and we will be rightly pilloried. I therefore urge that the recommendations of this report are endorsed and implemented as soon as practicable early in the new year. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Burns, in replying will confirm this and I hope the Lord Speaker, with the party leaders, will also make sure that this happens.

When the committee was first established, I asked one venerable sage on our Benches for a view on the likely outcome. “It will be shelved as reform always has been shelved,” he said with a weary, knowing smile. I trust your Lordships’ House will prove him wrong. Things have reached a point where change is unavoidable. The question is therefore not whether there is change, but who makes it. Either this House takes responsibility or it will pass to the Commons and the Government. Either we reform ourselves or others will reform us.