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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 12:53 pm on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour 12:53 pm, 19th December 2017

My Lords, the more astute among you will recognise that I am not the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe. With the agreement of the Clerk and the Whips, he and I have swapped places. I hope that not too many noble Lords will be disappointed. However, it allows me to follow my very old friend the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk—I must get his recently updated title right—and his witty and erudite speech.

I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Lord in his wholehearted support for this report. That is in no way a criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his committee. They were asked to ask the wrong question. Like my noble and learned friend, Lord Morris, the right question is, what is the function and purpose of this Chamber? In a bicameral legislature, the second Chamber has a particular role—to scrutinise legislation, challenge the House of Commons from time to time, to debate issues and question and challenge the Executive.

My ideal second Chamber—unlike the noble Lord, Lord Newby, of the Liberal Democrats’ ideal of a directly elected House, which I think would challenge the primacy of the House of Commons and create tremendous problems—is a senate of the nations and regions, an indirectly elected Chamber that represents all parts of the United Kingdom properly in this House. We will not get that until we have a Labour Government—and that may be sooner rather than later—but until then we have to carry out our function as best we can.

I do not think we can do that with such an imbalance in representation from the parts of the United Kingdom—as has already been mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Empey. Scotland and Northern Ireland are not too badly represented but the regions of England are grossly underrepresented in this Chamber. I do not think that we are a properly representative Chamber, part of a legislature, when we have such poor representation from so many parts of the United Kingdom.

Of course, we have had a few recent appointments to this Chamber. That has made it worse because they have all been from London or the south-east of England, which already has well over half the representation. The problem is that many people do not consider a peerage as an appointment to the legislature but as an honour, as one up from a knighthood in the whole pecking order of honours. A lot of people are keen to get a peerage because it is an honour or a passport to some other appointments, not because they want to work as part of a legislature. The solution is to split it up and have two types of peerages—one that you might call an honorary peerage and the other a legislative peerage, with honours for those who want the title and deserve the title and the legislative peerage for those who want to work and carry out a legislative function. A very helpful Library briefing says that this can be done. It states that,

“the Monarch is empowered to appoint life Peers outside of the Life Peerages Act 1958, and that Peers appointed in this way would not be entitled to a seat in the House of Lords. Accordingly, the committee encouraged the Government to pursue this option in tandem with their main proposals”.

I do not see why it cannot be the main proposal because it seems to me to be right. The problem is that some people consider the peerage an honour rather than an appointment.

Sadly, I think the report does not measure up to what I would like to see it do, which is to produce a representative—not just a smaller—Chamber that can carry out the appropriate function of the second Chamber of a legislature. I hope that when the Lord Speaker, the Government and others consider the outcome of this debate they will look at this as an alternative to the proposals put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his committee.