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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 12:58 pm on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Non-affiliated 12:58 pm, 19th December 2017

My Lords, most of us here are delighted that so far there is significant consensus on the Burns report. It clearly has not been an easy task and I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and the committee for their elegant compromise.

Reform of the House of Lords has been an ongoing process for the last 800 years or more. Restricting our view to the last 100 years or so, the Parliament Act 1911 was a significant milestone, as was the creation of life peerages in 1958. More recently, there was the House of Lords Act 1999, followed by the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. Nor should we dismiss the many other changes since, notably the House of Lords Reform Act 2014 that enabled retirement and, under certain conditions, expulsion. As we know, that was preceded by a succession of Private Member’s Bills, including those from the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and my noble friend Lady Hayman. We have learnt that incremental change is more likely to succeed than attempts to introduce change by means of primary legislation. The coalition’s 2012 Bill for a largely elected House fell due to technicalities, but had there been the political will in the other place, those could surely have been overcome.

How does such consensus come about? Reviewing the last 10 years, and more, there has been a slow but inexorable build-up towards a critical mass of opinion. Of course, some of that has been driven by critical media, but efforts in this House—especially by the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber and the many public statements, articles and views expressed by Members—have all contributed greatly to the majority consensus expressed in the debate almost exactly a year ago.

There is still some way to go. We trust that the scheme proposed by the committee will be agreed—and indeed maintained—by the current Government and future ones. By accepting the Burns report’s recommendations, it is hoped to establish a new convention that will become as embedded and respected as the other conventions that guide this House. Perhaps the widespread consensus will encourage some of us to do the decent thing and step down with dignity, after cumulative long years of public service. That may speed up the rate at which we reach the magic number of 600. As we all acknowledge, the House needs refreshing from time to time; an intake of Peers with differing sets of experience and expertise is always welcome. However, unless some of us are prepared to stand down as we approach our 80s, I fear that we will remain an oversubscribed House for some time to come.

Reform is by no means complete. As the House becomes more manageable and professional, it is to be hoped that other reforms—on the hereditary principle, the retirement age and limiting the appointment of new Peers to those who fulfil a clear gap in relevant expertise—will come about. That is what makes this House so valuable.