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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 1:05 pm on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Patel Lord Patel Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Lords) 1:05 pm, 19th December 2017

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. The first sentence of the summary of the report lays out the challenge that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his committee faced:

“exploring methods for reducing the size of the House”.

I do not know who the genius on the committee was who came up with the proposal, but he must have been creative with the use of figures, because the document is quite clear about how it can be done. The proposals themselves are clear, incremental and achievable. This further movement does without the need for legislation and, importantly, without any perceived threat to existing Members—although that might change when it comes to implementation. In so far as the proposals will reduce the size of the House, they will work; but how they may affect the functionality of the House will depend on the working practices of the new Peers.

I found the back-testing of the Burns proposals in a bar-chart construct most interesting. Going back to 1959 and working forward to 2017, it shows what the party composition would look like reflecting public opinion at general elections and that the proposal would work in a fair way, as stated in the report. The challenge of the report is mainly at the point of implementation, as many noble Lords have mentioned, but it is doable and a House of 600 can be achieved.

I turn to say a few words about the Cross-Bench component. The report says that the new Cross-Bench Members would number 134. This is not 20% of 600, which would be 120, but 23.3%, as it is now. Who are the Cross-Benchers? They may be appointed by the House of Lords Appointments Commission or from the judiciary; there are also 30 hereditaries. They may also be appointed by the Prime Minister at various times. But not insignificant are the numbers of those who leave their political party for whatever reasons—mostly because they do not agree with its principles—and join the Cross Benches. Initially, they sit on the Cross Benches; subsequently, they become Cross-Benchers. As this number is not insignificant, particularly in the recent past, whose numbers would they be counted among? If it is to be the number allocated to the Cross Benches, the Appointments Commission will have that many fewer to appoint. If they are to be non-affiliates, then the problem of how to deal with non-affiliates and those who move from their political party needs to be addressed. In my view, if you leave your political party and were appointed by that party then you must leave the House. That would be the obvious solution but it may hold problems.

I support the solution proposed and the House’s membership becoming 600. I note that by 2022 the Cross Benches will have to lose about 35 Peers, either through retirement or death. Looking at the past figure, that number is achievable and I shall do my bit to contribute.