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My Lords, this report has my wholehearted support. It is a most thoughtful and imaginative piece of work. I am not one of those who appear able to contemplate with equanimity the ever-growing expansion of this House. Doubtless many of us would have preferred, to a greater or lesser degree, some difference in one or other of the several particular measures that together go to make the intricate overall solution proposed. Some might have preferred to end up with a House smaller than 600, some to have achieved a cap in a shorter time, some to have provided for longer than 15-year fixed-term appointments and so on.
I will make two comments on this. First, any such detailed considerations are surely for a future debate. Today is for determining the House’s support or rejection of the report in principle. In any event, we need to bear in mind that any change to the proposed scheme has knock-on effects and that this has been unanimously hammered out by a most expert and experienced group—I have the highest regard for each one of them—after months of hard work. The plain fact is that unless a very substantial consensus in favour of this scheme is arrived at today by the House as a whole, none of this will happen and we will instead continue—probably indeed worsen—our present unsustainable position.
A substantial consensus is required, but, above all, this proposal will then require the support of 10 Downing Street. If we can get that now it will not be easy for any of the Prime Minister’s successors to collapse the scheme later—certainly everybody would then know where the blame lay. To my mind, this is the best possible scheme for winning the Prime Minister’s support. It provides for much the same number, rate and nature of future appointments as in years past—certainly, if one puts aside the perhaps over-fecund years of Mr Blair and Mr Cameron. It allows both for refreshment of the House, including new Front-Bench appointments, and for its rebalancing by reference to the latest general election results. If there are to be significant changes to any of the pieces which go to make up this intricate jigsaw solution, I respectfully suggest that they be only changes suggested by No. 10 itself. If that is the price for winning the necessary consent to the constraints on the Prime Minister’s future prerogative powers of appointment that we now propose, so be it.
I know that one or two Members of your Lordships’ House are concerned at the 15-year fixed-term proposal, on the basis that it may discourage youthful appointments who would then be left high and dry in their 50s or 60s. This is an overstated objection. Essentially, this is a House of elders, of people whose real value is their acquired expertise and lifetime experience. Generally, they should only rarely be appointed before they are around 50 or so. In that case, given that the scheme expressly provides for them to take a five-year sabbatical during their fixed term without it’s counting towards the 15 years, they would be upwards of 70 when their term ended. Surely if what they seek is essentially a political career, it is election to the Commons that they should be after and not appointment here.
Really, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reduce and cap the size of this House. I respectfully urge your Lordships to seize it.