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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:01 pm on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Browning Baroness Browning Conservative 3:01 pm, 19th December 2017

My Lords, it was a great privilege and pleasure to serve on the Burns committee. Like others, I pay tribute not just to my fellow committee members but particularly to our chair, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, who must take a lot of credit for the report before your Lordships today.

I was asked to comment on our report in Red Benches, but my comments suffered a little from editorial adjustment so I take this opportunity to say what I actually wrote. I think that would be the honest thing to do. Obviously, reducing the size of the House was never going to be easy, and was always going to be contingent on a formula to maintain the numbers rather than a quick fix. That formula, to which many speakers have paid tribute during the course of today’s debate, must fall to the noble Lord, Lord Burns. Not only did he put in the time and expertise to make sure that even in the annexes people could understand exactly what the committee’s intentions were on a very complex issue, taking into account such issues as the size of the House, the refreshment of the House and the way in which the individual parties and the Prime Minister would play a role, but it was very clear that he seemed to enjoy this exercise. We sat in admiration of the work that he did; it was a very important part of the committee’s report.

I said in Red Benches:

“As a self-regulating House”— that has been mentioned many times today—“it seems right” and proper,

“that the House should take this initiative”.

This is where the editing came in because I said, “rather than be subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune whenever a Government chooses to turn its attention to the Upper House”. However, the words, “the slings and arrows of outrageous” were taken out. I am not quite sure why. However, I think many noble Lords will understand as so often one hears, “The Government are too busy with Brexit or something else; nobody’s going to get round to doing it. They talk about it so often but nobody does anything”. Actually, I do not agree with that. There are times when quite a momentum for change in the upper House builds up at the other end of this building. Who are we to try to second-guess what the motivation of that momentum—I do not mean anything at all by that word, or perhaps I do—is? Who can second-guess when that would happen? Almost certainly, the general public have a perception— rightly or wrongly—not just about the numbers, but about the work that we do. That work is undervalued, not just by the public but often by the other end of this building. It was this House, of course, that got off the starting block very quickly on Brexit, with some very sensible and well-researched studies and papers, so we have a big contribution to make, not just in this Chamber.

I want to pick up on something mentioned by my noble friend Lady Stowell in her contribution this morning. That is, what are we actually about in this House? What are we here for? We all know why we are here, but there needs to be some consolidation if we are to reduce the numbers to 600. What exactly will the work be? This is not a paid job. It does not carry a pension or any of the usual restraints of paid employment. It is public service. While there are some concerns about the age of people coming in—whether they are younger or older— people understand that, in accepting appointment to this House, they are not being offered a paid job in the normal sense of the word. They are being offered a privilege and an opportunity to carry out public service. Therefore, the decision of individuals as to whether the 15-year period recommended in the report is not long enough for them will be considered in the same way as any other option that one takes in life. One looks at one’s own circumstances and decides whether one has the time or ability to give that amount of time and dedication to public service. If this House is about anything, it is about public service.