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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:06 pm on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour 3:06 pm, 19th December 2017

My Lords, I wholeheartedly support the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and commend both the committee and those who have campaigned for a more effective second Chamber for many years. The irony of some of us who have been in this House for only a relatively short time—I am thinking this morning of my noble friend Lord Hain and the noble Lord, Lord Beith, as well as myself—advocating that the House should be reduced now that we are in here will not have passed notice. My defence is that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, is making a positive contribution to what is, after all, built into the DNA of this House: gradualism. Even the most tentative step forward in the right direction has to be applauded.

My other defence is that, back in 2014 in the other place, I was the only Labour Back-Bencher who bothered to turn up on a Friday morning for the Bill that achieved what has been paraded this morning as 78 fewer Members: those who have taken the dignified route—not the Dignitas route—of standing down from this House. Those who pressed that case and did the work on it did everyone great credit, because we would be debating this in a much less favourable atmosphere if we had not had that facility available.

I want to pick up two or three points from this morning’s debate. My noble and learned friend Lord Morris seemed to be advocating a kind of Lloyd George view of the world: that incoming Prime Ministers will want to cram this House and we should not get in the way. David Cameron had a go at that, and look where it got him: nowhere at all. Cramming this House, by any Prime Minister, will not work and we all know it.

I ought to be gentle about the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, because I have been in the position where I had to try and carry through Parliament something that I was only just persuaded of. As Leader of this House, he had the daunting task of trying to carry the Clegg proposals through, which included a 15-year time-bound period for a senator, non-renewable and non-accountable. It is just worth reflecting that, if that is the main argument—15 years is too short because there would be some excellent people who would have to leave before they had fulfilled their full potential—then we have to apply it to those who want an elected second Chamber. I do not; I would like it to be reformed still further and to be less London-centric. However, if you are faced with the tortoise and the hare and you know that someone in the undergrowth is going to shoot the hare, you are best off backing the tortoise. In any case, tortoises have a shell, which we all build up over many years in politics. This time, we might just achieve that modest change.

I hope that this prolonged debate—I am finishing now because other noble Lords have already been patient today—is a chance, not to demonstrate to ourselves or even to our colleagues down the Corridor, but to demonstrate to the public that we mean business, we understand how people see politics and politicians, and we will do something about it.