Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
My Lords, it is an enormous pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and to agree with absolutely everything he said.
The British constitution has a genius for taking things in bite-sized chunks and making them come together to an extraordinary extent to change things over a period of time. When I was a schoolgirl taking my 11-plus in Wolverhampton, there was not a single female Member of your Lordships’ House. Over time, what was seen as a small reform—the Life Peerages Act—has absolutely transformed this House. With each small measure we can make progress.
I will not use my time today to echo what so many others have said about the ingenuity and the elegance of the solution that the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, has found. We all owe him and his fellow committee members a debt of gratitude. Now the responsibility lies with us in not trying to gild the lily or to change any detail of what has been said but to put our wholehearted support behind those proposals. I was encouraged by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and I hope that the other party leaders will do exactly the same.
There is an extraordinarily heavy burden on the shoulders of the Leader of the House in this respect, because, as we all know, the Prime Minister needs to be persuaded and needs to take action. I, like others, believe that that is possible and that we could create a convention that was powerful in this respect and which achieved what we wanted to achieve. However, it will be difficult; it will need us to back her and her to speak on our behalf. I hope that she will take note of paragraph 25 of the report, which deals with the issue of creating a non-parliamentary peerage. Again, this is an elegant solution to some of the patronage issues that a Prime Minister is faced with.
I will not go on talking about things with which I agree but will try to deal with one or two of the criticisms we have heard this morning. Some of them were marginally unfair in that they criticised the committee for not finding solutions to a question that was not posed to it—that is, what should be the long-term and radical change to the form and purpose of this House. However, it is a great shame that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is not in his place at the moment. Like the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, I was expecting a reprise of that speech we all loved so much, which argued passionately for an elected House, regardless of the stony faces on the Benches behind him, during all those hours of debate on the coalition Government’s proposals in the Clegg Bill for an elected House. Sadly, however, he was not able to give us that performance again today.
What the noble Lord did do was give a skilful elision on the issue of the size of the House to the fact that it was only that everyone was complaining about overcrowding, which was not an issue. In fact, I could not find any mention of overcrowding in the report—nor have I heard it mentioned by those who advocate reducing the size of the House. Overcrowding is not the issue—although I would not advocate a public body supporting and paying for more personnel than are necessary for carrying out the tasks with which it is charged.
Putting that to one side, the issue of size is one of reputation. For five years, I had the responsibility and honour of acting as an advocate and ambassador for this House. Through speaking in many public fora during those five years, I became absolutely convinced that there was a barrier to explaining and advocating the virtues and quality of the work done in this House because of the criticism that rightly came over its ever-expanding size.
We live in very difficult parliamentary times. Representative democracy is challenged in a way that it has not been before by our foray into plebiscitary democracy. Parliament’s reputation is important and there will be difficult times ahead. We need to do something to improve our trustworthiness with the public—and this is one of the things we can do.