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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:20 pm on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Butler of Brockwell Lord Butler of Brockwell Crossbench 3:20 pm, 19th December 2017

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Luce wanted to speak in this debate but has been prevented from doing so by a family commitment. However, he asked me to associate him with my remarks, so your Lordships are getting two expressions of support for the Burns proposals for the price of one.

In her speech in the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, a year ago, the Leader of the House reminded us of the Government’s position that, while comprehensive reform is not a priority for this Parliament—it was the last Parliament then—the size of the House is an issue to be addressed. Indeed, the Conservative Party manifesto for the 2017 election repeated that position. It said:

“We … will continue to ensure the … House of Lords remains relevant and effective by addressing issues such as its size”.

Despite the notorious ambiguity of election manifestos, I do not think that the Government intended to increase the effectiveness of the House by increasing its size.

The committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Burns, containing very senior members of the main parties in this House, has agreed on a way of addressing the size of the House. Indeed, if legislation is not available—today the Leader confirmed that that is the case for the duration of this Parliament—it is, in my view, the only practicable way forward, and it is now for the Government to fulfil the words in their policy and manifesto.

As has been pointed out, that requires restraint on the part of the Prime Minister in making appointments. It is blindingly obvious that, in the absence of legislation to reduce large swathes of the present House, restraint in appointments is necessary if the size of the House is not to grow inexorably.

We are told that a further list of appointments is about to be published but I do not share the apocalyptic view expressed earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I believe that this can be regarded as a legacy issue arising from the May general election that does not inhibit the adoption of the approach in the Burns report.

In the debate a year ago, the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition agreed that, for any proposals for reform to have a chance of success, they will have to command a broad consensus around the House. I believe that, had there been a vote today, there would have been overwhelming support for the Burns proposals.

It is the Government’s policy to address the size of the House, and the Burns report gives them a practical means of doing so with the ardent support of a majority of this House. As the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, very fairly said, the Prime Minister has shown restraint in exercising patronage since she took up office. So there are grounds for optimism. Let us hope that we are pushing at an open door. It would be a relief if the Government were to say so.