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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:34 pm on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of The Duke of Somerset The Duke of Somerset Crossbench 3:34 pm, 19th December 2017

My Lords, I will not rise to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on the hereditary Peers, but like so many others here this afternoon, I would like to welcome this debate on the report that the excellent committee of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, has produced. I congratulate it on finding a way around many of the apparent problems.

In our debate just over a year ago, there was much agreement that the size of the House should be reduced. This was accompanied by many suggestions, some good and some less helpful, as to the means. Anyway, now the noble Lord, Lord Burns, has told us how. One of the main clever aspects of his work is that no primary legislation is needed to effect meaningful change. No one here today will lose the rights to attend, participate or vote.

The other great beauty, as I see it, is that under these proposals the reduction in numbers will be kept at a target of, say, 600 Members and not allowed to regrow. Other speakers have and will, I am sure, go into the details of the report’s proposals and comment on some aspects. I do not wish to dwell on these today. Surely our main aim now is to show our agreement to the thrust of the plan and to welcome it.

We who work here know what our role is and we know what this Chamber does. So it is important that this is kept firmly in mind as any changes evolve as a result of this report. Equally to my mind, the general public must appreciate and acknowledge, through media commentators and observation, the work that we do—the scrutinising, the revising and the reports that we make to Government. To achieve this positive shift in attitude, we must demonstrate our willingness to change, even if change brings small, less welcome individual disbenefits. That we are willing to suggest positive change of our own volition surely demonstrates this ethos: an outlook of spirit of which we can be proud to broadcast outside this Palace.

I expect some may criticise the timeframe envisaged—some have already—but to achieve a lasting result, this is surely of little importance, even in the fast-moving world we live in. The demonstrable resulting size will be a practical solution to our current embarrassment.

Many speakers have gone out of their way to recognise the supremacy of the other place. It is vital to state this, and not to challenge that by having an elected second Chamber which is bound to flex its democratic muscles. So, along with others, I do hope the Government willingness to enter into the spirit of this report will not be tested by any short-term difficulties that may arise with imminent controversial Bills, nor indeed that the Prime Minister will be tempted to pre-empt the position by a new list of Peers. Indeed, I look forward to further exploration of a Prime Minister’s power to appoint non-working Peers to lifetime titles that do not involve a seat in this Chamber. This was a point that was touched on only briefly in the report.

In my short time here I have often noticed the splendid co-operation between the usual channels, the parties, and the groups. It is this spirit that will be needed to drive this on, together with government thinking in the long term, not just party advantage.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who remarked that there is no Minister to wind up. I am uncertain as to how the Government’s opinion will be demonstrated. But I hope that we will learn this quickly to enable a swift adoption of these proposals. This is an unusual chance to make important and worthwhile changes to an ancient system, and I hope the Government and the House will grasp the opportunity.