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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:42 pm on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Radice Lord Radice Labour 3:42 pm, 19th December 2017

My Lords, I start with a confession: I was not altogether enthusiastic about coming to this House. I had much enjoyed my time in the House of Commons and I thought the Lords might be a bit of a comedown. I know that is a terrible thing to say to a number of Peers here but that was what I thought. My wife, like many spouses of Members of Parliament, had borne much of the strain of her husband’s career and thought that enough was really enough. It was only the persuasive powers of the then Prime Minister, who said that there ought to be more pro-Europeans in the upper House, which convinced me that I ought to accept a peerage.

However, 16 years in this House have made me understand the importance of the House of Lords in the parliamentary system—above all, its role as a revising Chamber. There are often extremely good debates in this House. Of course, we are having one today. The Select Committees, as I know from experience, do excellent work. But it is the contribution that the Lords makes to the legislative process which is of most value to our parliamentary democracy. All too often Bills come to the Lords in a very rough and ready state and our efforts ensure that they go back to the Commons usually much improved.

As the elected Chamber, the Commons has the last word—I agree with the previous speaker—but it always needs the revising eye of the Lords, and long may that exist. However, going from that to arguing that for the Lords to carry out its job it also needs nearly 800 Members is clearly absurd. As noble Lords have pointed out, it exposes us to constant ridicule, so much so that when people talk about the House of Lords they immediately show a picture of a meeting of the Chinese Communist Party, and I think I have had enough of that.

The question, which I think we have answered today, is about how we reduce the Lords to a more sensible size. I share the view of most noble Lords who have spoken that the Burns committee—I congratulate the chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his committee—has come up with an ingenious and elegant set of interlocking proposals which give us a real chance of effective reform. Of course, there are formidable hurdles in the way and we should not underestimate them. They include the prime ministerial power of patronage, and Prime Ministers do not like giving up that sort of thing, the temptation to pursue party advantage when speaking as a member of a party, and I know that that will continue to exist, and the self-interest of individual Peers. All these are factors that will come into play. However, I agree with the conclusion of the report. The Burns proposals have the great merit of reducing the size of the Lords while maintaining a cap of 600 Members in future and providing a sufficient turnover of Members to refresh the House and rebalance it in line with general elections. They will also guarantee a fixed proportion of independent Cross-Bench Peers. These proposals should have our support. They will certainly make the Lords more effective and considerably enhance our reputation. The House should now unite behind the principles contained in the Burns report.