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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:01 pm on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Leigh of Hurley Lord Leigh of Hurley Conservative 4:01 pm, 19th December 2017

My Lords, I recognise the pressure, passion and intent of the report, but I am afraid that I must start from a different premise from most. I do not agree that there is much logic—I emphasise that word—in seeking to reduce the size of your Lordships’ House. I would rather have seen time and effort spent explaining, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has said she does, to the public and the relatively small number of people interested in this issue, that there are huge distinctions between this House and the House of Commons—and, indeed, every other legislative chamber around the world.

Members of the House of Commons are paid to represent their constituents, some to undertake ministerial business, but all to focus their efforts on their primary role in life, which is in their respective Chamber. Unlike what happens anywhere else in the world, your Lordships’ Chamber comprises individuals many, if not most, of whom are active in other areas of life. They bring to this House extraordinary levels of expertise and knowledge, which can only be current if the custom is maintained whereby they are not expected to be full-time here but are allowed to fulfil their other responsibilities.

According to a recent YouGov poll, people are “overwhelmingly against” MPs having second jobs. Only 26% suggested that they should have second jobs, and in February Labour tabled a motion banning second jobs in the Commons, but not in your Lordships’ House—with good reason. I for one would not like to see an upper House full of professional parliamentarians, and to achieve that objective we need a large pool of talent, from which we can draw, of people with current awareness of many issues. Our attendance rates will therefore always be lower than the Commons, as we carry out our other roles, so we should be much more positive and persuasive about why there is every logical justification for having a sufficient number. I do not know whether that would be 650. I would be interested to know what would happen if, as I suspect will happen, the Commons vote for their numbers to stay at 650.

I am also uncomfortable with the slightly “I’m all right Jack” approach of this report for incumbents, and I believe it is up to us to create a system whereby those in your Lordships’ House who do not attend sufficiently, do not participate sufficiently in this Chamber, or abuse their position in any way, are no longer offered this privilege of public service. As the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, hinted, HOLAC might be expanded, or a new commission created, to review this much more carefully. It has to be clear to the public that this is not a sinecure for those who have left active work or service. For those who say that a larger House is too expensive, the answer is not difficult. We have an arbitrary fixed sum of £300 per day, plus out-of-town expenses. Let us consider reviewing this, possibly imaginatively, for those beyond working age.

Finally the report does not address the mix in this House, other than the political mix.