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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 4:05 pm on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Chesterton Lord Hunt of Chesterton Labour 4:05 pm, 19th December 2017

My Lords, I am proud to be a Member of the House of Lords, but we needed this important debate about the House and the UK system of government, following the excellent report from the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Burns. It was interesting that the committee had outside experts, including my colleague Professor Meg Russell of University College. I hope that the debates about this report will be widely publicised and may well even affect intelligently the views of the public about the House of Lords.

The report does not include any surveys of the views of the public and outside bodies that have considered the future of the House of Lords. I am sure that other noble Lords have had critical views expressed to them, as I often have, about how Members of the Lords have been selected, and other critical remarks. Surveys in fact show that a majority of people think that the UK’s second Chamber should be elected in one way or another so as to reflect the views of the whole British electorate. But even if Members of the Chamber continue to be appointed, as in the new scheme proposed in the Burns report, there are still significant criticisms that the public want to make.

First, I do not think that the continuation of hereditary Peers has popular support; nor is there much support for how Members are selected. The report suggests, in a very reasonable way, how to reduce the numbers, but we cannot exclude the possibility that a single party might dominate the Commons and the Lords. As others have said, too many Members in this Chamber will continue to come from the south-east of the UK. Dare I say it, following the previous speaker—there may be too many financiers, especially when the Conservatives dominate? There are too few women and too few on the political Benches with important specialised knowledge and experience. The Cross Benches are full of experienced and knowledgeable people; we need more of the same on the political Benches. For example, scientists are well represented on the Cross Benches, but less than a handful of scientists and medical doctors have been appointed to the political Benches since I came here in 2000. Isaac Newton and Lord Kelvin were great scientists but they were also in Parliament and members of a political party. They showed that scientists can be all three at the same time—this is regarded generally by the public as an extraordinary idea—as is quite common among political and scientific people who are councillors in local government. The point has also been made about the shortage of appointments of engineers, industrial managers, practical entrepreneurs and others. I look forward, when I resign, to my position being taken up by a Labour scientist and engineer.