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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:16 pm on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Howard of Rising Lord Howard of Rising Conservative 4:16 pm, 19th December 2017

My Lords, this proposal is based on the assumption that the number of Peers in this House should be reduced to 600. The report comments that,

“there is widespread agreement on the urgency of addressing its size”.

If the word “widespread” refers to a narrow Westminster village, it is correct. But outside of that tiny constituency, and possibly one or two academics, there is zero interest in the country in the size of this House. People are not that interested in us. With the greatest respect, there is no general desire or need to reduce the number of Peers.

If I did not know better, I would think that the proposal was made by Peers who so rarely go into the Chamber that they have not seen that for more than 90% of the time, the Chamber is 90% empty. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, whose original suggestion it was, should certainly know that, given that there are many occasions on which he has given his views on a wide variety of subjects to the great benefit of what is so often a virtually empty House.

The report centres strongly on the number of Peers, but minimal attention is given to the work that Peers carry out, which is surely an essential ingredient when reviewing the size of the House. As the report recognises, Bills in the other place are time limited in Committee, which makes the House of Lord’s role as a revising Chamber of huge importance. That requires a decent-sized pool of Peers in order to have a sufficient number with knowledge of the subject matter of the Bill who are prepared to spend the time in Committee going through the legislation. As your Lordships know, more often than not, this requires spending six or seven hours a day for a number of days, and not always with the respite of a dinner hour.

In practice, this House already operates with 600 Peers rather than the total of 800-plus. This makes a reduction to 600 either pointless or possibly an impediment to the future working of the House. There have been, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde pointed out, only three Divisions in the history of the House in which more than 600 Members have voted. The average daily attendance last Session was 484. The average vote in Divisions is 396.

In terms of costs, 98 Peers—12% of the House—do not claim any allowance at all, and in all, 20% of your Lordships claim less than £5,000 per annum. Reducing the number of Peers is unlikely to have any impact on the cost.

Comments have been made that there is insufficient room in the House for the present number of Peers, but I would remind your Lordships that there are 650 Members of the other place, and the generally accepted maximum number of MPs who can sit in that Chamber at any one time is 427.

Your Lordships should carefully consider whether, under the proposal, there is a risk, albeit in the future, that those putting in the time and effort are the ones pushed out after 15 years, leaving only those Peers who do not frequently attend the House to carry on the valuable work. This House works well as it is and any reduction might prejudice this with no discernible benefit.