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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:41 pm on 19th December 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour 4:41 pm, 19th December 2017

My Lords, I thoroughly agree with and welcome this report. It is an excellent piece of work. It has been called “ingenious” in this House and it thoroughly deserves that term. However, I have two reservations or concerns about it which I want to mention to your Lordships—and, as I always try to do on such occasions, I will try to suggest some possible remedies if the House were to agree that they were potential problems.

The first relates to the election of hereditary Peers. The report is uncharacteristically abdicatory when it comes to that subject. It mentions that, as a result of its proposed model, the one group of Peers that will increase in size in this House is the hereditary Peers. I think that that would be seen by the outside world as absurd, ridiculous and crazy. It would be a gift to anybody who wanted to rubbish either the reform of this House or the existence of the House at all—so I do not think that we can leave that aside.

It is much easier to deal with the problem of the potential election of people who have not yet been selected or identified and the problem of too many people sitting in this House at any one time. It ought to be possible for us to take action on the election of hereditary Peers without causing any distress or sense of injustice to any individual. So I hope that we can be very robust. Personally, I think it should be possible for us simply to refuse to introduce any more hereditary Peers who are elected in that fashion, and certainly to deny them allowances or offices if it comes to that. However, the most effective way would be simply to say, “I’m afraid we’re not prepared to arrange any introduction ceremony”. Surely that is within our scope and does not require legislation. Of course, on this and every other matter, it would be far better if we could have legislation; I am just assuming, as the report does, that we will not have legislation.

The second problem that I foresee is the manner of selection of those who in the future will be asked or encouraged to leave the House. The suggestion in the report is that it is a matter for the convenor of the individual parties, or at least for the parties themselves. Two possible ways of doing this have been mooted. One is that the Chief Whip in each party draws up a list of his own Members and speaks to the ones whom he wants to get rid of, using some kind of moral pressure to get them to resign. This is not a criticism of any Whip, because inevitably all Whips have behaved like this since the beginning of time. The agenda of any Whip would be to try to get rid of people who are more difficult and unpredictable—I may possibly be speaking in my own interests here—and to keep people who are malleable, amenable and do what is asked of them without creating too many problems. I do not think it is right to try to make the character of the House evolve in that way.

The alternative proposal is that there should be elections in each party group, in which we would all decide ourselves who to throw out of the balloon. That might also have some very damaging unintended consequences. It would change the spirit of the House. For months on end there would be a sense of everybody fighting an election for survival. An awful lot of conversations—