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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:48 pm on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Mawson Lord Mawson Crossbench 4:48 pm, 19th December 2017

My Lords, I am happy to support the report of the Lord Speaker’s committee on the size of this House because it is a practical way of making progress on the numbers in your Lordships’ House. It is not perfect and does have some holes, but it is a pragmatic response to a problem that I hope can be solved.

I came into this Chamber for the first time 10 years ago this year. On being invited in, I was unsure what I was getting myself into. Was the House of Lords now out of date, an anachronism no longer suited to serving the modern world? Did those arguing for a representative Chamber have a point? Ten years on, while the House is not perfect—nothing is—I am now more sure than ever that this appointed House has an important contribution still to make in a haphazard world that is in danger of losing its roots. Of course, I am now no longer of independent mind, as a member of the club. But it is my view, based on observation and practice, that this is a pearl of great price worth protecting.

It is a privilege sometimes to sit here and listen to impressive speeches of experienced and wise people. Where else in our society would you be able to listen to the amazing speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, as we did recently during the most reverend Primate the Archbishop’s debate on education? Where else would you hear, in the same debate, the contribution of a former Bishop of London,

“the noble, reincarnated and right reverend Lord, Lord Chartres”,—[Official Report, 8/12/17; col. 1284.] as the Archbishop referred to him, now on the Cross Benches, worrying away about a society in danger, in this technological age, of losing its moral compass and shared narrative—about the real danger, as technology invades our lives, of society becoming a crowd of atomised individuals?

These two speeches did not happen by chance; they reach back into several thousand years of human history and experience. Where else would you hear, in the same debate, the sense of urgency of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, chastising us all and himself about our lack of focus on schools in the north of England? I am working with schools in the north of England at the moment, and the noble Lord is right to worry away and disturb us all with his questions. Where else would you hear the emotional debate last Wednesday, on day 2 of Report on the Data Protection Bill, between those arguing for the freedom of the press, post Leveson, and those worrying about how little has actually changed since that inquiry, and the effects still of the behaviour of some of the press on the lives of ordinary people who are not in positions of power and who sometimes have to live with a made-up story about their lives broadcast across our national media for the rest of their life, when of course the press and lawyers have moved inexorably on to the next story and the next case? On the amendment I listened to, it came down to an excellent and emotional debate about one word: “necessary”.

The report before us today seeks a practical way to protect this Chamber and our important work from ridicule and misunderstanding. It is right to do so. Size does matter, but size and structure are one thing; what we must all focus on and protect is the calibre and experience of those people who are called to sit in this Chamber going forward. Six hundred is a sensible number, but at the end of the day your Lordships’ House is not centrally about numbers but about people. The modern world is all about people and relationships: this Chamber is all about ensuring that the right people with great practical experience and wisdom can contribute to our detailed debates and this country’s democratic process. How do we ensure that our systems and processes—and, indeed, Prime Ministers—understand and respect the functions of this House, and ensure that only the best and most experienced in their particular field sit here? I would have liked to have seen more in this report about the people question, because it is this question, I suggest, that will both define our future and our relevance going forward. It is all about people, and the future of this House is all about ensuring that we have the right people with the right balance of wisdom and practical experience over time.

I turn to a couple of practical matters. I am not sure how this report will help protect the independence and numbers on the Cross Benches, when party political Peers seem to be joining our Benches in increasing numbers. Possibly the noble Lord, Lord Burns, has an answer. If this is a trend, how does it impact on our numbers? Those of us who are genuine independents cherish the clarity of our position and our appointments process. Our independence really matters. How will this work in practice and be perceived on television by the outside world? Have I missed something? Quite possibly.

Secondly, post Brexit this country will have to stand on its own feet and make its way in the world. This is a time when we will need to embrace those of an entrepreneurial spirit, with sound business acumen. I sometimes worry, if I am honest, that the Cross Benches at present have a large contingent of excellent people whose experience has been in the public and charitable sectors rather than the business and entrepreneurial world. Business experience and practice will now become crucial as our country moves forward. I may be wrong, but this should be tested. The Victorians understood the significance of these entrepreneurial people and their place in the institutions of this country. A younger generation understands it, too.

It seems that we are going to give the Prime Minister an opportunity this afternoon; the future of this House and of our constitution will then sit with her. I wish her well as she deliberates and I hope that she takes it: it may never come again.