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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:10 pm on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Cromwell Lord Cromwell Crossbench 5:10 pm, 19th December 2017

My Lords, when I saw so many noble Lords had put their names down to speak in this debate—almost an embarrassingly large number—I wondered whether I should add mine. Having listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Scone, give the statistics on the age of the House, I learned that I am also a giddy youth in this place, which was described as a gathering of elders by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, earlier in the debate.

I thought I would speak because last time we debated this issue, I expressed the view that the number of Peers was a distraction from the real issue, which is that very few people outside this House know what we do, how we do it or why we do it—a point the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, made quite powerfully earlier, as did other noble Lords. At that time, I sought out the loudest advocates of reducing our number and asked them for the practical or principled reasons why it should be reduced, but even they told me that the problem was essentially cosmetic. But that was before we had this excellent report. I have now studied, considered and discussed it at length with fellow Members of this House, and my view is that we should wholeheartedly support it. Discussions across the House, and with very few exceptions the speeches in this debate today, make it evident that many others also support that point of view. I will just make three points in the time available to me.

The first in a way harks back to my earlier position. The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, wants us to be loved; the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, seeks to protect our reputation, as did a number of other speakers, including the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I very much doubt that culling 200 Members from this place will make us loved, nor do I think it would probably cool the blood lust of those who would go far further than that. I use the next phrase metaphorically, with no reference to the right reverend Prelates, but throwing a bunch of Christians to the lions did not typically, in the Romans’ experience, cause the crowd to call for less of the same. My real point there is the lack of understanding, and whether we are 200, 600, 400 or 800 makes very little difference. It is simply that nobody knows, and fewer care, what we do. That is something we should be addressing.

My second point is something that many have already spoken about. The wide support for this report among pretty much everyone I have spoken to and among most who have spoken today is predicated on what happens at the other end. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, made this point, and many others echoed it. I think his phrase was that we need a “cast-iron” guarantee that the Prime Minister will resist the temptation, as we pull the plug at this end and 200 of our Members are flushed away, to simply turn on the taps at the other end. I sincerely hope this is something the Leader will take back to the Prime Minister as very firm message from this House. I believe that without that message being taken back, the support in this House would be a good deal more muted than it has been today.

I have been tempted into dangerous waters here: I want to say a word on the hereditaries, being one myself and a beneficiary of the hereditary by-elections. Yes, the hereditaries took a huge cull in the past and no other group has had to do that, but I think it would be wrong for the hereditaries and the bishops to stand aside at this time and not bring our experience more into line with what other groups in this House are experiencing. Whether that is to do with the by-elections or a more general haircut and the continuation of the elections is not for today, but it would not be right for the hereditaries or the bishops to just stand aside because we are, if you like, protected by the need for legislative change.

I agree with those who have said that having a top honour that is not a public service job—which being in this Chamber is—is a good idea. I would only appeal for us not to call it a peerage. That would lead to confusion or even abuse. Let us have a top honour—a reward—and public service in this House, but let us not give them the same name. The point may seem petty, but I fear that it would be very open to abuse.