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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:56 pm on 19th December 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Brown of Cambridge Baroness Brown of Cambridge Crossbench 5:56 pm, 19th December 2017

My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lord Burns and his committee on their excellent report on the size of the House. Before I go further, I should say that I fully support the clear, pragmatic and sensible recommendations they have delivered to the House.

Since it is nearly Christmas, I would also like to thank our excellent Library staff for their background notes in support of this issue, which have been interesting and helpful. I had not realised that the House is, at the moment, only back to roughly the size it was a very long time ago—that is, when I was born in the mid-1950s. I had assumed that the controversy over the perceived ballooning size of the House was a recent issue. I found this recent historic context particularly helpful in reassuring me that it was justified to support this comparatively gentle pace of reduction to 600 over a period of 11 years. If I may tease the Library staff, I speak as a member of a group I feel they have neglected in their analysis. I have read long, and hugely impressive, lists of the oldest and youngest Members of your Lordships’ House, and even more impressive lists of the longest serving Members, but why was there no symmetry here? Where was the list of my group and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield—the shortest serving Members? As someone who was introduced almost exactly two years ago—actually, on 17 December two years ago—I agree that a period of appointment of 15 years seems sensible, and, indeed, would be happy it if applied to me as well. It is time to learn all those rules you do not find out about until you break them, time to develop competence, and time also to make a difference.

Therefore, there is just one further point that I would like to make. In doing so, I apologise to my noble friend Lord Burns and his committee, because, in a debate with 96 speakers, they are having to listen to the 96 things that they should have included in their excellent report. This must be a frustrating experience. I note that my noble friend Lord Burns pointed out at the beginning of this debate that diversity was not within the remit of his committee. However, my point is about the diversity of the House. I suspect the approach the report recommends will, at least initially, improve the diversity of the House. I have looked only at gender: but, for example, among Peers with the longest service—over 33 years—nine out of 50 are women—18%—compared with some 26% of women Peers today. However, I suggest that the parties appointing life Peers in the future should be asked to commit to diversity targets much broader than gender, in the way that my noble friend Lord Kakkar has told us that his House of Lords Appointments Commission does, to ensure that this House develops over time to look more like the country that we serve.

I repeat my strong support for the recommendations of this report and urge the House and, in particular, the Leader, not just to “take note” but to move rapidly to agree the next stage of “take action”.