This evening, the House of Lords agreed the motion that its size should be reduced, and methods should be explored by which this could be achieved.
Following the debate the Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, said:
‘The House of Lords today has made a unique statement, by members themselves agreeing unanimously that it should be smaller. This is a significant step forward and represents a substantial consensus. It shows that Members of the Lords want reform and see the present size of over 800 as an obstacle in the way of the effective running of the House.
‘Now that the House has agreed that its size needs to be reduced, we must now work towards proposals on how this can be achieved.’
The Bishop of Birmingham, as convenor of the Lords Spiritual, spoke in the debate and pointed out [Col 510] that:
“the Lords Spiritual have been capped by statute since the middle of the 19th century to the number of 26. Also, there is automatic retirement at the moment that a Bishop leaves their see or at the age of 70.
…we are unusual in that we are appointed by the Almighty and dismissed by the Almighty but with time for amendment of life before we have to face the Almighty. Clearly, while we remain in the House we do so with enthusiasm, participating on the basis of our full-time jobs in the regions.
In the context of this debate, we fully participate in a sense of proportionality, in that the size of this Bench should be in proportion to the size of your Lordships’ House in future.”
The comment of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab) [Col 547]:
“If one looks at the figures, one sees that some Peers attend less than 10% of the time, a lot of whom I could name. In fact, the worst attenders are the Cross-Benchers and the Bishops. They are hardly ever here compared with others”,
was greeted by “Oh!” from the Noble Lords. More complimentary was Lord Lisvane (CB), who said [Col 548]:
“Nearly 150 years later, we may reasonably amend that to say that the cure for criticising the House of Lords is to go and look at it: to see exacting scrutiny of legislation, not just of primary legislation but crucially, and uniquely, of the huge body of secondary legislation; exploration of subjects that the House of Commons, for very good reasons, does not have the time to debate—the debate initiated by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on Friday is an excellent example of that—authoritative examination of policies and issues through an energetic and respected Select Committee system; and the ability to ask the House of Commons to think again without challenging the primacy of that House. However, for so many people outside this Chamber, those roles are seen through the prism of size, and the value of those roles is thus obscured or dismissed. We therefore need to deal with this issue, and we need to be seen to be dealing with it ourselves”.
Given the “unique statement, [made] by members themselves”, we would expect that the Church of England will issue a formal statement regarding the conclusion reached by their Lordships.