Lord Speaker letter on the House of Lords
24 September 2021
The Lord Speaker, Lord McFall of Alcluith writes to the Financial Times on the composition, work and role of the House, published on 24 September 2021:
As Lord Speaker, I read Seb Payne’s article ‘Abolish the House of Lords to fix England’s democratic deficit’ with interest. Although I take issue with his call for abolition, you may be surprised to hear that I agree with many of the other points he makes.
Our parliamentary democracy needs a second chamber to improve laws and the House of Lords brings a depth of experience to the British legislative process which is unrivalled around the world.
However, it does need to change. The House needs to be much smaller, to be more representative and to better reflect the whole of our society. The House of Lords itself has endorsed the proposals of the Burns Committee to reduce the size of the House, but we need primary legislation to make more substantial progress.
Payne’s central point that our democracy could be better served by bringing regional mayors and representatives to a second chamber is an attractive one but, as he acknowledges, there will always be a role for ‘legislative experts’ to make our laws fit for purpose. To name but one example, the Environment Bill is about to be sent back to the Commons with at least 14 significant amendments, ideas proposed by, among others, members of the Committee on Climate Change, leading engineers and distinguished environmental academics. In Westminster we need strong voices from all parts of the United Kingdom, but we also need the in-depth subject expertise from people with backgrounds in the armed forces, the charity sector, law, diplomacy and agriculture to name just some examples.
The role of the House of Lords should complement that of the House of Commons, not replicate it. The forensic scrutiny we carry out delivers better law which is of benefit to the public. We benefit from greater political independence and fewer time-limits to our debates. Ultimately, the elected House gets the final say - and that is well understood on the red benches.
Lord McFall of Alcluith