The Lords can sort out themselves | Letters

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Norman Fowler speaks in the House of Lords chamber during his first sitting as Lord Speaker, 2016. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA

May I comment on two contributions to the debate about the future of the House of Lords published in the last two weeks? On 24 February, Meg Russell argued (Don’t abolish the Lords: history shows it really can be reformed), that attempts at big-bang reform of the House of Lords have not succeeded. She is right, and in any event the government has set its face against such an approach.

By contrast, changes such as reducing the number of hereditary peers in 1999 have been effective, as have retirement provisions introduced in 2015. To date, almost 60 members have chosen to retire permanently from the Lords.

More needs to be done and that is what the Lords are doing on their own initiative. On 5 December, 60 speakers took part in a debate on the size of the house and agreed a motion that its size should be reduced, and methods should be explored by which this could be achieved. I have now set up a Lord Speaker’s committee under Lord Burns, the former chairman of Channel 4, to bring forward proposals on how this can be achieved.

On 2 March, Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society wrote a letter arguing for exactly the kind of big-bang approach that has failed in the past. Even more to the point, she has her facts wrong when she says that there is “essentially no way to get rid of those who abuse the system”.

The house has the power to suspend or expel members when they are found to have broken the house’s code of conduct. There is an independent commissioner for standards whose duty it is to investigate specific complaints that members have breached the code. In the case described in the letter it was not a lack of power to expel that held the Lords back from punishing the alleged offender. No complaint was ever made.
Norman Fowler
The Lord Speaker, House of Lords

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