Our speaker, The Rt Hon Baroness D’Souza, was created a Life Peer in 2004, sits on the cross benches in the Lords, and was elected Lord Speaker from 2011 to 2016. She is thus highly qualified to speak about the composition of the Lords, its value and limitations, its relationship with the Commons and how it might change. She was delighted that, after lunch, we were joined by thirty sixth formers from two local schools.
A very impressive list of strengths : a balanced membership, more being appointed by the Lords’ own Appointments Commission than by the government, painstaking deliberations, access to international advice, a cross party approach, up to date information from members long retired from their previous careers, a flexible timetable (“surgeon in the morning, Lords in the afternoon”) and debate on unpopular issues avoided by the government!
However, reform is needed. Topics for discussion include: reduction in the number of members, members appointed by the Commons to be in the minority, allowances, rules governing attendance, cash for peerages, the ability of the Commons to send unwanted MPs “upstairs”.
Our speaker emphasised that the Lords should in no way be given more power. Power resides only with the democratically elected Commons. The Baroness considered our democracy to be unstable and subject to small and incremental erosion: it could even disappear. Reform of the House of Lords could help to reverse this trend.
We are very grateful to Baroness D’Souza for a stimulating and enjoyable afternoon – our audience of over ninety were given plenty to think about (but not whether the Lords should decamp to York!)