My plan to alleviate the bloated House of Lords
As crazy ideas go, shipping the House of Lords to Stoke-on-Trent while its chamber is being repaired is pretty much a classic.
It would cost a fortune. This would require the relocation of countless support staff. Even in the age of Zoom, that would make running an efficient business nearly impossible. And even my limited understanding of the constitution tells me that it would be contrary to all parliamentary practice since the Civil War.
It would, however, be a matter of sorting out the wheat from the chaff. Stoke is a great place – its most famous son, the great Arnold Bennett, was after all the man who coined the important phrase ‘the great cause to lift our spirits’ – but only the toughest peer would work there . However, this is surely the way to avoid the pottery experience altogether.
Around 800 people are now eligible to sit in the Lords. It’s way too much. When reform was discussed in the 1920s, it was thought that 300 would suffice. In the 1960s, a house for about 250 people was offered. There are now too many peers for proper debate or discussion to be fully considered.
Many appointees – particularly those of the current Prime Minister and his immediate predecessors – have had a comedic effect on the caliber of the place. Some show up only to claim their attendance allowance, which has become a form of pension or semi-aristocratic old-age allowance.
Lord Fowler, the last Lord Speaker (and a very good one) tried unsuccessfully to engage ministers in a downsizing debate. Since there is no question that we will be less well governed by reducing the number of peers, the chief whip of each party, or the convener of non-status and independent peers, should be instructed to draw up a list eliminating 60% of their peers – so a house of 800 would become one of 320.
They could then find themselves in the dining room of a requisitioned London club, and would work with exceptional efficiency. If they resist, then it’s Stoke. I’m sure one of those lovely Wedgwood memorial plaques could be made to mark their long stay.