Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Andrew F Bennett MP (LR 7)

  I read with interest your proposals regarding an inquiry into House of Lords reform.

  I would suggest that you actually need to look at reform of Parliament, not just the House of Lords. Does Parliament really need 650 plus MPs and a similar number of Lords? I think not. It would be far better to settle for 600 plus in total.

  I would opt to retain the House of Commons with 600 plus MPs. And make it work effectively. I would also reduce the House of Lords to six or seven members, with only two residual functions—the power to extend the life of the Commons in very rare circumstances beyond five years, and to ensure that legislation had been properly scrutinised by the Commons, and to question whether there really was the need for such short-lived emergency legislation.

  The problem with the present proposals is that scrutinising two Houses will be costly, but not necessarily more effective. There is a fundamental problem with the Lords as proposed, in that if it is to attract dynamic people, either by appointment, or by election, it is unlikely they will want to put scrutiny of either primary or secondary legislation at the top of their agenda.

  The House of Lords appears to pass huge numbers of amendments to legislation, but only a handful are inspired by Lords. In most cases the amendments come from outside bodies, government revision or promises made in the Commons Committees. Insofar as it is good at scrutiny, it relies on lawyers and ex-MPs who have learned the scrutiny process in the Commons.

  So, my plea to you is to be really radical. Start by looking at how Select Committees and other MPs scrutinise the Executive, and then look at how an effective Parliament ought to scrutinise legislation.

November 2001

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