House of Lords: Governance Debate

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Department: Leader of the House

House of Lords: Governance

Lord Sterling of Plaistow Excerpts
Wednesday 8th December 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Sterling of Plaistow Portrait Lord Sterling of Plaistow (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow our former Chief Whip, who has become much more benign—even cuddly—than he was in the old days. I thank my noble friend the Senior Deputy Speaker for organising this debate so rapidly. However, as others have commented, I am extremely surprised that, although our present Chief Whip was here at the beginning and has been throughout, the Lord Speaker and the Leader of the House are not here—I beg your pardon. I do apologise; I did not see the Leader of the House there earlier.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) (Con)
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I was in a Cabinet meeting, so I am afraid that I had to miss the start of the debate.

Lord Sterling of Plaistow Portrait Lord Sterling of Plaistow (Con)
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I completely apologise; I probably missed her because of her mask.

I think that this is one of the most important debates I have attended since I joined the House some 31 years ago. Taking into account our rapid recovery from Covid-19, the fast-changing and dangerous world in which we live and the extraordinary advance of science and technology, I feel that the consideration of today’s debate is most timely. This House is considered to be the finest revising Chamber in the world, and all those serving on these committees do this House great credit. However, we have sadly lost public trust, and that goes for the other place as well. The City of London is in a similar position. As one of the greatest democracies in the world, it is vital that both institutions use every endeavour to regain that trust.

I publicly thank Michael Torrance, the clerk in Simon Burton’s office, for producing so rapidly this rather splendid Library briefing. It is an extraordinary piece of work. I have to say, personally, I learned much of which I was totally unaware. The sheer complexity of all the committees on which a great number of people serve is heavily intertwined with the other place.

We are very fortunate to have Simon Burton as our Clerk of the Parliaments, who provides us with wise procedural and constitutional advice. His knowledge has been acquired over many years, as he has served in many parliamentary roles. Many Peers here will remember that there was an extraordinary move to find someone from outside this House for this role; I was involved with others to stop such an unsuitable appointment taking place. This causes me to follow through what my noble friend Lord Haselhurst and others have commented on: the appointment of the new COO. This came up over a year and a half ago, by the way. I wanted information about what was being sought and what was being said publicly and put out, but initially I was totally refused it. It just so happened that I knew the senior partner of the headhunters; he kindly put me in the picture.

It caused me a huge problem at that stage when the point was built up that somebody with that background or a lack of knowledge about this place could be considered for the deputy. That is very concerning indeed. I will go even further. We were told a few weeks ago that he would also have political involvement. Nobody has as yet explained to me what “political” actually means.

To return to this document, like many organisations of such standing, an array of committees nearly always seems to create silos, major bureaucracy, cost and, worst of all, major delays, causing great frustration. Some months ago, it was publicly stated in our House that its governance should change. All employed on our estate and the service committees should report to, work for and service the peerage. During the pandemic, one was in touch, in many cases on Zoom, with many who served us during those difficult times. They were and are outstanding. They are splendid people. Nothing was too much bother, and I must say that the security and the police have been excellent.

When we all had the honour of being asked to become a Member of this House, we swore the oath of allegiance to serve Her Majesty the Queen and serve her in Parliament. Governance change would help us to use our best endeavours to serve the people of this country.

Many Peers have come from the other place with great experience. Many have served in senior ministerial roles. Many of us have not had a specific political background but have served and still serve in the most senior roles in the worldwide private sector, and of course in other key areas such as defence, medicine and the law. Might I say that we bring a touch of wisdom? As was stated in the House the other day, our role, when appropriate, is to hold the Government in power to account. We must use this combined experience and expertise in what I believe is our other key role of quiet influence to help the highly talented people in the other, elected Chamber to carry out their responsibilities.

Finally, early yesterday morning, I spoke to two of the key seniors in the other place, who are in absolute agreement that such a change in governance is of vital importance to them. They asked me to mention this to noble Lords today. I hope that my noble friend the Senior Deputy Speaker feels that such a change in governance, while retaining tradition, will be beneficial to both Houses, thereby enhancing the reputation and influence of the mother of Parliaments worldwide in the years to come.