House of Lords should be half the size, says Commons Speaker

House Of Lords

The House of Lords should halve in size, John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, has said in a rare foray into political opinion during which he also argued for a longer weekly prime minister’s questions.

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Speaking at the Institute of Government, Bercow – who, as Speaker, remains officially neutral on party political matters – said he would like to see an elected second chamber but: “I don’t think reform on any major scale is going to happen soon.”

He added: “One can argue the toss about the size of the House of Commons, but as far as the size of the House of Lords in concerned, it is, frankly, patently absurd that the House of Lords is significantly larger than the House of Commons.”

This point, Bercow argued, was not made “in a sprit of machismo, or personal or institutional pride, still less willy waving”, but only as the Commons is the elected chamber.

Bercow said there remained “a very good argument” for having a second chamber but ”should it consist of 800-plus members? Absolutely not. It could most definitely be halved in size, and I think most fair-minded people would say that it should be.”

The Speaker also said he would prefer the weekly PMQs to last an hour, rather than the current scheduled 30 minutes.

“I would very much favour that. Whether that’s the will of the house, I don’t know,” he said. Recent PMQs have stretched to 45 minutes or more. This was done, Bercow said, to allow MPs some “injury time” to make up for delays.

He said it was perfectly legitimate for the prime minister to open the session with a statement of condolence or other message, “but I don’t see why it should come out of parliament’s time”. Noise and heckling also held up proceedings, he said: “I think there’s much to be said for having some injury time.”

Asked whether it was among his roles to assist scrutiny of the Brexit process, Bercow said he certainly sought to “try to maximise participation” for MPs on the issue.

He said: “I don’t think it should be exaggerated, but the Speaker does have a role, basically, in seeking to ensure that government policy, pronouncements, expenditure, negotiation tactics, are the subject of questioning and scrutiny in the chamber.”

Bercow also expressed concern at the idea the government might not take part in votes on opposition day motions, as happened on Wednesday with a Labour-led motion opposing an increase to university tuition fees.

A lot of votes are “expressions of opinion” and not binding, Bercow noted, but added: “Parliamentary votes do matter, and I think it would be a very worrying development if they were to be treated lightly or disregarded.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Peter Walker Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 14th September 2017 15.49 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010