UK Politics

House of Lords far too big, says Lord Carrington

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Media captionLord Carrington on changes in political communication

The oldest and longest-serving member of the House of Lords has criticised the size of the chamber's membership.

Former Conservative Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington said: "It is much too big, far too big - I don't think there are enough seats for people to sit on."

There are about 800 peers in the upper house - and more appointments expected.

The peer said there were arguments for and against both an appointed and an elected House of Lords, but he was "not entirely sure" about the best model.

He said of the Lords: "Over the years it has changed, it hasn't changed so much as to seriously alter things - but it has remedied the vetoing powers... which I think was very necessary."

'Playing games'

In a wide-ranging BBC interview, Lord Carrington reflected on many of the changes in British politics over his long career.

The hereditary peer took his seat in the Lords in 1945 after serving in World War Two, where he gained a Military Cross.

Unlike former Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Lord Carrington said being educated at Eton had never led to any public criticism.

"I expect they [criticised] behind your back, but I don't think to my face anybody was very unpleasant.

"In my day the better you were at playing games, the more likely you were to be successful. I wasn't very good at games and I wasn't very successful. But I wasn't in the least unhappy", he added.

'Churchill's message'

Lord Carrington, 97, also reflected on changes in political communication.

In an age before social media, being appointed to the government was very different.

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Image caption Lord Carrington left Margaret Thatcher's cabinet after the Falklands invasion

In 1951, the message that he was to become part of Winston Churchill's government arrived by bicycle.

"I was at home shooting partridges. A man on a bicycle came up and said: 'Mr Churchill wishes to speak to you'. I thought he'd gone mad - why should Churchill want to speak to me? So I thought I better bicycle back home, so I did and rang up Downing Street and there he was on the telephone.

All he said was: "'Would you like to join my shoot?' I said: 'Yes I would'."

Thatcher boost

Lord Carrington served as an agriculture minister under Mr Churchill. He would later go on to be Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's foreign secretary after she won the 1979 general election.

"I think she knew that I knew rather more about foreign affairs than she did, and we got on very well. We had no problems", he said.

On 5 April 1982, Lord Carrington resigned as foreign secretary after the Falkland Islands were invaded by Argentine forces.

His resignation prompted this reaction from Mrs Thatcher: "I had tremendous confidence in Peter Carrington, and his loss seemed to me a devastating blow for Britain and I would back him up all the way."

But now Lord Carrington says his resignation helped the prime minister.

"It put her in quite a strong position. If you have the criminal who has just resigned you are in the clear. It did her the power of good really."

He admitted that is was not a "happy occasion", and that Mrs Thatcher had tried to dissuade him, but he never had any regrets.

"This was a terrific humiliation for Britain, for the Falkland Islands to be invaded… I think there had to be a political sacrifice for that, so I think I was right in resigning because I was the foreign secretary," he said.

Lord Carrington went on to serve as secretary general of NATO from 1984 to 1988.

The programme - Conversations - is available to view on BBC iPlayer.

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