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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, has had to withdraw her name from the speakers list, so I shall follow now.
We are all agreed—or perhaps I might say all but one agreed—that the number of Members of this House is too large and that some steps are required to bring it down to a suitable level. As to what those steps should be, well, one is reminded of the old Latin tag that there are as many opinions as there are people—I will spare you the old crack about two lawyers and three opinions.
Another thing that is manifest is that one should keep one’s eye firmly on the function of the House as a revising Chamber, which was spelled out very clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. Many of the issues before the House concern matters of policy and there is a clear and obvious need for a substantial cadre of those with experience of public affairs and political knowledge and skills, though not necessarily garnered in the other House.
But, of course, there are other matters in the important process of the House of refining the legislative provisions and closing gaps left in the Bills that come before us, and these require other types of knowledge and experience to be brought to bear. Your Lordships can readily think of many spheres and much legislation in which that is important and this seems to me a strong argument against an elected House, because people possessing such skills and experience would not be too likely to put themselves forward for election.
I do not propose to offer a blueprint for a reformed House—others of your Lordships with long experience of the House and its work are much better qualified to do that—but I would make a plea for the avoidance of rigid categories in deciding who becomes a Member, who must leave and who can stay. In that, I would echo the thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.
On the proposal of a cull at 80, with which I would certainly take issue on the ground that I have put forward—even with the siren call of the exception suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood—we can all think of Members of this House who have attained that magic age who have a lot to offer, and keep offering it, through their knowledge, skills, experience and wisdom. However the proposals are framed, for that and for other issues, I suggest strongly that we should not have rigid or arbitrary categories. I make it clear that this is not a plea for myself—I have now attained the age of 81 years and if a cull at 80 were brought in, I would be in the first tranche of those who had to go. If that is the decision of Parliament, so be it, although I may be allowed to express the wish and hope that it would not be.
My real and sincere objective in offering these thoughts is not to seek personal advantage but to make suggestions which may help the future of this House to best effect. In the time during which I have had the privilege of being a Member of the House, I have formed a huge regard for it, its work and the people who take part in it. It is my earnest wish and hope that in any future manifestation it may form the most effective and serviceable possible component of the legislative process.