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My Lords, as a reasonably active Back-Bencher, I want first to pay my tribute to the current and previous Lord Speakers and to the Front Benches of the political parties, because I sense the beginnings of a unanimity that we require action and that they are going to drive it forward. It might be invidious to mention four colleagues, but I think that we should pay tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Norton, Lord Cormack and Lord Steel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.
On size, I think it really is quite simple: it should be 50 fewer than the Commons. I do not know why we have to go for some complicated computation; it should just be 50 fewer than whatever the House of Commons is. I cannot think that anybody is going to vote against that.
I had the privilege for five years of being Chairman of Ways and Means. I sat many hours in the chair—much longer than the Lord Speakers sit here. That teaches one to observe, and I sit here on the fourth row because I like to observe what is happening. What have I observed recently in relation to tonight’s debate? First, perhaps against what many of the sceptics thought, retirement seems to work: those taking retirement have thought about it, discussed it with their families and discussed it in terms of their own ambitions in life, and recognised that the time has come to retire. Against that, I say thank you to the House authorities who make it possible for those who have retired to use the Library and limited facilities. It may be that the time has come to wonder whether there should not be something comparable to what is in the other place, which is an organisation for those who have retired. Doubtless I shall be among those who will retire in the not-too-distant future and I would help to make that happen.
I also observe, and this is across all parties, that, frankly, there are those today who attend and do not take part, and I think that it is incumbent on the leaderships of the parties to have a quiet word with them and suggest that their retirement be pretty imminent. There are still those who do not attend at all or hardly at all, and I cannot think what their objections would be to being leant on to take retirement but of course to keep their title.
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, mentioned the 80 age limit for those at the end of the Parliament. I fall into that category; I am willing to accept that. I am not, frankly—maybe I am one of the awkward squad—one who favours having any exceptions to that. It is an age criterion, and if it is an age criterion then it would apply to everybody and there should not be any exceptions at all.
I also observe that some colleagues might face some degree of hardship if they had to leave because of one policy or another. Again, in another place there is a hardship fund. It works well. I sit as a trustee of the parliamentary pension fund, as colleagues will know, and that works extremely well. The fund might need a bit of pump-priming to get it going but it is incumbent on all of us, in a similar way as happens with Members of Parliament, to make some contribution to it. I certainly would have no objection to that at all.
On the matter of hereditary Peers, in all honesty I cannot see why there should be another by-election. From now on, if somebody dies as a hereditary Peer, that attendance should lapse and slowly the numbers would come down.
It is difficult for my noble friend on the Front Bench and the Leader of the Opposition—and, indeed, the leader of the Liberal party—to try to come to a numbers agreement. Certainly in the time since I have been a Member of this House following the removal of significant numbers of hereditary Peers, neither of the two leading parties has had a majority in this House. The key to that, as we have discussed several times, is the Salisbury convention and what is in the manifesto. There is a need for clarity that the Government of the day should get their business, although it is part of the role of the revising Chamber, if necessary, to ask the other House to think again, and to think again at least twice, and then to give in. That in itself, if implemented properly, would be a controlling factor.
On the reverse side of the coin is the numbers coming to us. I am a loyal member of the Conservative Party but, frankly, 45 more Members is too many. I do not understand why there was not more sensitivity at No. 10 about that, given the discussions that had gone on before. I also do not understand why, in today’s world, the honours list is not being used in the way that it used to be. About 25 or 30 years ago it was quite common for hard-working people within the parties, who had helped and worked with the parties, to get CBEs if they were young enough; or if they looked about ready for retirement they would get a knighthood. Those were fully justified. At the moment it seems that those awards are not being offered and people have to come to the Lords. That is absolutely wrong.
It is wholly unfair on the advisers who are coming that they will not be allowed to speak. They will find that an embarrassment themselves, and it would have been much wiser if someone had reflected on it. They will not feel themselves to be full Members of this House, which is not a good idea at all. I finish by saying that just before the House rose for the general election, I asked whether it was not time, since we do not vote on money Bills or on going to war, that we had a vote at general elections. Certainly those who have retired should be given the vote in general elections.