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My Lords, I have listened to every speech and after such a fascinating debate I am not sure that I have much new to offer, but I will try.
These last few months have been cruel for the reputation of our House. Much of the criticism is unfair, yet we live in a world that takes great delight in toppling gilded towers. Our gilded tower is one of the most spectacular. It is also the easiest of targets. A lot of repair work can be done, and surprisingly quickly, if we are able to engage in information and rebuttal, to explain the work we do and to correct some of the more grotesque distortions that have taken hold. An information and rebuttal post could be set up now, within weeks. We could move very quickly.
The public deserve to know the facts, not just the fiction. Take our dining habits. It is widely believed that we dine on lobster and caviar; I am not sure what I will dine on this evening but it certainly will not be that. Most of us, I suspect, have not even eaten lobster here. Being a good working-class lad, the closest I got to caviar is a taramosalata salad in the River canteen. I must confess to buying a little champagne, but like so many noble Lords, almost every drop of it has been to raise money for charity. The delusions and distortions that we suffer are appalling. They may pass, but I rather doubt it. Some of us, a few, have played into their hands.
So how can we fix the damage? First, by re-emphasising that we are a House of duties, not privileges. We Peers are here to serve this House and the country beyond; we must never make it seem as though this House is here to serve us. Secondly, none of us deserves a job for life by right; there comes a point where enough is enough—move on.
In the mean time, we must focus remorselessly on the quality of the work that we do. That work is vital. I like to think of this House as a great parliamentary composting machine, improving and making more fragrant whatever—I was about to say “rubbish”—is thrown at us from the other place. My Lords, we should take pride in being parliamentary worms or rather glow-worms.
How do we translate all this into specific proposals? With fixed terms, age limits, enforced retirements? They have the merit of simplicity, but suffer the tragic weakness of not finding the pleasure of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. Perhaps we should go back to finding the more traditional methods of finding constitutional compromise: Strathclyde and Steel in a locked room—winner takes all. It is a thought.