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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who, as he said, chairs the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, a group of which I am very proud to be a member. I was also a member of the Labour Party’s working group to which the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, alluded earlier, which looked at these issues a couple of years ago. Therefore, I am in a reasonably good position to say that the task that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his team undertook was fiendishly difficult and that they have have done an extraordinarily good job in resolving what some people have already referred to as apparently irresolvable issues.
They have presented us with a report which, of course, it is easy to pick holes in if one is minded so to do. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, did it very effectively himself. However, in my view it is not helpful at this point not to take a broader overall view of what the report offers, precisely for the reason the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, identified, which is that this opportunity to help ourselves will not come again, probably in this Parliament or, possibly, ever. So we had better take the opportunity before us.
Many of your Lordships will be familiar with William Shakespeare’s great tragedy, “Othello” and will therefore recall the painful cry of despair from young Cassio when he finds himself fallen from grace through, to quote my noble friend Lord Hain, “no fault of his own”. He says:
“Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation, I have lost the immortal part of myself—and what remains is bestial”.
Those are strong words, but that is, and has been for some time, the danger in which we now stand.
It was not Cassio’s fault that he lost his reputation. He, like the House of Lords, was misunderstood, misrepresented and traduced, as we frequently are. But that does not alter the fact that reputation once lost is extremely hard to regain. We have an opportunity now to stop our reputation from becoming irrecoverable. The virtue of this report is that it is constructed to deliver benefits over a reasonably long period, but which, if we take them, will last. And they would do so without impeding or preventing wholesale reform of a different kind should any Government suddenly find themselves with the time and energy to undertake it—although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, suggested, it would be unwise to hold our breath on that either.
Our job in this matter and in others is to take the long view, thinking not just of ourselves and what will immediately impact on us, but on those who come after. Let us give these proposals fair wind. Let us send the Leader of the House, who gracefully contributed to the debate earlier, a strong message that she can take back to the Prime Minister that there is consensus in this House for this kind of reform, and let us get on with it.