My Lords, it was very tempting, as one of the newest Members of your Lordships’ House, to let those more experienced in the ways of this place get on with it. However, the pace of change suggested in the report is so seductively slow that there will not be many of us left to bear witness to the effect of those changes.
Many believe both that the House has become too large and that it does not reflect the voting preferences of the electorate over the past decade or two. In the debate last December, the overwhelming majority of your Lordships agreed that something needed to be done—but what? I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that ditching the title and the building would reduce the numbers substantially and quickly. However, I acknowledge the hard work and the depth of thought that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his committee have given to the production of the report, and I pay tribute to the Lord Speaker for initiating their work.
I admit I find it hard to accept the suggestion of a 15-year tenure as appropriate, when in that time many of us will not have reached even the average age of the committee. I observe that with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and one MEP, all the Members of the committee have come here from the other place and may therefore be looking at this issue from a particular perspective. The average age of our Lords Ministers is now 58; five are under 50. Some may go on to commercial life and then return, bringing back valuable expertise—as, indeed, may others. We should not be prepared to cast aside the knowledge acquired from whatever field—public service, academia, commerce or defence—so lightly.
I agree that we need to achieve a steady state, reducing the rise in numbers while allowing the membership to be refreshed, but why not introduce a notional upper age limit of, say, 80, beyond which you could be voted back on to your relevant party’s Bench in five-year terms, should you and your Bench wish to retain your contribution? Can we also not agree to adjust the proportional representation of each party in line with, say, the averages of the last four general elections, again keeping the Cross-Benchers and Bishops but simultaneously reducing the numbers on the other Benches within a much shorter timeframe? Your Lordships found a modus operandi that worked, although not without considerable pain, in 1999. Can we not employ a similar method now? Unless we do something soon, the reputation of the House as one of the finest second Chambers in the world in terms of its membership, output, committees and ability to persuade Governments to think again will be overshadowed by the truly false impression of a bloated and self-interested inflexibility.