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My Lords, I have known the noble Lord, Lord Burns, for some 30 years as a friend and I have always admired his ability to win people over by the power of persuasion. That quality he and his fellow committee members have shown in abundance with this brilliant report, and I, like other speakers in this debate, congratulate them.
My most earnest hope is that this report will not go the same way as an earlier Burns report on another British institution, which in that case was oversized, outdated, unrepresentative and predominantly white, male and middle-class. I am referring, of course, to the English Football Association. Despite early indications in 2006 that the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, were to be accepted in full, so little progress was made that the noble Lord appeared in front of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee five years on, and the report in the Guardian of that session carried the headline:
“Lord Burns accuses FA of losing plot over regulation.”
As numerous speakers in this debate have already said, this may be the last opportunity we have to address the challenges facing this place, and I urge us not to lose the plot.
We have to work hard to win appreciation outside this place of the value of what we do and of our ability to hold the Government to account and to give the elected House the opportunity to think again on aspects of legislation that it may not have had the time to consider in depth by drawing on the expertise of individuals with a lifetime’s knowledge and achievement in examining complex subjects and policy areas. These are the attributes of this place which give the House legitimacy. I frequently make the point, particularly when I am talking to school groups in the outreach programme, that while democratic elections are one means of conferring legitimacy on an assembly, they are not the only one.
However, as the Burns report and today’s debate demonstrate, there is one aspect of our existence which has to change. There are simply too many of us. With almost 100 speakers in today’s debate, there are inevitably many points of view, but very little disagreement on that essential principle. In view of that, I was depressed to read in Friday’s Times, and to see repeated in the Daily Express yesterday, a story with the headline, “New peers to be appointed ‘in weeks’”, which the noble Lord, Lord Newby, referred to this morning. The report said:
There followed a list of former MPs who retired or lost their seats at the election, and the comment:
It is hard to think of anything that would do more to undermine the credibility of the report by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, than such a move on the Government’s part. I hope that in due course we will get a categorical denial from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that anything of the sort is being planned. She and particularly her Chief Whip know that in a balanced House, as we are, with no party majority, you do not win votes by packing in more of your own Members, but by making a real effort to win the argument. I am sure she appreciates, as everyone else here does, that if we are to reduce the size of this House, the party leaders have to exercise self-restraint in the appointment of new Peers. Otherwise, not only would we never get near a total membership of 600, we could see our numbers ballooning northwards beyond 1,000, as the Lord Speaker has wisely reminded us.
Like many noble Lords, I have my own ideas for reducing the size of this House. I will not delay the House by talking about them now, but I am particularly attracted by the idea of ministerial Peers: colleagues who come in to do a ministerial job, but then disappear when they cease to have that job. This point was made very forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminister. If some of these Ministers decide they want little to do with this place after they leave office, they should be encouraged to resign at the same time as they step down as Ministers.
What is abundantly clear is that there is overwhelming support for reducing the size of this House and that the very best of the many solutions put forward to how to achieve that are in the Burns report. I support it unreservedly.