My Lords, I join the many people who have placed on record their appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his fellow committee members—and indeed to our Lord Speaker for his initiative. The result is practical and sensible in the predicament in which we find ourselves.
However, I must confess that there are parts of me that are very traditional, and I look back to earlier stages in my political life when I had the highest regard for the concept of royal commissions. I am quite concerned that this is another pragmatic, specific change to our constitutional way of operating, but we have no road map. We have no overview of where we are going with our constitution, what its challenges are and how far as a whole it meets the challenges of the 21st century. That is quite a serious issue.
I have believed for much of my life that structures are inanimate. In some archaic structures, excellent things happen because first-rate people operate within them. In other perfected structures, nothing much of significance happens because there is an absence of values, drive and imagination on the part of the people within those structures. We should not believe that we will find a solution on the future role of the Lords simply in the structural dimension. It is by our commitment, vision, drive and indeed challenge to the other place and society as a whole that we bring our contribution to the future. It is by that I am convinced that we will be judged—not just by how we tidy up the way in which we operate.
Four specific points arise from the debate to which I want to refer. I am a committed and active member of the Church of England, but I do not see how in 21st century Britain one can have one denomination of one faith represented by right in this Chamber, whereas others are not. Indeed, what about the humanists, the non-believers who are an increasingly significant part of our society? If we are talking about our credibility and acceptance in society, this matter cannot be dodged. We have to face up to the issues.
The second point is on the hereditary principle. I have the highest regard for some of the hereditaries. They do a first-class job in this place, but there is no way in the 21st century we can go on saying that people are here by hereditary right. That does not wash or help our credibility at all.
Then there is the point about how representative we are of society as a whole in the United Kingdom. We are south and south-east dominated in this Chamber. I am glad that my wife and I decided, for all sorts of reasons, to move from the south to the extreme north-west for this last chapter of our lives. I am seeing this increasingly powerfully. This place does not represent or carry weight with much of society away from the sophisticated south-east. If we are to talk about that and then talk about age credibility in this place, we must look at our terms of service. There is a question over how any able, committed person from whatever part of society can come here. We talk about expertise and experience but let us remember the expertise that lies in our trade union movement and working-class sections of our community. That is expertise and has tremendous validity for this place. How will we be able to make that change here in the House of Lords or change our terms of reference?
Lastly, I stress the point that my noble friend Lord Faulkner strongly made. Ringing around in the back of my mind are the words, “turkeys” and “Christmas”. We have been a bit loose in our language about the guarantees that will be required from the Government to make this proposed arrangement work. If they do not play their part, we will have damaged ourselves badly and shot ourselves in the foot. Therefore, we cannot concentrate enough on the specific questions: have we got guarantees or have we not? What do those guarantees really amount to?