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I speak at the moment without an interest so I suppose I must declare one for the future. I happen to have been given a hereditary peerage many years ago and now I have been given a life peerage. I can think of only one other colleague who is in that bracket. It is a limited application. We oldies are very lucky if we are treated as well as anyone else. To be treated better than anyone else is something we have never thought of.
I sympathise with the view that you get wiser as you get older, until you lose your marbles. The point about this House is that when you lose your marbles someone persuades you not to come again. I am reminded of a very close friend of mine--I will not say who he was. His wife used to watch him sitting just below the Bar. One day he said to his wife (I will call her Angela but she was not called Angela) "By the way, Angela, you have to vote". I knew that his time had come. The time does come when you have to go.
Lord Middleton: Were it necessary to declare an interest, which I do not think is the case, I would have to say that I will be 78 at the end of this week. I thought that the noble Earl might have had his tongue in his cheek in proposing the amendment, but he has proposed it with such charm and so persuasively that I take it at its face value. Taking it at its face value, I have to say that I do not support the amendment. The only premise under which the Government could possibly accept it would be that the over-75s were dotty and would pose no threat from these Benches. Looking back over the years, it is quite obvious that the opposite is the case. Noble Lords will call to mind as many names as I can. Indeed, some of the most effective debaters in this House have been over 85 years of age.
The tragedy about the Bill is that so much talent will be lost from all age groups. That might be mitigated by the Weatherill amendment. But if I were to pick an age group to be retained, it would be the under 35s. No, I would not wish to be here because I was in my dotage and only an ornament. That is the only conceivable reason for the Government accepting it.
Lord Monkswell: As a relatively junior Member of your Lordships' House, with only 14 years experience on these Benches, I welcome the amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Drogheda, and while I cannot support the amendment, I wholeheartedly support the reasoning behind it.
During the limited time that I have been a Member of this House, I have heard contributions from Members with immense age, wisdom and experience. Perhaps I may give two examples. A few weeks ago, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, spoke on the subject of the First World War. The noble Lord said: "I was alive during the First World War". In what other Parliament around the world would there be a member with that experience who could contribute sensibly to parliamentary debate? Perhaps I may--
Another example is that of Lord Cairncross, who was able to contribute on the basis of having been a prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. That brought an extra dimension to our debate. I am only sad that our colleagues in the other place did not listen to the points that he and others made about the Bill during its passage through this place.
My point is that an essential and positive feature of this House is that we do not discriminate on the basis of age. In fact, we positively welcome contributions from our more mature and senior colleagues. I hope that this debate will stress that important dimension in our parliamentary deliberations.
Lord Hacking: Before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may correct him on one point. Lord Shawcross was the noble and learned Lord who appeared at the Nuremberg trials. "Lord" Caincross--more accurately, Sir Alec Cairncross--was the well known economist. Perhaps the confusion demonstrated by my noble friend illustrates why we should not remain in this House beyond the age of 60.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I did not realise that this amendment was quite so important as it has turned out to be. It has provided an opportunity for the noble Lords, Lord Monkswell, Lord Hacking and Lord Acton, to go on the hustings, as it were, and present their credentials to their colleagues, who may well have to decide for whom to vote.
To link this matter to previous debates, the amendment, if accepted by the Government, would remove one of the arguments used by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, against his noble friend Lord Randall and a number of other Members who have argued that we should admit no more hereditary Peers but that those who are already here ought to be allowed gently to "die away"--not quite in an asymptotic curve, because such a curve never comes to an end; it moves into infinity. I doubt whether even the longevity of Members of this place will reach into infinity!
It would help, actuarially, to make sure that the hereditary Members of this House who remained, to use a rather vulgar reference, die out reasonably quickly, in something like 15 years, as I was informed by the actuary, instead of 60. When I came here, I discovered that I was joining a sub-group of the population who lived much longer than anyone else. I find that encouraging.
Many of our hereditary colleagues, and indeed life Peers, who are over 75 are very distinguished. We have just heard the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who, as he rightly says, does not now come into the category that requires saving because he has been saved by the life-belt of a life peerage coming downstream from Downing Street. I am sure that the whole House is delighted. But there are others in this House who have played, and still play, an important and interesting role. Perhaps I may give just a few examples. I see the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, in his place; the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is also very active in matters of the House; and my noble friends Lord Carrington and Lord Aldington are examples of over-75s who are extremely active. Examples on the Cross-Benches are the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, and the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. So there is an argument for retaining those of your Lordships who are over 75 and who bring the experience not merely of age but of having lived through events in this century from which we should still be trying to learn.
Perhaps I may comment briefly on the idea of drawing arbitrary retirement ages. My first proposition, based on my observations of your Lordships, is that dottiness is not necessarily a factor of age. If anyone asks me to prove it, I shall ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, to plead the Fifth Amendment on my behalf. Given the assent that I hear from all sides, I do not require to prove it.
Equally, many noble Lords who are over 75, both life and hereditary Peers, still play an important part in this House. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, who is not in his place today, is always hugely interesting in his observations, based as they are on his great experience. My noble friend Lord Renton is another Member to whom noble Lords always listen with great interest. I see the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, in his place. I have made a quick check, and I see that the guillotine would just go down on him. We cannot have that,
There is a serious point here, although I cannot go along with the narrow angle that only 75 year-olds should be saved. If we are to save any hereditaries, those with a contribution to make are the ones who should be saved. However, it provides me with the opportunity to say a few words about retirement age.
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