I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to repeal section 2 of the House of Lords Act 1999.
As we know, the Prime Minister and the then Conservative leader in the House of Lords reached a compromise whereby most of the hereditary peers would go and 92 would remain. That agreement cost the then Tory leader in the House of Lords his job; nevertheless, it formed the core of the House of Lords Act 1999, which contains the exemption that I am hoping to change.
The purpose of the modest measure to which I am speaking today is that the remaining 92 hereditary peers should also go. It is now nearly four years since the rest went. I should point out that, had there been no change of Government in 1997, no change whatever would have taken place. The only reason for the departure of most hereditary peers is that Labour carried out its election manifesto. When I examined the Conservative manifesto for 1997, I found that, far from proposing any change to the regime of hereditary peers, it strongly opposed what it described as
"Labour's extremely damaging proposals on Lords reform".
Clearly, without the Labour Government, all hereditary peers would have stayed for a long time to come. Those who recall the debates on the House of Lords Bill 1999 in the House of Commons will also remember the strong opposition that came from the Conservative Benches. There was certainly no enthusiasm, to say the least, and at the end of the day the Conservatives tabled what could be described as a wrecking amendment.
I realise that the remaining 92 hereditary peers were to be kept in place until further reform of the Lords took place, but my point today is that, regardless of the various conflicting views about the composition of the House of Lords—whether it should be elected, appointed or, as I personally prefer, a combination of the two—the time has come for no hereditary peers whatever to sit in the House of Lords. I want to make it clear that I have no personal antagonism towards the remaining peers; there is no reason why I should. On some occasions, on measures such as hunting with dogs, we know that hereditary peers will vote in a certain way, but my concern today is the basic principle that, in a democracy—and certainly in the 21st century—no one should have a seat in Parliament simply because their ancestors were, for whatever reason, given a title.
I found out when some of the titles were created. Some were conferred about 60 or 70 years ago. Several were conferred in the 19th century: some peers sit in the House of Lords because their ancestors were given a title in 1801, 1815, 1821, 1869, 1828 and 1841. Yet they can be considered relatively recent. If we continue to examine the list, we find that some who sit in the House of Lords have titles going back to 1605, 1609, 1620, 1633 and 1660. Other titles date from the 18th century—1707, 1711, 1728. That goes back some distance, but the list goes back even further. I found that one peer sits in the House of Lords on the basis of a title created in the 16th century; six on the basis of titles created in the 15th century; and two on the basis of titles created in the 14th century. It does not even end there, because one peer's title was created in 1283—
Whether a hereditary peer is Labour, Conservative or Liberal—I remind the hon. Gentleman who has just shouted across the Floor of the House that I have already said that it is nothing personal—their remaining in Parliament because of titles created as long ago as 1283, or in the 14th and 15th century, makes no sense whatever.
We rid Parliament of more than 640 hereditary peers four years ago, and I do not notice any enthusiasm among the Tories for the restoration of the hereditary principle. They refused to support what was done four years ago, and described Labour's proposals as "damaging", but they now—as far as I know—accept the status quo. When the remaining hereditary peers go, there will be no desire to bring them back.
As I argued earlier, this is a modest measure. The work has been left undone, and it is now time to rid Parliament of those who sit here simply because their ancestors were given a title.
I rise to oppose the Bill, but before I do so I should declare a couple of interests. The first is that my wife is a member of the other place and the second is that, but for legislation that the House has passed, I would have been entitled to sit in the other place. I must add that I would not have done so, because I much preferred to stay in this House.
All my political life I have campaigned for substantial reform of the House of Lords. I believe in a House of Lords that is elected or largely elected. I am opposed to its appointed form and to the hereditaries. My reason for seeking an elected Chamber is that I want to increase the powers of the second Chamber substantially. I recognise that the only basis on which one can give the second Chamber real power is if it is given legitimacy. In the modern world, election is the only basis for political legitimacy. One of my great regrets is that the Conservative Government of which I was a member for many years did not tackle the problem of House of Lords reform.
My objection to the Bill is twofold. First, most of us would agree that the hereditaries in the other place are independent-minded and unpredictable. Both of those are good characteristics. The hereditaries are also wholly unwhippable. I welcome unwhippable members of the House of Commons or of the House of Lords. I want to see thoroughly unwhippable and unwhipped Members of Parliament. [Interruption.] Well, I am thoroughly unwhipped, as my hon. Friends know full well, but that is not my main point.
I actually agree with David Winnick that the presence of the hereditaries is an anomaly and cannot be justified. However, as long as the anomaly exists, so will the pressure for reform. The converse is true: if the hereditaries were taken away, the Prime Minister would have what he wants, which is a wholly appointed House that lacks legitimacy. The Bill would create a wholly appointed second Chamber, and the pressure for reform would die away. I regard that as undesirable.
In summary, I believe in a thoroughgoing reform of the House of Lords, and that the hereditaries are an anomaly. So long as they are there, there will be constant pressure for change, and if we take them away as the Bill proposes, the pressure for change will die away. We would then have a wholly appointed Chamber, which would lack political legitimacy. That is what the Prime Minister wants, but it is not what we should want. On that basis, I invite the House to oppose the Bill.
Question put, pursuant to
The House proceeded to a Division.