House of Lords (Exclusion of Hereditary Peers)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:33 pm on 8th July 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North 12:33 pm, 8th July 2003

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.

On 11 November 1999, I went along to the House of Lords with several hon. Friends to watch an historic occasion in which more than 640 hereditary peers were to leave the House of Lords. I am glad that I went to watch those proceedings on the final part of what became the law of the land.

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—28 June 1283, to give the exact date.