House of Lords (Hereditary Peers) (Abolition of By-Elections) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:05 am on 8th September 2017.

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Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour 10:05 am, 8th September 2017

My Lords, just a year ago I introduced a Bill with exactly the same objective as the one I am proposing today. Regrettably, despite very strong support from all parts of the House, the Bill was blocked in Committee by a small number of Peers. My motive in reintroducing the Bill is unchanged: the by-election system, which provides for the continuation—effectively in perpetuity—of a block of 90 hereditary Peers is absurd and indefensible. In the 12 months since the last Bill, there have been significant developments that make the case for scrapping the by-elections even more compelling.

Let us remind ourselves briefly how the system works. There are 90 elected places. If a vacancy occurs among the 15 hereditary Peers who were originally officeholders—that is, Deputy Speakers—the electorate consist of all 803 Members of the House. The remaining 75 hereditaries are distributed among three party groups and the Cross-Benchers. The electorate for each by-election then consist of the hereditary Peers who are members of the group where the vacancy has arisen. As a reminder, the numbers are as follows: for a Conservative vacancy, 48 hereditary Peers can vote; for a Cross-Bencher, it is 30; for a Lib Dem, three; and for Labour, three.

Try explaining that nonsense to members of the public as a mechanism for recruiting people to serve in Parliament; I guarantee their jaws will hit the floor. It makes the d’Hondt system look simple, and given that the system is so manifestly absurd, is it any wonder that it results in the most absurd by-elections? I cannot resist repeating the example I gave last year of a Lib Dem by-election following the death of Eric Lubbock—the first person, I might add, who raised the issue of trying to scrap these by-elections. It was held in April 2016, when the number of candidates was 11 and the electorate was three. By way of comparison, before the Great Reform Act 1832, even Old Sarum had an electorate of seven. In comparison with the Lib Dem by-election, that is a metropolis.

I can hear Members asking: “But your Bill failed last year, so why waste parliamentary time again?”.