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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:56 am on 8th September 2017.

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Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Deputy Speaker (Lords) 10:56 am, 8th September 2017

My Lords, when I was elected one of the 90 in 1999, I never supposed that I would still be here 18 years later, because we were promised at that time—at least, I think it was a promise—that there would be further stages of reform. There was one attempt by the coalition Government, which failed in the House of Commons. There was no attempt in the following 11 years of the Labour Government to bring any further reform forward. As for the matter of the hereditary by-elections, which is the subject of the Bill, as has been said, they were the result of a deal done among those involved at the time. They do not have to go on for ever, because if we get a second stage of reform they will stop.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and others who have said that some of the by-elections have been curious, to say the least. At least on our side of the House, we have a reasonable-sized electorate of about 50, and we have elected some very capable people, one of whom is sitting at this moment on the Government Front Bench, but I take the point that my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Cope have made that there could be a better way of dealing with the size of the electorate.

I am delighted that the Lord Speaker has set up a committee on the size of the House, which has been referred to. The real problem of the House in the public perception is its size. It is worth reminding noble Lords that when the hereditaries were effectively abolished in 1999, the total size of the House was 666. It has now grown to just over 800, and there can be no more stark example of that, I fear, than the Lib Dems, who in 1999 had 54 Members. They now have nearly double that number. In 1999, they had 46 MPs; they now have 12. I hope that the committee, which I think is to report next month, will have something to say about how we deal with the size of the House. If it makes any recommendations concerning the hereditaries or the hereditary by-elections, we will have to see what it says, but if they are part of a more extensive proposal I would be inclined to go along with whatever is suggested. I do not know whether it will make any recommendations about hereditaries—we will have to see—but the timing of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is slightly unfortunate given the imminent publication of the report. At least it will be out before we get to the next stage of the Bill and, for what it is worth, I assure the noble Lord that I will not be part of any filibustering attempt, if one is to be made.