House of Lords (Hereditary Peers) (Abolition of By-Elections) Bill [HL] - Committed to Committee

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:36 pm on 12th September 2018.

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Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour 3:36 pm, 12th September 2018

My Lords, as we have heard, this Motion relates to the House of Lords (Hereditary Peers) (Abolition of By-Elections) Bill, with which the House will be familiar. The Motion is simple. It asks the House to transfer the remaining consideration in Committee from the Floor of the House to Grand Committee. I want to explain why I think this is highly desirable.

My Bill came first in the Private Members’ Bill ballot that many noble Lords entered at the beginning of this Session, meaning that it was allocated time for consideration. It is the first time I have ever come first in a ballot, so maybe there is a certain amount of sympathy for me on that basis—but that is about all the achievement I can list, because the progress of the Bill since then has been as follows. It received its Second Reading on 8 September 2017, just over a year ago. The first day of Committee was on 23 March this year and the second day last Friday—not a day that will go down as one of the greatest in the annals of this House. The Bill has had around six hours of debate so far, two hours of which have been spent deciding whether it should continue in Committee. When votes have occurred, the House has given its overwhelming support to the objectives of the Bill.

It is a simple, two-clause Bill. So far, it has attracted 75 amendments, 55 of them from just two Peers. The net result is that, a year after its Second Reading, we still have not completed the first clause. I am all for the thorough examination of Bills, but that is beyond ridiculous. If the Bill were to remain on the Floor of the House in Committee, at least three more precious Fridays would be taken up in consideration of a simple, two-clause Bill. This is not fair to other Members who have been successful lower down in the ballot and who are waiting in the queue to have their Bill considered—and, if I may say so, it is also not very fair to me.

When the House votes for a Second Reading, by implication quite clearly it is voting to ensure that it will consider the Bill in Committee. If the House does not want the Bill to be considered in Committee, it votes against the Second Reading. But that was not done—it was an unopposed Second Reading. So I say to that very small minority of Peers who want to block the Bill that they should do it not by making a pantomime about procedure as they have been doing in Committee, but, if they so desire, by voting against it on Third Reading, as is their right and which is the proper way to consider a Bill. They can then kill the Bill—but I would not put great odds on them winning that vote.

My Motion proposes simply that we should go ahead and complete Committee in Grand Committee; no more, no less. It is important that we get on with this and do it quickly. Since we started Committee, as I said, on 23 March this year, there have been two further instances of these ludicrous by-elections. As noble Lords know, that is in complete violation of the Burns report, which has been supported by the House, which says that we should proceed to reduce the size of the House on the ratio of two out, one in. That applies to all of us apart from the hereditary Peers system, which provides for two out, two in. That means that that section of the peerage cannot possibly reduce in number without a change in the law such as the one I am proposing. So it is important that we do it quickly. Passing this Motion today will allow us to get on with the Bill without further undue delay. I commend it to the House and beg to move.