Amendment 12

House of Lords (Hereditary Peers) (Abolition of By-Elections) Bill [HL] - Report – in the House of Lords at 12:20 pm on 15th March 2019.

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Moved by Lord Northbrook

12: Clause 2, page 1, line 8, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert—“(2) For section 2(3) to (5) substitute—“(3) Standing Orders must provide for—(a) the 90 people to be excepted for the duration of a Parliament; and(b) the Hereditary Peers Commission, at the beginning of each Parliament, to determine which holders of hereditary peerages should fill the 90 places provided for in subsection (2).(4) Schedule 1A makes provision about the Hereditary Peers Commission.””

Photo of Lord Northbrook Lord Northbrook Conservative

My Lords, Amendment 12 states that Standing Orders must provide for 90 people to be excepted for the duration of a Parliament and that a new organisation, a hereditary Peers commission, shall determine at the start of a Parliament which hereditary Peers shall fill the 90 places provided. The amendment also sets out how the commission should be launched immediately after the Bill becomes law, as well as its role in by-elections.

Amendments 32 and 33 set out alternative details of the proposed composition of the commission. Deciding this has given me some difficulty. It is not entirely clear in my mind how it should be made up—whether it should consist of Peers in the House of Lords, excepted Peers or hereditary Peers including those excluded from the House in 1999. For simplicity’s sake I have for now considered, as per Amendment 32, that the commission should,

“comprise two persons nominated by the leader of each political party”.

For the Cross-Bench elections there should be two Members from the Cross Benches, but, as an alternative, they could comprise two independent members of a non-statutory appointments commission. The amendment sets out that the procedure should be carried out at the start of each Parliament, with the first appointments being made immediately after the next general election.

Amendments 32 and 33 also set out criteria for selection. The commission must take account of party balance, age, interests, expertise, commitment to participate and regional representation. Importantly, the commission must ensure that the party balance among the hereditary Peers who are to be Members of the House helps to ensure that the overall party balance reflects the share of the vote secured by the main political parties at the general election. The hereditary Peers commission will also supervise any by-election that takes place during the course of a Parliament.

This amendment should help monitor the balance of the 90 hereditary Peers and goes some way to answering the criticisms of my noble friend Lord Cormack and the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber that some of the political parties’ representation among the 90 excepted Peers does not reflect their electoral position in the other place. I beg to move.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

My Lords, I am not sure that my noble friend’s amendment has got the wording precisely correct, but he is right to draw attention to the possibility of changing the Standing Orders. I have thought for a long time that the present Standing Orders providing for only the hereditary Peers to vote in the party bloc by-elections should be changed, on the basis that all Peers in this House are equal. From the beginning, the life Peers on the Cross Benches and the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Benches should have had a vote alongside their hereditary colleagues.

If that had been the case, there would certainly be a rather different feeling in this House about the obsession of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, in pursuing this single-issue Bill. He has done it with great tenacity, for which I greatly admire him, but I am surprised that he thinks it proper to bring a single-issue Bill to your Lordships’ House that seeks to unpick a very firm agreement between the House of Lords and the Executive which was made in 1999. The agreement was that the hereditary Peers would remain until the House was properly reformed. It may be 20 years on—it may be 100 years on—but it would be absolutely wrong not to make proper progress in moving to a democratic House but simply to remove one important element of it which was part of the agreement from the beginning.

I do not often find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, but I felt today that he could not have put it better. I utterly and completely agree with everything he said. This is not a small issue. It is a fundamental issue that affects the relationship of your Lordships’ House with the Executive and the country. It is fundamentally important in the evolution of your Lordships’ House through hundreds of years of history, and to break the solemn and binding agreement made in 1999 with this piecemeal, cherry-picking piece of legislation would be very regrettable.

The amendment may not be quite right, but your Lordships’ House should look at revising the Standing Orders to remove the unfair difference between life Peers and hereditary Peers, so that all the life Peers in the party blocs could vote on the selection of new hereditaries. That would get rid of the most arcane and slightly ridiculous elections that take place on the Labour and Liberal Democrat Benches.

Photo of Lord Brougham and Vaux Lord Brougham and Vaux Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I should have advised the House, for which I apologise, that if Amendments 12, 13 and 14 are agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 15 to 31 due to pre-emption.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

My Lords, I support Amendments 12, 32 and 33. Funnily enough, on the subject of the declaration of interests, this is one which would potentially remove me in the readjustment and rebalancing of the 90 hereditary Peers who stay here to try to ensure further democratic reform. I am quite happy for that to happen if it will move us forwards in getting a democratic House of Lords. This is where the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, was absolutely spot on.

There is one very useful thing in Amendment 32, which states:

“In exercising its functions, the Commission must ensure … overall party balance in the House of Lords reflects the share of vote secured by the main political parties at the general election”.

The share of the vote would be the number of votes cast overall, and would not reflect the number of MPs in the House of Commons—so you get your proportional representation at least somewhere in Parliament. I am sure the Liberal Democrats will be very pleased with that, because they have been gunning for it for years. That could be a good start and could indicate the way forwards for democracy when we finally start electing both Houses of Parliament.

Photo of Lord Howard of Rising Lord Howard of Rising Conservative

My Lords, I do not know why my noble friend Lord Trenchard was let off by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, from declaring who or what he was, but he is obviously a favoured person. I am a life Peer; I do not know whether I should declare—or indeed whether it is too presumptuous to declare—that I am a kinsman of the Earl Marshal, the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. We share the same name and the same coat of arms; I thought that perhaps for the sake of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, I should just mention that.

I should also like to say how much I respect and admire the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. When I first came into this House he was a grand figure, being the Government Chief Whip. At a very early stage I had to act as a teller, and he was my co-teller. He will not remember this, but he was exceptionally kind to me, showing me exactly what to do and stopping me making a complete idiot of myself, so he has been high in my esteem ever since.

I am concerned about the idea of a standard appointments commission. In 1968, when discussing the Parliament (No. 2) Bill and the idea of this sort of appointment, Michael Foot said:

“I do not think that it is an exaggeration to say that the overwhelming majority of opinion in the House of Lords is that the powers are to be retained pretty well as they are, but that the possibility of using them will be greatly enhanced because the place will have been made much more respectable. Theoretically, the powers have been somewhat reduced but, practically, they are to be greatly increased, and such powers will be able to be used in circumstances in which they have been unable to be used during the last 30 years—increasingly so in the last five or 10 years. This is the great constitutional prize to be grabbed. This is what they said there, in another place.

I recommend right hon. and hon. Members to read the speech by Lord Butler in another place. Nothing has disturbed me more about this Bill than the bubbling bonhomie with which it was received by him. He could hardly contain himself. I cannot quote him, but I can tell the House the gist of what he said.

Lord Butler told his fellow peers, ‘Boys and girls, this is marvellous, absolutely marvellous. Look at what we are getting. This is the finest thing we have been offered for many a long year and if you do not seize it you will be even bigger fools than you look to me at the moment’. Lord Butler said all that from the cross-benches … He went on, ‘Do not worry about composition, by the way, or about nomination by the Prime Minister. It is all to be done through the usual channels’”—

I remind your Lordships that the usual channels will have a large say in any commission. He continued:

“That is what Lord Butler said. I have it all here. He said that the usual channels would fix up the composition of the other place.

Think of it! A second Chamber selected by the Whips. A seraglio of eunuchs. That is roughly what Lord Butler said about it”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/2/69; cols. 87-88.]

Michael Foot was a great man, and he got it absolutely right: if you start appointing hereditary Peers by any method other than by their electing them, you will get in the same sort of mess as we are in because of the 1999 Act.

Photo of Lord Colgrain Lord Colgrain Conservative 12:30 pm, 15th March 2019

My Lords, I support this amendment and Amendment 23, having said before in your Lordships’ House that I endorse the whole House voting on hereditaries while the Burns report is being implemented and comprehensive reform is being put in place.

I am disappointed to see that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, is not in her place. I much enjoyed her comment about looking down the rabbit hole as wee Alice. My election by the whole House as a hereditary Peer was greeted by a broadsheet with reference to a Blackadder election. The producer of Blackadder is responsible for another programme—“The Museum of Curiosity”—the title of which I was hoping another broadsheet would have entertained us with, with reference to hereditaries.

It may interest your Lordships to know that yesterday I was on the roof outside the stained glass windows up there, looking at the work that had been done on the stained glass and all the leading, and as I looked in, I felt there was a certain parallel. I looked into the Chamber and could see absolutely nothing at all; we look out from this Chamber and can see daylight and lovely colour, and think that the work we do here is fully understood by the public at large. In fact, they are on the outside, looking in, and can see very little. They do not understand what it is we do, and in particular what hereditaries do.

Hereditaries are not apparatchiks of any particular political hue, whether Fabian Society or Bow Group. We are what the poet Matthew Arnold praised as being “formed men, not crammed men”, formed by the independence of our own thoughts and experience, random, without any party tribalism or essence of our own political importance. When I look at fellow hereditaries across all the Benches, I see Olympic gold medallists, journalists, film and documentary makers, doctors, dentists, the self-employed, owners and managers of SMEs, pilots, specialists in insurance, banking, shipping and property, linguists of all descriptions, married to different nationalities—

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

Is the noble Lord’s logic not that all hereditaries should be Cross-Benchers?

Photo of Lord Colgrain Lord Colgrain Conservative

If the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is successful in his Bill and the hereditary election process is terminated, so is this independence of thought, action and experience, to be replaced by an even greater proportion of life Peers who are ex-MPs, ex-MEPs and representatives of regional assemblies and county councils. The general public have had their fill of the body politic from the other House at the moment—some would say where lunatics are running the asylum—and would relish the chance to have a more catholic representation in your Lordships’ House.

Brexit has not endeared politics to Everyman. We should be mindful of the consequence of decreasing the number of unorthodox Peers who have a less political careerist disposition, and recall the adage, “Be careful what you wish for”.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

My Lords, this is not a sensible amendment. We have one absurd system for electing hereditary Peers at the moment, which it is proposed be replaced by another. While I could not begin to justify the system of elections that takes place at the moment, I could no more justify the establishment of a commission to do it. The only justification for the status quo is that it is the status quo, and it is best to leave that until we do a radical reform of the House of Lords, which should of course end the election of hereditary Peers entirely.

There are a whole lot of problems in Amendment 32 and the construction of the commission which one could go into, but I am not sure that it is necessary. Rather, I make the point that the best thing to do—this is my fundamental objection to the Bill of my noble friend Lord Grocott—is nothing in respect of the existing House of Lords until there is a sufficient consensus or a Government who are capable of leading towards a radical reform of the Lords, which should fundamentally replace this House with an elected or federal second Chamber. To tinker with the precise way that hereditary Members of this House are appointed, whether it is by some absurd system of election, to be replaced by some equally absurd commission, seems entirely beside the point, playing the game of my noble friend Lord Grocott, which is to make tinkering changes to essentially preserve the status quo. I am not in favour of preserving the status quo—I want radical reform. The Brexit crisis we are going through at the moment and the huge public discontent in the country mean that we can no longer duck this issue of a fundamental reform of this House, and we should put paid to all these tinkering changes.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising for reminding us of what happened in 1969 in the House of Commons and the argument that took place there that any change to your Lordships’ House would ultimately mean that it would demand more authority and be able to use its powers more vigorously. To some extent, this argument was made again, not nearly as effectively, during the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999, and proponents of the Act said, “No, it won’t happen”, including the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, who was then Leader of the House.

I wonder whether the House agrees that while initially that was the case, as the years have rolled by the House feels itself even more legitimate, being shorn of hereditary Peers. The automatic right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords came to an end in 1989. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said some time ago—that we are all equally legitimate or illegitimate in this House—but the 1999 Act changed something. Therefore, the Bill, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, will also change things and allow people to take even greater authority than they would otherwise have done.

I agree with the noble Lord about the status quo. This is not a satisfactory place: I have argued that consistently over the past 20 years. I understand why my noble friends Lord Northbrook and Lord Trefgarne have proposed the amendment. They have tried to solve the conundrum expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and find a different way to honour the promise made in 1999, which my noble friend Lord Elton spoke so eloquently about before he had to leave, and this is their solution.

I must say that I am not entirely convinced, but it is a good effort. To return to a previous debate, a proper statutory appointments commission could also look at questions such as party balance, age, interests and expertise, commitment to participate and regional distribution, which I think is increasingly important. Of course, if we had an elected House, we would have solved all those problems, because people would decide. It is therefore unfair to accuse my noble friends of trying to overcomplicate matters. The system we have at the moment is actually very simple and straightforward. It is not adequate or perfect in any way, but it is at least an attempt to try to solve the problem that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is trying to solve through his Bill.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

It obviously does not even begin to solve the problem, because the elephant in the room is that the only people eligible to fill these vacancies will continue to be those who have inherited titles. The noble Lord, Lord Colgrain, said that if you happen to have inherited a title, that gives you a dispassionate view of the world. Let me put it in more personal terms. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is an hereditary Peer. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, is a life Peer. Explain to me the crucial difference. I thought that they were both Tories who normally voted Tory and are indistinguishable from one another in that respect, but according to the noble Lord, Lord Colgrain, there is a fundamental difference between people who inherited the title and others.

How can it possibly continue to be right that 900 people, in this country of 60 million plus, who happened to have inherited a title have a one in 900 chance of becoming a Member of Parliament by being successful in an hereditary Peers’ by-election; whereas the rest of us—not us life Peers, but the remaining millions—have a roughly one in 75,000 chance of being a Member of Parliament? They have to get elected to do it. Why on earth should the descendants of Messrs Trefgarne, Colgrain, Caithness and Strathclyde have this assisted places scheme, as it has been referred to, which is denied to the rest of the population? Unless someone can give me a sensible answer to that, we will have to agree to disagree and, I hope, vote very soon.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

I am not aware that anyone has made an argument in favour of the hereditary peerage since the end of the previous century. That is why, as I briefly tried to explain, the hereditary peerage came to an end in 1999. We are dealing with the dissatisfaction with the Labour Government. Let us remember who created these by-elections and introduced the Act: it was a Labour Government, whom the noble Lord supported. It was unsatisfactory at the time. I know that it was intended to continue to stage two. That has not happened yet, but we are patient and should continue to be. After all, it was in 1911 that the Liberal Prime Minister promised us reform on a popular basis, and no doubt we will get to that debate later.

I hope that that clarifies for the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that no one is trying to defend the current position, but we do not want to create a wholly appointed House.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench 12:45 pm, 15th March 2019

My Lords, the noble Lord keeps banging on about how the hereditary Peers should not be here, it is appalling, and so on. At the previous general election, most MPs stood for parties which agreed that there should be further democratic reform of the Lords, and a Bill was tabled to do this in 2012—I think it proposed 80% elected. For some reason, it did not go all the way through the House of Commons, but there was basically a will to have democratic reform of the Lords, including in the noble Lord’s party. Why on earth he is now trying to act against his party’s manifesto and most MPs at the previous election, I am not sure.

Photo of Lord Howard of Rising Lord Howard of Rising Conservative

I wish to quote from that same 1968 debate—

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I remind my noble friend of the instructions on page 130 of the Companion. They state very clearly:

“On report no member may speak more than once”,

except in some very constrained circumstances. I think that my noble friend does not fit into one of those exclusions.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, prompted me to rise when I was not going to speak on this amendment. He quoted again the odds of becoming a Member of the House of Lords and said that the balance is tilted in favour of the hereditary Peers. Does he agree that once hereditary Peers are removed, the quickest and easiest way to get into this House is to become an MP? A third of the House are ex-MPs and that proportion will go up. Does he agree that that is an equally unjust way to fill the House of Lords, and that the right way is to hold elections?

Photo of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct, Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct

My Lords, I suggest that a feature of this group of amendments—indeed, of all the others too with the single exception of Amendment 2A, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—is the destruction of the Bill’s essential purpose: to abolish hereditary Peers for the future but keep our present invaluable 90, or 92. The original proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was at least consistent with the Bill in the sense that he was prepared, as he said, to accept the abolition of future elections provided that we introduce a statutory HOLAC but that is not true of the rest of these amendments.

Photo of Lord Snape Lord Snape Labour

My Lords, I did not intend to speak on this group of amendments but I was provoked to do so by the intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. He was around in 1999; indeed, I am pretty sure that he played a major role in what took place then. It is all very well for the likes of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, to pray in aid the agreement that came about then and use it as an excuse to say that it was a solemn and binding—he did not use that particular phrase—way to reform the House, that it was at only an initial stage and that he intended to continue that reform later, but the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, knows full well how the 1999 agreement came about. It was accepted by the Labour Government because the Conservative majority in the House of Lords at the time was enormous. Despite the equally enormous Labour majority down the corridor as a result of the 1997 election, that Conservative majority, in which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, played a major role, made it quite plain that it was either this particular deal or no reform of the House of Lords at all. So let us not have any nonsense that this was merely stage one and talk of solemn and binding promises.

Indeed, that agreement came about without the knowledge and permission of the leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Commons. The leader of the Labour Peers in the House of Lords lost his job as a result of the agreement. He was a descendant of Lord Salisbury. I would have thought that it takes a lot to shift a Salisbury from your Lordships’ House, but that is exactly what happened. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, knows not only where the bodies are buried but I suspect wielded a shovel himself.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

I really do think that I would try the patience of the House if I even attempted to respond to the noble Lord, so I will not do so, except perhaps another time in the bar.

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

My Lords, while it is attractive and interesting to look back at the past and see what happened—what the noble Lord, Lord Snape, has been saying is interesting—

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

Will the noble Lord please declare his interest?

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

I think that the Standing Orders do not require me to declare an interest given that most people in this House know I am a hereditary Peer—and I am delighted to be one. What I am not is a placeman of a Prime Minister.

That is the issue which divides the House today. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde has quite rightly said that no one is defending the hereditary peerage in the way it was defended in 1908 and 1911. That is not the attempt; rather, it is the inadvertent effect of this Bill, which is of concern to many of my noble friends and indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who referred to it earlier. By creating an appointed House without an appointments commission, we create a monster whether we want it or not. I say this with great respect to noble Lords throughout the House, however they came to be here.

The joke that is repeated in the newspapers is that this is the second-largest Chamber in the world after the Beijing second Chamber. That is probably correct, but it is pointless and irrelevant. What is much more important is that, if we were to go down the route the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is seducing us to follow, we will have done something that is unique in the world. We will have created a second Chamber that is virtually a retirement home for the Members of its first Chamber. In other words, we would create a second Chamber which is the poodle of the political establishment of the day.

At the moment, we are going through one of the most difficult periods in our political development—certainly during my time in this House. The passage of Brexit and our departure from the European Union is causing huge problems, the biggest of which is the separation between—

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

If the noble Lord will kindly allow me to finish, I will give way to him. As I say, we are seeing the separation of the majority in both Houses of Parliament from the majority of the people. Both may mildly have changed their minds in the meantime, but that is what has happened. We have a Parliament which is completely cut off from the way the people are going. If we go down the route that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, takes us, we will move even further in that direction. That is why I am opposed to it.

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, trumps the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.

Photo of Lord Rennard Lord Rennard Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I recall almost exactly the same speech being made in almost exactly the same terms by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in Committee. It might be helpful to remind noble Lords that paragraph 8.138 of the Companion states:

“Arguments fully deployed either in Committee of the whole House or in Grand Committee should not be repeated at length on report”.

I think it will facilitate our discussion for the next 40 minutes if all noble Lords would adhere to that principle.

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

I am most grateful to the noble Lord for reminding me of that, but I am afraid that he was referring to the speech I made on last year’s Bill. I did not speak at the Committee stage of this year’s Bill.

Photo of Lord Northbrook Lord Northbrook Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have participated in the debate on this amendment, including the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, my noble friends Lord Howard of Rising, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Colgrain, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I did not agree with his views, but they are interesting as usual. We have had civilised discussions with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood. I opposed his Bill and I am just trying to amend the existing system. I thank also my noble friend Lord Mancroft. There has been sufficient interest in this amendment that I should like to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 15, Noes 48.

Division number 3 House of Lords (Hereditary Peers) (Abolition of By-Elections) Bill [HL] - Report

Aye: 13 Members of the House of Lords

No: 46 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Amendment 12 disagreed.