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.