Amendment 13

House of Lords (Hereditary Peers) (Abolition of By-Elections) Bill [HL] - Report – in the House of Lords at 1:05 pm on 15 March 2019.

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Moved by Lord Northbrook

13: Clause 2, page 1, line 8, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert—“(2) Section 2 is amended as follows.(3) At the beginning of subsection (3) insert “Subject to subsection (3A),”(4) After subsection (3) insert—“(3A) An excepted person elected to the House of Lords under subsection (4) after the House of Lords has passed a resolution that steps have been taken to implement paragraphs 29, 35, 50, and 51 of the Burns Report (fixed-term appointments) remains a member of the House of Lords for a period of 10 years beginning with the day on which they receive a Writ of Summons.(3B) In this section “Burns Report” means the report of the Lord Speaker’s committee on the size of the House of Lords, published on 31 October 2017.”(5) At the end of subsection (4)(b) insert “, or(c) a vacancy arises on the end of the 10 year period of an excepted person under subsection (3A),””

Photo of Lord Northbrook Lord Northbrook Conservative

My Lords, Amendment 13 is a refined version of the amendment I moved in Committee. It again suggests that once the Burns report has passed into law any excepted person will remain a Member of the House of Lords for 10, rather than 15, years after that date. Limiting the term to 10 years would help the pace of the reduction of the size of the House but would still keep the by-elections after the 10-year period. I am open to suggestion that they could cease when House of Lords reform is complete, including a review of its powers. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

As I understand the amendment, and I am not sure I entirely understand it, my noble friend is trying to co-operate with the idea in the Burns report to reduce the total number. I have not looked at implementation or at paragraphs 29, 35, 50 and 51 of the Burns report, but I think the notion is that once the House of Lords has been reduced to a certain figure, hereditary Peers should not be part of that figure. If they leave after 10 years, however, presumably they will be replaced. I wonder whether my noble friend thinks that will help the reduction.

Earlier in the debate, a view was taken that if the overall size of the House reduced, the portion of hereditary Peers would increase. I agree. However, it would still be a lower proportion of the House than when the elections first took place in 2000 because the size of the House has increased so much. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, will find that reassuring.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

I have read this amendment twice, and I do not understand how it works. However, I shall address the big issue underlying it, which is the size of the House. Being today in the business of calling a spade a spade, I might as well carry on doing it because it is in my nature. This obsession with reducing the size of the House is entirely beside the point. If we are to have a large appointed House and its purpose is to function at least reasonably effectively and to keep its membership up to date, it is sensible to make new appointments. Choking off new appointments is basically a preservation activity by existing Members to see that the House is not increased in size by new Members, which would create a greater sense of illegitimacy because the number will be large. To be completely frank, that is not pursued out of any great constitutional principle. It is purely an act of preservation by existing life Peers who do not want to make this House look any more illegitimate than it does at the moment. The best thing to do is against the interests of the House in the short term because it would deprive us of new Members who might—how can I phrase this delicately?—be of an age where they would participate actively and fully in the work of the House, which some noble Lords tend not to as they—I probably ought not to pursue that line of argument because it will not be popular with some noble Lords.

The point is that the Burns report is being, and has been, used—it is the latest in-vogue thing in your Lordships’ House—to pretend that reform is being done while in fact no reform is being done. That idea is as old as the hills. In this House it is always important, to pursue a sense of legitimacy and progress, that some reform is sponsored. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has a special working group looking at very modest, tinkering reforms for this House so that he can pretend that he is in favour of progress, although, when he is present, he opposes substantial reforms.

Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative

I think the noble Lord means that my noble friend Lord Cormack and his noble friends are preserving the status quo: the comfortable state of the House, which neither the noble Lord nor I approve of.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

I entirely agree. In so far as I understand what the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, does, I would not make any concessions to the Burns commission. While the House of Lords exists in its current absurd state, it is clearly sensible that new Members be appointed to it, and, frankly, more younger Members would be a good thing, as that would bring the House more into contact with life outside.

What is being engaged in at the moment is displacement activity. The real issue is not whether this House has 600, 700 or 800 Members; it is whether it is appointed and hereditary, and therefore fundamentally illegitimate, or whether it is elected, either directly or, if we had a proper federal system, perhaps like the Bundesrat in Germany, indirectly, and therefore directly relates to the people and/or the devolved institutions of the country, which are themselves elected. All this displacement activity, talking about Burns, about removing the hereditary Peers, about by-elections and, if I may say so to the noble Lord, about hereditary Peers commissions—that was a new idea to me; the latest one today—or about all the other tokenistic reforms that are put forward, is entirely beside the point.

Photo of Lord Northbrook Lord Northbrook Conservative

Perhaps I may quickly explain to the noble Lord the intention behind my amendment. Originally it referred to a period of 15 years for the appointment of newly elected hereditary Peers so as to put them on a par with the recommendations of the Burns report. That was not accepted, so I reduced the period to 10 years. The amendment might need retabling at Third Reading. If the Burns report is implemented, by-elections will fall altogether.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for explaining the amendment. I now understand it and will hold in my mind the complex formula that he has just set out. However, my fundamental point is that it does not matter one whit whether this House has 600, 700 or 800 Members; it will be equally legitimate or illegitimate, whatever your view on how many it should have. Those are still very large numbers. I think it will function more effectively with its existing remit if it has a larger number of Members. That will mean that we have a steady flow of new appointments to the House, rather than drying up the appointments. However, all that is fundamentally beside the point. The current House of Lords is illegitimate. It will be just as illegitimate as the existing House, and arguably more so, if it is wholly nominated. The right thing is not to do any tinkering—either of the sort proposed by my noble friend Lord Grocott or any other variant—but to set up a constitutional convention and get to grips with fundamental reform, which, in the context of Brexit and the governance crisis across the United Kingdom at the moment, is long overdue.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Adonis repeats his arguments on successive amendments, he is getting more and more fluent but that does not make him any more persuasive. As it is now 1.15 pm and we have been going for three hours, it is up to me to say a sentence about what has been happening here today for the benefit of a baffled public, should anyone have been watching.

We have had three days in Committee and a Second Reading, and the Bill has been going for a year and a half. On Report, we have now reached Amendment 13. We have 62 amendments to consider. We have made ridiculously slow progress due to quite deliberate tactics by less than half a dozen Members of this House, of which I am sad to say number one is my noble friend Lord Adonis. Another culprit—I am shocked rather than sad to say—has been the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. The number of amendments is almost entirely the responsibility of Messrs Caithness and Trefgarne—of course, they are noble Lords not Messrs. I know and assert that what has been happening is a clear abuse of the procedures of this House. I do not have to worry about that too much; Members must answer for themselves whether they have been abusing the procedures of the House. But the net result is that Bills with overwhelming support will not reach the statute book. It is a bad position for any assembly to be in, when half a dozen people can thwart the direct wishes of hundreds who have expressed themselves in sundry votes on this issue as well as numerous people who are not here.

Photo of Lord Howard of Rising Lord Howard of Rising Conservative 1:15, 15 March 2019

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. What does he think about the House of Commons opposing the will of 17 and a half million people?

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

I do not see the direct relevance of that to what I am saying. I have expressed my views on the 17 and a half million people ad nauseam in this House; to be absolutely clear, I am very much on their side.

What has happened is not just an abuse of the House, a waste of its time and, to a degree, a waste of taxpayers’ money. To be personal about it, it is also a waste of precious Private Members’ time. We rarely get the opportunity to introduce a Private Members’ Bill. It is bad for the House to appear threatening to any future Member who wants to introduce a Private Members’ Bill.

We are closing the debate at 1.30 pm, when I will conclude. But this is a Bill that will not go away; I want to make that quite plain. They all know they are playing King Canute. This Bill will pass. I say that with absolute confidence, although I occasionally wonder whether it will be in my lifetime. The House needs to look very carefully at its procedures to ensure that the farce that we have endured today is not repeated. I hope that the Procedure Committee will see whether there are ways of dealing with this. Otherwise, the risk of further disrepute being brought on our House will only grow.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, once again mentioned my noble friend Lord Trefgarne and myself. I did put my name to a small number of amendments, but the noble Lord cannot accuse either my noble friend or me of filibustering by talking for far too long. We have talked very little, to make a short point. When the noble Lord accepted my amendment in Committee, I sat down immediately, as he will recall. I think he has forgotten one person who has prolonged the proceedings today, and that is the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.

Photo of Lord Northbrook Lord Northbrook Conservative

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for all their contributions to the debate on my amendment. I feel that it will need a bit of fine-tuning before Third Reading to account for the fact that by-elections will die if and when the Burns report is enacted. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 13 withdrawn.