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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:21 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative 10:21 am, 13th March 2020

My Lords, I return the compliments of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and welcome so many life Peers to this debate. Many of them were not here in 1998 when we discussed the amendments which introduced the by-elections at that time, which have lasted for so long. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, suggested that I might have an interest. I assure him that if there is a by-election upon my death, I will have no interest in it whatever.

I oppose the Bill for three main reasons. The first is the implication of the Bill that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, did not mention. If this Bill is passed, it creates a wholly appointed House, with no checks or balances on who comes here. It is against the policy of all the main parties, and has been over the course of the past 20 years, to have a wholly appointed House. As a result of that, the second reason that I oppose the Bill is that the House of Lords Appointment Commission, excellent and extremely well run though it might be, is not a creature of statute—quite the opposite. It was created on the whim of a past Prime Minister. It can be removed tomorrow or next week. It has very few powers—in fact I think that it has no powers at all—and can judge applications to the House of Lords only on the basis of propriety.

The noble Lord simply did not mention what would happen and the way that new people would become Members of the House. I very much hope that he will accept an amendment to create an independent and statutory House of Lords appointments commission that can vet Members of this House properly, if, as he and many of his colleagues would like to see, we are to have a wholly appointed House. Having spent a lifetime on elections, I would have thought that they had had enough of them. Those of us who have been elected here rather like them.

The third reason is that it does not tackle some of the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, mentioned. There is nothing on the size of the House and there is nothing on age; there is nothing on so many of the real issues that are alive in the public mind. Just over 20 years ago, we reduced the size of this House by nearly 50%. There is no reason why, by the end of this year, we could not reduce this House down to 600 Members, as at the beginning of this century. It could be done relatively quickly using exactly the same method. This Bill could be a very effective vehicle for providing that.

I also think that a serious constitutional Bill which amends how people arrive in this House should not be a Private Member’s Bill; it should be a government Bill. I do not know, but I expect it is extremely unlikely that the Government will support the Bill, and therefore it has no prospect of becoming law in this Session. I hope the noble Lord will think again, or accept some of the amendments that are put down.