Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:25 am on 13th March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Constitutional and Political Reform) 10:25 am, 13th March 2020

My Lords, we Liberal Democrats have consistently supported this reform, and I endorse every word of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. I will come back to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in a minute.

I want to spend a moment or two thinking about why we are still here, after 21 years, and remind the House of the origin of this problem. Liberal Democrats were not involved in the Labour-Conservative Front Bench stitch-up in 1999. The so-called Weatherill amendment which created these by-elections was a purely temporary measure to make some progress with the then Government’s plans to reduce the size of the Lords by taking out the majority of hereditary Peers.

At that time, my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, on our behalf, made absolutely clear that we could go along with the proposal only along the lines of the 1911 declaration that there would be, in due course, further and substantial reform. Since then, I have been involved in all the efforts to secure reform on that basis, first with the Joint Committee which failed to secure agreement between the two Houses, then I convened a cross-party group of MPs with Messrs Clarke, Cook, Wright and Young to publish proposals in 2003, and then, with many others, I fed into the cross-party process led by Jack Straw which published the compromise proposals in the Labour Government’s 2008 White Paper. In turn, that package was largely adopted by the coalition Government for their reform Bill in 2011, which was exhaustively scrutinised by a Joint Committee and emerged improved but not undermined, despite the best efforts of a minority of Peers on both sides of this House.

The coalition Cabinet, of which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was a very distinguished and active member on this issue, gave the revised Bill its full support. That Bill received a huge majority for its Second Reading in the Commons in July 2012: 338, made up of a clear majority of Conservative MPs, an overwhelming majority of Labour MPs and unanimous support from the Liberal Democrats.

That Bill was then the victim of a squalid party game, with the Labour leadership cosying up with the Tory reactionary rebels to deny the Government any programme Motion for its further examination. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, who then played a crucial role in the Commons, may be able to cast further light on what exactly prevented reform.

My point is that successive election manifestos from all the major parties have promised to make good that 1999 commitment to fulfil the promise of 1911 to proceed with substantial reform. Had they made good their promises, and stuck to their principles in 2012, there would be no need for the Bill today.

However, as has already been pointed out, we all know that the immediate prospect of government legislation to return to the agreed 2012 package to drag the House into the 21st century is remote indeed. Further, as has already been said, the artificial distortion of the representation in the House caused by by-elections—when we should be doing everything we can to reduce our overall size, along the lines of the Burns report—adds urgency to this problem.

So much has already been said; it will be said again today. Substantial majorities here have regularly indicated their desire to make progress. Surely the time has come to pass this Bill and to challenge Members in the other place to live up to their promises too.