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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 10:34 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour 10:34 am, 13th March 2020

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Grocott on his tenacity and humour. I shall try to be brief because this is, in the old joke, déjà vu all over again. I have spoken on the previous attempts to bring about this change and heard the same arguments; they stand up just as they did on previous occasions. On the endearing desire of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to extend the Bill so that it brings about greater changes, my noble friend has brought a very simple Bill precisely because the more complex this gets, the less likely it is to pass and the more controversy it would create. We understand why the noble Lord and those supporting him would wish to complicate the matter rather than keeping it as simple as possible. The question is very simple: is the present system acceptable or defendable? Clearly, as my noble friend spelled out, it is not.

I accept entirely that, unlike most of the Conservative Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, belongs to a party that has always wanted to abolish the House of Lords as it is at the moment and replace it with a senate. We have to accept that he is right that they were not involved in the “stitch-up”—to use his words—in 1999. Instead, they waited until they were truly stitched up in 2010 by joining the coalition. I was proud to vote against the Second Reading of the Clegg Bill in the other place and see the timetable Motion defeated, because that Bill was a nonsense. It was a constitutional outrage and did not stand up to either intellectual or practical scrutiny.

Today, I support the noble Lord, Lord Burns, on the points he made and reinforce what my noble friend Lord Grocott said about the one-out, one-in policy and the absurdity of the situation. I also want to reinforce one other point. I thank the Lord Speaker for his letter in the Times on Wednesday in relation to the restoration and renewal programme and decant. With both the Burns proposals and the decant, a large number of people would take the opportunity to retire because of the disruption, and it would be the Conservative Benches which would face the greatest problem in retaining the 90 hereditary Peers and the present system of by-elections, because people would leave indiscriminately—it would fall where it fell. Because of the large and disproportionate number of hereditary Peers compared with life Peers on the Conservative Benches, those Benches would be disproportionately inconvenienced at the very least.

I put it seriously to the Government that they will get themselves in a real mess if they do not accept this Bill and the way in which it very carefully and over time reduces the disparity and disproportionality of those who come here because their grandparents or great-grandparents were responsible for supporting a particular king or queen at a moment in time, or were granted land and privileges. We have only the privilege of being here for life and I am proud of that.