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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 10:38 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Chair, SLSC Sub-Committee A 10:38 am, 13th March 2020

I am not aware of the interest that the noble Lord wishes me to declare, but I have been here a long time. That said, the problem which the Bill addresses relates to the number of Members in the House, which the noble Lord, Lord Burns, has been working on. On a single day back in 1999, 700 hereditary Peers had to leave the House. Since then, their numbers have remained firmly fixed. Meanwhile, the number of life Peers has significantly increased.

Be that as it may, the essence of the case against this Bill relates to the undertaking given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, then the Lord Chancellor, who gave a clear undertaking that the position of the 92 hereditary Peers provided for in the 1999 Act would remain untouched until, in his words, House of Lords reform was complete. No time limit was given to that undertaking. In 2012, as we have already heard, the coalition Government introduced in the other place a comprehensive House of Lords reform Bill creating a mostly elected House of Lords, which sadly never emerged. I would not have opposed that Bill in principle, although there were a few questions relating, for example, to the number of Bishops who ought to remain.

I have referred to the present number of life Peers. I would not in principle oppose legislation as described by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, to provide for a statutory independent committee to select new life Peers rather than leaving it in the hands of the Prime Minister as at present. I could of course be persuaded that the hereditary Peers should then leave. In the meantime, I believe that the present arrangement should remain in place and I therefore hope that this Bill will not reach the statute book.

On one detailed point, the Bill as now proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, does not include provision for the two statutory hereditary Peers, namely the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Earl Marshal, to which he has previously agreed, as I recall. I hope that that can be corrected if the Bill is to proceed.

I remain opposed to piecemeal reform and therefore to this Bill. I hope that comprehensive reform can come to the House in due course, which I shall not oppose. In the meantime, let us leave the hereditary Peers as they are.