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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 10:58 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative 10:58 am, 13th March 2020

My Lords, it is a great honour to follow my noble friend Lord Young but, alas, on this issue, I am afraid that I take a different view. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has again seen fit to introduce his petty little Bill, even though he did it in a most charming and entertaining way. It is clear that he has an obsession with this matter and his dogged determination to bring it up again and again does the reputation of your Lordships’ House no good, especially at this time, when the public think we should be discussing other matters. While I have great respect for the noble Lord and admire his courage in sometimes adopting a position at odds with the official position of his party, I believe that on this issue he is beginning to sound like an old vinyl gramophone record with the needle stuck in the groove.

I am still opposed to the Bill because it seeks to unpick the basis on which your Lordships’ House accepted the 1999 reforms. My noble friend Lord Salisbury said at the time:

“I shall once again trespass on your Lordships’ patience by reminding the House of what I saw as the purpose of the agreement I came to with the noble and learned Lord and the Prime Minister. The purpose was to try to pour some sand into the Government’s shoe. It would be an irritation to them. Those of us who suspected—no doubt entirely wrongly—that the Government all along wanted to stick at a stage one nominated House saw it as an incentive to ensure that that intention never materialised.”—[Official Report, 22/6/1999; cols. 789-90.]

The danger that the House will stick at a stage 1 nominated House is as great today as it was in 1999. The minor changes to the methods of appointment to your Lordships’ House since 1999 do not in any way even begin to represent what stage 2 was intended to mean; neither do they in any way resemble what was meant in 1911 by

“a Second Chamber constituted on a popular … basis.”

I do not want to argue the merits of the hereditary system or to say that if we were inventing a new second Chamber, we would design a House as currently constituted. I do not accept that it was clearly understood in 1999 that 92 hereditary Peers would be allowed to wither on the vine. I thought it most likely that no agreement on stage 2 would be quickly forthcoming and therefore it was likely that 92 hereditaries would continue to sit for some considerable time.

My objection to the Bill is simply because it breaches the conditions upon which the hereditary Peers—who enjoy no more or less democratic legitimacy than the life Peers—accepted the stage 1 reform carried out in 1999. All your Lordships are entirely lacking in democratic legitimacy. That does not mean that your Lordships’ House lacks all legitimacy. Legitimacy derives from other concepts also, including history and geography. The democratic legitimacy in another place rightly and naturally gives it the right to decide what shall be the law of the land.

It is of course true that the by-election procedures, especially in respect of Labour and Liberal Democrat vacancies, may seem to many ridiculous. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that the Government should move quickly to propose a change to the Standing Orders which would enfranchise all life Peers so that they would also be entitled to vote in future by-elections for vacancies in their respective party blocs?