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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 11:05 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Reay Lord Reay Conservative 11:05 am, 13th March 2020

My Lords, I am delighted to participate in today’s debate and mention my interest as a hereditary Peer, elevated by way of an election of the whole House a little over 12 months ago. It will not be much of a surprise that I do not support the Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. I am very pleased that my noble friend Lord Howe will preside over this debate. I hope he does not find the experience as torturous as that of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. The Deputy Leader has served for almost 30 years continuously on the Front Benches—an admirable record. He too happens to be a hereditary Peer.

As we know, the House of Lords Act 1999, which introduced the hereditary by-elections, was always intended to be a short-term measure prior to the adoption of an elected or partially elected House. The system of by-elections for the 92 Peers would remain in situ pending overall reform. One unfortunate consequence of this Bill is that the act of eliminating the by-elections would remove the incentive for the overall substantive reform that was the Act’s primary intention.

The House of Lords represents a laudable amalgam of society, albeit at the highest level: representatives from industry, the professions, the Church, the financial and legal sectors and the arts—the best that this country has to offer. The hereditary Peers bring something different to the party—among other things, the maintenance of heritage and the upholding of duty and historical responsibilities not necessarily of their choosing.

Across the House, hereditaries punch above their weight—a point illustrated by my noble friend Lord Taylor and by their significant representation on the Government Front Bench. I believe their presence adds a dimension to the House that is invaluable and unique to this country.

By approving this Bill, we would head down the road towards a House that is all appointed, and by stealth. Such a Chamber runs the risk of overflowing with former politicians, ex-political staff, party donors and cronies. The public arguably have more issues with such political patronage than with the continuation of these by-elections. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who I notice is not in the Chamber today but often has pertinent things to say about this, made a convincing point in Committee on a similar Bill last year, when he said that appointed Peers and hereditaries are all “equally illegitimate”. The validity of this comment has recently been emphasised by the lengthy time currently being taken by the Appointments Commission to confirm the suitability of the new batch of appointed Peers. This does little to improve the legitimacy of the House.

I believe that this proposal by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is playing to the wrong gallery. The public at large do not support Peers spending considerable time and money debating this. They are looking for more fundamental measures: legislation that would implement the intentions of the 1999 Act and increase the legitimacy and reduce the size of the House. I certainly support comprehensive reform, whereby we move towards a fully elected House. I do not accept a fully appointed House. This Bill is not an appropriate vehicle for reform and does not have my support.