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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 11:09 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Mancroft Lord Mancroft Conservative 11:09 am, 13th March 2020

I am most grateful to the noble Lord for clarifying that, but it goes beyond that. There is no getting away from the fact that his party has been rejected by the electorate.

I am becoming bored by the facile comparison of this House with the Chinese National People’s Congress, with its membership of almost 3,000. The problem with the National People’s Congress is not its size, any more than that is the problem with this House. The problem with the National People’s Congress is that it is an assembly of party appointees, reflecting the views of the establishment of the day, and that is increasingly what is happening here. This House of Lords is the only second Chamber in the world that is being used as a retirement home for Members of its first Chamber, whose seats are needed by leaders’ acolytes who have little to contribute to this House.

My noble friend Lord Cormack, who I was going to say I am delighted to see in his place, but who has obviously slipped out for technical reasons, frequently reminds us—indeed, he never tires of telling us—that this is a House of experts. The primary activity of this House is not expertise in obscure subjects—fascinating although that is for all of us to listen to—it is the scrutiny and revision of legislation. Members of the House of Commons do minimal scrutiny of legislation so acquire little expertise in that particular skill. What the House of Commons does do is adversarial party-political banter, an activity increasingly despised by the electorate and a new and unwelcome feature of your Lordships’ House, but which Members who make the trip from the green to the red carpet bring with them, to the frustration of the rest of us.

The supporters of the Bill would have us believe that it is a small measure, an incremental and sensible reform, but on the Clapham omnibus and in the newspapers, there is no clamour about hereditary Peers’ by-elections. There is increasing outrage at the possibility of appointments of candidates such as John Bercow and Tom Watson, who by any reasonable measure should not even be considered.

The deal done in 1999, which has been referred to so many times this morning and will be referred to again, was that hereditary Peers would remain here until substantive reform took place. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, argues that, although no such reform has taken place, after 21 years, it is time to dispense with that deal for no substantive reason except the passage of time. Back then, it was argued that the House of Lords was working reasonably well: “It wasn’t broke: why fix it?”. Now, after the constitutional and political chaos of the past year, no one could reasonably argue that this House is working well. Why, therefore, at this stage, enact a measure of no practical value that removes the incentive for a larger and now much-needed reform which I think most people would support?