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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 11:22 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Hooper Baroness Hooper Conservative 11:22 am, 13th March 2020

My Lords, unfortunately I have to follow that. Inevitably, on the third time round, there has been a lot of repetition of arguments. Like other noble Lords, I do not think I can avoid doing so.

The main point I wish to make is that I do not accept the need for the Bill or the principle behind it. I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, describing his intentions and his justification for presenting his Bill for the third time, but I remain unconvinced, in spite of the amusing and perhaps justified ridicule he brought to the by-election process. Certainly in recently years, in the world outside Westminster, I have heard criticism of the House of Commons but only complements for the House of Lords.

Talking of democracy, my starting point is with the barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta; the first step in the whole process of democracy in the face of a system of absolute monarchy. I believe that the hereditary principle as it has survived in the House of Lords is part of the history and tradition of this United Kingdom, and that includes its application to our Head of State.

Of my 30-odd years in your Lordships’ House, 15 of them were when it was a mix of hereditaries and life Peers, and just over 15 years have been since the passing of the so-called reform Bill in 1999. I am bound to say that the present composition of your Lordships’ House is no more effective and efficient, in spite of the huge majority of life Peers, and that the hereditary Peers show just as much diligence and expertise as their life Peer colleagues. I am pleased to be able to say that we still have a Duke of Wellington, a Lord Cromwell, an Earl of Home and, sparing his blushes, an Earl Howe in your Lordships’ House. They set an example of public duty, as well as continuity, and a sense of living history.

The passing of this Bill would call into question the very name of the House of Lords. Without the real thing, the concept of creating life Peers would become a nonsense. By all means let us get on with the real reform: let us have an elected House of Lords. I voted in favour of a fully elected, or a majority elected, upper House back in 1999, and I have to say that most of those who voted in the Content Lobby then were hereditary Peers, led by the late Lord Carrington and including, as I recollect, my noble friend Lord Trefgarne.

All this is to say that the remaining small group of hereditaries in your Lordships’ House bring with them a certain independence, and certainly expertise, continuity and a necessary link with the past. I for one am delighted to see the successors of former noble Lords arrive here and play a full part in the work of your Lordships’ House, as well as bringing youth and energy. I believe that this Bill is pointless.