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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 11:30 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 11:30 am, 13th March 2020

My Lords, I am delighted to speak after my noble friend Lord Young, because I thought I might be the only person on these Benches who supports what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, had to say. Listening to much of this debate, one would imagine that he was proposing revolution. He is actually proposing something that was described to me by a leading Labour Member of the other place as “a bit mild; if we win the election, we’ll have them all out by Christmas”. What is being proposed will take about 40 years to achieve. I am simply surprised. I say to my noble friend Lord Mancroft that I am probably the last person he would wish to see here: I am a former Member of the European Parliament; I spent 40 years in Brussels; I still have kind things to say about and great admiration for David Cameron; and, just in case I needed finally sinking, I served on the Greater London Council—though not under the leadership of Mr Livingstone, I should say.

Let us move on: this House has always been subject to piecemeal reform. The 1911 Act begins by saying that it is pending a final review of the House. If we look at the antics that went on under David Lloyd George, there were then changes that restrained somewhat the power of Prime Ministers to sell places in this Chamber. If we look at the Macmillan reforms of the late-1950s and the Blair reforms, they could be said to be part of a pattern: a gradual evolution—very much a British thing. If we look at the period since 1999, I would counsel that the idea of an elected Chamber has in fact fallen in estimation. I have been to a lot of schools—I was part of the schools programme—and there was very little support for an elected Chamber when it was explained that it would mean another set of elections, the Members would all need salaries and staff and, instead of having one MP, you would have two people floating round your area. Where I live, the city of Cambridge, bigger constituencies would mean one Labour Member and one Conservative Member, so all you would end up with is fighting. On top of that, the people who elected you would expect you to be much more partisan than we have to be. I am delighted to hear support for an elected Chamber, but I am not sure it is completely thought through.

I see the proposals put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, as very much incremental. They would take years to come to fruition. I accept that one advantage of by-elections for hereditary Peers is that we tend to get the cream of the crop; we get the best of the hereditary Peers in here. But many of them would qualify anyway for appointment by a Prime Minister. No one is saying that a hereditary Peer cannot then be appointed at a future time. I hope that we can move forward and pass this Bill. If we cannot pass a Bill like this, let us forget the words about being a “self-regulating House”. We are more like the Polish Sejm of the early 18th century, where anyone could object to legislation and nothing happened at all. If we want to move forward, we have to take a progressive and intelligent view of the need to reform this House.