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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 11:34 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Mann Lord Mann Non-affiliated 11:34 am, 13th March 2020

My Lords, what has changed since the late 1990s? I suggest that two things have. The first is science. Out there is an army of people like my good wife, who are busy taking the DNA of people like me and putting it on the internet to discover who we are and who our ancestors are. Without giving away too many secrets, I can say that there is no great certainty, even in the maternal line, but when it comes to the paternal line, I am discovering people related to me who do not seem to fit into a family tree.

I have no interest to declare and I confess that I do not anticipate having one because my antecedents appear to be the peasantry of Ireland, Scotland and England. But on my wife and my children’s side, it is rather more interesting. There is a possibility that we might discover an unknown connection—there may well be great castles, estates and titles due to our family, but held by somebody else’s. I am not proposing DNA testing before any hereditary peerage election, although I suspect that plenty in the other place would vote for that. But that is a change and at some stage, there will be big court actions. I hope that we will not have to self-isolate, but should we be away for a couple of weeks, my rucksack is packed for wild camping, self-isolating in the great estates of the Highlands so that I can size them up for my son, should that connection be found and that court action ever take place. That is a real change—not one that has hit yet, but it will come.

There is a second change: a political one. I confess that I did not listen to your Lordships’ great debates on this issue previously, but I did listen to many of the debates on Brexit. Whatever your views on the issue were and are, I make this observation: it was clear that, like a majority in the House of Commons, the majority of your Lordships did not fully grasp the mood of the country—and, indeed, found the election result a surprise, although it was no surprise to me. Again, that it was such a surprise shows a failure to grasp the mood out there. It is called populism.

I warn this place that, although this is not an issue on the doorstep, there will one day be a Prime Minister—perhaps sooner than one envisages—who, in a time of crisis, chooses to be populist. There is no easier item to pursue on a populist agenda that occupies the House of Commons than removing or replacing all or part of this place. The danger is that, if this place does not modernise, when we leave this building, we will not come back—that we will be no more during that period, because the Commons and the Prime Minister of the day find it expedient to make that populist, political, easy choice. The loss there will be democracy, rather than a measured, thought-out set of changes. It is modernise or die for this place. I therefore support the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott.