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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 11:40 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Viscount Astor Viscount Astor Conservative 11:40 am, 13th March 2020

I am grateful to the noble Lord. Anyway, back to the matter in hand. The case against this Bill is stronger than ever. The fundamental reason why is this Government’s commitment to a constitutional convention, as set out in the party manifesto published prior to the election. It is always worth reminding noble Lords opposite that the hereditary Peers are still here not because of the Conservative Party but because of the Labour Government who introduced that legislation. Following that reform, what did the Labour Government do? They did absolutely nothing. They could have moved on to the second stage, but they did not.

The hereditary Peers were described as the grit in the oyster to remind and force a future Government to come up with proper reform. Proper reform is long overdue, and I am delighted to be that grit, if it brings forward constitutional reform. I understand why noble Lords opposite enjoy this Bill because it is getting rid of an anomaly. There are plenty of anomalies in this House. But what is important is, whatever way we get here, we should all be heard in the same way and all have an equal right to participate.

I could support this Bill if it cut down the over-representation of the Liberal Democrats, introduced a mandatory retirement age or even introduced a statutory appointments commission. But it does not. When the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, comes to sum up, perhaps he can reply to the suggestion from my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. I also find somewhat disquieting the speeches from this side of the House from those who worry that, if we give up by-elections, that will be reform done and dusted and we can all remain here. I really hope that that is not the case. We want proper reform.

Every party manifesto in the last election came forward with proposals for reform. The Labour leadership wanted abolition and the creation of a senate. Even more extraordinarily, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, wants to hand out peerages to his most left-wing colleagues who actually want total abolition of the second Chamber, and certainly abolition of the House of Lords.

I will not put forward any plans for reform today because there is a debate in a couple of weeks. But it should include cutting numbers and perhaps a broader representation of faiths. But whether this House is elected or appointed, it must represent the four nations of this union, maybe in slightly different ways. One cannot justify a second Chamber that represents only England.

As usual, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said that some of us have been here too long, perhaps 40 years. I find that somewhat insulting because I believe that whether you have been here 40 years, four years, four weeks or four minutes, everyone should be heard in the same way and that we all have the right to participate. Criticising those who have been here longer should not be done.

We are at the start of a Session and the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is lucky to have achieved time for this Bill early on, so we will have plenty of time to debate all the amendments, Report and Third Reading. We will therefore not have the spectacle of what happened last time when the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, moved a closure Motion on my noble friend Lord Strathclyde when he had just moved an amendment.

I urge noble Lords not to be led astray by the dulcet tones of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, however charming they may be, and look forward to a constitutional convention where we can examine the composition and role of this House as well as look perhaps to boundary reform—a painful subject for noble Lords opposite. I do not welcome this Bill, but I will not block it and I will seek to amend it.