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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 11:48 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour 11:48 am, 13th March 2020

My Lords, the noble Baroness set out a certain veneration for our constitution broadening down from precedent to precedent. However, surely the great virtue of our constitution has been that those who have had power have known when to yield it. There has also been a readiness to change when change is needed and not to seek to oppose any reform in a reactionary way until it becomes a tradition.

I also have an interest to declare. I am a Welsh peasant and would wish for my eldest son—for whom, like any good father, I have much admiration—to come to this place, but he should not do so except on his own merit. The problem is that we have a lottery of sons and only sons coming here—in a time when women quite properly have a greater and greater voice—simply because of what happened to their fathers in the past. Some obviously come here themselves on merit; others because their ancestors completed deeds of daring before the monarch; and others because they paid the right sum of money to Maundy Gregory for Liberal Party funds. I cannot recall any Liberal opposition to that at the time. Clearly, there are great differences in backgrounds.

We have been through this course on many occasions, including the two Second Readings which my noble friend Lord Grocott has brought forward. I congratulate him on his persistence. We are probably in a position where everything that can be said has been said, but I have not yet said it, so here it goes.

My first point is one of procedure. We have a position where obviously the great majority of people in this House—certainly as measured by the votes we have had in the past—are in favour of this incremental and piecemeal reform. But it has not happened, because a relatively small minority put roadblocks in the way of the Bill. Given the filibusters and flooding of the Order Paper with innumerable amendments that we have had in past, the powers that be should look at our own procedures to see whether there is any way of stopping merited reforms going forward. As a lapsed lawyer, the only argument of any merit that I can see against this Bill is that there was a degree of compromise in the deal done 20 years ago, but surely we have moved on massively since then. The context is different; it is a context of modernisation and where, as some well argue, the best should not be the enemy of the good.

What is it that sets apart the sons of hereditary Peers as different from the sons of other Peers? Is it superior intellect? That may or may not be the case. Is it some background that myself and others do not have? Is it other forms of merit—some contribution to the benefit of this country as a whole? That may be, but then, like the rest of us, they can be appointed on their own merits, rather than as a result of any merits of their fathers. I very much accept that our own hereditaries play a disproportionate part; that point was made very well indeed by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach. In future, however, a place in this Chamber should not arise from the merits or otherwise of Peers’ fathers but because of their own merits; it should be by proper selection and not by the terms of a lottery.