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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 12:06 pm on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour) 12:06 pm, 13th March 2020

My Lords, for the third time it is my pleasure to give a warm welcome to the measure. Like the noble Lord, Lord Young, I have sat through all the previous ones. Indeed, the last time I spoke in your Lordships’ House on an earlier version was almost exactly a year ago today. It was on 15 March last year on a Bill that had had its Second Reading 18 months earlier, in September 2017. As we have heard, there was some serious foot dragging then on a Bill with just two clauses. What progress has there been since? As we have heard, there have been more by-elections—bringing the number to 37 over 21 years and our democracy in this House, I believe, into disrepute.

As we have heard, the system has brought in yet more white, male hereditary Peers at a time when we need, first, to reduce the size of the House—as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and others—and, secondly, to increase its diversity in gender, ethnicity and background. I use the word “background” but my noble friend Lord Snape said it as it is and called it “class”. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, described the current system as racist and sexist. I am sorry to be only woman to speak today in favour of the Bill, but I know that if there is a vote my sisters will be with me.

Mention has been made of HOLAC’s role. I point out that it has no role in scrutinising the hereditaries who come to this House. Indeed, its role at the moment of carefully sifting the possible list—shall we say?—of additions here shows what a good job it is doing.

About a decade ago, there was a survey of the then Members. At that stage, 70% of them thought that the by-elections should end. It is clear from last year that the percentage would be much higher today. Even in this debate, which is perhaps atypical of people outside, only eight hereditaries and five life Peers spoke against the Bill. I think a vote would show much more overwhelming support for the Grocott measure.