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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

Then we shall use the “et al” for those of us on our side. I thank the noble Lord for that.

It is bad enough that we outnumber the democratically elected House, but to do so with 90 of our Members being here by virtue of their grandfathers or great-grandfathers—or, in some cases, going even further back—is surely a source of shame to a 21st-century legislature.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord True, is not responding on the Bill—I think he is the follow-on act—because he was honest enough to admit that much of the resistance to previous attempts was to further the Conservative interest. The figures bear that out, with 10 times as many Conservative as Labour Peers embroiled in this insular scheme.

I should have thought that, with a majority of 80 in the other place, the Government could have grasped the nettle safe in the knowledge that its working majority could not be threatened by any pesky Lords. Indeed, despite the almost completely—but not quite—persuasive words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, who welcomed this Private Member’s Bill because it was us doing it ourselves, nevertheless, I come down on the same side as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde: this should be a government Bill. That is perhaps for different reasons, but we both arrive there. In the light of the duty on all public bodies—that must include the Government—to promote equality, the Government should have seized on this issue and enabled the House to enter the 20th, let alone the 21st, century by getting rid of a very discriminatory part of our constitution.

It is a modest measure and would make change only very slowly, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, made clear. It would not lead to a wholly appointed House; it would take some 40 years for us to get there, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, alleged. It may be two or three years before there was any change at all if the Bill was passed. It would not affect any of our existing Members, whom we look forward to hearing from, I hope, for many, many years. Indeed, many, perhaps all of them, deserve to be here in their own right, on their own accomplishments, as will be demonstrated by a shining example, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, shortly. However, I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, who I think suggested that there are hereditaries who, if not born to rule in this place, were bred to it. I find that an extraordinary idea.

The purpose of our House is to make laws. It is to act as a check and a challenge to the Government and to provide a forum of independent expertise. The credibility of the House and what we do is undermined by how membership can be achieved through a very strange system of by-elections, producing a self-perpetuating selection of new Members, chosen by a tiny electorate from a tiny grouping. Let us move on this. Let us waste no more time.