Hereditary Peers’ By-elections - Motion on Standing Orders

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:02 pm on 7th September 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office, Constitutional and Devolved issues) 2:02 pm, 7th September 2020

This has been a rather wider-ranging debate than either I or probably the noble Lord, Lord McFall, as Senior Deputy Speaker, anticipated. I agree with the point the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, made about the Prime Minister not listening to advice. I think the only advice he listens to is that of the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Cummings. Perhaps if we could persuade him, we might have more success in him treating the House and Parliament with some respect.

I had not expected the debate to go back to the 13th century. The House of Lords sometimes looks backwards rather than forwards, but it does not often go quite so far back. I think this illustrates the scale of the problem. We are dealing with something here and now, and the Motion before us has my full support. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, made the most telling point. If local government elections have been stopped around the country and the public are not entitled to elect, it would be nonsensical for an unelected House to elect one of its few elected Members to this place.

I want to put on record that this is a policy issue. This is not about the merits or otherwise of any individual who serves in this House, by whichever route they come in. All Members of your Lordships’ House are welcomed. In fact, most of us really do not know who are the life Peers and who are the hereditary Peers, except those who make an effort to defend the continuation of the hereditary principle ad infinitum with the temporary position introduced in 1999.

I disassociate myself from some of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, which is unusual. We all want to get back to working as normally as possible as soon as possible, but we can do so only in realms that make us safe. Indeed, my understanding is that no Member of your Lordships’ House has wanted to speak physically but not been able to attend physically. We have to respect those who for many reasons—whether for travel or because they live in hot-spot areas or for their own medical conditions—wish to participate remotely. I think we do better than the House of Commons in that regard.

Finally, on the comments made about the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, he was unable to be with us today. For very understandable reasons, he would want to be here. I am sorry the noble Lord made that comment. It would be remiss of me not to mention his Bill. It has had the overwhelming support of your Lordships’ House on many occasions. It is not fit for today’s House of Lords to have by-elections for hereditary peerages. The only reason we do not have that Bill, and have the Motion before us today, is that the Government do not want it. We have invited the Government many a time to say, “We will help give this a speedy passage through Parliament”, but because of the processes, a few Peers who do not support it have blocked that Bill with parliamentary vandalism tactics. We will return to that Bill, but I make a plea to the Government. It is a Bill that has the overwhelming support of your Lordships’ House.

The noble Lord, Lord Burns, gave a way forward on the size of the House, and that is one issue, but the Motion before us has nothing to do with that. It is about having a sensible process: we should not have by-elections to your Lordships’ House in the current circumstances. It has my full support.