During the early part of the 19th century, the power in this country began to shift away from those whose right to make legislation was inherited through an accident of birth, who generally sat in the House of Lords. Instead, it began slowly and imperfectly to go towards those who had won the support of the public in some way and who, therefore, were more likely—although not necessarily—to have gained their position through ability and hard work. They, of course, sat in the House of Commons.
At that time, as we both know, Mr Walker, the old Tory party started to disappear. Historians say that the last Tory Prime Minister was the Duke of Wellington—I will come back his successor in a minute. Those old Tories began to be replaced by people such as Peel and Disraeli. It is sad that one of Wellington’s descendants is among those who seem to have forgotten the lessons of history and the importance of the Parliament Acts in our constitution. They are hell-bent on overturning the result of the referendum and the 2017 election, in which 90% of the public voted for the two major political parties that stood on an explicit manifesto commitment to withdraw Britain from the European Union.
The House of Lords is an unelected body that still contains nearly 100 people who sit there, interfering in the legislation of this country, simply because of an accident of birth. That is outrageous. The House of Lords is also unanswerable to the people and is unrepresentative. We heard earlier about the fact that there is not enough representation of women or ethnic minorities in the House of Lords. There is also not enough representation of people with different political views.
As democrats, how can we explain and defend the fact that nobody from the UK Independence party has ever been appointed to the Lords, despite the fact that millions of people have voted for that party in successive elections for the European Parliament and in general elections? Even at the last election, where the two major political parties took UKIP’s major policy of pulling out of the EU, it still got nearly 2% in the vote. Where are its Members in the House of Lords? I have never voted UKIP and I would never advise anyone to do so, but I am a democrat and I recognise the rights of millions of people who have supported that political party. Members of that party have earned the right to be there. It is ridiculous that the Duke of Wellington is able to interfere in legislation that affects this country, but Nigel Farage, who was the leader of a major political party that has had a major impact on this country, is not invited to sit in the House of Lords. He has a far greater moral right to be there than the Duke of Wellington.
As I said earlier, I joined not the Tory party of Wellington, but that of Peel and Disraeli, and later of Churchill and Mrs Thatcher. When I look at history, I see that the belief in free trade united all those people over the centuries. That belief brought Peel to get rid of the corn laws in the 1830s and it is why Winston Churchill in the early part of the 20th century, before he became known for saving us from the blight of fascism, was best known for his sterling defence of free trade and his opposition to locking Britain into a trading arrangement with countries with which we were said to have some sort of historical relationship. Those people all embodied a belief that people should reach their position on merit, achievement and hard work, not simply through an accident of birth.
As a Conservative, I say that the Lords is an anachronism long overdue for reform. The hereditaries are an insult to 21st-century democracy. To any Ministers who are listening, I say that now is the time for a reformed and representative House of Lords, with Members who are there by merit and not by birth. Now is the time for us, as Conservatives, to remember that we are at our best when we seize the opportunity to reform, instead of waiting for others to do it. We will wait a long time for their lordships to grasp it. Let us do it know, rather than face the wrath of our electors.