Lords ‘emasculate’ reform to protect hereditary peers

Supporters of an all-appointed House of Lords suffered a major setback today, as Peers killed off the chances of a Bill to end the hereditary principle in Parliament.

Those opposed to electing the Lords had coalesced around a Bill introduced by former Liberal Leader, Lord Steel, which sought to stop any new hereditary peers coming into the Lords. 

The Bill’s supporters claimed that the proposals enjoyed widespread support in the House of Lords, and could be brought on to the statute book without controversy or delay.

Yet as the Bill reached its final stages in the Lords, Peers rushed to table more than 300 amendments.  The move forced the Bill’s sponsors to drop the key clause on ending the hereditary principle, and to concede that the legislation would no longer represent real House of Lords reform. 

Speaking in the chamber, Liberal Democrat Constitutional Affairs Spokesperson, Lord Tyler, said that the removal of the clauses ending the hereditary principle “actually emasculate the Bill” to the point that it simply could not be described as any sort of reform.  “This is a compromise snatched out of the jaws of chaos”, he said, after hundreds of amendments were tabled at the last minute.

Lord Steel told Peers, “I have not changed my view that the hereditary by-elections, particularly in the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, are really quite farcical.  In the 21st century to have elections to Parliament by heredity by three votes to one is simply absurd.”  But the appearance of so many amendments was “a perfectly legitimate parliamentary tactic in order to scupper the Bill”. 

He said he had reluctantly agreed with the amendments’ authors to remove the clause on ending the hereditary principle in return for keeping other provisions.  These will allow Peers to retire, and exclude those who are convicted of criminal offences, or who do not attend. 

Concluding the debate, he said, “having pared the Bill down to just two succinct issues—retirement and expulsion—I think it is rather grandiose to describe it as a House of Lords Reform Bill.”

Commenting afterwards, Lord Tyler added:

“This pale imitation of David Steel’s original Bill would leave our Parliament with 92 members sitting in it who are there not because anyone thought they were expert in their field, and not because anyone elected them, but because their father, and their father’s father, sat there. 

“That is completely unacceptable, and now only the Government’s full reform proposals will deal with the anachronism once and for all.”


Notes to Editors:
1. Lord Steel and Lord Tyler’s speeches are online at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld/ldtoday/l_08.htm and will appear in printed Hansard on Monday.

1. The Lords changed the title of the Bill from “House of Lords Reform Bill” to “House of Lords (Amendment) Bill”, reflecting the reduced status of the proposed legislation.

2. The Government published proposals for an 80% elected House of Lords in May last year.  A draft Bill is under examination by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament, which is due to report by the end of March.  Lord Tyler is a member of the Committee.

3. For Lord Steel’s Bill to make it into law, the Government will have to provide time for it to have a final ‘third reading’ stage in the Lords, and then further time for MPs to examine the detail in the Commons.  This must happen before the Queen’s Speech, likely to take place in May.

Extracts from Lord Steel’s speech
• In the 21st century to have elections to Parliament by heredity by three votes to one is simply absurd. On the other hand, other Members of the House feel strongly about the principle that undertakings were given back in 1999 that the numbers would continue to be topped up until major reforms were made. That has been the issue between us and what has caused the sudden appearance of some 300 amendments, which is a perfectly legitimate parliamentary tactic in order to scupper the Bill. However, there have been congenial discussions between us and we have agreed that, provided I take Clause 10 out of the Bill, these amendments will not be moved. The result would be that today we would end up securing voluntary retirement and compulsory expulsion, both of which would be useful reforms.
• Having pared the Bill down to just two succinct issues—retirement and expulsion—I think it is rather grandiose to describe it as a House of Lords Reform Bill.

Extracts from Lord Tyler’s speech
• Among the amendments today were a number of contradictory amendments—some from the same author.
• I thought that the expressions of good will in Committee indicated that we had consensus that the Bill in the form that my noble friend was pursuing had considerable support on all sides of the House. From the changes that have taken place today, in response to the wealth of amendments, it is clear that the Bill we thought we had dealt with in Committee did not have consensus across the House. Some 300 amendments would take out some very important provisions.
• We have been told on so many occasions in the past two or three years that my noble friend’s Bill would not only enjoy widespread support but would deal with all the major defects in the stature, authority and reputation of your Lordships’ House. The removal of Clause 10, as my noble friend said in his opening speech, emasculates the Bill. It would take out the most important provisions.

• As so often at this end of the Building, the compromise that has been reached has been grabbed out of the jaws of chaos. We have to recognise that; it would be silly not to do so. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood would be the first to admit that nobody can be under any illusion that this exercise will result in even a modest step forward towards reform, hence his realistic assessment that this is no longer a House of Lords Reform Bill but simply a House of Lords amendment Bill, and we should recognise that.

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