David Hanson: Time is up for hereditary peerages
Hereditary peers have no place in modern political Britain. This sorry situation must now end, writes David Hanson ahead of his House of Lords (Exclusion of Hereditary Peers) Bill
Is it right that in the 21st century 92 people, of which 91 are men, still sit in Parliament to speak, vote and act simply on the basis of who their ancestors were?
Is it right that elections, when held for vacancies to those 92 positions, can involve as few as three voters choosing a member of parliament?
For the situation today is just that – 92 hereditary peers are still left in the House of Lords.
Should we allow that situation to continue or is it time for change? Quite simply it’s not sustainable.
House of Lords reform may not be at the forefront of public discord, but it continues to be an issue that generates a huge amount of debate in Parliament and for good reason. Every politician has an opinion, if not several, on what we should do with this aspect of our uncodified constitution. But it is seemingly impossible to secure agreement.
So, let’s make a start with the obvious. This year marks the 19th anniversary since the last meaningful reform. That saw hundreds of hereditary peers removed from parliament bar 92 who remained by agreement in the Lords. This was meant to be a placeholder reform until we could decide on what to do with a part of our constitution that still needs reform.
The hereditary principle has no place in modern political Britain and that is why I have been working with Lord Grocott to bring about its end. It is clear for all to see, apart from the hereditary peers themselves, that the legitimacy of someone to create our laws and question our ministers does not derive from accident of birth.
The hereditary peers don’t particularly help themselves in this area of legitimacy either. When one of the 92 places become vacant by the passing of an incumbent each hopeful candidate must only write 75 words on why they should be entrusted with a seat in the mother of Parliaments. Even then they can leave this section clear of any thoughts whatsoever. Something which has happened all too often.
We are now living in a strange time when someone can renounce their hereditary title, as did Viscount Thurso, to seek election to the Commons, lose their seat at a general election and quickly rediscover their title once more to secure a place in the Lords, in his case by the said three votes. This blue blood transfusion is quick and painless and results in a lifetime seat passing laws on people who have rejected them at the ballot box.
This sorry situation must now end. I have introduced a Bill to the Commons which would see all 92 hereditary peers removed from Parliament at the stroke of midnight on the 31 December 2020.
Lord Grocott’s approach is gentler and would allow for a natural diminution of the hereditary peers and for the by-election system to be scrapped. Either Bill should be passed, although I would much prefer for Parliament to adopt my approach.
It is now 19 years since the Lords saw reform. That is too long and something must now be done.
Sadly, I know that my Bill will not be enacted without government support: there is simply not enough parliamentary time. The government must ask themselves now if they want to be on the right side of history and support this small but important change.
No one should have the right to govern over another with impunity. Now is the time to reform the hereditary peers.
David Hanson is Labour MP for Delyn. The second reading of the House of Lords (Exclusion of Hereditary Peers) Bill is on Friday 27 April