Another chance to scrap an absurd Parliamentary quirk

Megan Collins, former Student Placement

Posted on the 17th March 2020

A Bill to phase out one of Parliament’s more absurd procedures is making some progress, after being talked out of time by Lords last year.

Lord Grocott’s Hereditary Peers (Abolition of By-Elections) Bill underwent its Second Reading last Friday. This is the third time that Lord Grocott’s Bill has been put forward.

Currently, there are 90 hereditary peers in the House of Lords, and if one retires or dies, they are replaced through a so-called ‘by-election’.

[bctt tweet=”There are 90 hereditary peers in the House of Lords, and if one retires or dies, they are replaced through a so-called ‘by-election’ – but only hereditary peers are able to stand in these elections” username=”electoralreform”]

Only hereditary peers are able to stand in these elections, from the 216 names on the current Register of Hereditary peers. There is only one woman eligible to stand. And the voters? A handful of current hereditary Lords, from whichever party group the deceased/retired/booted-out peer sat with.

In 1999, the allegedly ‘temporary’ compromise of electing hereditary peers in a by-election was introduced. It is still in operation over two decades later – in large part due to opposition to change from aristocrats.

Despite widespread support, Lord Grocott’s two previous attempts at reform have both ran out of time as a result of dozens of ‘wrecking’ amendments by less than a handful of peers. Another sign that the House of Lords is a private members’ club for an elite few.

Indeed, this club continues to grow in size and cost as from April, peers will see their daily pay rise by over 3% to £323. As the world’s second-largest legislative body – surpassed only by China’s National People’s Congress – the taxpayer is footing the bill for an outdated, unelected institution that is totally unrepresentative of modern British society.

The bizarre by-elections of hereditary peers are yet another reflection of this elitist club. In the last by-election, as the ERS reported, just 28 votes were cast. Compare this to a House of Commons by-election which sees an average of more than a thousand times this of around 29,000 votes.

[bctt tweet=”The bizarre by-elections of hereditary peers are yet another reflection of an elitist club. ” username=”electoralreform”]

‘Talking out’ bills is not an example of effective policymaking: it is an act of democratic sabotage, when it rewards an aristocratic elite at the expense of voters and democracy. Removing by-elections and hereditary peers themselves is therefore just one small step to ensure that the UK’s upper chamber is fit for purpose.

It is long past time to overhaul the bloated House of Lords and replace it with a fairly elected upper chamber – one which reflects the whole of the United Kingdom. Voters deserve a modern revising chamber, not this semi-feudal farce. We need to sort out this ridiculous relic at last. Voters should decide who influences our laws.

This could start with ending the absurd elections of hereditary peers. Whether this Bill will succeed is unclear. One thing is though: the need to scrap and replace the UK’s second chamber at last.

Megan Collins is a placement student at the ERS from the University of Nottingham. 

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