How hereditary aristocrats are still trying to call the shots in Parliament

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 19th March 2019

On Friday, a handful of hereditary aristocrats managed to club together to stop even the most modest of attempts to modernise the House of Lords.

Lord Grocott’s bill would have ended the absurd practice of hereditary peer ‘by-elections’ – where a tiny cadre of aristocrats have permanent, guaranteed representation in our Parliament. No other group, bar bishops, is afforded this privilege. Now they have used that privilege to stymie reform.

This matters: three days before Brexit is due to take place, just 31 people will be eligible to select a new member of the Lords, from a shortlist of 14 male candidates. That aristocrat will be able to influence our laws for the rest of their lives. As Lesley Riddoch in the Scotsman points out, this is undemocratic even by Parliament’s archaic standards.

But by placing dozens of ‘wrecking amendments’ and blocking an end to these so-called by-elections, a self-selecting elite (led by hereditary peers Lord Trefgarne and the Earl of Caithness) have shown that they still exert undue sway over our democracy. This private members club in the Palace of Westminster is out of control – as Lord Grocott himself made clear:

But the case for reform is far from lost. In 2012, proposals to reform the House of Lords had majority Parliamentary support, and were only dropped following a coalition fall-out over an unrelated issue. Repeated polls have since shown overwhelming cross-party support for a fairly-elected second chamber, following scandal after scandal in the Lords.

[bctt tweet=”Support for replacing the Lords with an elected revising chamber, by party (based on mass BMG polling last September), sits at: Conservatives = 65%, Labour = 67%,
Liberal Democrats = 63%, UKIP = 73%, Green = 63% & SNP = 71%” username=”electoralreform”]

While the UKIP, Green and SNP samples are small, the results nonetheless suggest a high level of support for an overhaul.

It’s not hard to see why. The status quo is simply untenable. Thankfully, parties and peers are waking up to this fact.

Lords themselves are calling for reform or abolition: as well as Lord Grocott’s Bill, Labour Peer Baroness Bryan, constitutional adviser to Jeremy Corbyn, has produced proposals for the abolition of the Lords, replacing it with a fairly-elected chamber of the nations and regions. The SNP’s Tommy Sheppard has been campaigning hard for real change. And Green peer Baroness Jones has introduced her own bill to replace the Lords with an elected house, giving a strong voice to the nations and regions of the UK.

However these individual efforts fare, the movement for a constitutional overhaul is growing by the day. Lords reform is now a matter of when, not if.

It’s going to take work though. We need to shine a spotlight on the rotten state of the House of Lords and stand up for real change – not just tinkering around the edges.

Let’s clear up Westminster’s broken political system – and secure fair votes in this most brazenly-undemocratic half of our Parliament.

Photo Copyright House of Lords 2018 / Photography by Annabel Moeller

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