Campaigners name and shame aristocrats planning to filibuster Lords reform attempt

Posted on the 15th March 2019

Lord Grocott’s bid to end the practice of hereditary peer by-elections faces opposition in the house from a small number of hereditary peers determined to prevent reform.

Two hereditary peers are attempting to block an attempt to end the ‘absurd’ system of hereditary by-elections this week by placing dozens of wrecking amendments [1].

Peers are to debate Lord Grocott’s bill to scrap the practice of replacing hereditary peers when they retire or pass away on Friday [around 10am]. But Lord Trefgarne (49 to his name) and the Earl of Caithness (16 to his name) have placed dozens of amendments in an apparent bid to thwart the bill. They have repeatedly used this tactic when the bill has been heard previously.

Government peer Lord Young said last year that the PM would not seek to obstruct Lord Grocott’s Bill passing through Parliament [2]. Yet the bill is unlikely to success if it continues to be talked out by these two aristocrats.

The debate comes as a handful of Lords are currently picking yet another hereditary peer to join the Lords [3], with candidate statements published this week. Two candidates failed to even submit manifestos, while others boasted of their skills in ‘land management’, banking and the defence industry. Only 31 aristocrats can vote for the 14 candidates. It follows another so-called by-election held earlier this year [4].

The ERS are calling for Lord Trefgarne and the Earl of Caithness to withdraw their amendments, and for the government to fully back Lord Grocott’s bill, as the start of moves to a properly-elected revising chamber.

Last week the Commons’ Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee condemned the government’s inaction in failing to tackle the bloated size of the House [5], with Sir Bernard Jenkin MP saying the government is ignoring the consensus for change.

BMG polling for the ERS shows a cross-party majority for scrapping and replacing the Lords with a fairly-elected second chamber. And at the weekend Labour peer Baroness Bryan published proposals for ‘total’ reform of the Lords, most likely through replacing it with a smaller, fairly-elected second chamber [6].

Lord Grocott told the ERS [more quotes below]:

“These peers should stop bringing the house into disrepute by trying to preserve an indefensible system of ludicrous by-elections, and by abusing procedure to thwart the wishes of the house.”

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“It is simply outrageous that a couple of hereditary peers can block the will of the public and Parliament as a whole. Lord Trefgarne and the Earl of Caithness should withdraw their wrecking amendments and allow this bill to be put to a vote.

“It is an absurdity that while MPs debate what ‘taking back control’ really means, Lords continue to pick hereditary aristocrats to vote on our laws for life. These so-called by-elections would be amusing if the stakes weren’t so high. These individuals can hold a huge sway over legislation and the issues that affect our country – as we’ve seen with them repeatedly trying to filibuster this bill.

“It is high time we abolished this absurd practice and gave the public a say over who sits in our second chamber. One thing unites this country right now – frustration with a centralised, out-of-touch Westminster. Nothing represents that as much as the feudal relic that is hereditary peerages.

“We must not allow filibustering by these few hereditaries to block long-overdue reform to the House of Lords. It is time for a fairly-elected second chamber to end the farce of unaccountable rule. This is essential for public’s faith in our democracy and its institutions.”

Lord Grocott added:

“Two people are able to override the overwhelming support that the bill has obtained – including almost certainly a majority of the hereditary peers. These are two people who obviously have a vested interest are setting about to wreck a bill: a bill which tries to end a system whereby 90 places are effectively men only. Only one person on the eligible list is a woman.

“These two hereditary peers put down large numbers of amendments in 2016. It died at the end of that session. I introduced a similar bill in 2017, and it too was talked out of time. Most of the amendments are ridiculous wrecking amendments.

“One amendment says that before my bill could come into effect it would have to be approved in a ballot of all hereditary peers – not just in this house, but all hereditary peers wherever they are in the world. How would you do that or find them?

“Nearly all the amendments simply destroy the bill in one way or another. Having failed to vote against the bill on second reading, they had option to vote against it on the third reading. But they knew they’d lose if they forced it to a vote. They just want to block it in this adolescent way: it’s an abuse of the house.

It is not clear if the bill will be able to continue in this session if it is talked out of time tomorrow.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

In the 2010-2015 parliament, £360,000 was claimed by peers in years they failed to vote once, while 109 peers failed to speak at all in the 2016/17 session. Sixty-three of those claimed expenses – claiming a total of £1,095,701. 33 peers claimed nearly half a million pounds between them while failing to speak, table a written question or serve on a committee in 2016/17.

ERS analysis also shows that nearly 80 percent of Conservative peers didn’t once vote against the government in 2016/17. Of the Labour peers who voted, 50 percent voted against the government more than 90 percent of the time. And non-partisan crossbenchers often don’t turn up – over 40 percent voted fewer than 10 times last year: leaving decisions in the hands of the party whips.

Read the ERS’ most recent report on the House of Lords: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/publications/the-high-cost-of-small-change/

Read the ERS’ briefing on hereditary peer by-elections: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/parliamentary-briefings/hereditary-peers-by-elections-briefing-january-2019/

[1] Bill: https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/houseoflordshereditarypeersabolitionofbyelections.html Amendments: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2017-2019/0144/18144-I.pdf

[2] See https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/hereditary-peerage-system-branded-an-undemocratic-farce-as-analysis-shows-aristocrats-still-deciding-who-sits-in-lords/ and https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2018-05-22a.980.2

[3] https://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-information-office/2019/Arrangements-by-election-11-03-19.pdf

[4] https://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-information-office/2019/Result-by-election-23-01-19.pdf

[5] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/once-again-the-government-have-ignored-the-consensus-for-lords-reform-enough-is-enough/

[6] https://politicsforthemany.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Creating-a-Constitutional-Moment-Baroness-Pauline-Bryan-1.pdf

Read more posts...

May urged to scrap resignation honours to ‘over-sized’ Lords

Statement from the Electoral Reform Society. Spokespeople are available for interview. For more information, contact Jon Narcross, Communications Officer at jon.narcross@electoral-reform.org.uk or 07794728820. Outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May is being called on to resist making dozens of appointments...

Posted 12 Jul 2019

House of Lords benches