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Hereditary Peers By-election

Volume 792: debated on Wednesday 18 July 2018


The Clerk of the Parliaments announced the result of the by-election to elect a Conservative hereditary Peer, in place of Lord Glentoran, in accordance with Standing Order 10.

Forty-three Lords completed valid ballot papers. A notice detailing the results is available in the Printed Paper Office and online. The successful candidate was Lord Bethell.

My Lords, it would be wrong to let this occasion pass without pointing out again that we have just heard the result of a by-election that gives us a new Member of Parliament, which would not normally be referred to in just a matter of a few words. Nothing I say is, in any way, a criticism of the person who has just been elected, but he was elected, as the Clerk of the Parliaments has said, with an electorate of 47 people and 11 candidates. Simply to announce the winner is, to put it politely, a bizarre way of concluding a bizarre electoral system.

I ask again and will keep doing so: why the secrecy surrounding all this? Was this item ever on the annunciator? I looked for it but, no, it was not there. It is an important item of today’s proceedings. Was it on the Order Paper? There was not a word. The next item is the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill, a very important Bill, but for goodness sake should it not be on the Order Paper? Was at any stage the House of Lords Commission involved in this procedure? No, it was not. Will the new Member of Parliament be introduced in the normal way? The answer is no to all these questions.

The truth is that, whenever these by-elections occur, they have all the characteristics of a private admittance to a private club. I say, to quote a former Prime Minister, “Let the sunshine in”. We should know more about these by-elections when they take place. Why cannot we have the figures for the winner and for the losers, and the majority, just as a template? I offer this to the Chief Whip, for whom I have great respect given the hugely important office that he holds. Why can it not be announced?

In the last by-election that we had, for example, the winner got 12 votes and the runner-up got five, so there was a majority of seven. I know why we do not announce these results: because they are embarrassing and ridiculous. The bad news is that yet another of these by-elections is coming up. The even worse news is that I shall repeat this statement then. I am not a proud man; I am quite happy for it to be recorded and simply played out whenever there is a by-election. We have got to deal with this issue. It is beyond ridiculous, so let us get on with it.

We know the noble Lord’s views on hereditary by-elections. He has a Bill before the House, which the House will consider in September. Meanwhile, he really should know—having been Chief Whip himself—that the whole of the information that he requires is available in the Printed Paper Office. In the Printed Paper Office is the notice of election, which tells him on what day the ballot will take place and on what day the election will be announced. All details of every vote are recorded on the document in the Printed Paper Office. He need only to go to the Printed Paper Office to get all the information he requires. Indeed, he could pick up several copies to give to others who he thinks need to be informed.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Chief Whip for responding to my noble friend Lord Grocott. He says that this House knows the views of my noble friend. In fact, my noble friend’s view is the view of the majority of your Lordships in this House, who think that the time for these hereditary by-elections has long gone. I do not cast any aspersions on our new Member, whom we shall welcome here. The Chief Whip says that my noble friend’s Bill will come back in September but it is a Private Member’s Bill. Given the overwhelming support in your Lordships’ House, can the Government assist in ensuring that that Bill is sent to the House of Commons for them also to take a view on?