Committed to Committee
That the bill be reported from the Committee of the Whole House in respect of proceedings up to amendment 35A; and that, for the remainder of the bill, the order of commitment of 8 September 2017 be discharged and the bill be committed to a Grand Committee.
My Lords, as we have heard, this Motion relates to the House of Lords (Hereditary Peers) (Abolition of By-Elections) Bill, with which the House will be familiar. The Motion is simple. It asks the House to transfer the remaining consideration in Committee from the Floor of the House to Grand Committee. I want to explain why I think this is highly desirable.
My Bill came first in the Private Members’ Bill ballot that many noble Lords entered at the beginning of this Session, meaning that it was allocated time for consideration. It is the first time I have ever come first in a ballot, so maybe there is a certain amount of sympathy for me on that basis—but that is about all the achievement I can list, because the progress of the Bill since then has been as follows. It received its Second Reading on 8 September 2017, just over a year ago. The first day of Committee was on 23 March this year and the second day last Friday—not a day that will go down as one of the greatest in the annals of this House. The Bill has had around six hours of debate so far, two hours of which have been spent deciding whether it should continue in Committee. When votes have occurred, the House has given its overwhelming support to the objectives of the Bill.
It is a simple, two-clause Bill. So far, it has attracted 75 amendments, 55 of them from just two Peers. The net result is that, a year after its Second Reading, we still have not completed the first clause. I am all for the thorough examination of Bills, but that is beyond ridiculous. If the Bill were to remain on the Floor of the House in Committee, at least three more precious Fridays would be taken up in consideration of a simple, two-clause Bill. This is not fair to other Members who have been successful lower down in the ballot and who are waiting in the queue to have their Bill considered—and, if I may say so, it is also not very fair to me.
When the House votes for a Second Reading, by implication quite clearly it is voting to ensure that it will consider the Bill in Committee. If the House does not want the Bill to be considered in Committee, it votes against the Second Reading. But that was not done—it was an unopposed Second Reading. So I say to that very small minority of Peers who want to block the Bill that they should do it not by making a pantomime about procedure as they have been doing in Committee, but, if they so desire, by voting against it on Third Reading, as is their right and which is the proper way to consider a Bill. They can then kill the Bill—but I would not put great odds on them winning that vote.
My Motion proposes simply that we should go ahead and complete Committee in Grand Committee; no more, no less. It is important that we get on with this and do it quickly. Since we started Committee, as I said, on 23 March this year, there have been two further instances of these ludicrous by-elections. As noble Lords know, that is in complete violation of the Burns report, which has been supported by the House, which says that we should proceed to reduce the size of the House on the ratio of two out, one in. That applies to all of us apart from the hereditary Peers system, which provides for two out, two in. That means that that section of the peerage cannot possibly reduce in number without a change in the law such as the one I am proposing. So it is important that we do it quickly. Passing this Motion today will allow us to get on with the Bill without further undue delay. I commend it to the House and beg to move.
My Lords, this is a very important Motion. I am not absolutely certain that it will necessarily speed the passage of the Bill—but that is a matter for the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. However, I am very satisfied that the Bill, as long as it is heard in the House on a Friday in Committee, is holding back other Bills that are scheduled for a Committee hearing. All of us who have an interest in these Bills—I happen to have an interest in one or two of them—are being deprived of that as a result of the Bill being heard in the Chamber.
I therefore hope that the House will support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, without a Division, on the view that it can only be of help to others who are waiting and that it can be of no harm whatever to anybody else in relation to the way the Bill is handled. If it does any harm at all, it will be that the Bill in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, may take slightly longer by this route that it might take otherwise—but I am not enough of a betting man to put any odds on that.
Therefore, the only tangible evidence is that if the Motion is not passed, other noble Lords waiting for their Bills to be heard in Committee on a Friday in the usual way are being held up. I have had the honour of being present at all the proceedings so far, and I must say that the responsibility for delay cannot be handed out to any particular individuals, because we have had some discussions that were of a rather fringe quality in relation to the full text of the Bill. But the important thing is that if the Bill continues here, it will hold up others, and I see no reason why that should happen.
My Lords, I will make one very brief comment. If this is the problem, why can we not move all these Private Members’ Bills to the Moses Room? Maybe they could move there and that would also unblock it; I do not see why this particular one has to go there.
The challenge with the Bill is that it is antidemocratic. It does not propose—noble Lords should read the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis—that we are replaced with a democratically elected House, which was in the agreement when the hereditary Peers came here. It mainly achieves an appointed House through the back door, steadily over time. That is a huge matter of principle and should not be brushed under the table.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Grocott and will say, in a slightly lighter vein, that it was not just the reputation of this House that was damaged last Friday, when I was present—it was the attractiveness to those across the world who wish to use the British private education system, because I have never heard such a load of rubbish in my life coming from those who benefited from that education system many years ago.
My Lords, can we not move on? We are hearing against this Bill precisely the arguments that were made against the Reform Act 1832. Can we please progress?