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Hereditary Peers By-election

Volume 794: debated on Wednesday 28 November 2018


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

Twenty-nine Lords completed valid ballot papers. A notice detailing the results is in the Printed Paper Office and online. The successful candidate was Lord Carrington.

My Lords, as has become the tradition on these occasions, I should like to say a couple of words. I thank the clerk for giving us the result, or at least for naming the successful candidate. He now has a burgeoning career as a returning officer because another one is due in January. However, I am afraid that, as far as I am concerned, there is not enough information, despite the improvements we have seen.

It is worth saying that in this by-election there were 31 electors, which is about par for the course. There were 11 candidates, two of whom did not submit election addresses, and this is the 35th by-election held under a system established 19 years ago as a short-term, interim measure.

I ought to avoid being churlish by saying to the clerk, the authorities and the usual channels that they have improved these by-elections—or, at least, the procedures for them—in two respects. For the first time ever, thanks to various requests, the fact that the result was to be announced appeared on today’s Order Paper. It was, admittedly, in the smallest print discoverable, but it at least told us that there was a hereditary Peers’ by-election result today, the first time that has happened—normally they are smuggled in secretly. It also appeared on the annunciator, so I am grateful for those two small improvements.

However, I should like to see us go a little further. I certainly think we need more information than just the name of the winning candidate. I would like to know what his or her—it will be his, because all those on the list are male, bar one—majority was. Most returning officers give the number of votes cast for each candidate. I would also like a little of the sunshine of publicity on this. I have asked, without success, several questions suggesting that the media should be there to record the count, as they are in all other by-elections. Only a camera could capture the drama of the occasion—the ballot papers piled up on the trestle tables until the winning line is passed and the 16 votes obtained. I suggest that for future occasions.

Finally, and seriously, this House has decided that we should reduce its size to around 600 Members. That seems to have near-universal approval across the House. We shall have great difficulty doing that unless something happens. So far this year, the life Peers—if I may put it in those terms—have been reduced on the basis of two out, one in, which seems a pretty sensible, gentle way of reducing the size of the House. The principle for the hereditary Peers this year has been three out, three in. This clearly undermines the House’s objective of trying to reduce its size in reasonable time. There is a mechanism for dealing with this in a painless way—a Private Member’s Bill whose sponsor modesty prevents me mentioning. Anyone who was present on Friday will know that that Bill passed Committee by acclamation, with overwhelming support. For the good sense of the House, the sooner this Bill is on the statute book, the better.

I am most interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, says. I have much in common with him on many issues, but not on this. I think the whole House could agree that the by-election system is rather quirky and unusual, but it was put in place by a fellow called Tony Blair, whom I think the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, knew pretty well. Rather than arguing the toss on this, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I am sure he will be a great addition to the House.

My Lords, I am undoubtedly in favour of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and I am sure he will make a tremendous contribution to this House. But, as we said on Friday—and I am very pleased that Committee has been completed—the whole argument about this is so arcane that, if people really knew what we were saying and doing, they would think we had lost our marbles.