Should we still have hereditary peers? Tory Lords stand in the way of reform

Lord Somerleyton outside Somerleyton Hall. Picture: Nick Butcher

Lord Somerleyton outside Somerleyton Hall. Picture: Nick Butcher

Proposals to reform the House of Lords by scrapping the controversial hereditary peer by-election system have faltered.

The Bill, put forward by Labour's Lord Grocott, would remove the election process used to fill vacancies caused by the death, resignation or expulsion of the hereditary peers.

Calls for change have intensified following a recent Liberal Democrat hereditary peer by-election which cost taxpayers £300 and involved just three voters.

The move would block a route to the House of Lords for Hugh Somerleyton - who stood in the Liberal Democrat by-election contest earlier this year.

His father was one of the 600 peers excluded from the upper chamber in 1999 after former prime minister Tony Blair's reforms, entitling him to stand when a space becomes vacant.


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His ancestor Sir Francis Crossley, who bought Somerleyton Hall, near Lowestoft with the proceeds of his successful carpet manufacturing business in 1861, was the Liberal MP for Halifax.

His only son, the current Lord Somerleyton's great-grandfather, Savile Crossley - the first Baron Somerleyton - was a former Liberal Unionist MP for both Halifax and then Lowestoft. He was paymaster general and also a privy councillor and became a hereditary peer in 1916. The current Lord Somerleyton's father inherited the title, but lost his seat in the 1999 House of Lords reform.

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Conservative peers Lord Trefgarne and the Earl of Caithness jointly put their names to more than 40 amendments, with up to 60 listed for potential debate as the chamber further assessed the House of Lords Act 1999 (Amendment) Bill.

Lord Trefgarne was accused of being involved in a 'clear filibuster' and therefore wasting time to prevent the Bill from progressing.

He was warned by other peers that standing in the way of reform and keeping the current system risked making the upper chamber a 'laughing stock'.

The Conservative said he was 'wholly opposed' to the proposals because they represented 'piecemeal reform to which we profoundly disagree'.

Labour forced a vote on Lord Trefgarne's first amendment, rejecting it by 105 votes to 12 - majority 93 - in a sign of the strength of support behind ensuring Lord Grocott's Bill was not killed off. The Opposition also helped reject the second amendment by 95 votes to 26, majority 69.

Faced with the prospect of tens of votes, appeals were made to Lord Trefgarne to withdraw his remaining amendments.

He sought assurances that the Bill had no chance of becoming law, with the Government reiterating it did not support it.

With a protracted debate looming, Government chief whip Lord Taylor of Holbeach intervened to adjourn the Bill's committee stage for the day.

Speaking outside the chamber, a Labour Lords spokesman said the Bill is 'still alive' with talks expected on how to resolve the situation.

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