All 1 Lord Rennard contributions to the Extension of Franchise (House of Lords) Bill [HL] 2017-19

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Fri 19th Jul 2019

Extension of Franchise (House of Lords) Bill [HL] Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Cabinet Office

Extension of Franchise (House of Lords) Bill [HL]

Lord Rennard Excerpts
2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Friday 19th July 2019

(4 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Extension of Franchise (House of Lords) Bill [HL] 2017-19 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I very much enjoyed the account from the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, of recent very close election results. His message was that every vote matters—so, I think, it should.

The principle of this Bill has support from these Benches, but from them we note the irony of demanding votes for Peers to elect MPs without demanding votes for people to elect Peers. In 1911, Asquith’s Liberal Government introduced the Parliament Act. The preamble to that legislation said that,

“it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords, as it at present exists, a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis”.

When its drafters included the phrase,

“such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation”,

I doubt that they thought we would still be waiting for that substitution of principles 108 years later.

The case for giving Members of the House of Peers the right to help elect Members of the House of Commons was recognised by the first Earl of Beaconsfield, better known as Benjamin Disraeli, when he was Prime Minister 150 years ago. However, more recent legislation has confirmed the principle that Peers should have votes to choose MPs only when they cease to have votes in this place.

It seems to me, however, that since the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 ended the powers of this House in relation to financial measures, and restricted its power over all other legislation, being able only to delay it, the denial of a vote to its Members in general elections has been anomalous. Of course, the Liberal Democrats sought seven years ago to achieve a full reform of this House—one which would have completed the aspiration of the 1911 legislation after only a century of delay. However, we failed, so we have to accept incremental reforms until we are able to argue again for what we consider to be basic principles of democracy.

This Bill proposes a very minor reform but it is one on which we may well be accused of special pleading by putting our own interests ahead of those of other people who are also presently unable to elect Members of what we sometimes still refer to as the other place. People who are not UK citizens but are presently citizens of the EU have a right to vote here to elect local councillors, if they live here, and they presently have a right to elect MEPs if they can get past the bureaucratic barriers put in their way, but they do not have a right to elect MPs unless they are citizens of the Irish Republic, Cyprus or Malta. I believe that the best way of ensuring that the rights of the 3 million EU citizens living here are protected if we leave the EU is to ensure that they can vote for MPs as easily as they can vote for local councillors.

In my view, there is a need for a fundamental review of the franchise for all our elections, going well beyond the scope of this Bill. A few yards from where we are now, I sometimes take questions from school groups visiting Parliament. I suspect that many of us do that. It is a delight to try to answer very many good questions. They vary a great deal. From the youngest ones, I always get, “Have you ever met the Queen?” There are questions such as, “What is the one thing in the world that you would most like to change?” Recently I was asked, “What is the longest debate in which you have ever taken part?” My description to a group of six year-olds of an all-night sitting a few years ago, with camp beds and sleeping bags laid out in the Library, led to much excitement about the holding of sleep-overs in the House of Lords, as they understood it to be.

From sixth-form groups, I generally experience questioning as intelligent and as informed as from any group of people over 18. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, quoted the eloquent words of a 17 year-old in support of the principles of his Bill. I would say to the sixth-form groups that I frequently address that the Liberal Democrats believe that they should be able to vote to choose MPs at the first general election after their 16th birthday. That is at least as important a principle as it is for Members of this House to be able to vote to elect Members of the other House.

We now have a different starting age for the franchise for local elections and devolved elections in different parts of the UK, so it must be time to consider properly the voting rights for everyone living here, for UK citizens living abroad and for young people from the age of 16—as well as for Peers of the realm.