Fury as Tory aristocrats ‘thwart’ bid to boot aristocrats out of House of Lords

Two Tory aristocrats have been accused of “bringing Parliament into disrepute” over claims they are sabotaging attempts to reform the House of Lords.

Campaigners have accused Lord Trefgarne and the Earl of Caithness – both hereditary peers – of an “outrageous” and “adolescent” bid to stop hereditary peers being axed.

A Bill by Labour ’s Lord Grocott will today bid to abolish bizarre by-elections that let hereditary peers join the Lords on the votes of a handful of fellow toffs.

But the backbencher’s law will be shelved if a three-and-a-half-hour debate on it does not finish by around 1.30pm.

And the two hereditary peers have laid more than 50 amendments between them in what campaigners claim is a blatant attempt to run the Bill out of time.

Lord Grocott said: “These peers should stop bringing the house into disrepute by trying to preserve an indefensible system of ludicrous by-elections, and by abusing procedure to thwart the wishes of the house.

“These two people who obviously have a vested interest are setting about to wreck a bill.”

He accused the two peers of a similar action in 2016 and said: “Most of the amendments are ridiculous wrecking amendments.

“One amendment says that before my bill could come into effect it would have to be approved in a ballot of all hereditary peers – not just in this house, but all hereditary peers wherever they are in the world. How would you do that or find them?”

The Earl of Caithness, who has his name on 16 amendments to the Bill, is the 20th person to have his title since it was created in 1455.

This December the former minister under Margaret Thatcher and John Major will have sat in the House of Lords for 50 years.

There he can claim £305 a day for each day he turns up, despite never being elected to the second chamber by the public.

Lord Trefgarne, 77, who has his name on 49 amendments to the Bill, has been in the Lords for 57 years thanks to his dad George being handed a peerage in 1947.

Hereditary peers were mostly cast out of the Lords in 1999 under reforms by Tony Blair , but 92 remained as a compromise.

Since then, whenever one of the 92 dies or retires they have been replaced using a hereditary peer by-election.

Only hereditary peers can stand, and only peers in the Lords can vote – sometimes only a fraction of them. In one 2016 by-election only three peers could vote.

The next by-election will be held on March 26, with just 31 hereditary peers eligible to vote for 14 candidates.

Lord Grocott’s Bill would phase out hereditary peers by scrapping these by-elections, and instead not replacing the current office-holders when they die, resign or are expelled.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “It is simply outrageous that a couple of hereditary peers can block the will of the public and Parliament as a whole.

“Lord Trefgarne and the Earl of Caithness should withdraw their wrecking amendments and allow this bill to be put to a vote.

“It is an absurdity that while MPs debate what ‘taking back control’ really means, Lords continue to pick hereditary aristocrats to vote on our laws for life.

“These so-called by-elections would be amusing if the stakes weren’t so high.

“These individuals can hold a huge sway over legislation and the issues that affect our country.

“It is high time we abolished this absurd practice and gave the public a say over who sits in our second chamber.”

Lord Trefgarne and the Earl of Caithness could not be reached for comment through the House of Lords answering service last night.

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