A View From Middle England - Conservative with a slight libertarian touch - For Christian charity and traditional belief - Free Enterprise NOT Covert Corporatism

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Life peers no longer to get life!

Keen to keeping the meddling and the messing about with the constitution ticking away, the government has decided to include a measure in a Constitutional Reform Bill for the right of life peers to resign from the House of Lords - something hereditary peers have been able to do since 1963. This is due to go before Parliament on Monday.

The bill will also bring an end to the hereditary principle. The fourteenth Mr.Brown is keen to kick out the last remaining earls, countesses and other "heriditaries" as New Labour mockingly calls them.

It's all a mean-spirited device. I would far rather have a few lords left, like the Earl of Onslow and the Countess of Mar giving sage advice and providing pertinent points about badly-drafted bills than an elected bunch of self-serving apparatchiks. Mandelson and Brown talk about democracy but they have been the worst abusers of democracy this country has ever seen or had the misfortune to endure.

I cannot for the life of me see which life peer would want to resign from the House of Lords in order to fight an election to be able to sit in the House of Commons. The fourteenth Earl of Home resigned his title in order to become prime minister in 1963 but that was because he had no choice in holding his title. Viscount Thurso has not ceased to hold his hereditary title but he currently sits as a Liberal Democrat MP (John Thurso) because he is not one of the remaining 92 heriditary peers in the House of Lords. Life peers had a choice whether to receive the title or not.

Which life peer right now wants to scarper and stand in the general election next year? Finding one would be as difficult as searching for a needle in a haystack. The miscievous Lord Mandelson just stoked an imaginary bonfire with his usual wit. Asked last month by the Financial Times whether he might renounce his peerage and stand again as an MP, Lord Mandelson said, "It's not legally possible to do that. I am trapped. I believe it is for life." The peer, who insisted he was "teasing", added, "Of course, you could always change the law."

Well don't change the law. Leave things well alone and bother yourself with getting the helicopters to Afghanistan. Nobody is going to die because the 2nd Baron Strathclyde is the Conservative leader in the Lords but they will die in Afghanistan if the military advice is ignored for squalid political cheeseparing!


There is no possibility of arguing that the present composition of the House of Lords can be justified either by logic or by reference to any preconceived constitutional theory. It is the result of a long, even a tortuous, process of historical evolution. Its authority rests upon the acceptance of the result, handed down to our time, of that historical process. It is the authority of acceptance, the authority of what Burke called "prescription".

The House of Lords shares that characteristic with many of our most cherished and important institutions. Trial by jury, for example, is not to be justified in logic; it does not rest upon statute; it came to us by a strange historical evolution out of the sworn witnesses of a neighbourhood. Neither logic nor statute nor theory is a basis of that other hereditary institution by which it comes about that a young woman holds sway over countless millions. The authority of this House itself does not, in the last resort, rest upon any logic in the principles upon which we are formed or elected: it rests upon the acceptance by the nation of an institution the history of which cannot be divorced or torn out of the context of the history of the nation itself.

I am far from saying that one should never alter or interfere with an institution of this kind. There are many instances in which such interference has taken place. There are many cases where a change has, in fact, resulted in preserving, and even enhancing, the institution in question. If one looked for it, one could find such an example in the history of the House of Lords itself, where, probably, the device of transferring from other honours to barony itself the notion of conferring a dignity by patent—the creation, in fact, of barons of patent—has been the means of preserving the House of Lords as we have had it through the last four or five centuries.

But, although it is not possible to say that one should never reform, alter, or interfere with prescriptive institutions, I do say that, such is their nature and the nature of the authority they enjoy, we should not undertake that interference except of necessity, for the avoidance of an evil which is clear and imminent, and in such a way that the result will evidently be to remove the evil.

It is because I believe that the proposal is a serious interference with a prescriptive institution and that the reasons which have been given for that interference are not such as to justify it—not such as to show that only by this change can evident and imminent difficulties be avoided—that I find myself obliged to condemn it.

We are faced with a proposal which represents a substantial and basic alteration in the character of a prescriptive institution; and we have to ask ourselves whether the reasons which are alleged to be compelling—and compelling they must be for this change—are adequate. The Government wish to strengthen Socialist representation in the House of Lords. Is it essential for that purpose that the present hereditary basis of that House should—to use Lord Home's word—be "modified"? When the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, was Prime Minister, he succeeded in prevailing, according to, Dod, upon no fewer than 86 persons to accept hereditary dignities. On the calculations of the Lord Chancellor given to another place, 54 of those were political creations. So the Labour Party found the necessity of conferring a hereditary peerage no insuperable obstacle to what it regarded as the necessary manning-up, in quantity and quality, of the then Government Bench in the House of Lords. It is really very difficult one to decide that this constitutional change is indispensably necessary when we know that not even preliminary inquiries as to the attainability of the object under the present system had been made.

I now come to the alleged indispensable necessity for this constitutional change, namely, that on the present basis the House of Lords cannot be made, or be kept, representative of all aspects of the national life. I invoke to the immense variety, the almost inexhaustible variety, of experience of every kind which is represented in the House of Lords as it exists at the moment. I invite anyone to take a list of the creations since the end of the war and look down it to see the variety, the width and the scope of the interests which those creations cover—science and the arts, the professions, medicine, the law, agriculture, the Press, the trade unions, the Services, both fighting and civil, industry, trade and commerce in every branch. Is it possible, in view of that recent experience before our eyes, to conclude that only if we abandon the present basis of membership of another place can we preserve there a wide and representative selection and presentation of every aspect of the national life?

To conclude, we are being asked to make a serious constitutional change and to make it without evidence of grave necessity. It is admitted that this is a substantial change. The case to show that it is necessary is not proven.

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