Leading Article: This historic challenge must not be fudged

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THE PUBLICATION of the Government's White Paper on reform of the House of Lords is as welcome as it is overdue. Thankfully, the time when our laws could be made or altered on the basis of an accident of birth will soon come to an end, with the Government appointing a Royal Commission to suggest precisely who should be legislating on our behalf. This Royal Commission will produce its report by the end of the year - an impressive turn of speed for a vehicle which, Harold Wilson once joked, would take minutes and waste years.

However, it is unlikely that the subsequent stages, namely consideration of the proposals by the Government, and a joint committee of the Lords and Commons on implementation, will be undertaken quite so speedily, and there remains genuine doubt as to whether reform will be anywhere near complete by the time of the next election. Indeed, there is a creeping suspicion that the Government might not wish to see such a distracting issue take centre stage at that time and that it is, in any case, shying from any of the real choices before it.

The judicial role of the Law Lords, the question of disestablishing the Church of England along with the bishops, the place of the new chamber in the broader devolution of the union - all these are missing from the commission's remit.

There is one word above all that cannot be forgotten when it comes to the new upper chamber: democracy. Politicians of all parties may place discreet pressure on the Royal Commission to produce a fudge - a fudge that reduces the power of the new House. The temptation to trim must be resisted by the commission. The new upper house should last for as long as the last one did. To do that it needs democratic legitimacy. It is a historic challenge.