Letter: Hereditary role

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The Independent Culture
Hereditary role

Sir: As a hereditary peer who has made only a minimal contribution to the business of the House of Lords, I would nevertheless like to make a few observations about the forthcoming Bill to abolish the right of hereditary peers to sit in the Lords and the proposed subsequent Bill to reform the House.

These two issues should be addressed concurrently in one Bill, not two. No reform should occur until or unless it can be established that a more efficient and at least equally cost-effective second chamber would result.

The Lords was crucially reformed by the introduction of appointed life peers in 1958. As the life peers have played an increasingly active and dominant part in the proceedings of the House, so the role of the hereditary peers has diminished, in spite of many distinguished front-bench contributions from them. This gradual metamorphosis raises the question as to whether radical reform is really necessary.

If one of the aims of reform is to create a more democratic House, then on this issue alone the appointed peers have no greater legitimacy to sit than the hereditary peers.

Hereditary peers provide an independent, free-thinking and unprejudiced element. This particularly applies to the substantial number of crossbench peers. In the final analysis all the hereditary peers owe allegiance to no party. The decision by each hereditary peer to take one or other of the party whips is a matter entirely for his or her own conscience. This creates unpredictability in the lobbies and an independence which has served the House of Lords and the country well. This independent spirit, once removed, can never be recreated. This potential loss should not be underestimated.

The House of Lords, for all its anachronisms, may or may not need radically reforming. That the hereditary peerage no longer has a role to play has yet to be demonstrated.

Viscount HEAD