Bruce Anderson: The best House of Lords was the one we had

Tories should be wary of Blair's consultation offers, especially on the constitution

Share
Related Topics

Yet he now wants to have another go at the House of Lords, and would like help. His motives are self-evident. He has no idea what to do about the Lords - he never did - and he wishes to spread the blame. If the Tories agree to be consulted, the PM reckons that they would be estopped from inflicting the castigation and mockery which he deserves. If they are wise, the Tories will refuse his blandishments and call the police.

Though complex, the future of the House of Lords is a second-order problem. The primary weakness is in the House of Commons. The Commons has become demoralised, ineffective and disrespected, which helps to explain voter apathy. It appears to have become a mere legislative sausage factory, although given the abominable quality of the legislative sausage, that metaphor is unfair to real sausage makers. If their products were as bad, they would have been closed down long ago. The Commons does not even give proper scrutiny to European legislation, most of which is pure e-coli sausage.

The Blair Government has made the sausage factory even less hygenic because most of its legislation is so ill thought-out; House of Lords reform was only one example. The short title of the average Blair Bill ought to read: "A Bill to ensure good headlines tomorrow, and sod the longer term." But Mr Blair is not wholly to blame. For the past few decades, the Commons has been a printing works for the ukases of elective dictatorship.

That explains a recent Tory tendency: Aristocrats for Lords reform. In order to create a second chamber which could compensate for the Commons' supineness in challenging the executive, Lords Carrington, Onslow, Salisbury - his grandfather took the same view - and others have come to believe in a radical reform which would more or less eliminate the hereditaries while introducing a large elected element in order to give the new House legitimacy.

Robert Salisbury thinks that the House of Lords should be half nominated and half elected. The nominees would be great persons appointed by independent bodies. The elections should take place at staggered intervals during the Commons mid-term, and those elected should only be allowed one 15-year term. The aim would be to produce peers who could not be bribed by the party managers.

In this, however, his Lordship ignores both the power of party hackery and the reluctance of the British to vote, which helps to explain why other elected bodies are so much worse than the Commons. It would be impossible to ensure that an elected Lords did not become a second-rate Commons: the most humiliating fate for a once-great institution since the decline of the Venetian Republic.

There is an even more basic objection to Lord Salisbury's proposals. He takes it for granted that an elective dictatorship is a bad thing. Is that necessarily so? Without it, we would not have had the benefits of Thatcherism. If Robert Salisbury's House of Lords had been sitting in 1979, its members would have been suffused by the conventional wisdom of earlier generations. Lord Reith said that the best form of government was dictatorship tempered by assassination. If we substitute elective dictatorship tempered by assassination at the ballot box, we have a system with more virtues than flaws.

But if the secondary question of the Lords is of limited relevance to the Commons, how should it be answered? Let us start by describing a desirable House of Lords. It should have ethos and tradition; most of its members should be independent-minded. Its debates should be less partisan and more thoughtful than in the other place, so an infusion of expertise would help. This is an old country and even among city-dwellers, much sentiment is rooted in the land. So the Lords should represent land and history.

It should be able to make life awkward for governments, both in its debates and its division lobbies. It should have power to block minor legislation, such as the absurd fox-hunting Bill. It should not hesitate to obstruct senseless proposals, as over ID cards. But it would be a subordinate House. On major issues, the government should prevail, within a reasonable time. Given that, the Lords does not require democratic legitimacy.

So how do we construct such a House? Fortunately, there is no need to do so. Until the Blair reforms it existed and a very short Bill could restore the status quo ante 1997. That would be a much more sensible use of opposition time than participating in Tony Blair's fraudulent consultation.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones