The Sketch: Salvoes on reform bring out lordly left's conservative side

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The Independent Online

There may be new readers unfamiliar with the remark of that toriest of Tories, Lord Salisbury, so here it is again: "What do we need change for," he said. "Aren't things bad enough as they are?"

And so to the House of Lords for the opening salvoes in the latest attempt by Nick Clegg to establish a senate. He hasn't a hope. It's wonderful how reform brings out the inner conservative in the lordly left.

On the regal right, the inner conservative meets the outer in the person of Lord Strathclyde. It was his job to propose the Coalition policy which he did with such exquisite politeness that it was impossible to think he believed a word of it. He told us that the Government wasn't going to change the role of the Lords, nor its powers, nor the relations between the Houses. So what on earth were they engaged on this quixotic enterprise for? Britain elects all sorts of representatives, he said mildly. "Why not for this House?"

Baroness d'Souza told him. She said: "I don't believe elections are the only form of democracy." Such a daring thought, you wouldn't hear it in the Commons. She explained. The hundreds of special-interest groups that "minutely inform" debates in the Lords are a "democratic procedure". The House is "less political, less fiercely whipped, less constituency based", she said.

And finally, people "can't say it's undemocratic when it acts so clearly in the public interest".

Betty Boothroyd divested herself of a ripping stream of invective – and peaked with her thought that the Lords may not be "directly accountable. But nor is the monarchy. Nor is the judiciary. Nor the heads of the armed forces. Nor the Prime Minister, and nor is the Deputy Prime Minister!"

Poor old Jonathan Marks got a terrific rollicking. It wasn't just that he took a tutorial tone with them, his arguments were hardly out of his mouth before members filleted them in front of his face. The Parliament Act would preserve the primacy of the Commons, he said. Lord Forsyth doubted that "statutes will determine behaviour". He observed that the Scotland Act precluded a referendum. But now that the SNP had a majority, "political reality wins".

As Lord Marks soldiered on, 94-year-old Lord Campbell of Alloway intervened to put him down with a remark that could hardly be heard, and even if heard couldn't be understood. Yes, there he was, a man so old that he couldn't stand for election, let alone run. But more an adornment to our way of government than any number of paid politicians, party hacks and vote-grubbing sluts (I translate from the original). He is, if nothing else, the very image of diversity.