LETTER: Power to the House of Lords: Enoch's dilemma

From Mr Philip D. Belben

Sir: Your leading article "Ermine in the gloaming" (10 May) jumps upon an old and very rickety bandwagon with the statement: "The anachronism of hereditary membership should be abolished." In reply, I would maintain that the hereditary peerage is the most democratic institution in Parliament today.

Democracy is not about voting; it has even less to do with elections. Democracy is the situation in which the wishes of the people are taken into full account in the process of decision-making through which the country is governed.

A hundred years ago, and even 50 years ago, there was ample justification for regarding the hereditary peerage as both undemocratic and anachronistic. The hereditary peers were truly aristocrats: the members of the ruling families to whom fell the privilege of actually ruling. This state of affairs, like so many aspects of British culture of the 19th and early 20th centuries, was destroyed in the Second World War.

The result is the two modern Houses: The Commons, where almost every member is a politician - someone who, in standing for election, immediately shows himself or herself to be of a quite different mentality from the man or woman in the street - is therefore not truly representative of the people. And the Lords, where there are, admittedly, politicians, and bishops, and lawyers, and chevaliers d'industrie, and even aristocrats; but where perhaps half the seats are occupied by hereditary peers who belong to the true democratic assembly of Great Britain: ordinary people who by an accident of ancestry happen to have inherited a seat in Parliament.

Yes, there should be reform. Perhaps the rules of inheritance of such title should be changed. But it must not be ignored that it is among the hereditary peers that the true voice of the British people is heard in Parliament. And long may it continue.

Yours faithfully,


Coalville, Leicestershire

10 May