I felt shame at the way we abolished the Lordsby Anthony Barnett / January 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
On 11th november some centuries of tradition came to an end. How many centuries-ah how many! Estimates vary. The Guardian said 600 years; a government minister 200 years. It was 800 years for those who trace the power of the Lords to the year when his barons forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. It was 300, according to constitutional experts who saw the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 as the beginning of the compromise between inherited and secular power which is now drawing to a close. More realistically, it was just 88 years since the Parliament Act of 1911 gave the elected Commons decisive supremacy and permitted the Lords the right only to delay legislation. In its preamble, that act described itself as a temporary measure. It foresaw “a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of a hereditary basis.” Since then the hereditary Lords have clung on with varying degrees of honour and dishonour, but without legitimacy.
Now they have gone. But it has not been done in a decent and honourable way. When an old member of the family dies it is important to give them a good funeral. This is not simply a matter of what they may or may not deserve. The living need to bury the dead. To put them behind us demands saluting the life they led. It is even more important to mark the departure of an old predecessor with all due ceremony if you have committed euthanasia. You must share, explain and take responsibility for this act, or the victim will haunt you thereafter.
The spirit of the Lords lingers on. Their worst aspects-unfairness, privilege, centralisation, lack of democracy -continue still, despite the fact that no one any longer will have the right by birth to sit in the legislature and use its subsidised facilities. While the best aspects of the hereditaries-their eccentricity, independence, rootedness and authority-have been diminished by the manner of their dismissal. Britain remains a long way from enjoying a second chamber based on the popular consent foreseen in 1911. Instead we have another variation on the theme of a temporary House of Lords. This time it is composed, in the main, of so-called “life peers.” Mostly, these were pensioned-off politicians given the title of Lord for the rest of their lifetime. The first time I went to have tea there, ten years ago, I thought…