The Lords test
Dear Lord Cranborne,
At the end of the summer recess you and I have rather different prospects to look forward to during the coming parliamentary year. You have to lead the overwhelmingly superior forces of Conservative peers in responsible opposition to a Labour government elected with an equally decisive majority in the Commons. I, as one of a handful of hereditary peers to take the Labour whip, will need to find a way of supporting the government against the huge forces that you can mobilise, at the same time as pursuing a full-time business career.
I therefore look forward to the reform of the House of Lords with double anticipation: to see the long overdue addressing of a democratic nonsense and, more selfishly, in the hope that managing my own life will thereby become simpler.
In the period since the general election you have already given several interviews on Lords reform. These have repeated the point you made before the election-that you were open to the principle of reform, while strongly attached to the virtues of a hereditary element (“an important ingredient in our success,” you said in the House one year ago).
I am not sure I understand how these positions can be reconciled. I should have thought that any reform would entail the elimination of the hereditary element, on the grounds that it is incompatible with simple principles of electoral democracy. I was struck by a letter written in 1910 by Lord Robert Cecil (your grand-uncle, I think) to Walter Long, a fellow MP, in which he wrote: “Personally I do not think that any system short of an admission that no one should sit in the second chamber except on his own merits would be satisfactory.”
Written by a leading “Ditcher” during the bitter campaign to forestall the reform of the Lords introduced by the Parliament Act of 1911, this is a surprising comment. Yet it serves as a good guiding principle for the second chamber’s composition.
As you have pointed out, the reform of the Lords may have implications for its relationship with the Commons-which is precisely why we believe that the ultimate composition should be carefully considered and debated. The first step, of abolishing the right of hereditary peers to take part in the proceedings of the House, is not (as you have suggested) “idiotic,” but a completely justifiable move to…