House of Lords

Here’s a decent-sized chunk of Bob Marshall-Andrews’s speech from yesterday’s Commons debate on the future, or otherwise, of the House of Lords:

I am a unicameralist, and would abolish the second Chamber. For the avoidance of doubt, that means removing the bishops and Law Lords from Parliament, and abolishing the office of Lord Chancellor, replacing him with a democratically elected Minister�a Secretary of State for justice, an office that was central to every Labour manifesto for 50 years until 1997, when it mysteriously disappeared. I believe in unicameralism because the House of Lords has been an alibi for our own inadequacies on many occasions. I echo what my good and hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) said the last time we debated this matter. He spoke about an occasion in the last Parliament when he organised a small but perfectly formed rebellion. I cannot remember what it was about, but I was almost certainly a part of it. He recollected that many people said that they would have supported him, save for the fact that they knew that the Lords would ultimately do their duty.

Something similar happened when we were fighting for jury trial, and there was a large rebellion. Forty Labour Members voted against the Government, and 90 abstained. However, several told me that they would certainly have voted against the Government on jury trial if they had not known full well that the House of Lords in due course would throw the measure out, which it did. I have often reflected on what would have happened if we did not have the House of Lords, and Members who would undoubtedly have fought for jury trial had voted against the Government in the Commons, knowing that it was their last chance to do so. We may easily have beaten the Government, with their vast majority. If we had done so, we would have struck enormous simultaneous blows for parliamentary democracy and the oldest of our civil liberties.

That is the answer to people who say that unicameralism is a dangerous road. The plain fact is that it will concentrate the minds of elected Members of Parliament to a far greater extent than any other superficial reform. However, we are not going to get it, so there is only one option�a fully elected House. There is no other option, and what has been offered as a challenge to this House is pure bunkum. The House of Lords will be a creature of statute, and will be bound by a statute of our making. The behaviour of its Members will undoubtedly deteriorate when they are elected, but there is no sign whatsoever that there will be an outbreak of mass delinquency. Let us vote for election, because it is a vote against the greatest curse of the British political system–the continuation of patronage in any form, whether deferred or otherwise.

I bounce back and forth about whether I think unicameralism is a good idea or not, but it certainly doesn’t get as much discussion as it deserves. I still think, in fact, that I solved the problem of the House of Lords last year, and I still haven’t worked out what’s wrong with my proposal. And, incidentally, for the list of the 245 disgraces to humanity — and to democracy, and to their constituents — who voted for a wholly-appointed second chamber, click here and study the “Ayes” at the top of the page, whom Hansard names and shames.

Update: [5.2.2003]: Welcome pseudonymous stranger Mad Max has been fighting insomnia by trying to work out what’s wrong (and scroll down) with the proposal from last November — so many thanks to him, and let’s hope that sleep returns. I don’t think he’s right — because I don’t think the Elspeth Howes of the world are the kind of people to fall in line behind the Daily Mail, but it’s certainly worth a thought or four.

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