Reforming the House of Lords

The controversy raised by the Government’s move to curtail the powers of the Lords shows that the issues involved are in danger of not being clearly realised. The Government would like people to think that Conservatives want to maintain the Upper House as a bulwark of reactionary privilege, while Labour wants to reform it. This would be a quite false reading… there is, certainly, something reactionary and out of date about the House of Lords – its constitution and membership.

There is a widespread conviction in the [Conservative] party that changes are overdue. The Government, however, is not proposing to alter the constitution of the Upper House; the plan is merely to restrict its powers. And its powers are not in essence reactionary; they are an essential safeguard of democratic rules and rights. Virtually all countries where democracy is practised have a Second Chamber. Its broad purpose is always to act as a check on the Government… it stands for a recognition that the right of judgment exercised by the people at a General Election is not enough to prevent a Government from acting recklessly, or from abusing its powers. The community needs a watchdog to maintain continuous vigilance – now more than ever before.

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