10th July 2021
Sixty years ago, a Labour politician disclaimed a peerage – a viscountcy, no less – so as to sit in the house of commons.
That politician, of course, was Tony Benn who had become Viscount Stansgate on the death of his father.
He won the relevant by-election.
And now, in the early 2020s, we have this by-election:
Viscount Stansgate has been declared elected unopposed in the House of Lords by-election for a Labour hereditary peer that was due to take place next week: https://t.co/DBUSjIzQoX
— Mr Memory (@AmIRightSir) July 10, 2021
The viscountcy survived and was claimed by Benn’s son, who is now a legislator in our parliament.
Thus is because there are still hereditary peers in the House of Lords – and, somewhat bizarrely, they are elected by other hereditary peers according to party quotas.
They are the only members of that chamber who are there by winning an election – or by not being opposed in one.
There are many good reasons to have the house of lords as a check and a balance on the house of commons.
And the quality of the debates and of the amendments makes it difficult for anyone to make a practical (rather than principled) objection.
But that members of the house of lords – capable of initiating and amending legislation – can be there by the hereditary route is not capable of any sensible principled or practical defence.
It is preposterous.
It is 2021 – and even in 1911 it was intended that the hereditary presence in the upper chamber was to be temporary, as you can read in this preamble:
Like the presence of Anglican bishops also in that chamber – even though they are from the ‘established’ church of only one of the four home nations – the presence of hereditary peers is something which can and should be ended easily and, well, immediately.
That is, if anyone in front-line politics was genuinely interested in constitutional reform.
For in sixty years, with governments of all parties, all we have managed is to go from one Labour politician becoming a member of parliament by not being a viscount to another one, in effect, becoming a parliamentarian just because he is one.
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