Thursday, January 24, 2008
Harold Wilson's ill-fated attempt at House of Lords reform occupied the House of Commons for 21 sitting days in 1968-69. Twentynine years later, there are still hereditary peers, and incremental reform is stymied by some Tories' insistence that the 'Weatherill amendment' - a deal cobbled together by the foremer Speaker Lord Weatherill, and the then leader of the Tories, Lord Cranborne (now Marquess of Salisbury), to keep 92 elected hereditary peers until a comprehensive overhaul of the composition and functions of the second chamber can be agreed, should be treated as holy writ. David Steel introduced a Bill to give the Appointments Commission statutory authority and a few other modest changes agreed by a cross-party group of peers, but a blizzard of amendments appeared on the Order Paper, making it virtually impossible for the Bill to get through in the time allowed for backbench legislation. So I have re-tabled my own House of Lords (Amendment) Bill, which merely eliminates the topping up of the hereditaries every time one of the dies, through by-elections at which the only candidates eligible are the peers who were excluded by the 1999 cull. A more irrational and absurd way of making appointments would be difficult to imagine, but I know already, from a conversation with a very senior Tory, that they will do their best to scupper even this tiny step forward.