Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The House of Lords

Ministry of Truth points out some of the silly things that can happen with our unwritten constitution. Someone says something in the House of Lords. Some others think it's a good idea. Next thing you know you have a new constitutional convention.

[...]the Salisbury convention, which Blair and others in government took to citing so vociferously over the last year on every occasion that their legislation hit choppy waters in the House of Lords, rest on nothing more substantial than a single statement in Lord Salisbury’s response, as Conservative leader in the House of Lords, to the King’s Speech in 1945…
…it would be constitutionally wrong when the country has expressed its view, for this House to oppose proposals which have been definitely put before the electorate.

That, believe it or not, is the Salisbury convention in its entirety.

The Salisbury convention gives every impression of an idea that was made up without any thought. The whole point of an upper chamber is to place some sort of limits on the lower chamber - to stop populist demagogues from committing wholesale vandalism on the country. Atlee may have won a landslide in 1945 but let's face it, in the modern world in which fully 22%(?) of the electorate voted Labour, and only a tiny minority of obsessives read the manifesto, an argument that the Commons represents the will of the people is completely unsupportable. Even if Labour had 90% of the electorate behind them, that would still not absolve the Lords of their duty to stand up for the liberties of the people.

The Lords need to throw the Salisbury convention out and start doing their jobs.