An email arrives from Unlock Democracy reminding me that yesterday marked the 98th anniversary of the Parliament Act 1911.
The Parliament Act, one of the great reforms of Asquith’s Liberal government, was the first serious attempt to restrict the powers of the unelected House of Lords, over the elected Commons. The natural Conservative majority of the peers vetoed Lloyd George’s ‘People’s budget’, prompting the Act. It ensures that while the Lords can delay and revise legislation, and while opposition campaigners cheer when the Lords foil Acts we dislike, ultimately the Commons rules.
But that was only supposed to be the start. The 1911 Act says “whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation.”
How true. We still have an unelected second Chamber. There are only a handful of hereditaries these days; but Labour’s reforms have simply replaced the heirs of yesterday’s placemen with the placemen and women of today. It’s not democracy.
Will we reach the centenary of the Parliament Act and still have an unelected House of Lords? Or will a new generation of Liberal MPs help finish the reforms that Asquith and Lloyd George began?