Lords reform delayed by three and a half centuries

By Symon Hill
April 3, 2010

In the current debates over House of Lords reform, there is one factor that the media seem to have overlooked. It's a factor that makes this year a particular suitable one for finally replacing the Lords with a democratic second chamber.

I've seen both the Guardian and the Sunday Telegraph state that the House of Lords has existed “since the fourteenth century”. This isn't really true. The House of Lords was abolished in 1649, as a result of the overthrow of Charles I and the beginning of a republic. The Lords were restored in 1660, when government leaders became scared of radicalism and invited the former king's son to take the throne as Charles II.

So this year, it is exactly 350 years since the House of Lords was restored by a reactionary government, despite its former abolition.

Those who say that attempts to reform the Lords have been frustrated since 1997 seem to forget that the attempts have been going on much longer than that. The radicalism and republicanism of the mid-seventeenth century are often conveniently overlooked by those who tell us to take pride in Britain's history. Amongst other things, we can take pride in the fact that we live in one of the first countries in Europe to abolish its monarchy.

When replacing the House of Lords with a representative second chamber, it is of course important that we get it right. We want arrangements that are as democratic and as effective as possible.

But we should not be fooled by those who tell us that us that it is too soon to replace the Lords or that the whole process must be taken very slowly and not be “hasty”. I don't know how we could be less hasty. We've been waiting for 350 years.

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