Abolish the House of Lords? It’s not a new idea – ask Sir Wilfrid Lawson
Last updated at 20:28, Thursday, 19 July 2012
Here we go again!
Unless you’ve been sunning yourself on some remote golden beach, away from British newspapers, radio and TV, you’ll be only too aware that our politicos have been booting the grand old political football of “reform the House of Lords” about.
They do so from time to time.
Now I’m a self-confessed big, bad cynic.
I always suspect that when the going gets tough, when they want to bury bad news, they can fall back on a few diversionary issues which are guaranteed to grab the public’s attention.
And what better issue to do so than trying to reform their lordships?
The media love it and, reportedly, so do the great British public.
After all, don’t all Brits just love their lords and ladies – and their House of Lords?
It’s British tradition, innit?
I’m afraid I line up with that section of the community which couldn’t care less about the reform of the Lords.
But wouldn’t political life be so much easier – and economical – if it was done away with?
Just think of the money that could be saved!
And think of all those other needful things it could be spent on.
This is not a new idea!
It’s an idea which quite a few Victorian MPs – of the more radical kind – would have supported.
One of these was our own veteran MP, Sir Wilfrid Lawson.
I’ve mentioned Sir Wilfrid quite a few times in this column over the years.
And if I ever had to play that old party game in which you name five people, alive or dead, you’d invite to a dinner party – he would most certainly be on my list.
He was a most unlikely radical, born in September 1829 at Brayton – the eldest son of Sir Wilfrid Lawson, the first baronet.
His uncle was Sir James Graham, first baronet of Netherby.
He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
And mixing as he did in his earlier years with many friends and family who were “political” it was perhaps inevitable that he would end up in the House of Commons.
He entered the Commons in 1859 as MP for Carlisle.
Once in the house, he most certainly didn’t latch on to any of the public school old boy cliques. He was most certainly no Old Etonian.
He didn’t attend any school, receiving his education at home from a private tutor – along with his three brothers and three sisters.
He had, by the standards of the day, a progressive education.
He had decided, very early in his political career, that the House of Lords was an institution which needed to be done away with.
He saw it as an obstacle to progress – as an anachronism. Many of his contemporary Liberals, who also disliked the Lords, were more inclined to “reform” it – a bit like today’s politicians are doing.
But Sir Wilfrid would have none of that.
In 1872, addressing a political meeting in Carlisle, he told his supporters that he was “no House of Lords reformer”.
He was an “anti-House of Lords reformer” and that he “wanted to do away with them altogether.”
He wasn’t in favour of reform. He disagreed with the principle of having any second house tasked with revising or amending the work of the House of Commons.
He saw it as being undemocratic.
At an anti-Lords conference held in London in 1894, he went on record as describing the House of Lords as a “mediaeval monstrosity.”
His colleague, Mr Labouchere, also proposed that the House of Lords was “useless, dangerous and ought to be abolished.”
But this proposal was not supported by the rest of the delegates at the meeting.
They were in favour, according to a report in the New York Times, of the Lords having only a “suspensive veto.”
The paper’s reporter thought that this was “sure to become law before many years.”
This was one of many lost causes Sir Wilfrid supported.
He was never one to play to the audience just to find favour with the majority.
He is now remembered mostly for his temperance work.
Sir Wilfrid was opposed to the many vested interests of the drinks trade.
Of course, it’s quite possible that Sir Wilfrid devoted too much time to his temperance campaigning and that it adversely affected other aspects of his political career.
But that, of course, is pure hindsight.
First published at 19:20, Thursday, 19 July 2012
Published by http://www.timesandstar.co.uk