First published in Canvas: 26th March 2012
On March 19th 1649, the Commons of England declared the House of Lords a ‘useless’ and ‘dangerous’ institution that threatened the freedom of the English people. They summarily abolished it, removing the right of Peers to make use of Parliamentary privileges or to sit, vote, advise, adjudge, or determine any matter of the land.
For those who hope for the abolishment of the upper house, this episode demonstrates how practice can be the best of all instructors. The issue of replacing the Lords was never adequately resolved during the years of English Commonwealth. As a consequence, the instruments of state imploded, and the Lords returned. And more than a century after the Liberal government passed the 1911 Reform Act, which stripped the Lords of their power of veto, they remain. Sumptuously decorated with lavish but stuffy leather interiors and a gothic atmosphere, their chamber remains a refuge for the unelected and unaccountable.