Alex Massie

Legislation is the Real Enemy of the People

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There's no stopping this blogging thing. The latest citadel to fall is, of all places, the dear old House of Lords. Hence Lords of the Blog which officially launched today. With any luck it will capture something of the upper House's eccentricity...

Lord Lipsey makes half a fair point here, for instance:

I am in favour of very radical reform of the Lords, its arcane and inefficient procedures, a statutory appointments commission, the end of hereditaries, the eviction of criminals and tax evaders and much more taking of evidence and less speechifying. The only reform to which I am wholly opposed is election.

Foreigners may find it charmingly British that criminals and tax-evaders are permitted to sit in parliament, but the noble Lord has half a point when he opposes having elections to the House of Lords. God knows we don't need another set of elections, nor do we need to create another company of "professional" politicians. The strength of the House of Lords lay in its very amateurishness (one reason why, illogical though their presence may have been, the heredetaries are a great loss). This permitted the noble Lords, batty and loopy and half-asleep though many of them may have been, to view the affairs of state with a keener judgement and saner sense of proportion than is customary in the House of Commons.

Even so, Lord Lipsey is seriously mistaken if he thinks ending "arcane and inefficient procedures" would be a useful or welcome development. On the contrary, there are excellent grounds for thinking that parliament is insufficiently arcane. Some additional inefficiency would improve Westminster (or Holyrood for that matter). Streamlining procedures can only encourage Ministers to push through yet more pieces of legislation when, in a saner world, we'd be eliminating laws not passing new ones. Ideally, I sometimes think, it should be almost impossible to pass any legislation at all...

No, the more arcane, bewilderingly complex, baffling and inefficient parliament is, the less harm its residents are likely to do to the rest of us. Arcane rules and procedures are the punters' friend. No wonder the sods keep wanting to "modernise" the place - a prospect that all men of even temper and stout good sense should resist to the last, crowded ditch...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articlePoliticswestminster