Magazine article The Spectator

If Blair Overrules the Lords on Hunting, He Should Abolish Them Altogether

Magazine article The Spectator

If Blair Overrules the Lords on Hunting, He Should Abolish Them Altogether

Article excerpt

We have been told from time to time that one reason why the Prime Minister has been so slow in 'reforming' the House of Lords is that he feels it is important to have it, but he cannot decide what form it should take. It is important, it is said, for all those reasons why bicameral legislatures are superior to unicameral ones. It avoids elective dictatorship. The executive and its plans are held better to account. There is expertise in the upper house that can be brought to bear on Bills and can revise common sense into them. Above all, a House not run by the whips in the Commons can, by asserting its independence, prevent constitutional abuses. One such example might be the government, using an unwieldy majority in the Commons, passing a law that gives it a temporary electoral fillip while causing permanent damage to the liberties of the people.

One such proposed law, which returned to the Commons this week, is that to ban hunting with dogs. This would appease many of Mr Blair's enemies in his own party - many of them the same people who hated his stance on Iraq, and who felt that he lied about why he was prosecuting the war. At a time when he is still engaged in a blood sport of another kind - seeing off Gordon Brown once and for all - he needs all the friends he can get. It need not concern Mr Blair that many who wish to ban hunting not only have no idea of the realities of the sport and its place in the countryside, but that foxes are far more likely to be shot, poisoned and otherwise trapped to extinction if it is banned. His only concern is that he gives a cheap thrill to a large number of MPs who would otherwise abhor him totally; and that therefore he might stay as Prime Minister for another four or five years.

It is precisely the job of the House of Lords to weigh up considerations such as these. It has every right to defeat Mr Blair's opportunistic and cynical plans. It has the right not just because it ought, in its properly high-minded way, to point out opportunism and cynicism. It can also make the strongest case that the legislation is being pursued on the basis of ignorance and prejudice, and ought to be defeated by any sensible appeal to reason. And, of course, it is an affront to the liberties and livelihoods of many thousands of people who are doing no harm to anyone else. In every respect the passage of this Bill would set a fearsome precedent, not just about what can become a legitimate reason to make a law, but how a law can be enacted despite causing real harm to many people.

That, though, is not the worst of it. By far the most iniquitous aspect of this proposal is that, should the Lords do their duty and defeat it, it will be forced on to the statute book by use of the Parliament Acts. By driving the proverbial coach and horses - not to mention a pack of hounds - through the intentions harboured for the Acts when they were passed, this will effectively end the bicameral system. The Acts were intended to be used to enact legislation that was in an unamended form. The anti-hunting Bill has been amended almost out of recognition. More to the point, they were designed to guard democratic rights against the will of hereditary peers. Six sevenths of the hereditary peerage can no longer sit in the Lords. …

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