The debate over House of Lords reform has thrown up an extraordinary number of errors and mis-statements. One of the more serious has been the assertion that Labour should support an elected House because that has always been party policy.
Nothing could be further from the truth. An analysis of Labour manifesto commitments since 1945, carried out by my colleague Lord Grocott and me, show that Labour has supported an elected House in only two elections out of the 18 that have taken place. Those were in 1992 (when Labour lost) and 2010 (lost again). In 1983 party policy was to abolish the Lords (and leave the EU and back unilateral nuclear disarmament – the “longest suicide note in history”).
In eight elections (1945, 1950, 1951, 1955, 1959, February 1974. October 1974, and 1987) there was no reference whatever to the House of Lords in the manifesto. At other elections (1964, 1966, 1970, 1979) Labour spoke of the need to reduce or abolish the Lords’ delaying powers, especially when exercised by hereditary peers. The 1997 manifesto committed the party to removing hereditary peers, those in 2001 and 2005 to ensuring that the powers of hereditary peers were reduced, and that the Commons primacy was maintained.
In 1968 the Labour government led by Harold Wilson attempted its own major reform of the Lords. But that was based on an appointed, not elected, house. The official party publication of the time, Talking Points, said this:
“If the upper House is elected, it would inevitably become a rival to the House of Commons, as it would then also possess a mandate from the people. It would be able to claim greater or even equal powers, and in particular to challenge the present control by the Commons on finance.
“An elected House would violate the central principle of the British parliamentary system by which it has been recognised, at least since the beginning of the nineteenth century, that the government stands or falls in the House of Commons.”