Do Lord Sewel’s alleged indiscretions and subsequent resignation (your report, 29 July) in themselves make out a case for House of Lords reform? Certainly the fact that someone with responsibility for standards in the second chamber should leave himself open to such charges does prompt many questions.
But if there is a case for change it needs to be made out on stronger grounds than simply the behaviour of one individual. The case is a strong one but it has proved very difficult to achieve in the post war period.
Labour governments with massive majorities between 1997 and 2010 found it very difficult to overturn centuries of tradition. The hereditary principle was only partly dented; successive governments chose to create peer after peer to the extent that the chamber now appears ridiculously bloated.
Lord Purvis’s proposal for a constitutional convention to examine this, along with other matters, is only likely to create more fruitless delay. Ironically, Lord Sewel’s legacy is still likely to be one that refers to the constitution. He was responsible for the “legislative consent motions” that helped smooth difficulties between the Westminster and Holyrood parliaments.
These allowed the former to pass laws on devolved matters provided it was with the consent of the latter.
It proved effective, for example, in terms of transferring powers to Scottish ministers to manage the rail network north of the Border; on anti-crime measures and the strengthening of regulation of the private security industry; in tackling the activities of those who traffic in human beings, and a host of other matters.
In the early years of devolution between 10 and 12 “Sewel” motions a year went through. The Scottish Parliament could always scrutinise what was proposed but lost no power to legislate later.
It was arguably one of devolution’s success stories and a pity that its pioneer should meet such an unseemly end to his career.
We often hear from progressive types that we should adopt a non-judgmental attitude to drug use and prostitution. Why are such campaigners not now flying to the support of Lord Sewel?