Welcome, everyone

Baroness Murphy

I’m excited this blog site is finally going live tomorrow and hope very much ‘you lot out there’ will want to talk to us and tell us what’s on your mind. The peers taking part have been more or less talking to each other while getting the hang of it. Some of us, unlike former MPs like Lord Soley who are old hands, have never blogged before so we don’t know yet what really interests the wider blogging public. The idea is to talk about our work in the Lords and how our other responsibilities and experiences are brought into the work of the House. Having just spent a rather glorious few days in Tarragona in Spain as an accompanying wife while my husband was lecturing in quantum chemistry at the University, I wasn’t in parliament for Budget Day and have been trying to catch up ever since.

In Tarragona, an ancient Roman town on the coast south of Barcelona in the region called Catalonia, university lecturers speak either in Catalan, the local language, or in Spanish, but about 1 in 10 lectures are in English so all scientists in the university can converse happily in English. Young scientists presented their work in English to the seminar my husband was conducting–how different from universities in the UK where foreign languages are scarcely spoken at all. English is now becoming the international language of science so it’s easy to understand why Spaniards learn English but the understanding of a different European culture which comes with speaking a different language is so enriching we really lose out by so few of us learning other languages.

In the light of all the discussions about House of Lords reform, I was interested to learn about the Spanish parliamentary system, a constitutional monarchy like ours and a also like ours a bicameral system of parliamentary democracy. Their Upper House, or Senate, comprises 259 regionally elected members plus about 50 appointed members appointed by the regional governments according to the political party proportional representation rules. It’s complicated but has the merit of transparency and in a country where regional differences are profound—think the Basque Country, the Balearic Islands and Catalonia as well as such diverse provinces as Galicia and Andalucia it seems to be generally approved of;a demonstration that an elected upper house can work well and give solid power to the Regions without undermining the supremacy of their ‘House of Commons’ the House of Deputies.

Do let us know what you think…we’re looking forward to it.

10 comments for “Welcome, everyone

  1. 17/03/2008 at 10:23 am

    I’d like to make a few comments on your blog entry, if I may. I’m no expert (on anything) which places me nicely in your major demographic on reading this blog, I suspect.

    Meer motals such as myself, don’t regulary include such words as ‘bicameral’ in general conversation. You might like to help us (we’re generally pretty lazy, see) and include links to definitions of such words in your blogs. Wikipedia is generally a good place to use.

    I do agree with your comments on languages though, and the English reluctance to learn them. Maybe we should learn Spanish in schools instead of French? I would suggest that this is far more practical today.

  2. goap
    17/03/2008 at 4:29 pm

    Perhaps a interesting solution to Lord’s reform would therefore be to create a house made up of 2 members from each county of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    There are 81 counties/unitary areas in England, 22 in Wales, 32 in Scotland, and 11 in Northern Ireland.

    This gives 146 areas. Adding 4 regions for London, gives a total of 150 areas. Each having 2 members would result in 300 member upper house. Which at half the size of the current lower house seems reasonable.

    Each member would be given a 6 year term and elections would be staggered so no region has both it’s members up for election at any one time (similar to the arrangement for the US Senate).

  3. geeklawyer
    17/03/2008 at 4:31 pm

    Welcome to the Blogosphere. History has provided a mixed assessment of political blogs but there is one key pre-requisite to success: integrity and personality. It’s as well I am a lawyer and not a mathematician.

    But the unique thing about blogging is that it is you writing about yourself and not for an audience. It is not about writing what you think others might wish to hear. There are other ways to do that on the web. Like any of the better blogs I would like to hear the minutiae of the Lords, the nitty gritty things, the gossip & the random thoughts. These are all the things of a good blog and an audience develops once there is a discernible personality corporate or individual.

  4. 17/03/2008 at 5:12 pm

    I came over to write a note about the sentence “we don’t know yet what really interests the wider blogging public,” and I find someone has already responded to precisely that.

    Don’t write about what you think we will find interesting. Write about what you find interesting. Your enthusiasm and passion for the subject will carry you forward. You’d be astonished at what takes off and what doesn’t. And don’t censor your language. If bicameral is a word you use, then use it. If people don’t know what that means, they can look it up without your help, or they can choose to maintain their ignorance.

    And, speaking as a modern languages graduate, I think Brits should do much more to get along with our nearest neighbours. We’re amongst the few people on this planet who think it’s normal to only speak one language fluently. My fear is that our school system forces us to specialise much too soon. A person who does well in all their GCSEs is a polymath at 16 and a specialist at 18. If you pass a foreign language at GCSE your options are little more than specialise in it – at the expense of something else – or drop it entirely. Our A level system does not help our young people maintain broad interests, and all too often foreign languages are squeezed out.

  5. Lords - Independent and Impartial ??
    17/03/2008 at 8:52 pm

    I reiterate what Alex said. Don’t worry about ‘sexing up’ for the audience. In a sense the whole point of the House of Lords is that it is rather anachronistic and old-fashioned. But then so are the virtues of courtesy and civility, and old-fashioned concepts of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ by a fair trial by jury, habeas corpus, civil liberty and many other things. Of course, that may expose you to criticism and may indeed uncover things which are anomalies that need to be tidied up.

    But at least that will be an honest exercise and result in constructive feedback which you can use or discard as you see fit. We have been through a ten year period which has seen an awful lot of tinkering with institutions and the constitution – not all bad, of course – but now a period of reflection on whether more change is required, and if so, what, before rushing through a lot more ill-considered modernisation.

  6. 17/03/2008 at 10:12 pm

    Excellent… Reaching out to the people of Britain….

    I haven’t been on a blog where all the authors have a peerage. Be sure, I shall be a regular visitor… if I am allowed to be. . I enjoy visiting blogs on Friday evenings and I shall add your blog to my list of blogs to visit. I have taken the liberty, on the assumption that you wish to get readers from all backgrounds, including the law (although you may well find you have too many turbulent lawyers already in your bicameral isle) of adding your blog to my blogroll.

    It may be that you will not be able to return the compliment … but, although I do not vote Lib-Dem, … like them… I speak my mind without ever having to worry that I will actually have to run anything.

  7. moon23
    18/03/2008 at 10:00 am

    I’ve also been in Spain recently being an accompanying husband as my wife gave a lecture on the history of Darwinism in Bilbao. It was an interesting time to visit the Basque region what with the Spanish elections taking place. Within much of European academia English is the first language. Having never been taught any Spanish within my British education it was a really great chance to experience a new culture. It’s a shame in a way that all the interesting people I meet spoke such good English as I meant I didn’t have to practice. Due to the dominance of the British and American cultural industries, the Spanish get exposed to so much more of the English language. Working in HE myself I get the feeling that there is much more of a economic focus within the education system. The focus on education tends now to be in terms of what job it would get you, rather than the less obvious but in my mind far greater riches that come from cultural enlightenment.

    Congratulations on starting the new blog.

  8. Scunnered, O'Aberdein
    18/03/2008 at 1:40 pm

    I think that this is likely to be quite an interesting blog to follow, particularly as it might better reflect the more professional approach that can be found in the Lords and how this might be favourably compared with some of the rather more amateur enterprise in the Commons. If that can be done with some life and good humour, so much the better

    Looking through what has been posted so far, though, there is one thing that has bothered me a little.

    There are at least two posts on this blog where there is a potential conflict of interest, in that the writer has passed obliquely damaging comment about the actions of those opposed to the furtherance of an enterprise, where he receives paid employment from allied organisations in order to promote that enterprise

    If this were a purely private blog, no issue would arise from this. I would just leave some suitably pointed comment, which might or might not get printed, depending on the level of integrity of the blogger. However those writing here qualify to do so by being members of the House of Lords and, as such, have a slightly different status from the general public.

    The Lords’ Code of Conduct requires their Lordships to

    ‘declare when speaking in the House, or communicating with ministers, government departments or executive agencies, any interest which is a relevant interest in the context of the debate or the matter under discussion. This is necessary in order that their audience may form a balanced judgment of their arguments’,


    ‘The test of relevant interest is therefore not whether a Member’s actions in Parliament will be influenced by the interest, but whether the public might reasonably think that this might be the case’.

    While their Lordships’ blog makes clear that ‘Views expressed by the authors or ‘bloggers’ are their own and do not represent the views of the House of Lords, its authorities or its other Members (including parties and other groups of Members) or the Hansard Society’, would it not seem reasonable that those writing here should at least give their public readership the same opportunity to understand what might be underlying their comments by, where relevant, declaring that they do have some interest and what it is?

    In the particular case in point, there are pointers and clues to be found in the writer’s entry in the Register of Interests, but if the aim is to make this blog more accessible to the general public, it cannot necessarily be assumed that all of those who read it will be as acquainted with the means whereby wheat can be sorted from chaff

    I wouldn’t want to see this type of issue make your blog deteriorate into a sterile formality. In fact, if done properly and with some style, making these personal interests clear could actually help engender a bit more humanity and passion into the proceedings.

    A last point. I do hope that you will have the courage to post all comments, short of anything illegal. Avoiding the difficult issues is the coward’s way out, and if you take that, it will be known very quickly

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