'The most unsnobbish Club'

Lord Norton

44087In my previous post, I referred to the late Lord Longford’s A History of the House of Lords.  In it, he refers to the post-war House and the work of the then Marquess of Salisbury, a Conservative Cabinet minister in the 1950s and an advocate of reform of the House; his pressure was probably responsible for the 1958 Life Peerages Act.  Longford recounts the occasion when a respected Labour peer criticised Salisbury in his absence, appearing to cast aspersions on his motives in relation to Rhodesia, leading to some Tory peers walking out.  Longford writes:

‘Salisbury himself met the Labour peer in question and hastened to assure him that he was quite right to express his opinion if that was the way he felt.  “This is a House of Parliament, not a Club”.  But he, in fact, more than anyone, has made sure that it has been a House of Parliament and a Club during all those years.  I would suggest deliberately that it is the most unsnobbish Club in the world.’

While the House has some of the characteristics of a club (private dining rooms, members’ library and the like) this, to my mind, is less significant a feature than the unsnobbishness referred to by Longford.  The background of members is extremely diverse.  Some were born in poverty (read Lord Donoughue’s The Heat of the Kitchen for a notable example) while others were born into wealth.  In previous centuries, rank did matter (peers used to sit according to their rank – Dukes etc), but it no longer does.  Peers are peers – that is, they are equals.  Though one occasionally gets a member who adopts a ‘don’t you know who I am?’ approach, such members are notable for their rarity.    The fact that we have limited support resources means that we have to look after ourselves.   We do our own research, have to do our own photocopying, and generally just get on with the tasks we believe are necessary to make the House work.  It is fairly unobtrusive work – rarely high profile politically – but necessary and rewarding.

3 comments for “'The most unsnobbish Club'

  1. howridiculous
    24/12/2008 at 8:22 am

    Dear Lord Norton,

    Reading this I was reminded of an anecdote about Queen Mary.

    Apparently, she referred to members of The Royal Family as ‘dear (Christian name)’ and referred to people who were not members of The Royal Family as ‘poor dear (Christian name).


  2. ladytizzy
    24/12/2008 at 6:02 pm

    Peers might be equal but they still like to show off their ‘stripes’ on their parliamentary robes. On that note, did I hear correctly that coronation robes have been abandoned? If so, who decided, when, and why?

    I’m disturbed that you have to do your own photocopying – it’s disgraceful. Can you not claim such expenses against your tax allowance, at the very least? This harks back to an old question here between us: http://lordsoftheblog.wordpress.com/2008/05/07/committee-day/#comment

    Following on from the above, I was trying to find the story of the husband and wife who created a new political party and immediately received public funding. This led me to The Registration of Political Parties Act 1998 – is this still in force, extant? I will if you will. Just an idea.

  3. lordnorton
    24/12/2008 at 7:42 pm

    howridiculous: As you may recall from an earlier post, Lord Faringdon also added to the list of how to address others!

    ladytizzy: peers’ robes do indeed still reflect rank, but bear in mind that the House is now comprised overwhelmingly of barons. (All life peers, under the terms of the 1958 Life Peerages Act, are life barons.) There are thus relatively few peers entitled to wear robes with more than a single stripe. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the ‘average’ hereditary peer sitting in the House of Commons (that is, a Marquess and two Viscounts) is grander than the average peer sitting in the Lords. I suspect you are right about coronation robes, but I trust it will be many years before I find out definitively. On photocopying, not only do we do our own, but you should see the state of some of the photocopiers. (It’s a particular bugbear of mine and I shall be pursuing the matter again with the authorities in the New Year.) Plus the fact there are not that many of them. I hadn’t given a thought to trying to claim against tax. I doubt if we could, since our allowances are not taxable and we are not supplying anything other than our own labour. I don’t mind doing it as long as the machines are efficient! On the funding of political parties, I am not sure whether this a case of registering a party and then fighting an election. One is entitled to a free mailing at an election, though one has to raise the deposit. Although we debate whether there should be state funding of political parties, there is already considerable public funding, indirectly or otherwise, for political parties, especially those represented in the House of Commons and, for that matter, the Lords – Short money in the case of the former and Cranborne money in the case of the latter. It is known as Short money after Edward Short, Leader of the House of Commons at the time it was introduced, and not because of the amount involved!

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