The work goes on

Lord Norton

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The focus of the activity in both Houses is the chamber.  If the Houses are not sitting, or even if they are but the chambers are not full, there appears to be an assumption that members are not doing much.

When the House is sitting, a great deal of work is taking place away from the chamber.  Both Houses are more specialised than ever before, working through committees.  On Wednesdays, for example, I may not spend much time in the chamber.  That is largely because my day is tied up with committee meetings: the Constitution Committee in the morning and Sub-Committee E of the EU Committee in the afternoon.   In the Commons, there are also now sittings in Westminster Hall.  In the Lords, we now make  extensive use of Grand Committees for the committee stage of Bills. 

If the House is not sitting, there is still work to be done.  People do not stop writing to us; there is plenty to prepare for when the House returns.  The Palace continues to function.   I have been in the Palace today, catching up on paperwork (as well as marking).  There has been the usual judicial sitting, the Law Lords delivering an important judgement concerning the deportation from the UK of the radical cleric Abu Qatada.    The Atrium in Portcullis House has been busy – a natural meeting point and a place for getting a cup of tea.  I had lunch in the Barry Room and was joined by a fellow peer.  The room was quite busy, not least as a consequence of the judicial sitting.  It is only in the evening that the facilities wind down and people have to leave to get something to eat.

7 comments for “The work goes on

  1. Tory Boy
    18/02/2009 at 8:55 pm

    As someone who has shadowed on MP I can verify that although they may not be in the chamber they are either working hard in committee or flat out in the office. However with committees, Westminster Hall, and The Moses Room (House of Lords grand committee) all being televised you can see that work takes place outside the two main chambers. Portcullis house arboretum which a bit like an oasis will be busy as MP’s secretary’s and researchers use this as there eating and meeting venue! How many peers where in your office? I presume most peers are not in at the moment but working from home, can peers table amendments over the internet to bills? The lords speaker has a smaller apartment compared to the speaker in the commons, but does she sleep overnight in the lords? If there is a late night sitting can she or her deputy sleep in her apartment?

  2. David
    19/02/2009 at 3:24 pm

    A question relating to the Law Lords judgements. These are delivered in the chamber, but are not webcast like all the other sittings of the HoL. Surely, as long as they are part of the HoL, their sittings should be broadcasted. Furthermore, can all members of the Lords attend this judgements and are they allowed to speak, because maybe they have something to add in case the are a QC or barrister.

  3. Tory Boy
    19/02/2009 at 5:14 pm

    I feel as if I should say before the noble lord sits down! To add a bit more onto what David has said! When are the law lords going to vacate the palace? When they do will they give their judgements outside the palace in their Supreme Court building which I support. Having the lord lords as part of a legislature seems a bit on and in this respect I support the separation of powers, will they no longer be referred to as law lords. When will their current office and committee space be given back to the workings of the lords?

  4. Croft
    19/02/2009 at 5:39 pm

    I’m sure I’ve seen footage of them giving a judgement before.

    The Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 (as amended) occurred precisely because so few HPs had sufficient experience that the House had to admit specialist peers to fulfil the job.

    I seem to remember, though I’ll doubtless be corrected, that a peer not being a law lord could still in theory sit and give judgement in cases before the house (and did so in the past) were he to have appropriate legal background and be appointed by the house to the case. A few hereditary peers by succession have also been judges. Off the top of my head I can only think of Lord Dunboyne but he held an Irish peerage (so had no ‘right’ to sit) but was an English Circuit judge. Someone may be able to think of someone who would qualify. Didn[It’s an indulgence but I think Dunboyne was correct in his claim for Irish peers to continue in the house but lost in the Cmtee for Privileges – which has in the past produced some truly inexplicable (polite version) decisions which owed more to politics than logic or justice]

  5. Adrian Kidney
    19/02/2009 at 6:38 pm

    I for one am not convinced that a Supreme Court is necessary. The House of Lords’ Appellates Committee was working just swimmingly with absolutely zero complaints about its operation. If you create your constitution by some kind of arbitrary checklist you’re running into trouble.

    It remains to be seen if the change will bring immense problems, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

  6. lordnorton
    19/02/2009 at 7:29 pm

    On the law lords, judicial sittings are now broadcast: indeed, I switched to the live feed on screen to watch them delivering their judgements yesterday (Wednesday).

    The law lords are scheduled to move out in October and move to Middlesex Guildhall. I am with Adrian Kidney on this one: I was opposed to the move, and (along with a former law lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick) argued consistently against it. There already is, in effect, a separation of powers and if the problem lay in the name then there is a simple (and cheap) solution: simply rename the Appellate Committee of the House the Supreme Court. Once the law lords have moved, their offices will be snapped up for occupation by peers. Each law lord has an individual office. Once they move out, there will almost certainly be two or more desks moved into each office.

    Croft: On who can participate in judicial hearings, I thought it may be interesting to do a separate post.

  7. Tory Boy
    20/02/2009 at 11:39 am

    I presume most peers who are not in at the moment are working from home, can peers table amendments over the internet to bills? The lords speaker has a smaller apartment compared to the speaker in the commons, but does she sleep overnight in the lords? If there is a late night sitting can she or her deputy sleep in her apartment?

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