Recess Homework?

Lord Tyler

You can tell when Governments aren’t quite sure of themselves by the way in which they unveil their ideas.  Those which they hope will be popular are trailed on the Today programme, and then big statements are made in the Commons, and further spinning goes on with journalists in the lobby afterwards.  What tho’ if you’ve promised legislation on something but then been unable to agree internally what it should do?

In walks the Written Ministerial Statement.  This Government is a dab hand at them, producing 30 or more in the last couple of days of any given session, just before the House rises for a Recess.  They are produced without fanfare, and are a way of dashing out bad or inadequate decisions without the risk of serious scrutiny, by Peers or MPs.

So this was the fate of the “Constitutional Renewal Bill” Gordon Brown has repeatedly promised.  You may remember that my impatience with Ministers over this led me to draft my own Bill, which would have made radical changes to our political system, ending the fundamentally the discredited double-agent role of the Attorney General, giving legal protection to the independence of the civil service, and allowing for a Citizen’s Assembly and referendum on the electoral system.   Much of  the detail was a faithful implementation of the PM’s earlier promises.

My move seems to have foxed Ministers somewhat, since they were faced with the none-too-presentable prospect of introducing “Constitutional Renewal Bill No 2”, so they have recast their final effort as the “Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill”.  Sounds good but appearances deceive.  It seems the endless Cabinet wranglings over this legislation have undermined any real zeal (if indeed it ever existed) on Brown’s part to enact substantial reform.  In fact, what we have is a ragbag of largely unsatisfactory changes, which will do little or nothing either to democratise Britain’s constitutional arrangements or to reinvigorate public trust.

As it is, our Recess homework seems to be to pick through this messy muddle, and prepare for a battle to get some real reform back in the Bill by this Autumn.

9 comments for “Recess Homework?

  1. Croft
    03/08/2009 at 5:11 pm

    Well, as we are now well inside the 1 year of the parliament act, you can of course vote it down if you believe it is so bad. Past history suggests that for all the grumbling peers will try to amend it but will allow the bill through eventually. Strange really that given the relatively powerful position the Lords is now in (semi-reformed house + weak and unpopular government) it seems less willing to actually kill a bill than in the past.

    While I don’t have very much time for the government’s argument on this bill neither do have any more for passing constitutional reform on the very end of a parliament when it is likely that many of the MPs voting for any bill will have retired or been sacked within 9 months and we’ll potentially have a new government with a different mandate.

  2. Nick
    03/08/2009 at 6:22 pm

    It’s very easy. We have scrutiny by the public. HoC proposes a bill. Then there is a referenda. If it passes it becomes law. If not its not a law.

    We don’t need the Lords at all. We can abolish the club and its expenses.

    Lords won’t be able to offer their services to change legistlation any more. They are redundant, and no need for redundancy pay. After all you are on expenses not a salarly.

    Cheaper government and better scrutity. 40 million odd pairs of eyes are better than a handful, were it’s been shown some are on the take.


  3. Bedd Gelert
    03/08/2009 at 7:49 pm

    Oh, Lord Tyler, I admire your drive, but really..

    People in the pubs are not getting in a tiz about ‘Constitutional Renewal’ because I have an inkling most understand very little about our constitution anyway…

    If it came down to something very basic like ‘Will it mean fewer Parliamentarians hoovering up expenses ?’ one suspects it may get some traction. But despite my missives to Lord Norton saying that the momentum for change is unstoppable, I suspect that being packaged up in this way will mean little to most people.

    They just want summary dismissal for people misbehaving and possibly an end to the pomp and circumstance – although I don’t hear much of a clamour for an elected House of Lords just yet.

  4. Kyle Mulholland
    03/08/2009 at 9:57 pm

    All I’d like them to do is renationalize the railways… why do they feel so compelled to tear up our Constitution in the meanwhile?

  5. Nick
    04/08/2009 at 1:07 am

    Here we go. I hasten to add this is about Lord Taylor, not Lord Tyler. I haven’t seen his expenses yet.

    ord Taylor of Warwick listed Enid Taylor’s home in Solihill, West Midlands, as his primary residence and his address in Ealing, west London, as his second home.

    She died at the end of 2001 and a number of people seemingly unrelated to the peer have been registered at the address ever since.

    Lord Taylor, 56, is alleged to have claimed more than £70,000 in overnight “subsistence” between 2001 and 2007 while staying in London and working at the Lords, according to The Sunday Times.

    His mother’s house was allegedly sold in May 2001 – before she died – and that the peer claimed to have lived in “a number” of homes in Solihull since her death but declined to give details. He told the newspaper he had been advised by the House of Lords not to disclose his domestic situation for security reasons, even though he stopped claiming for a second home in 2007.

    Lord Taylor, who has lived in Ealing since 1995, is said to attend regular church services in west London and once described his three children as “proud Londoners”.

    So, the question to the other ‘Lords’ on this blog.

    What are they going to do about it?

    After all, they are supposed to be supervising what is going in Parliament and the Lords.

    I suspect nothing.

  6. Baronessmurphy
    04/08/2009 at 11:32 am

    Nick, you ought to be pleased that this new Bill on Constitutional Reform and Governance simply introduces what many of us have been asking for, the power to suspend and/or eject peers who have brought the House into disrepute and introduces an option for retirement. That paves the way forward for reductions in numbers.
    The Bill does nothing else in relation to the Lords, hardly worth getting excited about but it’s a start.

    Bedd Gelert, I’d love it if you were right about the unstoppable train of reform but 5 years in parliament has taught me a lot about the potential for terminal stoppability. I used to sit on a Stationery Working Party at that a colleague deliberately misspelt as the Stationary Working Party. There’s a lot of them sitting in Westminster.

    • Senex
      04/08/2009 at 6:23 pm

      Baroness: “I used to sit on a Stationery Working Party at that a colleague deliberately misspelt as the Stationary Working Party.” Is this a miss-pelt at the establishment?

      I for my sins once did a similar thing. Some of the work I dealt with was both boring and complex. The revision process was an endless cycle of correction and revision. In one revision I replaced the word ‘cropper’ with ‘crapper’.

      Much to my indignation it went all the way through to final approval and internal release. Eventually the error was found and tracked down to one of my revisions, feigning ignorance I put it down to Murphy’s Law also known as Sod’s Law. The law is based upon the proposition that if it can go wrong it will.

      A philosophical question that has puzzled me is why has the Chinese leadership come through the complex mayhem that has plagued the rest of the political world reasonably unscathed? My observation is that all, but a few of them are Engineers. All are technocrats rebuilding their nation, anyone of them a latter day Isambard Kingdom Brunel?

      They understand complexity, problem solving and have competent mathematical skills. Above all, they are intimate with the ‘Contributions of Edsel Murphy to the Understanding of the Behaviour of Inanimate Objects’. As most inanimate objects are stationary they would have been quick to spot the irony in your example.

      How are electorates worldwide to be persuaded that they need to up their game in choosing their political leaders along with their competences in a technology-dominated world?

      Ref: Understanding the behaviour of inanimate objects
      Who’s Who in China’s Leadership

  7. Nick
    04/08/2009 at 2:07 pm

    Doesn’t matter. It doesn’t address the real issue. The Lords have been shown to be impotent in doing anything.

    The retirement is just a sop for Mandleson. Just why you are addressing that as something radical is farcical.

    Your comments on working parties show why. It’s a club for ex political hacks, appointed under patronage. It’s used to get rid of crooks like speakers who fiddle their expenses.

    We can abolish the whole house of lords by giving the scrutity back to the electorate with referenda on bills. Yes or no to any bill.

    In the meantime, the debt clock is going up. 8 trillion and counting. HoL and HoC havent’ got a clue as to how to pay that, bar default and attempting inflation

    What we also know is half the commons are crooks. Expenses fraud, tax evasion, and neopotism. What have the Lords done about it? Nothing appart from welcoming new members, who were sacked for being crooks

    It’s an old lags club

  8. Baronessmurphy
    04/08/2009 at 7:36 pm

    Senex, As you can imagine I am rather familiar with Murphy’s law. Sorry about the miss-spelt, gosh I’m not sure now I know how to spell it now.

    (I once had to introduce three finance folk to the Health Secretary of State most people have forgotten, John Moore. They were called Mr Crotty, Mr Crapper and Mr Cronk. S of S looked at me as if i’d made it up)

    My favourite error was on a pirate record (yes, that long ago) bought in Thailand. It was the Everly Brothers and was spelt ‘Take a massage to Mary’.

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