The Lords Resume – and reforms

Lord Soley

Monday sees the return of Peers to the chamber of the House. The recess always leaves the House feeling a bit empty even if you do see Lords there from time to time – usually dealing with correspondence, using the library or having meetings of one type or another. We will be dealing with some final bits of legislation before hearing the Queen’s speech in November.

Baroness D’Souza and Baroness Murphy make some points about the reform process in their posts below. I am in agreement with the points they make. Like Baroness Murphy I have only worn robes on the day I took my seat. Changing traditions often runs into strong opposition. I have heard visitors, especially from overseas, saying that our traditions are very colourful and important. Yet traditions about dress in the Lords make me feel uncomfortable. It does enable the media to present us in a way that questions the seriousness of our work.

Soon after I arrived in the Lords I took a visitor who was going to assist one of the charities I run to lunch in the Peer’s guest room. He was very smartly dressed but as so often nowadays he was not wearing a tie.  I didn’t register this but someone did and shortly after I was quietly reminded that guests should always wear a tie. Only a cold climate nation like Britain could invent an item of clothing that in summer builds up the heat below your collar to boiling point! That is why I am a  strong supporter of Baroness (Lola) Young’s campaign to promote ethnic clothing. Maybe I can’t wear a Sari but I do admire those cool and colourful outfits worn by many Indians and Africans!

Fortunately the House has been taking reform much more seriously in recent times and the changes have made a big difference. I hope we will see changes in the language used soon. Why do we have to refer to senior military officers as noble and gallant when other ranks are not referred to in that way? (I should declare an interest as an ex national serviceman!)  Why do we refer to lawyers as noble and learned when I would happily pay some rather unlearned ones not to represent me?! Why do we refer to Bishops as Right Reverend Prelates? I asked a group of school children once what a prelate was and they didn’t know but they knew what a Bishop was!

I also hope we produce a version of Hansard in edited form soon. With good editing and with pictures it might sell in the shops and provide people with an alternative to the gossipy and trivial news coverage of Parliament in some of the newspapers.

So lets keep reforming – good reform creates  new traditions and gives  future generations an opportunity to argue their case for reform. It’s what keeps society moving and stops it getting stuck in a self perpetuating rut!

26 comments for “The Lords Resume – and reforms

  1. Troika21
    11/10/2009 at 2:30 pm

    I don’t see how you can complain about one form of traditional (and, highly ceremonial) type of dress (the robes), yet think that another traditional dress (the ethnic stuff) should be allowed.

    Should everyone not look the same?

    Shouldn’t ethnicity be left at the door, along with other concepts that do not come before the matters of the nation?, at least, as best anyone can.

    Nor do I understand why you should feel the need for the language to change either. Some of it is archaic; but do you want to do away with it altogether, or simply change it?

    Though, I suppose that it isn’t fun being the butt of a joke; ‘noble’ lords and ‘honourable’ members, I mean, really …

  2. baronessmurphy
    11/10/2009 at 3:34 pm

    Just want to come in to agree with Lord Soley here. I can see great merit in the use of the third person in debate, it is remarkable how it defuses emotional exchanges if the opposition can never be addressed directly as ‘you’, but all the flim-flam about the ‘noble’ lord and the ‘noble’ lady strikes me as downright daft in this day and age,and ‘gallant’ and ‘learned’ are even worse. And as for the poor Archbishops of Canterbury and York, surely they can’t enjoy being referred to as Right Reverend Primates?

  3. 11/10/2009 at 7:15 pm

    I have a solution to the problem of “Right Reverend Prelate” and “Most Reverend Primate” (as it is) – not having the bishops in the House of Lords. That’s the sort of reform we need, not tinkering around the edges with (ad)dress and.

    If we were to have an elected second chamber in the future (something I don’t necessarily agree with) I think they should still be called Lords and wear the same robes on ceremonial occasions.

    Change the things that really make a difference to the way the country is run, and keep the traditions that don’t have an impact on how laws are made, but make our country unique. Few countries have the traditions that we do simply because they are too new. That doesn’t mean we have to copy them and turn into a bland country with “representatives”, a “senate” and men in grey suits.

    • Chris K
      12/10/2009 at 9:25 pm

      Why keep the bath water when you’ve thrown the baby away?

      If the Lords as it currently exists goes, which I sincerely hope it does not, then we may as well rip out all the nice stuff in there and make it more like the Commons.

      I don’t want another bunch of career politicos, far too many of whom have no experience of anything approaching real life, to get ideas of grandeur. Which is exactly what will happen if we get a “democratic” (if you can apply that word to PR elections) elected Second Chamber. Heaven help us all if we start giving then nice costumes and calling them “Lord” as well!

      • nick
        12/10/2009 at 11:11 pm

        That’s why the solution is to abolish it completely.

        Then allow the electorate a referenda on Acts of Parliament. Yes or no. Very simple, once or twice a year.

        No need for the Lords. The public can review.

        The real advantage is democracy. Everyone gets an equal say. You don’t have what is fundamentally an unlected quango appointed by patronage making decisions about your life.


  4. franksummers3ba
    11/10/2009 at 7:17 pm

    Baroness Murphy,
    Do you think it is fair to point out that a professional level of education and training in life sciences and medicine (and I assume a lack of the same in theology and Church History) make it even more unpleasant to use the Primate address than is the typical experience?
    Remember the UK presmuably has some goodwill to its Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Copt, Armenian, Russian Orthodox and Antiochan Christian neighbors. We are a rather numerous brood and the idea that the British government knows what a Primate is might make a few friends in a rather dificult world.

  5. 12/10/2009 at 3:26 am

    I suppose that I’m in the right target audience to buy edited copies of Hansard, but I honestly don’t think I would — at least, not of debates from the current Parliament. If I’m that interested in learning more about a current debate, I’d be far more inclined to go to the appropriate online edition of Hansard and skim the actual text, rather than waiting for it to come out in a specially packaged ‘upmarket’ format.

    As a researcher, however, I would be interested in buying edited volumes of debates on particular pieces of historic legislation, especially if the volumes were put together with textual commentary and appropriate scholarly footnotes and perhaps the odd photograph or illustration (such as political cartoons). It’s the sort of thing that might be well suited for A Level and undergraduate study, or just for the general reading public interested in contemporary history. I haven’t seen anything of this nature available for sale, but I would absolutely be interested in buying it (or contributing to it, for that matter!) if some enterprising publisher wanted to take a chance on it.

    • Croft
      12/10/2009 at 5:28 pm

      I don’t really see the value of the printed Hansard – I’m sure like many users being able to search an electronic edition for text/phrases quotes/subjects and/or follow links is so much more productive a use of time. The only time I use print these days is when editing something. I do find that writing the body on the PC is fine but subtle edits can best be performed with a pen and printout sitting somewhere pleasant with a drink rather than in front of a screen.

      Now if only they would get on with providing better links within Hansard reports things would be even better…

      • Clive Soley
        13/10/2009 at 10:55 am

        That’s an interesting point. You could send the suggestion to Hansard who are looking at new ways of communicating Parliament to the public.

  6. Nick
    12/10/2009 at 10:43 am

    The problem is that the Lords is awful value for money.

    You’re just talking about reform, but you’re not talking about cost and what you have achieved.

    Or perhaps I do get it. Reform itself is the achievement.

    • Clive Soley
      16/10/2009 at 7:12 pm

      The Lords is one of the cheapest if not the cheapest second chamber in the western world – and good value for money as long as you think detailed examination of legislation is important.

      • Nick
        16/10/2009 at 10:29 pm

        Well, 2,500 amendments are made in a year. Total cost of the lord 107 million. 720 lords.

        That means on average you make 3 1/2 amendments a year, each. That’s not particularly productive is it?

        What about cost per amendment?

        43,000 pounds per amendment.

        So the obvious question. What are the figures for other second houses?

        What about your failure rates? ie. What legislation have you not amended, that has been a disaster?


  7. baronessmurphy
    12/10/2009 at 11:50 am

    Jonathan, I’m with you on the bishops, and thanks for putting me right on addressing a primate.

  8. Croft
    12/10/2009 at 1:19 pm

    I think Troika is spot on with the inconsistent logic in praising one tradition while attacking another. Although I’m rather taken with the idea of Lord Soley getting in touch with his native clothing traditions and turning up dressed as a morris man.

    Jonathan makes the key point that it’s what you do or don’t do that matters to the people and justifies the Lords’ existence not the degree of sartorial elegance or particular forms of address.

    Indeed I rather think the elephant in the room was touched upon by Lady Murphy in a different post when she talked about some peers turning up on for the ‘pay’. I get a sense that some life peers are all too happy to talk in the house or the press about reform – but their version of reform is either somewhat cosmetic, as I feel the dress/speech issue largely is, or designed to only to affect someone else, the hereditary peer/bishop issue. That’s not to say I don’t agree with on some of the points – like removing the bishops – but that I think it is a convenient distraction from making the real decision about election/appointment of the Lords.

    I’m rather reminded of the ’99 reforms when life peers’ were telling the hereditaries to do the right thing and vote themselves out of existence gratis. Yet for any life peers to do the same they apparently need an “inducement retirement ‘package’”

    Interesting indeed…

    12/10/2009 at 5:49 pm

    Why shoudl we get rid of the Bishops from the House of Lords? Oh thats right, it sin the interest of Secularism, which is th eother great love in our modern culture, along with Democracy.

    Never mind that they add to the House a Moral standpoint. (Please Troika, don’t try to divide Religion and Morality. it sounds cute but it doens’t work since Religion and morality are linked.) They are exttremely well educated, and tend to offer valid points.

    I donm’t think we need rid of them at all.

    It may seem logical rto remove them to help Brittain modernise in an age in which the American Notion fo Seperating Chruch and STate is paramount, an dint he face of the comon, yet innacurate, notion of how Religion tends to cause wars and riots, but, the LKoirds have been seated for Centuries and not caused that much ruckus and often have prevailed upont he House to act in Humanitarian interests that weren’t always politiclaly rpactical, so I don’t see expunguign the House of the Bishops as anyhtign but a bad idea.

    I also don’t think the form fo address soudl be changed. Surly the formalities link us to our past, and help establish that we are more than just regular people making tlak and making laws.

  10. baronessdsouza
    12/10/2009 at 9:01 pm

    I think that Baroness Young’s major concern is with ETHICAL clothing?

    • Clive Soley
      13/10/2009 at 10:57 am

      You’re right – as Baroness Young reminded me in an email yesterday. I don’t know why I got it wrong – I think I just fancied coming in wearing a sari!

  11. 12/10/2009 at 10:41 pm

    Yet traditions about dress in the Lords make me feel uncomfortable. It does enable the media to present us in a way that questions the seriousness of our work.

    1. Why? Because…
    2. …and?

    On the basis you were sentient when accepting a peerage, you signed up for the whole package, fur and stripes included. The idea that, after the eras of colonialisim and world wars, suddenly the HoL has become a target of fun due to the ‘uniform’ is facile.

    Have a vote, keep or get rid of the robes, whatever, I am sick of newspapers retaining the upper hand because you let them. Ditto expenses, BBC, President Blair, etc.

    By ‘you’, please read ‘parliamentarian(s)’. Sorry, Clive, not personal at all, just fed up. First day back, and the news is focusing on one thing.

    • Clive Soley
      13/10/2009 at 11:00 am

      Cheer up! And I have an interesting complaint before the Press Complaints Commission at the moment so watch this space!

      • Nick
        15/10/2009 at 3:26 pm

        I notice two complaints on the PCC site from you.

        One related to a complaint about Labour being racist.

        How does that square up with Gordon Brown’s comments about British Jobs for British Workers. Doesn’t that discrimate against foreigners who are allowed to work here who aren’t British and consist mainly of people of a different race?


  12. Bedd Gelert
    14/10/2009 at 10:56 am

    “I also hope we produce a version of Hansard in edited form soon. With good editing and with pictures it might sell in the shops and provide people with an alternative to the gossipy and trivial news coverage of Parliament in some of the newspapers.”

    HILARIOUS !! What would such a magazine be called ? ‘Heat-sard’ ?? ClosErmine ??

    Lord Soley, I think it is time for you to try a spin-off from Lords of the Blog, or an adjunct to it, to compete with Messrs Dale & Fawkes..

    • Clive Soley
      16/10/2009 at 7:20 pm

      How about calling it ‘Lordy Lordy’?

      I had my own blog from about 2003 but on moving to the Lords decided a group blog might work better. We are still the only group blog of any legislature in the world!

  13. baronessmurphy
    14/10/2009 at 12:05 pm

    Croft, How we appear in the media is I suspect more important than people realise in maintaining a notion of the House as a rather grand bunch of fuddy-duddies, although of course what we do or don’t do is of course more important. Again you are right that many appointed life peers wouldn’t voluntarily wish to leave the Lords in favour of an elected house. But we don’t all feel like that. I would like to see an elected element introduced to see what impact that had on the business of the house, since it undoubtedly would change the processes, with a longer term view of making it a fully elected chamber. But because I would like radical reform introduced in an orderly fashion, that does not mean that we shouldn’t put right what needs improvement now. We shouldn’t let the best be the enemy of the better. I would stand down to make way for elected peers and I know many of my colleagues would too.

    I don’t use printed Hansard either but I wish the web version was more readily searchable.

    • Croft
      14/10/2009 at 2:25 pm

      I’m sure you’re right that image does matter but it seems to concentrate entirely disproportionate time and attention to those ‘unsexy’ reforms that would actually make the house and the legislative process run better.

      I can’t see much (save the expulsion of peers for wrongdoing) that were any more or less compelling 6 months ago nor will be in 6 months time. In effect we seem to be doing much of this now because the government has nothing better too do and is rather desperate to been seen to be doing something. Not generally, I feel, a good atmosphere to produce legislation.

      Obviously my remarks applied only to some life peers and I wouldn’t want to attack some of the gems in the Lords who really would have to be invented if they didn’t exist.

      As to improved Hansard linkage and theyworkforyou’s ‘free our bills’ campaign there has been outside support and submissions to Lord Renton’s Information Committee. As with Lord Soley’s remarks such outside suggestions only get the process so far and Lords’ themselves can really do much to lean on the right people 🙂

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