Congestion in the chamber

Baroness Deech

Wednesday 20th found the chamber exceptionally crowded.  Every seat was taken by the time prayers were read; and those who came in afterwards either had to stand behind the bar, or sit on the gangway steps, or around the throne or between the Speaker and the despatch box.  As soon as one of the seated peers leaves, there is a bit of a dash to get the empty seat.  One may not speak from the gangway. Ryanair is comfortable compared to this! There are about 250 seats and about 730 members.  Fortunately, they do not all turn up at once.  The greatest turnout I have seen was about 450, on the issue whether the House of Lords itself should be elected rather than appointed.  The members who are rarely seen are those who are old or infirm (and a couple who are or were in prison).  Yet age and infirmity are no bars to being outstandingly valuable members of the Lords.

At the risk of offending them, I might mention some exceptional members who are in their 80s, and whose every word is listened to with respect and found to be persuasive.  Lord Walton, medical man and former Warden of Green College; Baroness Park, who worked in intelligence and was Principal of Somerville; Lord Lloyd of Berwick, former top judge and master scrutineer of bills; Lord Clinton-Davis, former minister and European Commissioner; Baroness Warnock, philosopher, all on top form.  We have spaces for the disabled too – Lord Low, chairman of the RNIB, has his place just inside the entrance. Behind the clerks sit, amongst others, Lord (Jack) Ashley. and Baroness Masham, tireless campaigners for the disabled.  There is room for wheelchairs and audio visual aids.

Youth is represented by inter alia Baroness Warsi, Shadow Minister for Social Cohesion, who helped to secure the freedom of the British teacher jailed in the Sudan for naming the class teddy bear Mohammed; and the Earl of Listowel, an elected hereditary peer and specialist in children’s welfare.  It takes all sorts.

18 comments for “Congestion in the chamber

  1. Twm O'r Nant
    22/01/2010 at 4:05 pm

    Hmm! Noble Baroness Deech! Hmm!

    There are also quite a number of thinkers who have never taken a seat in the Second chamber, or “Upper house”, as it was then, simply because they do not, or did not, believe in the value of it.

    Enoch Powell was one, fine, but misunderstood thinker, that he was, and before his time.

    John Prescott, Brian Sedgemore, Jo Ashton,
    and a host of others, quite apart from the
    said John Major, Edward Heath, and others.

    They have their different reasons for not “going up” or “going down” (!) as it must be now, but being anti-monarchy or totally republican may not be one of them, and quite unrealistic it would be, in any event.

    Even a single chambered parliament would well accommodate a non-ceremonial state event.

    The only thing is that even more hereds would filter their way in to the first chamber, the HofC/Other place, in their Mr. or Mrs. or even Ms. guises, so we might well be back where we started,or far worse off!

    750 is far, far too many members, although the cost is low for the tax payer.

    How about just those 450 who do fit in, at a squeeze,and NO MORE? At the moment “Croft” seems to think that we will be on course for
    1000, and probably after the general election,I may add, with all the newbies from…….. Above!

    • Len
      22/01/2010 at 6:53 pm

      So, the fact that the Commons has some people who are intelligent people who did not go to the Lords means what exactly? I don’t know if any of them expressed preferences against going to the Lords (I hadn’t heard that they had), but no one is arguing against having the House of Commons. The two chambers complement each other, each acting to curb the excesses of the other.

      You ask (correct me if I’m wrong) why we don’t just have around 450, which seems to be in response to the largest amount of peers in the chamber at one time instead of the 750-odd we have in total – except for the fact that it’s not the same peers who come in the chamber each day, and that we only ever know how many debate in the chamber, not those who participate in committees, those who spend the day networking in favour of amendments on bills to come, etc.

      A cap on membership could, in theory, work, although who would choose the peers who have to leave (unless you wait for peers to die)?

      • Twm O'r Nant
        22/01/2010 at 10:10 pm

        “(unless you wait for peers to die)?”

        Currently that is a rough idea of what is being done. New Lords Bishop also come and go.

        Somebody suggests that the limit will be raised to 1000, after the election especially if the Cameron party wins, since they like the HofL.

        There will certainly be a big shake out in
        May/June, after 13 years of Labor rule and possibly more yet. I don’t know whether any body has counted the number.

        Wits about 80 year olds or not, a time comes when they should stand down. There is plenty of opportunity for guest speakers, which could become a more refined attribute of the place, from the Below bar “box”.

        One only has to send a note by the “Society”,
        to Lord Speaker, to be called.
        Being there for the subject of your choice, is more complex!

    • Croft
      23/01/2010 at 12:37 pm

      On the basis of the present numbers (735) and the likely resignation list + a new government wanting a small majority in the lords the chamber hitting ~800 is more than possible.

      • Gareth Howell
        23/01/2010 at 8:44 pm

        Croft has got it; the NEED will mother creation. If the Tories get in, a majority will be necessary!

        Why don’t I think of answers like that?!

  2. Carl.H
    22/01/2010 at 9:14 pm

    Len, we have to operate within the constraints of budget therefore a cap is necessary unless as one of the other posters said they would all like to pay for membership ! A cap would be in their own interest before the Country or indeed Government say`s they`re costing too much. In these days of cuts, especially in Government spending, it maybe prudent to back the idea of capping.

    There are many Lords who may not be in chamber at any given time, this does not mean, as you say, they are not dutiful.

    I`m not sure my Lady`s idea of youth would concur with what my children would say. I won`t mention Baroness Warsi`s age, over 21 will suffice, but the Earl of Listowel at 46 this year, is too old for most sports teams.

    • 22/01/2010 at 11:49 pm

      Lord Freyburg, another hereditary peer, is the only other member under 40 I can think of (in addition to Baroness Warsi).

  3. Chris K
    22/01/2010 at 10:00 pm

    Given the choice between 450 who turn up every single day (and would naturally be salaried) and 750 who turn up when they feel their services are required, finding time to have a job on the side – I know which I would choose! I’ve never fancied the idea of having “full-time politicians” in either House.

    I would quite happily let the hereditaries back in. It’s ironic really. The removal of the hereditaries (on ‘democratic’ grounds?) has resulted in the 90 remaining hereditaries in the Lords having much more of a “mandate” to be there than any of those Tone or Gordo have had appointed. Now the Constitutional and Governance bill aims to end the hereditary by-election, the very reason for hereditary-removal in the first place has been shown to be bogus.

    In principle an absolute cap is a good idea. At least then the House couldn’t be “packed” on the arrival of a new government. But then would come the problem of deciding what party proportions to have when the cap is implemented…

  4. Twm O'r Nant
    22/01/2010 at 10:17 pm

    “some people who are intelligent people who did not go to the Lords means what exactly? I don’t know if any of them expressed preferences against going to the Lords”

    Unicameralism is a feature of the thought of a good many socialists/Labour campaigners.

    That is what it means.

    Enoch Powell was unusual in that he probably would have gone “up” as it was then, but he had had enough, I guess.

    I used to see him in the Street with his gentle lady wife after he had retired,
    looking wistfully at the House, and he always greeted me most courteously.
    He was a prayerful man and may have been to
    a church ceremony in the vicinity.

    I don’t think he ever expressed a preference for uni/bi cameralism.

    His papers are all available online.

  5. tory boy
    23/01/2010 at 9:25 pm

    Yes the chamber did seem quite rammed on Wednesday. The first block of benches to your right and left in the chamber this is by the bar of the house, (the first group of Conservative and Labour benches.) Could be joined up to the second block of benches which would mean covering a stair isles on both sides of the chamber to make one big block of benches. I believe this is done at the Queens Speech, I also understand the bar of the house can be moved back towards the doors to create more room for benches. This is a matter for the house committee which should take this action.

    I am a fan of these new departmental question, but Lord Hunt of the Wirral was absolutely right on Thursday, Lord Mendelssohn’s behaviour was not acceptable his answers were deliberately long to try and talk out the session and stop other peers getting in. Its all right for govt whips and the leader of the house to tell the house that questions should be short but some self regulation on lengthy answers would be welcome too. Other elderly and credible peers are the remarkable Baroness Trumpington, Baroness Knight of Collingtree and Baroness Carnegy of Lour, (who has taken leave of absence I hope she is not ill and will be back soon, she is normally very active in the lords last session she spoke a lot on the Marine and costal access bill.)

  6. Anne Palmer
    24/01/2010 at 12:52 am

    As “Lisbon” becomes more active, why on earth do we need a House of Lords or a House of Commons? We have 12 EU Regions and sadly, we tax payers cannot afford to keep you all AND pay the Billions to the EU.

    Answer this. WHO exactly governs this Country and WHO exactly makes the laws the people and all those in Parliament have to obey?

    • Gareth Howell
      25/01/2010 at 11:09 am

      Anne Palmer has said a mouthful!

      in answer to “who Exactly rules” it looks as though everybody is trying to do it at the same time, when the fairly impotent House of Lords springs in to senile action as it did last week.

      How many Tiers of government do we need.

      The Counties are far too small and inconvenient. They should be amalgamated in to Regions. Wales and Scotland already are single regions. Welsh county government should be abolished forthwith!

      A House of commons of 400, not 650, would be ample. House of Lords abolition except for state occasions which the Commons would attend seated on the Red Benches of the HofL; that would be fine.

      Get Rid of all these grasping old dodderers!

      • baronessdeech
        26/01/2010 at 12:17 am

        “Old dodderers” – don’t we have an age discrimination law? There is pressure to change the law to allow people to work after 65. This sentiment applies to peers too!

      • Croft
        26/01/2010 at 11:25 am

        Of course there are no age restrictions in the Lords (well other than being over 21) but it is a double edged sword that perhaps peers who have done their ‘bit’ don’t have an obvious dignified point to retire. This is in small part the reason for the house increasing in size.

  7. Senex
    25/01/2010 at 5:08 pm

    Baroness Deech: You give emphasis to just how crowded the house can become but you also remind us that the Earl of Listowel, is an elected hereditary peer and specialist in children’s welfare.

    In Lord Norton’s paper ‘Adding Value’ he says:

    “It is possible for a second chamber, for example, to represent a particular group or class without being directly elected (as with a functional second chamber, as is primarily the case in Ireland).” Function: Page 6

    This left me somewhat confused because the Irish Parliament site ‘Houses of the Oireachtas’ says:

    “A General Election to Seanad Éireann must be held within 90 days of the dissolution of Dáil Éireann.” And “Six elected by the graduates of two universities: – three each by the National University of Ireland and the University of Dublin (Trinity College)”

    As you know I have changed my mind in that I now endorse the principal of an elected house however, my views differ markedly from those of the Liberal Democrats.

    But why should a mere blogger be concerned with such lofty matters? Brian Thomson of the Liverpool Law School reinforces the question by saying:

    “In our constitutional theory it is parliament which is sovereign not the people, partly because of the political elite not trusting the people because of their ignorance or prejudice” Composition, Para 1

    Based upon this, no bloggers should have the competences to work through such matters. By the way Mr Thomson offers a critique of the Wakeham report where he mentions Lord Norton’s take on things.

    Leaving aside the role of an elected house what does the house now represent in terms of its makeup? At first I was persuaded that it must be some sort of meritocracy. But then I considered the hereditary peers and that there are no ‘rocket scientists’ amongst them.

    Then I came across Thomas Jefferson’s letter to John Adams, Oct. 28, 1813. My conclusion now is that the house represents a ‘Natural Aristocracy’ in pursuit of the Aristoi. This demands that the house on occasion must renew itself to maintain standards.

    Ref: Adding Value? The Role of Second Chambers
    Philip Norton; Asia Pacific Law Review, Vol 15 No 1
    Houses of the Oireachtas; Senators
    Future Imperfect: Reform of the House of Lords; Brian Thomson; Liverpool Law School; Web Journal of Current Legal Issues
    Natural and Artificial Aristocracy:
    Thomas Jefferson’s letter to John Adams, Oct. 28, 1813

  8. Gareth Howell
    26/01/2010 at 11:43 am

    Interesting letter from Senex.

    “possible for a second chamber, for example, to represent a particular group or class without being directly elected”

    Constituency, certainly, is a very broad concept, and is it not that, which any kind of non-democratically elected peer (including Hered-elected) would claim to represent?

    “… that the house represents a ‘Natural Aristocracy’ in pursuit of the Aristoi. This demands that the house on occasion must renew itself to maintain standards.

    It may have been Unamuno, a 19thC Spanish philosopher who said something similar, an aristocracy of the intellect.

    I favor the second chamber only being a Bill committee of the first, but that the 75-90 elected hereds and 30 bishops may make their deliberations in the same chamber.

    The residue of Empire needs to be dealt with
    before anything else, (bur after getting rid of ALL, but the above hereds+bishops) and a comparison with Rome may be valuable, in dealing with kings and queens.

    The legacy of the worldwide English language is the most difficult question of all.

  9. Senex
    27/01/2010 at 11:38 pm

    Gareth Howell: It was the reference to an elected hereditary peer that made me write. As such they give my bloggers prospectus for an elected HoL a problem.

    In terms of a ‘Natural Aristocracy’ and because of the recent clearout of such peers they represent now, at this time, more of an Aristoi or the best of their bunch. The problem is how in the future do they maintain this?

    Would three land constituencies, England, Scotland and the Provinces widen the scope for candidate selection? Could these constituencies hold life peers too? Should they surrender their right to lifetime admission to the house and submit themselves to periodic re-election. Should they do nothing and just fade away on a bed of laurels?

    As for the quote from Lord Norton’s paper, in the footnotes on the same page it says of him: “He has been described in The House Magazine – the magazine of both Houses of the UK Parliament – as ‘our greatest living expert on parliament’.” Yeah! We think so too.

    Most professionally based peers are likely to be members of an institute that asks their membership on occasion to elect board members. This is where the principle of relevant democracy comes from and it would end any perception of privilege as a life peer in the house. Peers would have to demonstrate to their fraternity that they were on the ball professionally, this would represent accountability. Incumbents are normally re-elected but not always.

    Senior lecturer Brian Thomson’s quote about the sovereignty of Parliament has a great deal to do with its present problems. But don’t worry Parliament; the people with their ignorance and prejudice have changed to become a natural aristocracy, things are going to have to change.

    As to the crowded house did you know that in 1834 both houses of Parliament burned down? Central heating problems it seems, they were burning the tally’s that represented the national debt. William IV offered Whig MP and Prime Minister Lord Melbourne the use of Buckingham house but he declined. Not too pleased it seems by the prospect of large numbers of the public wandering around enlarged premises; ignorant prejudiced ragamuffins.

    Ironically, we now know Buckingham house as Buckingham Palace. Had Melbourne accepted one wonders if the Monarch would have been a co-resident? Perhaps Melbourne was psychic? It would have been just too handy an arrangement for a young VIR to summons him as her tutor.

  10. ZAROVE
    10/03/2010 at 10:28 pm

    Well I’m late to this party, bgut I agree with the idea of letting he Hereditaries back in. THe House of Lords coudl solve an Overcrowdign problem by simply barring the doors shoudl they reach the magical number 450, without removign peerage rights. (THis means that when a session is open the firts tot he door is seated, anyone after 450 is turned away)

    The whole “Democracy” bit doens’t make us free, or better. It is just a tool use dby Politicians.

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