Any excuse…

Lord Norton

I am always amazed, but no longer surprised, by how any critical story affecting Parliament is used by some to claim it makes the case for an elected second chamber.  Take the scandal over parliamentary expenses.  Some people said this made the case for an elected second chamber.  What?  It is not clear why another body of elected politicians will solve the problem.  The way to deal with it is to reform or abolish the existing system of expenses.  

We now have another batch of peers created, leading to a very real problem of a large House.  Again we have some saying this makes the case for moving to an elected House.  No it doesn’t.  It makes the case for reducing the size of the existing House.   The argument is essentially a practical one, unrelated to the issue of principle that should determine any fundamental change to the nature of the second chamber. 

One of the points I made in the debate on the Queen’s Speech last Thursday, drawing on a post on my blog,  is that reform of the House must derive from first principles.  We need to be clear as to what we expect of Parliament in our political system and therefore the role and relationship of the two Houses and their relationship to the other elements of our political system.  Once we know what we expect of the second chamber as an integral part of our constitutional arrangements, then and only then can we start to determine the composition best suited to the fulfilment of that role.

In the meantime, we should not be distracted by pet schemes for deciding the composition of the Lords (x percent elected, x proportion chosen by this and that body) – generated often by people who mistakenly think they have come up with some novel scheme – and instead get down to the hard task of thinking about what we actually expect of our political system.

25 comments for “Any excuse…

  1. Carl.H
    02/06/2010 at 9:45 pm

    I am growing tired now of the incessant cry of the few for an elected Chamber, it is irritating. Seeing as they so often call on the people to get what they want, here`s my list of Lords to stay/go and why from the few that post here.

    Lord Tyler…Go…I can`t see his expertise, he seems to bleat the Lib Dem manifesto and that`s about it.

    Lord Soley…Go…He`s nothing but an Ilford boy, a raised up politico beyond his calling. I feel his motives are selfish and purely that of whomever he is following at that time…that benefits him.

    Lord Norton…Stay…Works above and beyond the call of duty, is altruistic and capable. Not one I agree with all the time but masterful and someone I respect.

    Baroness D`Souza …Stay….A keen mind, a good leader, works on evidence based ethic and not swayed by self interest.

    Baroness Deech…Stay…A fine legal mind, hard working and dedicated. Another above and beyond the call of duty.

    Baroness Murphy….Stay…I may have put go a while ago but have come to learn her expertise in her own field is essential. Needs to take part in more business of the House other than her field and not be so flippant or appear uncaring at what matters to others.

    Lord Teverson…go…Party animal

    Lord Lucas…go…Party Animal

    The rest the jury is still out on.

    I apologise for any offence, it is only opinion and mine at that, which counts for very little these days.

    For my reasons against an elected House see the blog below and various others but it must all be becoming tedious now, but talk is all we appear to see when reform is mentioned.

    • Senex
      03/06/2010 at 12:11 pm

      CH: So instead of appointing someone you suggest disappointing them instead. Let’s try something different. All Commons sourced political peers are elected by their grass root rank and file party members. You know the street fighters that get MPs into the Commons.

      Then we would have a HoL reflecting the needs of a concurrent contemporary society through their body politic whilst those in the Commons enjoy universal suffrage in the form of popular democracy. I know what I would like; somebody that knows what’s going on and can fight for it in an elected HoL.

      • Carl.H
        03/06/2010 at 5:30 pm

        “All Commons sourced political peers are elected by their grass root rank and file party members.”

        Exactly and the party memberships are quite small in number so in no way would they reflect society. Add to that the scheming and skulduggery to get certain people elected and you have a complete corrupt system.

        If we stretch ideas to that of a Court room, we see the Jury who are members of society but above this we have the Judge who is educated and can direct the Jury as to what is admissable and what is not.

        The ethics and morals of politicians are questionable to the average person on the street, moreso than a judge, an educator, a CEO or other. Being a member of the Lords is a duty and should remain so rather being put into the hands of those whose personal ambitions are above the Nation and it`s people.

        “I know what I would like; somebody that knows what’s going on and can fight for it in an elected HoL.”

        Professional politicians have little idea of what goes on in life, or in law most of time, judging by the ones I have dealt with. We can see this clearly in Bills they attempt to get through Parliament. We have all argued against certain Bills that have come through, bills that reflect a sphere of life that is totally alien to reality that you and I might know. You cannot in all honesty state that the Politicians in the Commons reflect society, so how might you state a mirror image in the Lords would reflect it ?

        I have put my views and evidence to MP`s previously, in the main they are disregarded in favour of Party policy. I have put my views and evidence on here to the unelected and I was listened to and have seen this reflected in the House.

  2. JH
    02/06/2010 at 10:31 pm

    Lord Norton,

    “We need to be clear as to what we expect of Parliament in our political system and therefore the role and relationship of the two Houses and their relationship to the other elements of our political system.”

    I’ve read your blog post, and I can see that there was no time for such things in your speech, but am I right in thinking that you think that the current role and relationship of the two Houses is broadly correct?

    Do you agree with most if not all of the principles underpinning Lords reform detailed in the (otherwise far from satisfactory) White Paper of February 2007 namely

    Primacy of the House of Commons;
    Complementarity of the House of Lords;
    A More Legitimate House of Lords;
    No Overall Majority for Any Party;
    Non Party-Political Element;
    A More Representative House of Lords;
    Continuity of Membership?

    There are some ‘pet schemes’ which broadly maintain the status quo as to role, which meet the last government’s criteria (before the addition that there must be at least 80% elected) and which address the practical issue of moderating the size of the House.

    • Lord Norton
      05/06/2010 at 12:09 pm

      JH: You are correct. I take the view that the current relationship between the two Houses is consistent with the basic principles that underpin our political system. I believe there is a case for strengthening each House in fulfilling its current role – I am thus a strong advocate of reform within each chamber. There is much that can be done to improve the processes of scrutiny as well as make each House more efficient. I was a member of each of the informal working groups in the Lords that came up, at the end of the last Parliament, with proposals for change. I also drafted the House of Lords Reform Bill which Lord Steel has just re-introduced, which includes provisions designed to facilitate a reduction in the size of the House. I an against change that has the effect of undermining or destroying the current roles and relationship. Election of the second chamber would have that effect. As I have argued on my own blog, so too would a new electoral system. I wish to retain the core accountability at the heart of our political system.

      • Lord Blagger
        05/06/2010 at 4:37 pm

        So when you said last year that the House of Lords had to act quickly on reform, it hasn’t worked. You say that there has to be reform within the chamber, but when it comes to expenses there has been no reform what so ever.

        All we have had is the report into the matter made a state secret.

        Care to speculate why that report should be made a state secret?

        Lord Blagger

      • JH
        05/06/2010 at 5:38 pm

        Lord Norton,

        Many thanks for your reply. Hopefully, the Wright reforms will go some way to strengthen the Commons but Mark D’Arcy’s blog ( presents a slightly unsettling picture as to the election of committee chairs.

        The Steel Bill does seem to agree with the 2007 principles and contains “provisions designed to facilitate a reduction in the size of the House”. However, under these provisions there would appear to be a one-off reduction and there remains a risk of the House expanding again (if the retirements, as stated elsewhere, lead to a House of 500 then there could be 30 peers created at the next change of government (clause 8(2)(c) on top of the intra-parliament nominated peers with the number increasing as the years go by if a one-in one-out policy is not used) and leading to further calls for reform and new provisions to regulate the size.

        Having a set size at the start of each Parliament (with a limited ability to increase during the Parliament), with cross-benchers set at 20% as in the Steel Bill and numbers of party peers set according to the parties’ performance at, say the last election or a rolling average, would prevent any problems of expansion. The party peers (and the cross-benchers) could vote amongst themselves as to who of them should sit to make up the numbers. I do not see how that could have the “effect of undermining or destroying the current roles and relationship” of the Houses (it being a small development of clause 8 of the Steel Bill), but may satisfy some who call for election?

  3. Malden Capell
    02/06/2010 at 10:56 pm

    A lone voice of sanity. Thankyou my Lord.

    • Lord Norton
      05/06/2010 at 12:09 pm

      Malden Capell: Much appreciated.

  4. Lord Blagger
    02/06/2010 at 11:21 pm

    Of course it doesn’t solve anything. That’s the problem. It’s just rearranging the deck chairs. One set of troughers for another.

    What does solve it is getting rid of the Lords completely. Replace it by referenda by proxy. That saves over 600 billion over the life of the parliament and puts a real democratic process in place.

    So if you want to raise taxes, you have to get it past the voter. If you want to borrow cash, you have to get it past the voter.

    If you want to default, for example, by raising the state retirement age, you have to tell the electorate, sorry, we are going to take 5,000 pounds off you. All because the Lords didn’t stop us running a Ponzi scheme.

    The government is the biggest con in town

    Lord Blagger

  5. Lord Blagger
    02/06/2010 at 11:26 pm

    The way to deal with it is to reform or abolish the existing system of expenses.

    Abolish the Lords deals with Lords expenses once and for all. A cheap solution n’est pas.

    The real problem is the other offences. Selling changes in legistlation for cash

    Not getting rid of criminals from the Lords completely.

    Over a year ago Phillip you stated that the Lords needed to act quickly on expenses. So far, there has been no action.

    For example, can you explain why the report into Lords expenses has been made a state secret? What have the Lords done that we can’t be told about.

    Lord Blagger

  6. Senex
    03/06/2010 at 11:54 am

    LB: I was interested in the definition of ‘Blagger’:

    Perhaps you were once ‘someone who could sell ice to the Eskimos’ and what with global warming your goods have melted away and you have fallen on hard times. Never mind; let me tell you something cool.

    Imagine Parliament is like a factory. It manufactures legislation in the form of bills in a workshop called the House of Commons. Along the production line are various stages of quality assurance with odd names like first, second readings and committee stages.

    Parliament’s quality assurance department is the House of Lords. It has a tough time fixing and repairing shoddy bills and is constantly sending them back for rework. Unfortunately it cannot stop the product shipping as it once did.

    This means Parliament sometimes puts out product that is unfit for purpose and the paying public can do nothing about it. Reassuringly, the workshop has now decided upon a product recall using a reform bill having admitted liability.

    Now I understand you wanting to remove the House of Lords as a cost saving. Many SME’s up and down the country have done just that because they could not afford the QA departments wages. Now here is the really cool bit. Parliaments QA department does it all free. Yes you heard right, free, gratis, zilch.

    Being the Blagger you are you wouldn’t want to dump shoddy goods on the public now would you? What’s that! “They will buy anything” That’s why your blogging here. Have you thought of getting a job in the workshop? They take anybody you know even blaggers.

  7. Paul
    03/06/2010 at 5:37 pm

    I hope you’ll consider distributing something to all MPs when it moves towards a vote in the coming months. Perhaps a small paper?

    • Lord Norton
      05/06/2010 at 12:15 pm

      Paul: Many thanks. This is something we are already working on in the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber. We favour reform within the House but are opposed to an elected second chamber. We draw support from both Houses and are planning our strategy in the light of the current situation.

  8. 03/06/2010 at 7:11 pm

    reform of the House must derive from first principles

    A breath of sanity at last, thank you. Requirement first. Make up of organisation to meet requirement, second.

    Defining that requirement is not going to be easy especially as 9% of direct legislation and probably 50-70% of indirect legislation is imposed upon us by the EU, none of which the HOL can prevent.

    Defining that requirement by the existing number of HOL committees, as suggested elsewhere, is the wrong approach.

    • Lord Norton
      05/06/2010 at 12:13 pm

      Alfred: Many thanks. The Lords can and does work hard to scrutinise and influence proposals being put to the Council of Ministers. You are correct that there is not much one can do once a decision has been taken (unless now it clashes with the principle of subsidiarity, though few measures are likely to be challenged successfully on those grounds) but we can have at least some effect at the pre-legislative stage. That is why we need to have effective scrutiny mechanisms in place.

      • Lord Blagger
        05/06/2010 at 4:41 pm

        No it doesn’t. There is a very easy way of dealing with this.

        1. Make any law in the UK subject to the subsiduarity test illegal under UK law.

        So if the state tries to screw someone under EU law, they have a defence as follows.

        Is the law subject to subsiduarity? If the answer is yes, then the law is ultra vires and it falls. Lock stock and barrel.

        One small clause in an general act means that all your scrutiny is completely redundant.

        It’s the cheap and effective solution.

        However, it does mean that you’re redundant for a lot of your work.

        115 million a year for nothing, when one clause deals with EU law.


        Lord Blagger

    • 05/06/2010 at 12:26 pm

      First principles is correct. What are they?

      1. Voters get to decide on the issues, not just the representative.
      2. Everyone has an equal vote.
      3. Representatives are elected
      4. Representatives can be sacked by the electorate.
      5. The system should be cheap.

      None of these require the Lords. You will notice Alfred that the Lords don’t like discussing the cost of the Lords. If you mention the 2,000 pounds a minute it costs to run them, or the 2,000 pounds a day it costs per Lord, they get awfully defensive and switch to how much they take from the system. The priority is clear. It’s not what it costs us, it’s what they milk from the system that’s important.

      That’s why referenda by proxy is the cheap way of getting things under control, plus it will save half a billion over the course of parliament.

      The Lords will go. No doubt some will try and claim redundancy pay. I agree. 2 years salary is a fair pay off. However, since they are on expenses and not on a salary, its a cheap option.

      Lord Blagger

  9. Gareth Howell
    04/06/2010 at 8:13 am

    Am I not right in thinking that for a coalition govt to win a vote in the Lords for Lords reform it needs a majority in that place to avoid a Bill being watered down or argued over interminably?

    If that is so then the Coalition is presumably planning to reduce the number of peers,by a Bill/Act, say in November, or next year, whilst increasing them now to keep a majority?

    Yes Minister?

    • Lord Norton
      05/06/2010 at 12:19 pm

      Gareth Howell: The coalition does indeed need a majority which, in practice, it has. A combined votes of Conservative and Liberal Democratic peers will usually be sufficient to carry any vote. There does not need to be an increase in numbers for this purpose. We need to reduce numbers overall. How this can be achieved while also taking into account the declared preference for a House reflecting voting at the last election (not least given that certain parties do not yet have seats in the Lords) remains to be seen.

      • Gareth Howell
        06/06/2010 at 8:03 am

        “We need to reduce numbers overall. How this can be achieved”

        It is a problem of change of government rather than political principle.

        The huge number of hereds in 1999, who were excluded, were something of a chimera, since many, if not most of them, did not attend at all regularly.

        And here we are saying the same thing all over again, but which class or group of people to exclude?!

        I know! university professors!

  10. Bedd Gelert
    04/06/2010 at 6:49 pm

    Lord Norton,

    I would like to pose a question if I may.

    Will the work of the House of Lords be any easier, or the workload any lighter, with a Tory/Lib Dem coalition in power ??

    One might guess that more work will be required to amend and trim legislation in the ‘Other Place’ to get it past two parties of power – but I guess we may have to wait and see ?

    Or will the need to please a wider coalition lead to a “dog’s breakfast” cobbled together to please two parties which the Lords will then need to revise ??

    • Lord Norton
      05/06/2010 at 12:21 pm

      Bedd Gelert: That’s a very good question. From the point of view of the coalition, things should on paper be relatively easy – the two parties combined should normally be able to carry a vote. In practice,it probably increases the burden on individual members if we are to ensure that the House fulfils its essential functions of questioning and scrutinising government,and its measures,effectively.

  11. ZAROVE
    05/06/2010 at 8:29 pm

    Those who support Lords Reform fall into one of three broad categories, with some fitting more than one to varying degrees.

    1: Those who understand the situation as a need for Modernisation in the Age of Democracy. They think that we as a Species and Society have Evolved beyond the more Primitive Governments of Monarchy and Privilege which were themselves advancements over the past, and now have a society that exits in Freedom thanks to the development of Democracy. They thus see the House of Lords as a Relic of the Past which has o be done away with int he Interest of moving us forward down the inevitable path of Greater Democracy and Freedom.

    Never mind that History says that Democracy is Quiet Old, with Aristotle even commenting on it, or that the evidence we have for Modern Democracy seems to show the Politicians haven’t any interest in being peoples servants, nor does the electoral system ensure Freedom, the Narrative is all that matters.

    Much like the Militant Atheists who view Religion as a hindrance to Human development that needs to be gotten rid of int he name of Science and Reason, which they conflate with their own rather obvious Humanist beliefs (Which Ironically are themselves a religion), they ignore anythign that doesn’t fit the general belief system they hold to in regards to what constitutes “Progress”.

    They assume we need an Elected House because it serves Democracy which is in and of itself a Virtue, is the only thing that allows and leads to do, and is the way things ought o be in our advanced society.

    They won’t take the time to examine the arguments for an Appointed, or Hereditary House, because to them The House of Lords is simply outdated, and doesn’t fit into the Times.

    2: This one is related to the First one, and it is the Democratic Idealists. many, if not most, who fit into this Category also belong tot he First, as most in the First fit into the Second.

    They maintain that democracy is the only Valid and Legitimate form of Government in existence, and all Non-Democratic structures are thus inherently illegitimate. To them, Democracy is a self-evident good, and the Highest Ideal of Governance for Mankind. By Democracy alone can we be free, and live in a Free society, and anything that is not Democratic means we lack Freedom.

    This is were all the talk of making the House of Lords more Legitimate comes from. Somehow our society as a whole has bought into the Premise above to some extent and we assume Democracy MUST be maintained and is in and of itself good. The Lords thus seems to lack Legitimacy because it is not Democratic.

    But what if you question that Premise?

    Why is it that Democracy is the only Valid form of Government? Why should I believe that Democracy Ensures Freedom? Why should I believe that Non-Democratic Governance ensures Tyranny?

    Why is it that something must be Democratic in order to be Legitimate?

    As these questions are never brought up and it is assumed that Democracy is a prerequisite to Legitimacy, the argument form Democratic Ideal works by simply repeating over and over against that the House of Lords is not Democratic, without regard tot he Merits the House has in its current form, or admission than an Elected House will not Necessarily improve the function, but will bring with it the same flaws and corruption Democracy always brings, that are themselves also ignored.

    3: Politicians. An Elected House of Lords means that Politicians get more Power for themselves, as they woudl occupy both hosues. They woudl thus be ablwe to Gain far mroe power than they have now, and we all know Politicians serve their Ambitions, so aving an Ambition to b elected tot he Senate which replaces the House of Lords, and using the fact that the Election “gives it Democratic Legitimacy” to increase the Senates Power means that they would treat it like every other Senate in a Two House Government, such as int he US. It’d be used as a Political Stepping Stone of the Power of Greedy Politicians.

    They want more Power, and see the House of Lords Reform as the way to achieve that.

  12. Lord Blagger
    06/06/2010 at 9:58 pm

    Of course they view it as a power grab.

    However, in a modern day and age, do we need representatives in the same way we did in the past?

    For example, when it took days to get from the Orkeys to parliament, having a representative is the only practical way.

    Now it takes fractions of a second to get a message the same distance.

    We can have individuals voting on every issue. For those that don’t want to, they can nominate a representative.

    That’s why referenda by proxy works. Those who want to vote on an issue can. Those that want to abdicate the responsibility to others can.

    The current set up denies that choice.

    The current set up just profits politicians at the expense of the electorate.

    Witness the expenses, and that the House of Lords has done nothing to address it.

    Lord Blagger

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