Revitalising the chambers

Lord Norton

I attended a Hansard Society lecture on Wednesday of last week given by the Speaker, John Bercow, on revitalising the chamber of the Commons.  You can read the lecture here.  He identified various ways in which more members could be attracted to the chamber to participate.    In response to a question, he expressed support for select committee chairs providing short summaries of reports in the chamber and also allowing the House to vote on committee recommendations.

Though attendance at debate in the Lords is usually better than in the Commons, the move towards change in the Commons  means that it is important that the Lords is not left behind by the other chamber. 

In responding to a question in the House this afternoon on post-legislative scrutiny, the Leader of the House, Lord Strathclyde, indicated sympathy for the idea of a committee on post-legislative scrutiny.   When reminded by the Shadow Leader, Baroness Royall, of what he had said in response to my debate on reform earlier this year, he said he would be discussing with her and Baroness d’Souza, as convenor of the cross-benchers, how they could take forward proposals for reform.  The reports from the different working groups, to which Baroness Murphy has provided a link, provide a clear reform agenda: we thus have the basis for achieving change.

9 comments for “Revitalising the chambers

  1. 14/06/2010 at 4:47 pm

    Perculiar isn’t it.

    Just a week ago, we had another lord posting here that they couldn’t get a seat. Now it’s that the chamber is empty. Now we can all see which is true by tuning into the debates on TV, to see the chamber is empty.

    The real question, where are the 400 peers who turn up each day?

    The conclusion, turn up, sign in, collect the expenses is closer to the truth than any other.

    Lord Blagger

    • Lord Norton
      14/06/2010 at 6:22 pm

      Lord Blagger: If you read the post carefully (one lives in hope) you will see the problem of attendance is at the Commons end, not the Lords end. Over the years, the attendance in the Commons has generally declined whereas in the Lords it has increased – so much so that cross-benchers are now complaining that some have to sit on the floor. Earlier today the pressure on places was such that Lord Phillips of Sudbury tried to ask a question from the Bishops’ bench.

      • 14/06/2010 at 6:44 pm

        That doesn’t tie up with the TV pictures. I have to go on the evidence that everyone else sees and not what you claim to happen.

        Lord Blagger

        PS. How’s that rapid response to the expenses fiddling in the Lords. It’s going to be a year and a half soon since you said ‘we have to act quickly’

        For example, are we going to get to see the report into Lord Rennard and other’s expenses? Do you feel like asking the question in the chamber and sending us the Hansard link

      • 15/06/2010 at 4:38 am

        Thank you for opening this Post, Lord Norton.

        Lord Blagger is quite right about our being able to see the attendance in the Chamber; and similarly
        Lord Norton is quite right that The Commons attendance is very much worse than that of the Lords where both lords and ladies have to sit on steps or on the floor in the Upper House Chamber;
        and I’ve seen them suffering along there for hours, yet being always attentive.

        I too followed Speaker John Bercow’s address to the Hansard Society 090610; and he did specify The Commons chamber, and did indicate one Time dual-cause of its increased absenteeism, as firstly greatly increased time-pressures from outside of the Parliament, with (secondly) pressures and inferrable ‘vacuums’ of time from within Parliament.
        These two factors merge naturally into the human sort of question “Where would my time be more effectively spent, out and about and doing plenty, or in and glued to a seat doing practically nothing ?”.

        John Bercow’s speech near the end might have prioritised the mission and vocation, the remit and moral-duty, of newly-elected members, a little more carefully: for it promised to support new members (firstly )for their own self-satisfaction, (secondly) for their constituency representation, and (thirdly) for their individually even privately espoused-causes ‘campaignings’.

        However, I think that much more importantly, vis a vis pre- , during-, and post- legislative scrutiny by the two Houses, Lord McNally must have been over-tired when he failed to see that the innovative Lords Reform Committee, with its much more representative party-mix of proven experience, will very probably have a big-problem if that committee tries to stick to its remit, which appears to be to (i) simply write this new Reform Bill (ii) not argue about it (iii) exclude Lords and Ladies of the Upper House from making input (to that committee).

        As the saying goes, Blind Freddy can see that to construct such a swingeing reform bill as the Commons is intent upon for The Lords, in an innovatively elected instead of govt-biased-appointed committee to boot, there are going to be at least a few contentious issues.

        Lord Grenfell was quite wise to opine that such a committee is very likely to become ‘ferocious’; but my lords from we citizenry’s viewpoint, that noble lord was even more on-target in calling for both plenty of time to perform pre-legislative scrutiny, and the right and means for lords and ladies outside of that committee to make submissions to that committee. (Apparently not even backbench Nobles are allowed to contribute anything; and Lord McNally ‘though performing well overall, lost his footing somewhat at this point declaring, somewhat pedagogically I thought (“)This is not going to be a debating-society(“)).

        Thus that innovatively elected, innovative Lords Reform committee, would seem to be a very curious, and Gorgon’s-head, type of upstart totally-unproven oligarchy.

        These, along with many other democracy-difficulties, almost amount to an alarm-call, for The People and individual-citizens themselves to begin participating, between elections, in various governance tasks of clarification, dispassionate and disinterested deliberation, scrutiny, and win-win-win cooperative-problem-solving.

        Your closing words, although ostensibly morale-raising and reassuring, need to be called into immediate question: both that there is “a clear reform agenda” and “that we thus have the basis for achieving change”.

        And I beg to remain yours attentively.

  2. Gareth Howell
    16/06/2010 at 3:34 pm

    You are all barking….. up the wrong tree.
    You know from the comments made by debaters in the other place that they have been watching in detail in their offices five minutes walk away and that they have to dash round to have their say. That means there are fifty participants, but only ten in the chamber.

    What, may I ask is wrong with that? It may be 100 participants and 12 in the chamber,of those members who may speak.

    Merely because the peers are old,frail, and need to keep warm, and can’t afford to do so at home and need a bit of exercise walking round the palace, is no good reason to condemn the HofC.

    There is no doubt that skinny ones find it easier to squeeze in, but it does not make the chamber any more valuable.

    • Lord Norton
      16/06/2010 at 5:08 pm

      Gareth Howell: You are quite correct that members can watch on the screens in their offices. We can do the same in the Lords – though as we share offices this can disturb other members. I am quite surprised by how many do follow proceedings on screen. Many years ago, when I spoke in a debate on the age of consent to a chamber that was not exactly full, I was amazed the next day by the number of peers who came up to congratulate me, having watched the speech on the screen.

      The problem with watching on screen, though, is that you cannot contribute to proceedings; obviously, you have to be there if you wish to intervene or indeed to indicate support or dissent. Shouting ‘hear, hear’ in the privacy of your own room has no effect or, if shouted in a room occupied by other peers, can atract a strange look.

      • Lord Norton
        16/06/2010 at 5:10 pm

        Gareth Howell: As a postscript, watching on screen means that the chamber can look far from full, thus attracting negative comments from people who are unaware that members may be watching on screen or busy do a range of other things (attending committees, dealing with correspondence). Obviously, no particular names come to mind…

        • 16/06/2010 at 10:36 pm

          Really. That old chesnut.

          Last time this was raised, I submitted an FOI request as to who was in committees on the day that it was claimed that lots were, and that’s why they weren’t on the TV broadcast.

          There were less than 10 in committees on the day.

          However, 400 odd had turned up and claimed attendence allowances.

          There were about 50 in the chamber.

          So where were the 340 others?

          It’s the same with our ex PM. He’s being paid for a full time job. However, he’s off in Scotland writing a book from the accounts I’ve read.

          So we need need clocking in and clocking off.

          We need CCTV cameras all over the houses of parliament so we can listen in on all conversations. After all, you are acting on our behalf. What things are you doing that you don’t want us to know about?

          Lord Blagger

    • 16/06/2010 at 10:40 pm

      You know from the comments made by debaters in the other place that they have been watching in detail in their offices five minutes walk away and that they have to dash round to have their say. That means there are fifty participants, but only ten in the chamber.

      It matters because the only evidence we have of work being done by MPs is what goes on in the House and Committees (and lords too).

      ie. Hansard, and any written reports. That’s the products that parliament produces.

      From the evidence, and the cost of them to us, they are particularly inefficent.

      Lord Blagger

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