Time for a break

Lord Norton

The Commons rose yesterday for Christmas and the Lords rise today.  MPs and peers are decanting Westminster as quickly as they can, a combination of a desire to get away and to get home before the weather gets any worse.  My attachment to the place is such that I am never in any hurry to get away.  However, I think it is probably beneficial to the House that there is a break.  The House has been somewhat ill-tempered and things have not improved in recent weeks; if anything, they have got worse. 

The situation is not helped by the large number of new peers that have been (and are being) introduced.  It is not simply a question of numbers but also the speed of their introduction.   For the purposes of socialisation, it takes time and too many new members can result in practices and  procedures not being fully absorbed.   Numbers also affect pressure in the House, not just for finding space but also for taking part in Question Time. 

Some Bills are making remarkably slow progress, such as the Public Bodies Bill and the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.  As mentioned in a recent post, the House sat late on Monday, not rising until 1.14 a.m. , in order to make progress on the latter Bill. 

The Opposition has been seeking to harry the Government through challenging accepted practices and procedures: yesterday, for example, pursuing a minister over advice she may or may not have received from the Law Officers, even though the position is well established.  As the draft Cabinet Office Manual states ‘The fact that the Law Officers have advised [ministers], or have not advised, and the content of their advice may not be disclosed outside government without their authority’.    Whether or not the matter under consideration involved extending the interpretation of the financial privilege of the Commons was raised, even though the financial privilege is broad and encompasses the spending as well as the raising of money.   Tempers were getting a little frayed. 

The situation may not have been helped by the fact that not all ministers have matured in office.  Some are good, but others on occasion struggle.  Some are better than others at judging the mood of the House and in having a good grasp of their portfolios. 

Whether or not things will have improved when the House returns in the New Year remains to be seen.   We will at least be awaiting the report of the Leader’s Group set up to consider the working practices of the House.  That, I trust, will have some constructive proposals.

12 comments for “Time for a break

  1. tory boy
    22/12/2010 at 4:06 pm

    As i put my blog in before you had chance to reflect on yesterday. Here are my thoughts: Lord Norton I have listened to the consideration of Commons Amendments to the Identity Documents Bill there has been some very bizarre procedural behavior by the opposition. It seems that the Labour party are not worthy of being called her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Lord Soley and his socialist chums ought to be ashamed of their behavior. I felt sorry for Baroness Neville Jones it amounted to bullying by the Labour party and they have shown how low they will go.

  2. Carl.H
    22/12/2010 at 4:14 pm

    My Lord, the forthcoming rise in VAT and cuts will have a disastrous effect on the Nation and I fear when you all return the mood will be no better. Especially having to pay more for your rail travel, fuel and overnight accomodation.

    Enjoy the break, from normality anyway, and avoid the flu which I haven`t managed. It`s spreading like wildfire and I`m hearing younger people than I being taken to hospital with complications.

    Have a good Christmas everyone and a Happy New year.

  3. Carl.H
    22/12/2010 at 7:34 pm

    Totally off topic.

    My sympathies to the family of the yet unknown soldier of the Colchester-based 216 Parachute Signal Squadron, Royal Corps of Signals, who has died of his injuries just days before Christmas. A shocking blow to his family and loved ones.

    Lt Col David Eastman said “He died making a better, safer life for others; his sacrifice will not be forgotten.”

    It deserves mentioning as do all our brave servicemen and women, at this time of year especially.

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      24/12/2010 at 12:09 pm

      Carl.H: I very much agree. Losing close ones anytime is distressing but especially so at this time of year. It is important to remember those who are in this situation as well as those for whom Christmas is not or cannot be a time of happiness.

  4. Gareth Howell
    22/12/2010 at 8:53 pm

    “The situation may not have been helped by the fact that not all ministers have matured in office.”

    Now you are making me laugh! He is no spring chicken, and he was thinking aloud to two teenie boppers who were flirting with him, for a story! That is precisely why neither he nor Menzies Campbell took up the challenge in the long term for their party leader. The Lib dem method of hiring a glamour boy for the purpose, will continue to reap benefits for their party in government.

    I am sorry that Labour has no leader, except possibly Alan Johnson, whose dedication is exemplary.

    On the subject of new peers milling around, one wonders how many will be fired only a couple of years after being hired, if the campaign for election of most peers makes any headway.

    The veneer of 100% pluralist democracy,(including the elected hered electoral college) my noble Lord Norton, would do the power of good to an otherwise redundant and archaic chamber, used except by the dedicated Lawyers few, as the best club in London, at which to entertain their families and friends.

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      24/12/2010 at 12:13 pm

      Gareth Howell: My comments were confined to the Upper House – a House that remains vibrant and which adds value to the political process. A second elected chamber would likely be value detracting. I hardly think the Lords can be described as some club. It’s the Commons that has the perks. We sit in crowded offices, several peers to a room, and with limited car parking and on space (or money) for staff. MPs have individual offices, offices for staff, a large underground car park, more committee and dining rooms and, oh yes, they are paid.

  5. Matt
    23/12/2010 at 10:47 am

    In the exchange to which you referred, the minister (Lady Neville-Jones, I think it was) was clearly being evasive. There would have been no shame in her admitting that she hadn’t followed-up the undertaking she made (or that she was wrong to make such an undertaking in the first place). Instead, she refused to say anything (only admitting that some sort of advice was sought at each stage, and that after an adjournment of the matter). The interrupters were doing their job as parliamentarians – it cannot have helped that the minister had a completely disdainful look on her face, every time there was an interruption.

  6. Len
    23/12/2010 at 10:52 am

    You could see the atmosphere was getting a bit tense on Monday, and it is understandable the massive changes to the House and the government’s seemingly blind determination to go on with the stacking of the House with new peers. It is a shame about the Opposition though, I hope it’s just through frustration rather than anything and it will calm down as the House does.

    I do have a question, Lord Norton, that you might be able to answer for me. It’s off-topic, but I was looking at other parliaments’ questioning methods and was wondering after watching the Lords Reform debate back in June: can anyone put a motion down on the order paper like Lord Steel did?

  7. Croft
    23/12/2010 at 11:31 am

    “The situation may not have been helped by the fact that not all ministers have matured in office.”

    One might have supposed some who have spent a life in opposition would have more care to treat the house well. Usually I’d hope for a new year reshuffle to remove some of the dead wood but with coalition balance deemed so important and relatively few candidates to choose from in some areas I’m not sure much can change.

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      24/12/2010 at 12:16 pm

      Croft: Not all ministers in the Lords are long-serving parliamentarians. Some adapt well to the House, others have more difficulty. It’s the same as in the Commons. I take your point, though, about the new circumstance.

  8. Tory boy
    23/12/2010 at 5:14 pm


    I am afraid you are wrong Lady Neville-Jones told the house that she would undertake to hold discussions with her officials on an area relating to the bill (which she did). The Labour peers and Liberals were asking here to state what the advice was and who gave it her. This is out of order the ministerial code states that no undertaking has to be given as to the source and what was said. The Labour peers know this from when their party was in government and there colleagues held ministerial office. The Labour peers were also breaking the rules of the house making interventions on interventions and continually badgering the minister. The fact is the Labour party as Sir John major said in a recent interview with Andrew Marr or behaving totally unprofessionally and irresponsibly not even accepting the mess they left the coalition govt but just throwing in rocks from the side line. In the words of the former speaker now Baroness Boothryod when speaker of the house of commons “I think it is time members of this house grew up”. I hope the Labour party in the lords will take this message home over x-mas and come back with a least of shred of honesty and decency.

  9. Matt
    24/12/2010 at 12:28 pm

    Tory Boy,
    The expectattion, from a plain reading of her undertaking, would be that she would tell the house at a later WHETHER OR NOT she had taken further legal advice on the matter (ie, compatibility with european convention). NOBODY was pressing her to say WHAT the advice was, or WHO had given it; but simply for her to say if she had followed it up. IT TOOK AN ADJOURNMENT FOR HER EVEN TO SAY THIS MUCH. It angered many peers, of many different persuasions.

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