Bad Behaviour in the House

Baroness Murphy

The Lords is an amending, revising chamber, not a “chuckerouterer” of Government Bills. What on earth are the Opposition doing filibustering over days and days to delay the passage of the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill? Tabling amendments, having a robust discussion and pressing it to a vote is one thing; behaving like a panellist on ‘Just a Minute’ is quite another. And on Just a Minute, panellists must talk on a topic for 60 seconds without ‘repetition, hesitation or deviation’; if only peers (old lags one paper called them) would restrain themselves to one minute and frankly the repetition and deviation from the topic makes sorry reading.  I’m just not going to participate in such ill-mannered debates and judging from the low turn out of crossbench voters, many of my colleagues take the same line as I do. We have no business preventing the passage of the Government’s  programme; our business is improvement not rejection. As Lord Norton has pointed out, (and Lord Butler of Brockwell noted on the Radio 4 ‘Today” programme) this Bill is susceptible to change by normal parliamentary procedures, witness Conservative Lord Fowler’s ‘Isle of Wight amendment’, won against Government opposition in the usual way. As Baroness O’ Neill of Bengarve said on 19 January “I think that scrutiny has become impossible in the course of the debate on this Bill, in part because of the repetitive and irrelevant comments, whether co-ordinated or not, made in many speeches by noble Lords on the Opposition Benches.” “As a Cross-Bencher, I beg the leaders of the Opposition and of the Coalition to remember that their loyalty to this House stands above their partisan loyalty.”

The aim of the filibuster is to prevent the referendum on the alternative voting system going ahead on May 5th. That’s all (in spite of the denials). The truth is quite a lot of peers enjoy this kind of behaviour, some even think it’s legitimate (‘all’s fair in love and war’ sort of approach). No, it just makes us ridiculous. Peers who are former MPs have been blamed but not all of those indulging in filibustering have political backgrounds. There are many of us who want to get on with the scrutiny of the Government’s ambitious programme; several bills will now be delayed. This has not been the Lords’s finest hour.

20 comments for “Bad Behaviour in the House

  1. Carl.H
    21/01/2011 at 4:53 pm

    I`ll just say I totally disagree and have elsewhere in detail.

  2. Edward Brunsdon
    21/01/2011 at 5:19 pm

    I was watching on my computer to the debate on Monday and heard an expletive (its in Hansard at about 5.00pm.) Who would have guessed the language in the HoL would become x-rated!

  3. Matt
    21/01/2011 at 5:38 pm

    I notice that none of the opposition peers has proposed an amendment whereby the referendum would contain a second question, ‘Should the number of mps be cut from 650 to 600?’ … Why? – Because there would be an overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote for it, that’s why.

  4. ladytizzy
    21/01/2011 at 6:51 pm

    There are crossbenchers and there are former MPs, and then there are ex-Speakers, one of whom appeared to be wistful and moist-eyed as he addressed old friends on the Labour benches.

    Listening to Lord Martin I was thinking Wish You Were Here, more than Just a Minute.

  5. tory boy
    21/01/2011 at 11:37 pm

    Lady Murphy we are both speaking the same gospel. I have been saying this since Monday mostly on Lord Norton’s personal blog. The shame is though that I cannot see any change Lord Falconer stated on the daily politics that the opposition are going to carry on playing silly games and tarnishing the reputation of the house.

  6. Twm O'r Nant
    22/01/2011 at 9:57 am

    Sit back, forget about the “House” and enjoy the club.

    Press and decorticate some olives.

  7. Teithiwr
    22/01/2011 at 12:18 pm

    Those on the Opposition benches are using the few tools they have in their armoury to amend and delay what they see to be a bad law – this is legitimate and I would be disappointed if they did not do this on an issue they clearly feel strongly about. As Lord Norton states on his personal blog – “There is a filibuster. That’s not really the issue. The important question is whether or not it is justified.” Perhaps you feel this is a good piece of legislation that has been carefully considered, widely consulted upon and addresses key constitutional issues and therefore the filibuster is not justified. I would beg to differ.

    The contents of the Bill were not included in the manifestos of either of the coalition parties, there has clearly not been enough pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill and there has been a failure by the Government to get cross-party support for a Bill which is being rushed through Parliament just as they want a referendum on a specific date which is likely to be of benefit to one side. Combining proposals for a new voting system, with the size of electoral constituencies and the reduction in the number of MPs was bound to be a controversial political issue and it may have been more prudent for the Government not to try and rush such a Bill through Parliament. The Opposition Peers are working within the rules of the House – rules which are accepted by Peers and could have been reformed at any point by Peers such as you. Hopefully, if nothing else, this episode will focus the minds of Peers and they will focus on modernising the workings of the House to provide mechanisms which will lead to a more efficient and effective legislature.

  8. Chattering Man
    23/01/2011 at 9:23 am

    Until now I’d never really been too bothered about the House of Lords. But why an unelected body believes it has any right to prevent the populace from being asked a simple question completely beats me. Time to get rid of the Lords ?

  9. Bedd Gelert
    23/01/2011 at 6:41 pm

    Well, up to a point Baroness Murphy…

    No one has voted for having ‘AV’ in elections – it was a classic political fudge concocted in a backroom deal between parties going into coalition.

    So I think the Lords have the right to fully test it, possibly to destruction.

    Mind you, had they done the same over tuition fees…

  10. Dan Filson
    23/01/2011 at 10:48 pm

    “We have no business preventing the passage of the Government’s programme; our business is improvement not rejection.”

    Does the Salisbury convention apply to elements of the Government’s programme that are in contradiction to what was put to the electorate by the parties making up the coalition? Surely not. So it is perfectly open to the Lords to amend and reject elements that have no mandate whatever. I agree that where there is a mandate, the Lords should indeed confine themselves to revision and improvement.

  11. Carl.H
    24/01/2011 at 10:58 am

    Bad behaviour in the House ?

    Lord Taylor seems to infer it`s endemic!!!

    • Maude Elwes
      25/01/2011 at 1:26 pm

      Who put Lord Taylor up for the Lords in the first place? Now they have a big question mark over their judgment don’t they?

      More scrutiny is needed for all members of both Houses. Lord Taylor is right on one particular issue and that is, it appears all have the snouts in the trough and he wants to know why he is being singled out to pay the price. Others who fiddled far more than he are away with it. Why is that?

      Is it possible that this man showed signs of fiddling long before he was charged with it and a blind eye was turned? Isn’t that what is happening all over Parliament? A fear to face up to the game being played for so long, the game called, push through anyone or anything as long as it looks good, worry about the outcome later. Better still, hush it up or cover up.

      Most voters have no idea why 50% of the Lords members are in their in the first place. Getting rid of half would have no effect one way or another.

      Especially when it comes to the one who has been asleep for twenty five years and never showed up. That seat could be given to someone who could make a difference.

      • Lord Norton
        Lord Norton
        26/01/2011 at 2:37 pm

        Maude Elwes: Not all snouts are in the through – it’s important that is stressed – and there is a fundamental difference between peers who claim that to which they are entitled and those who claim that to which they are not entitled.

        The peer who has not turned up 20 years lives in France and removing him from membership (which some of us would like to do) will not actually have any practical effect in that he is not occupying a seat that could be given to someone else. There is no fixed membership.

  12. Maude Elwes
    24/01/2011 at 4:33 pm

    If the Bill isn’t worth passing, and many of the Lords concur, then of course it should be sent back.

    Just to pass something because the government says so sounds a little like, ‘what is the purpose of the second house.’

    In th elong run it save a lot of time and money to refuse to pass an unsatisfactory Bill.

    I would think it should be the duty of the Lords to do just that.

    If you are to revue and make sense of a proposal and find that the proposal is asinine, how could the Lords do other than refuse it? To let it go through would be bordering on lunacy. And very expensive to the public purse.

    As Lord Blagger is always reminding us.

  13. Lord Blagger
    24/01/2011 at 9:31 pm

    I’ve been to interested in the bad behaviour being exposed in the Courts.

    We’ve even had comments from one of the main players in the expenses mess. The person who handed out the money without checks. Soon to disappear off with lots of money in their retirement.

    Clerk of the Parliaments Michael Pownall also told the court that the expenses scheme had relied on self-certification.

    But while he agreed with a suggestion it was “lightly policed”, he denied the scheme was “vaguely drawn”.

    He also rejected a suggestion that the expenses scheme was being used as a “surrogate wage”.

    “I don’t think I could sign up to that,” he said.

    “It’s a system of reimbursement, but without receipts, up to certain maximum allowances.”

    It’s your money he’s been handing out.

    The Clerk of Parliament is responsible for handling the money.

  14. baronessmurphy
    25/01/2011 at 12:52 pm

    I’ve responded to these comments as a comment to Lord Soley’s blog above on the same issue.

  15. Rich
    25/01/2011 at 1:01 pm

    What certain commentors here seem not to realise is that the Bill passed Second Reading, which means the House has accepted its general principles. The Opposition’s strategy is to try to kill part of a bill that was passed by the Commons and accepted in general by the House. Were the Opposition trying to perfect and scrutinse the bill, it would be one thing, but they aren’t. They are trying to act like the US Senate, which is a horrible place to take lessons from. This is not the most significant bill in the last half century, or even the last year or two, yet Labour is treating as though it is.

    The Coalition see that Labour is cynically trying to preserve the advantage it gets from the distorted electoral system, the Crossbenchers see it, the Labour Whips see it, even the press see it, yet somehow Labour supporters are so blinded by tribal loyalties that they can’t bring themselves to see it.

    • Carl.H
      26/01/2011 at 4:29 pm

      Rich I am not a Labour supporter but I won’t say I have never voted that way. Infact most of the Labour supporters and indeed peers here seem to think 90% of the time I am the complete opposite.

      So that rules that one out.

      You state clearly that the present system gives Labour an advantage, this may or may not be so but you offer no evidence of such. Nor can you or the Government offer that the proposed bill will provide more fairly, infact the Government benches state time and again they have done “no research” into how the 600 will affect the system.

      Nor are the considered changes to boundaries fair when it is already apparent the Conservative majority got an amendment to approve one area not to be changed. The area is an island but in this modern age that has little impact there are other areas where taking a few from one constituency and putting them into another will have great impact. If one for instance takes Hackney and Islington for instance, two totally differing areas with totally opposite outlooks. There are many other instances one can produce, areas of farmland where population is low may be lumped with new estates who knows. There is not enough solid knowledge or research been done.

      The entire concept of the rules, the amount of players being altered by a competitor alone is absurd. It needs independent scrutiny and it needs all major party agreement, anything else is simply unfair and unjust and sets a dangerous precedent for future governments to consider.

      Whatever you may think I am NOT on Labours side, I can see where they are coming from and take a similar view, therefore I do back their stance.

      Think on this, if at some point in the future the electorate put into power a BNP Government with a definitive majority how could they use such a precedent ? The system we have is imperfect but it was hard fought for and reasonably fair, changes may or may not be better but we owe it to history to try to ensure the changes are at least as fair by way of proper scrutiny and agreement.

      • Maude Elwes
        27/01/2011 at 2:03 pm

        CarlH: what you write here is correct. But, you are asking for integrity and concern for our future. I have little faith those requirements are top of this list.

        And in your observance of BNP possibilities, UKIP is more likely, as the BNP has no intelligent leadership. They are a little akin to the in House fighting we see here.

Comments are closed.