Diary of a baroness

Baroness Deech

Saturday we celebrated with an old friend who thinks he has been appointed to the Supreme Court.  I say “thinks” because although the appointment is all over the internet, there has been no official announcement.  The appointment has been brewing for about 5 months, and still no formal announcement. Apparently it cannot be announced until the Queen – the Pope – NATO – Uncle Tom Cobley and all have been informed and agreed.  The entire system of judicial appointments seems to have become much more political under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 than when it was in the hands of the old-style Lord Chancellor, and certainly slower. In any case, we drank to him and hope we have got it right.

Sunday: spent most of the day drafting a speech in support of my amendment to the Public Bodies Bill, which is designed to rescue the Human Fertilisation & Embyology Authority from dismemberment.  Difficult, because one does not know how many other peers will speak, or what issues they will cover, or at what time of day the amendment will come on for debate.  The Government’s future intentions in relation to the regulation of IVF and embryology appear hazy, and depend on the creation of yet another new regulatory body. 

Monday: spent some 12 hours in Parliament waiting for my amendment to come up, which it did at 11pm.  We had a good debate and it is not over yet.  We will return to the defence before the Bill is passed.  I had to cancel chairing an outside  meeting scheduled long ago for that evening because of the uncertainty over the timing of the debate, which I felt very bad about, but could not help. Last train home, arrived at 2am.

Tuesday: in the morning gave some ladies a tour of Parliament in aid of an educational charity.  Lunchtime was spent learning about the latest developments in BBC Radio. Then it was the regular meeting of the Select Committee on Communications, which is examining the governance of the BBC.  We interviewed Sir Michael Lyons, outgoing Chairman of the Trust, and Lord (Michael) Grade, former Chairman of the Governors (of whom I had been one), which made for a lively and revealing session.  It was reported in the newspapers the next day. At 5 I went to a briefing about the proposed reform of universal jurisdiction, a welcome move.  At 6.30 I co-chaired the latest meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Family Law.  The subject matter was Transparency in the Family Courts, and the audience was in a high state of emotion and passion, and we nearly had to cut the meeting short.  Rightly or wrongly, there is a depth of unhappiness about decisions in the family courts and the uncertainty of the law. Family law is not an area that any government is keen to tackle, and much of it has remained unreformed for decades.

Wednesday: attended a conference about the Middle East and heard both Shimon Peres and William Hague speak. Hurried to the Lords at the end of the day in time to vote to preserve expected pension rights for women.  Unfortunately both amendments failed by 12 votes.  If there were more women in the Lords the result might have been different.

Only half the week has passed.  I mention all this because the work of peers is often assessed only by how many votes they have cast.  There is a lot more to it than that.

26 comments for “Diary of a baroness

  1. Lord Blagger
    30/03/2011 at 10:15 pm

    Old mates club isn’t it?

    Appoint your mates to positions of power.

    The subject matter was Transparency in the Family Courts

    The lords passed the laws that made it secret.

    Now we even have the courts ruling that people can’t contact their MPs about cases.

    • Baroness Deech
      Baroness Deech
      31/03/2011 at 5:39 pm

      The conspiracy theory seems to be raising its head. I have no say in appointments, nor do other peers, there is an independent commission. Nor have we made secret courts – the opposite is true: in the washup period last spring before the election, a law was hurriedly passed, too hurriedly in my view, opening up the courts to journalists, even though children apparently object to their issues being made public.

      • Matt
        31/03/2011 at 5:55 pm

        Who gets to decide who sits on the ‘independent commission’? This in itself is lacking in transparency; as are the content of the commission’s deliberations.

        • Baroness Deech
          Baroness Deech
          01/04/2011 at 9:12 am

          There is plenty of open information about the Commission. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judicial_Appointments_Commission

          You could apply to be a member. It is no more or less open about the appointments than any other job selection process.

          • Lord Blagger
            01/04/2011 at 10:27 am

            Lets look at the lay members

            1. Professor Dame Hazel Genn, DBE, professor of law at University College London
            2. Sir Geoffrey Inkin, OBE
            3. Ms Sara Nathan, OBE
            4. Mr Francis Plowden
            5. Ms Harriet Spicer

            Professor Genn is a lay member of the Judicial Appointments Commission.[3]

            She was formerly: a member of the Economic and Social Research Council, where she served as chair of the council’s Research Grants Board;[4] a member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life;[5] chair of the Public Legal Education and Support (PLEAS) task force;[6] chair of the Advisory Panel for research on Family Advice and Information for the Legal Services Commission; chair of main panel J of the Research Assessment Exercise 2008.[7]

            Quangocrat

            Sir Geoffrey David Inkin, OBE is a former commander of the Royal Welch Fusiliers who is a lay member of the Judicial Appointments Commission[1] (for England and Whales) since January 2006.

            He was Chairman of the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation (1987 until 2000), chairman of the Land Authority of Wales (1987 and 1998) and member of Gwent County Council and Gwent Police Authority.[1]

            Quangocrat

            She was a founder board member of OFCOM, where her term ended at the end of 2007, on the Regulatory Decision Committee of the Financial Services Authority from 2001 – 2007, and was a member of the ICSTIS PhonepayPlus Committee (which regulates premium rate telephony)until November 2008. She chairs The Animal Procedures Committee, a body that advises the British Home Secretary on matters related to animal experimentation in the UK.

            She was a member of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and of the Professional Conduct Committee of the Bar Council. Nathan was a Commissioner for the Marshall Scholarships until December 2006. Previously she was a BBC journalist for 15 years on Newsnight, Breakfast and the Money Programme. She was on the launch team for Radio 5Liver and was the first editor of the morning programme on the BBC’s Radio 5 Live. After that she became Britain’s first female editor of a TV Network news programme when she became Editor of Channel 4 Newsin 1995.

            Sara has been an Editorial Adviser to the BBC Trust since January 2008.

            She has been a lay member of the Judicial Appointments Commission since January 2006.

            Sara was appointed to the board of the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority in January 2010.

            She was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, announced on 14 June 2008.[1]

            Quangocrat

            Plowden is Chairman of the Greenwich Foundation for the Old Royal Naval College[2] and Chairman of the National Council for Palliative Care.[3] He was a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers until 2001, where he was responsible for public policy and management work worldwide. He has previously held board positions in the public, private and voluntary sectors. He has been a lay member of the Judicial Appointments Commission since January 2006.

            Quangocrat

            Harriet Greville Spicer is a lay member of the Judicial Appointments Commission.[1] She was born on 24 April 1950 to James Spicer, the then owner of Spicer’s Paper and Patricia Palmer. She lived in Chelsea before attending Lillsden School for Girls and then Benenden School. In 1968 she spent some time working for Richard Branson’s Student magazine.[2] She went on to graduate from St. Annes College, Oxford University.

            Spicer was Chair of the National Lottery Commission[3] and has been Chair of the Friendly Almshouses, Brixton.[1] She was a founder member and executive of Virago Press.[4] She has been a lay member of the Judicial Appointments Commission since January 2006.

            Harriet is co-founder of Working Edge which provides work coaching and mentoring in London and is a Governor of the London School of Economics.

            Quangocrat

            It’s a cabal appointing their mates, to sup at the teat of public spending.

  2. Matt
    31/03/2011 at 6:27 am

    A very packed agenda, indeed.

    You fail to mention, however, that it would perfectly be possible for you to turn up to the chamber on any sitting day, do precisely nothing, and pocket £300 for it.

    • Lord Blagger
      31/03/2011 at 7:58 am

      Quite.

      Q. Why do you think it was called Attendance allowance and not Working allowance?

      A. You can’t be prosecuted for claiming it when you have done nothing. With a working allowance you could be.

      • 31/03/2011 at 9:24 am

        In many jobs you can turn up and do nothing all day if you are so inclined. A colleague whose husband once worked at the Welsh Assembly told me they had a joke:
        Q: How many people work at the Welsh Assembly?
        A: About 10%

        So Lord Blagger you would prefer to have an elected upper house, where people get paid much more, and can claim expenses on top of that, and claim for staff salaries and office costs, yet could still turn up and do nothing if they wanted to (as could their staff)? Sounds like a much better deal for the taxpayer, I don’t think.

    • Carl.H
      31/03/2011 at 8:24 am

      Matt, although what you are saying is perfectly true and may in a very small minority of cases be done I think to aim this at the Baroness is unfair.

      I would imagine to get the noble Lady to speak for a short while at a dinner party would cost far more than the £300. Her experience and stature in law alone means even the shortest of her time would be beyond me.

      I would imagine a vast majority of the members would be better rewarded financially in private industry for their time. Perhaps this is what the Government plans in it’s forthcoming Lords reform, to put the entrepeneurs back in the workplace.

      Without doubt there are too many members and costs could be cut in that manner but £300 per day which includes expenses is cheap for the expertise we get. They do not just work within the House, a lot of work is done elsewhere and the homework is a heavy load.

      What is needed in the House is a heavier line with Government, so far most of the bills have been slated by expert committees as being too rushed and not thought through correctly. Unfortunately most have still gone through with just minor adjustments, the concept being the people voted them in they must be obeyed, this is wrong.

      I have noted that self interest cases get a harder time, Quangos etc., and I expect the upcoming reform bill. It is difficult to be passionate about something that doesn’t affect or interest you and I feel at times the House needs reminding that real people can suffer greatly as a result of their vote.

      • Lord Blagger
        31/03/2011 at 9:44 am

        Without doubt there are too many members and costs could be cut in that manner but £300 per day which includes expenses is cheap for the expertise we get. They do not just work within the House, a lot of work is done elsewhere and the homework is a heavy load.

        But its not.

        300 is what they get.

        The cost to us is far more. Well over 2,000 a day.

        • Carl.H
          31/03/2011 at 3:57 pm

          And should you become ill, old, frail, unemployed your costs could outweigh your input.

          The fact is the allowance is what members get, the extra cost such as the building etc., would probably still be there without the members.

          It appears your grouch then is not with the members but with the system. You would be far better off lobbying your MP for reform or abolition if you think money could be saved.

          Any employee costs more than his wage to a company, building, lighting, heating, plumbing, insurance, National Insurance, Sick pay et al.

          Government is a costly business. Do you suggest a unicameral system or perhaps a single dictator maybe cheaper ?

          Would you also suggest getting rid of the Fire Service after all they only seem to work on an infrequent basis ? Or perhaps the Police because you personally haven’t used them in years ?

          Just what is your alternative ?

      • Matt
        31/03/2011 at 5:30 pm

        @ Carl H.

        I was careful to make my point in theoretical language (‘it would be perfectly possible …’).

        It would be most interesting to hear how peers actually spend their 300 quid …

        … You may well be right to say that some could get much more elsewhere, but the quality of their contributions in the house ranges from sparkling to embarrassing ~ I can quite confidently say that, oftentimes, I would have made a better job of it, and I’ll do it for less, to boot.

        • Carl.H
          01/04/2011 at 8:46 am

          @Matt

          I don’t disagree with your last paragraph, I do think the House needs a careful cull but not in the way Government plan, elections. Filling the House with more ex-MPs or failed wannabes would make the situation worse although the elequence of speeches may improve. BS is still BS, no matter how elequent.

          Often the trouble with the middle-aged to elderly comfortably well off is they lack the passion and vision. These Lords rarely come into contact with people who may be affected by the legislation.

      • Baroness Deech
        Baroness Deech
        31/03/2011 at 5:41 pm

        I do wish I were paid for after dinner speeches. If I had a penny for every one, I would be well off . . . never been paid for one yet. As for £300 a day, there is also a half rate at £150. We out of towners have to meet our hotel expenses out of that. And, as I was trying to explain, much work goes on that is not visible or dependent on sitting in the Chamber during a debate.

        • Matt
          31/03/2011 at 5:57 pm

          I believe you … but you’re one of 800+

        • Gareth Howell
          02/04/2011 at 7:49 am

          “So Lord Blagger you would prefer to have an elected upper house, where people get paid much more, and can claim expenses on top of that”

          That may not be his case. Apparently they have similar if not the same age problems in the US senate, although there are far fewer of them. Obama was elected to a chamber of old men, very unusual ones in their case, but not in ours, being such a small group of islands.
          ————————

          Blagger’s Quangocrats above is a very interesting and salient explanation of the way in which people take up, first of all,charitable appointments, then Quango appointments, and probably, after that, highly paid public company appointments as well.

          It is a career path. Blagger may not like the people who do it, being of a certain species or kind, but the work may be essential.

          Cancelling the charitable status of most charities would be a good start, but only a start.

          The evidence some of the chairmen give to Select committees of parliament can be very instructive and valuable, but please don’t ask me to cite examples.

          How else would he suggest Quangos are organized, other than what Mr Maude has been doing in the last year?

          • Matt
            02/04/2011 at 11:52 am

            I think we may be at cross-purposes here … I have no faith in the opaque workings of the commission for vetting/recommending peerages; whereas others may be referring to the judicial-appointments commission (on which I have not formed a view).

          • Lord Blagger
            02/04/2011 at 4:42 pm

            So Lord Blagger you would prefer to have an elected upper house, where people get paid much more, and can claim expenses on top of that”

            =============

            Nope. I think it should be completely abolished. About 600 million over the next 5 years saved.

            If New Zealand doesn’t need a second house the UK doesn’t either.

            They have had 900 years of trying to get the law right, and they are still trying to correct errors.

            Evidence it doesn’t work, so why bother?

            The alternative is far better.

            1. Right of recall for MPs.
            2. Referenda by proxy.

            The cost of 2 is about 20 million a year on top of the 100 million current cost of vote registration.

  3. MilesJSD
    milesjsd
    31/03/2011 at 6:44 am

    as one of the “… all!

    (and since The State has neither sufficiently pre-informed me nor participation-enabled me)

    I claim Time to learn, deliberate, and democratically make multi-way communications

    in not just the “appointment” matter but in all other mentioned-matters, and More, as well.

    0743Th31Mar11
    se

  4. Gareth Howell
    31/03/2011 at 7:50 am

    Now! Now! Blagger!

    The Lady’s due is “hard working woman”, but for what?

    Most people would ask the same, after spending 12 hours in parliament in one day.

  5. Lord Blagger
    31/03/2011 at 9:44 am

    Either they do something or they don’t.

    If they don’t do something, why are we force to pay over 2,000 a day per Lord. More than an Archer each.

    If they do something, then they have to take the blame when that something goes wrong.

    What you’ve got is that they want to say they do something in order to justify their cost to us, but they also want to avoid any responsibility for what they do.

    That’s why she’s so keen to try and say, Lord Blagger’s made a mistake, we’re not responsible for the mess.

    She is.

  6. MilesJSD
    milesjsd
    31/03/2011 at 3:27 pm

    The “reward” system, of our Colony-based hierarchical-common-purse, will be the Death of us if we don’t Reinforcement Theory”.

    The inner fact of our Nature is that “a job well done is its own reward” – check with Profs Caroline Dweck’s “Mindset” and William Powers’s (“)Perceptual Self Control(“):

    so if people, as workers, “””need””” a bigger monetary income then they are natural-failures.

    Couple to this the British voting-citizen’s right-to-voice-their-need, in the democracy claimed to have up and successfully-working,
    and the egalitarian public-speaking time allowed for each of some 60 million British Isles residents is of the order of two (2) seconds.

    The true democratic value of a Peer’s after-dinner speech, in moral-spirit as well as in pounds sterling, must therefore be unbelievably negative – i.e. destructive !!!

    ———– 11627Th31Mar11.JSDM.

  7. MilesJSD
    milesjsd
    31/03/2011 at 3:33 pm

    The “reward” system, of our Colony-based hierarchical-common-purse, will be the Death of us if we don’t rapidly grow out of the “Reinforcement Theory”.

    The inner fact of our Nature is that “a job well done is its own reward” – check with Profs Caroline Dweck’s “Mindset” and William Powers’s (“)Perceptual Self Control(“):

    so if people, as workers, “””need””” a bigger monetary income then they are natural-failures.

    Couple to this the British voting-citizen’s right-to-voice-their-need, in the democracy claimed to have up and successfully-working,
    and the egalitarian public-speaking time allowed for each of some 60 million British Isles residents is of the order of two (2) seconds.

    The true democratic value of a Peer’s after-dinner speech, in moral-spirit as well as in pounds sterling, must therefore be unbelievably negative – i.e. destructive !!!

    ———–
    1633Th31Mar11.JSDM.

  8. Gareth Howell
    31/03/2011 at 7:07 pm

    I am quite certain that I could not cause the abolition of the lords of my own campaign, but perhaps Lord Blagger will!

    G

  9. Matt
    01/04/2011 at 3:34 pm

    @ Baroness Deech

    Re: ‘Independent’ Commission’ .. What Lord Blagger said.

    Furthermore, the chairman of the commission has been entirely unelightening (‘cagey’ might be a better word), whenever he has been quizzed by a parliamentary committee, as to what he actually does with his role.

    So let’s have a (televised) joint peerage committee instead. One person on it chosen by the convenor of the crossbenchers, one chosen by leader of 3rd largest party in commons, two by leader of 2nd largest, three by leader of largest.

    ‘Jobs for the boys’ is fine up to a point, provided this is done openly and honestly.
    ‘Jobs for the boys with a veneer of impartiality/ fair chances for all’ is just pathetic. The public have no faith in the process, whatsoever.

  10. maude elwes
    01/04/2011 at 3:41 pm

    I read today that its planned to change the name of the Lords to the Senate!

    Do you think this was an April fools day prank?

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