A fox in the House of Lords

Lord Rennard

My first posting on “Lords of the blog” comes a day after an uninvited visitor was sighted in the red carpeted corridors of the Lords.  A fox “broke in” to the House somewhere near the Speaker’s apartments and pest control had to be called in.  This happens occasionally.  I think that a fox was once filmed in the chamber.  The pest control people are more used to dealing with the frequent sightings of mice in some of the bars and dining rooms.  This latter problem seems to have been reduced considerably since they began hoovering up the crumbs left behind from their Lordships’ lunches.  Not that I want to put anyone off visiting the place.

New visitors to the House usually meet me at Peers’ entrance and often ask fairly quickly about Lords reform.  I point immediately to the progress made since I became a peer in 1999.  I proudly show them my coat peg in the cloakroom and explain that it is now for my exclusive use,  but that when I first came here, the House had over 1300 members (mostly hereditary peers) and it was one coat peg between two peers.  When I became a peer on the recommendation of Lord Ashdown, I was the youngest ever Liberal or Liberal Democrat life peer (aged 39).  Many of the hereditary peers assumed that I must have inherited my title.   In those days they referred to themselves as “boarders” whilst those of us appointed as life peers were considered to be “day boys”. 

This reflected the public school tradition that most of the then members of the Lords seemed to have experienced.  When I was first taken to the Peers Dining Room before I became a peer,  I was told that “it was just like school dinners.”  “Not where I went to school in Liverpool” was what I thought.  I looked round thinking that I was probably one of the few peers who had been on free school meals.  To be fair to my host Lord McNally, he was really referring to the availability of steamed puddings of the sort that he evidently liked and I have to avoid these days.

The culture of the House  has certainly changed since 1999.  But I still don’t feel personally able to defend to visitors a system in which almost all peers either inherit their title or are appointed under a system of patronage controlled by the Party Leaders.  Some people think that ‘panels of experts’ appoint experts to the House of Lords.  If they understood more about the way in which Party Leaders make almost all the appointments, I believe that there would be more widespread support for more significant reform in future.

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17 comments for “A fox in the House of Lords

  1. Lord Blagger
    24/06/2011 at 12:45 pm

    . But I still don’t feel personally able to defend to visitors a system in which almost all peers either inherit their title or are appointed under a system of patronage controlled by the Party Leaders

    You can make a start by resigning. After all, weren’t you appointed by patronage?

    • lordrennard
      24/06/2011 at 3:04 pm

      But if those of us who favour reform all resigned, how would that help the cause of reform in future? In the meantime, there are many important issues and votes. Chris

  2. Twm O'r Nant
    24/06/2011 at 3:14 pm

    Quite like the clothes pegs at school too, but
    about 800 of those 1300 were absent with a fair regularity.

    The public may never have learnt the extent of taking the stroll from the city and back to claim attendance allowance, by the 800.

  3. 24/06/2011 at 3:49 pm

    May I congratulate the Noble Lord on his excellent maiden blog, which gives a good insight into life in the House. I look forward to his future contibutions.

    As for your last paragraph, doesn’t that imply the “significant reform” should be to ensure the majority of peers are indeed appointed by a panel of experts (rather than a small minority as at present)? Elections will not solve this issue at all as the candidates will still be chosen by the parties as at present. All it will mean is that the electorate can choose how many peers each party appoints, which could be done with a slight modification to the present system based on general election results. Far better to have fewer party-political politicians, and let a beefed-up Appointments Commission choose people of quality.

    • lordrennard
      24/06/2011 at 11:11 pm

      I would agree about the power of the parties if elected Lords were voted in on a closed party list stem but STV is a good system for giving most power to the voters.

  4. MilesJSD
    24/06/2011 at 4:40 pm

    If the reported quantity of crumbs left by the eating-peers was sufficient to sustain a mice-population, then it was not poisonous:

    so why were (so many) peers not themselves consuming those crumbs –

    or democratic-egalitarian-human-citizenship-like taking them away in sealable plastic-bags for domestic-animals to enjoy consuming ?

    or more industrially-economically, handing such bags in at the exit-door for the Kitchen-staff to aggregate and have collected at the service-door by some poor nearby pig-farmer ?

    But all of that ‘cost and ‘wastage’ comes nowhere near accounting for the £62 000 per peer ‘salary’ proposed by other governance-reformers currently, does it ?


  5. ladytizzy
    24/06/2011 at 5:07 pm

    ” A fox in the House of Lords”, by Lord Rennard. Of course, very drôle!

    But I still don’t feel personally able to defend to visitors…a system of patronage controlled by the Party Leaders.”

    Oh, come now, you are so close. If you can be proud about a coat peg I can’t see what’s holding you up.

    PS Good news on the diabetes front it would appear. Steamed puds out, steamed veg in.

  6. danfilson
    24/06/2011 at 5:14 pm

    Did Reynard the fox enter the house to clear it of rats? – if so, he has a heavy task ahead!

  7. Twm O'r Nant
    24/06/2011 at 6:19 pm

    Far better to have fewer party-political politicians, and let a beefed-up Appointments Commission choose people of quality.

    As undemocratic as possible!

    • 24/06/2011 at 11:37 pm

      How about if the Appointments Commission picked five times the number of candidates, and the public could vote for which they wanted? As democratic as any other election, just with much better candidates – people who would probably never have considered standing under the banner of a political party.

      • lordrennard
        25/06/2011 at 8:50 am

        But who picks the Appointments Commission? Your proposal still leaves too much power with party leaders and not enough with voters. Best to let voters pick and choose within parties or outside of parties with no fear of ‘splitting the vote’ . That’s why the Bill proposes using STV as used for example in the NI Assembly and Scottish local elections.

        • Lord Blagger
          25/06/2011 at 12:15 pm

          Lets have none.

          No commission.

          600 million saved over 5 years

          No corruption with expenses.

          No ‘redundancy payments’

          No corruption selling changes to the law for cash.

          No corruption where people who contribute to party coffers are highly likely to be appointed to the lords.

          No turning up for subsidised drinkies

          No turning up for lunch and leaving.

          Lots of money to be saved

  8. Gareth Howell
    25/06/2011 at 7:20 am

    Now that the Fox has arrived “Howell” is departing until October, so he will have absolutely no bark until I return.

    Good bye!

  9. maude lewes
    25/06/2011 at 1:12 pm

    The naughty red fox arrived to welcome you and let you know you were not going to be the only ‘rennard’ in the big red room.

    Regardless of that, you were jolly fortunate to get pest control in. Usually, when you give them a call you are greeted with, ‘whew, can’t do that, health and safety, love, be more than my job if I didn’t stand by the rules.’

  10. Senex
    26/06/2011 at 4:45 pm

    Welcome to the blog Lord Rennard or should I say the ‘Lions Den’?

    No doubt you know much of this but the provenance of the name ‘Rennard’ is an inflation of ‘Renard’ which in medieval literature has a close association with women specifically the Virgin Mary where monks preferred to decorate chapel walls with animals inhabiting Renard’s world rather than the good lady herself. The other association is with Aesop’s Fables. Here the tale of the fox and the scorpion seems particularly relevant to the banking crisis.

    In medieval times great relevance would have been placed upon seeing a fox in the house; was this just a fox or a reincarnated medieval Lord visiting the house in animal form. Then of course there is French literature where the triangle of Renard the fox, Ysengrin the wolf, and Hersent, his less than virtuous wife are stories told to emphasise the virtues of a Christian morality.

    Yes, in a nutshell you represent legend but are you capable of telling us a good story? Then there is the other fox in the house; sly and cunning, familiar with Parliamentary procedure. The name of this creature: Lord Tyler.

    His instance on a Senate makes me wonder whether he is a fox at all. I think perhaps he is really a wily coyote a friend of republics, Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner to the next US Presidency.

    I smell a rat, a mischief that would take us down the road to a republic.

    Ref: Lord Rennard; Chair, Commission on the Big Society
    The Metaphoric World of Renard the Fox
    Women and Gender in Medieval Europe an Encyclopedia; Margaret Schaus

    • maude elwes
      29/06/2011 at 12:29 pm


      But, you are a lover of Republics, why, therefore, would you wish anything other for us?

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