Lords reform – continued

Lord Soley

This section deals with another problem associated with the Government draft Bill. It follows on from my post below.

I agreed to go to the Lords in 2005 and I remember going in for the first time and seeing a line of wheel chairs plugged in to charging points – and the debate was on assisted dying! Had I made the mistake of my life? Well, yes I thought I had – but experience has given me a different perspective. For a start those wheel chairs tell you something rather important about how different the Lords is from the Commons. It is far more representative than the Commons of people with major disabilities. Also of ethnic minorities. Tony Blair appointed the first black leader of the House of Lords – Valerie Amos. It is as representative as the Commons for women but less representative on age and geography. One advantage of an appointed chamber is that with the right appointments system you can get representation for groups who would otherwise find it difficult to get heard.

The quality of debates in the Lords is very high. Quality of debate can be very high in the Commons too but it is bound to be more gladiatorial – it is the cockpit of the nation’s politics and you can’t take the strong emotions out of politics. Appointment means you have some real experts in the Lords who would be unlikely to stand for election to the Commons. This is a double edged sword. Experts tend to attend the debates that they are expert in – but the Lords debates the whole range of government policy and general political policy and their expertise is no advantage there. This is one of the arguments that send supporters of an elected chamber straight to the case for election. Who do you represent if you are appointed and why should being an expert in one field allow you to legislate on all other fields? Surely everyone who legislates should be elected?

Well, not necessarily. I don’t rely on the fact that a number of countries have unelected chambers – that’s interesting but doesn’t make the case. It is important to remember that everything the House of Lords does can be overturned in the Commons. The House of Lords cannot legislate without the final approval of the Commons. Quite rightly the elected chamber has a veto. The Lords does of course exercise great influence, but so do civil servants who have far more influence than most of us readily admit.

To be continued…

15 comments for “Lords reform – continued

  1. 26/04/2012 at 12:31 pm

    I have never really accepted the argument that appointing experts for their expertise in the field is itself a good thing – as any expert will tell you, most fields move so fast that the moment they concentrate on their new job, they are no longer experts in their old job.

    However, experts tend to be experts because they have an intellectual ability to grasp something and get to grips with the issues – regardless of the topic being discussed.

    It is intellectual vigour that experts bring to a debate, with a useful sideline occasionally in having personal experience in the area being discussed.

    As you note they are also unlikely to stand for elected office though – and that is a very good reason to keep appointing people to the Lords.

    • Lord Blagger
      26/04/2012 at 2:18 pm

      There are other reasons its wrong. For example, where is the Lord who was a hairdresser? Major commercial operation, not represented in the Lords.

      Now, we can then have that hairdresser applying their skills to Human Fertilisation and banking regulation, after all they are an expert.

      That’s the reason the Lords push, and expressed in that way, its farcical. As is most of the Lords.

      You and I don’t have permanent experts on the payroll. We get the experts when we need them for their advice, and just employ them for a short period.

      • 27/04/2012 at 9:26 am

        That’s disingenuous and you know it. It’s clear that someone who has risen to the top of their field in academia, business, or whatever profession, has the necessary analytical skills to contribute valuably to debates and informed discussion on a range of issues. In much the same way, a graduate may find jobs in a wide variety of fields, not just those related to his degree subject, and the chairman of a company will often take numerous directorships across different industries. The existing selection process for the Lords doesn’t just look at whether they are an expert in one field, but that they demonstrate a “range of experience, skills and competencies”.

        I would suggest that your average hairdresser does not quite have what it takes to joint the Lords. On the other hand, had Vidal Sassoon applied, he might have been appointed.

        Who would you rather have voting on banking or fertility bills? Someone who has excelled throughout their career and reached the top of their profession (even if unrelated) or an elected politician who’s never done anything other than meekly follow party orders in order to be selected and elected?

        • Lord Blagger
          27/04/2012 at 12:03 pm

          Who would you rather have voting on banking or fertility bills?


          Neither of your choices. The electorate should decide. That is democracy.

          If an elector wants to delegate their decision making to someone else, they should be able to nominate an MP to do so. If they choose not to, they shouldn’t.

          The existing selection process for the Lords

          The existing selection process is

          a) Brown nosing a PM.
          b) Being sacked by the electorate (because the don’t want you making decisions), and the PM deciding to over rule you
          c) Who your ancestor sh***ed.

          • 28/04/2012 at 2:07 pm

            But the electorate don’t decide. Political parties decide who to put forward and the electorate can only decide which party’s puppet to choose from.

            The selection process I refer to is that for crossbenchers:
            I’d like to see more of those and fewer political appointees – whether or not an election follows the political appointment.

        • Matt
          29/04/2012 at 12:50 pm

          @ Jonathan : Conveniently, your average hairdresser will NEVER get the chance to prove you wrong.

          You seem to hold the various decision-makers in our society in high regard. Not sure many would agree with you, there. In many instances, the quality of decision-making simply COULDN’T BE ANY WORSE, were this or that meeting to have been composed of people selected entirely at random.

  2. Lord Blagger
    26/04/2012 at 1:50 pm

    The Lords does of course exercise great influence


    Quantify it.

    How about this. We know that the government (commons) regularly uses the mechanism of the Lords to push amendments. By passing a lot of the Commons in the process. So take the total number of amendments, and remove those tabled by ministers.

    Then look at those that are left. Eliminate those that have failed, or get reversed in the Commons. Since they failed, they haven’t influenced anything.

    What are we left with? Perhaps a couple of hundred a year. Way less than one ammendment per Lord. Perhaps an amendment a day. For that we are paying around 2,700 * 400 for each.

    That’s why you need to be axed.

  3. Dave H
    26/04/2012 at 2:25 pm

    The only way an elected Lords stands any chance is if there is no one on the government payroll and there is no ‘career’ that might suffer from voting ‘the wrong way’.

    Debates would be started and closed by an MP/minister visiting from the Commons who could speak but not vote, and there would presumably be the opportunity for the opposition to do the same.

    That sort of system works fairly well at the moment – I don’t know how effective the Whips are in the Lords, given the number of non-aligned peers and the number of government reversals of late. By making it clear that being elected to the Lords wasn’t a path to a top government post, it might move the appeal away from the career politician (although a 15-year term is a career in its own way). I don’t know whether it’s possible to arrange that having served in the Lords, a person is barred from standing for the Commons for a certain number of years.

  4. Lord Blagger
    26/04/2012 at 3:35 pm

    The only way an elected Lords stands any chance is if there is no one on the government payroll and there is no ‘career’ that might suffer from voting ‘the wrong way’.


    So why not let the electorate decide?

    Career path? Doesn’t apply.

    Since the electorate is pay for it, they won’t easily be bribed with their own money.

    e.g. If you want spending – you have to put the tax in the bill. If you want to fund it from borrowing, you have to put the tax in the bill too. It’s just deferred.

    In particular everyone needs a person statement of their taxes, as well as the debts the MPs/Lords have run up. Pro rata share.

    MPs/Lords won’t do that because the debts are so large, and the personal shares astronomic, they would be in fear of the lynch mob.

  5. Twm O'r Nant
    26/04/2012 at 5:34 pm

    Tony Blair asked me in 1997 whether I would like to be a peer. I replied that I would quite like to be the first elected one!

    “Ok!” he said “You campaign for that!”

    Ha!Ha! Ha! blutty ha!

  6. MilesJSD
    27/04/2012 at 9:48 am

    “Election”, neither by closed-chambers nor by The Public Electorate, will only worsen the fitness-for-purpose of either House of Parliament.

    The Upper House needs to make both each individual member and the strategic groupings thereof, fit for Longest-Term-Purpose AND for any Plan B contingently thereto.

    And so does the ‘Lower’ House need to reform itself, too.

    And the Civil-Service needs a darned good raking over, too.
    As for local-democracy and healthy-living,
    words fail me.

  7. Senex
    27/04/2012 at 7:23 pm

    I agree with Jonathan. The appointments selection process does consider a wide range of general knowledge or street cred, just as important as the slot they occupy in terms of a specialisation.

    Take Lord Blagger, he knows a lot about Lords expenses and as the blogs advocatus diaboli he is always ready to offer a pejorative view of the Lords. But if we apply duality to his monotony what he is also saying is that some peers are financially stressed, certainly those that fell foul of the law could be considered in this way.

    What is forgotten is that the selection process needs an assurance that a prospective peer is self sufficient financially. This is not considered by her wooliness now the leader of the appointed house lobby. Finances are always fickle or unreliable over the long term and many peers find that fortune has not favoured them and they are poorer than when they entered the house.

    The appointed house lobby is a selfish lobby of “I’m all right Jack”.

    The constitutional arrangement before 1911 was neither house could help itself to Royal Treasury monies using the Royal prerogative because neither house could interfere with the others business and as such endorse each others financial impropriety.

    Even now if the draft bill contains clauses to pay peers it will allow the courts to question the employment status of peers making things difficult for MPs. I simply cannot see Royal Assent being given to such a bill.

    The Parliament Act prevents the house executive from helping itself to Royal treasury monies as the Commons did in 1911.

    Peers that have arrived in the house from the Commons inherited their office. At best the monies they received are controversial at worst the Commons as a body could be accused of grand larceny and contempt of the constitution. These peers are tainted by their legacy and their continued promotion of the appointments system must serve only to offend the dignity of those who are untainted.

    The blogs prospectus for an indirectly elected house allows peers an income from private monies much of it deductable as an expense. Lets say no to Lord Blagger and yes to expenses that are none of his business.

    • Lord Blagger
      29/04/2012 at 7:00 pm

      Don’t forget under the system I’ve proposed, referenda by proxy, there is nothing stopping you and like minded people paying a Lord 300 a day (you won’t get one at that price, closer to 3,000 a day), to vote your proxy vote.

  8. Lord Blagger
    29/04/2012 at 6:59 pm

    But if we apply duality to his monotony what he is also saying is that some peers are financially stressed,


    In what way are they financially stressed? 300 a day tax free. No retirement date. No obligation to do any work.

    Now consider the financial stress of the people who have been forced to pay them.

    Look at the mess they have created.

    Lets say no to Lord Blagger and yes to expenses that are none of his business.

    You are the Clerk of Parliaments and I claim by five pounds.

  9. Gareth Howell
    01/05/2012 at 6:04 pm

    blogs advocatus diaboli

    Heh! heh! Good one. There must surely be a suitable Latin word for Blog.

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