Clearing out the ‘dead wood’?

Lord Tyler

There is much rumbling amongst their Lordships at the imminent threat of the Prime Minister to appoint more Peers, to achieve a better balance of party representation. He can legitimately claim that he is only reflecting the votes at the last General Election.   Labour can hardly complain because – not only did they get the lion’s share of the immediate post-election intake in 2010 (29 compared with 15 Conservatives and 9 Liberal Democrats) – but Tony Blair and Gordon Brown between them nominated 173 Labour allies over their 13 years in office.

However, the anxiety is shared across the House.   There is an element of the old medieval instinct:  pull up the drawbridge now WE are safely inside.  But this concern is principally stimulated by the increasing proportion of Members who are sufficiently active to attend the Chamber regularly and require some office facilities. While the total number currently entitled to sit in the Lords 760 (excluding 39 who have taken leave of absence), the older appointees tend to be less diligent than the new arrivals.  As more Peers have been appointed in the last two years, the average attendance has increased by nearly 25%.
 
So what’s to be done to slim the place down?   Lord Dubs had an ingenious idea earlier in the month:  “Why not suggest that, if anybody wishes to stay in this House, they drop their title but, if they leave the House, they can retain it?”.  I wish it were that easy.  I added my own thoughts: “banishing those who do not attend would be pointless and equally persuading non-attenders to come more regularly would be counterproductive”                               

This is a real conundrum.  Some have suggested introducing a retirement age but I cannot see that blatant, compulsory age discrimination of this kind would prove acceptable.  Some of the 80-year-olds here make a much better, more informed contribution than do their younger colleagues.   Various plans to pay Peers to retire are equally doomed to unpopular derision.  For one thing if more peers from a given party retired than from another, the resulting imbalance would simply provoke more appointments.  

Until our fellow citizens get to decide through the ballot box who stays and who goes, I think another suggestion, which I found in a note from the Clerks about the past practices of the Lords, may have some merit.  I put it to the Leader of the House recently at Questions:  “Has my noble friend seen the excellent note from the Clerks on this issue which records the fact that in 1820 the House ordered that Peers be fined up to £100 for each day’s absence?  At today’s money, would not that help deal with the deficit?”   Faced with such fines, suitably adjusted to 21st Century monetary value, we would soon weed out those who should have taken leave of absence long ago!

12 comments for “Clearing out the ‘dead wood’?

  1. Lord Blagger
    20/11/2012 at 12:05 pm

    Ah yes. Bill of Rights.

    No forfeitures, fines or imprisonment with conviction first.

    Just for the lords is it? Plebs get fined without trial

  2. Lord Blagger
    20/11/2012 at 12:06 pm

    Next.

    If there is dead wood. Name names.

  3. maude elwes
    20/11/2012 at 12:36 pm

    @Lord tyler:

    The fine idea is a good one, however, a hundred a day still leaves them in profit of £200 a day. So, the fine has to be raised to £300, the same amount they benefit by attendance. And then there is the easy one, get rid of all those who fiddle their expenses. That would slim the place down quite a bit. Every single one of them who acted in the fraud of the tax payer has no right to be there in the first place. Or, are they all about to claim depression. Now you heavily invested in PC see the chaos such idiocy brings about. Time to grwo up.

    You seriously have to consider, for the next parliament, which is unlikely to give a Conservative win unless they substantially buy off the poor they are slaghtering en masse, to speedily bring in changes to position of Prime Minister and the capacity they have in order to be able pull such a farce.

    And it appears that all parties suffer from the same dull attampts at being one of the so called fly division, Brown a clown and Blair a despot.

    These Tories are sickening the voter more by the day. They have one interest and one interest only, and that is how much they can fleece the tax payer in every aspect of their lives. And yet, they focus on the minute amount, in comparison, paid out to the little man. He who pays the bill for them to preen by.

    We hear more every day on how those with big money fiddle their taxes in the extreme. Twenty five years in the cell should be their fate. Oh, for a PM of the Hollande brand. One could then, easily, overlook a mistress or two.

  4. Lord Blagger
    20/11/2012 at 3:04 pm

    We could tax them. After all, they have exempted themselves from tax.

    It’s only the little people who have to pay tax.

  5. Rich
    21/11/2012 at 6:09 am

    Why not set a maximum number of days a member can be absent each session? There are numerous possible penalties instead of or in addition to fines for going over. Peers could be banned from the chamber for a period. Or from claiming expenses for a period. They could be barred from putting down questions or questions for short debate. Suspension is even an option.

  6. Rhodri Mawr
    21/11/2012 at 8:12 am

    Tax or fine. The Labour party is the largest party in the chamber is it not, which is probably what provoked Cameron to make the remark he did, and his pleasure at the power of patronage, including archbishops.

  7. MilesJSD
    21/11/2012 at 7:02 pm

    … First cast the beam out of your own eye

  8. Senex
    22/11/2012 at 5:12 pm

    The blog has already published a prospectus for HoL reform the issue of post election leavers is now addressed.

    1 – Aim: Reform of the House of Commons
    Objective: To remove legal and constitutional anomalies introduced since 1911.

    On August 10, 1911 the Commons voted itself a salary before the Parliament Act was given Royal Assent on August 18, 1911. As a consequence a positive vote in the HoL supporting the Commons motion would have been needed to ratify these salaries. A constitutional paradox became established because the Parliament Act prevented the HoL from endorsing the vote.

    One hundred years later in the noughties the Commons clarifies the law on employment status through a number of Finance Acts. An ambiguity is set in place as to the legality of MP and Ministers paying National Insurance Contributions. MPs and Ministers serve Parliament as a duty not an employment.

    These anomalies are removed by installing a French style ‘Council of Ancients’ into the Commons. Members would be self sufficient in the manner of the HoL and because they receive no salary they would not be a burden on the taxpayer.

    The Commons would be an eclectic mix of young and mature people who for the most part would have lived their lives outside of a Westminster Parliament. The change would be phased in over the same period as HoL reform.

  9. Senex
    22/11/2012 at 5:14 pm

    2 – Maintaining Commons Expertise

    Currently only an Act of Parliament allows HoL member to leave; proposed is an act of Parliament to allow the removal and reuse of expertise of HoL members as new MPs. Candidates failing to enter the Commons would leave Parliament by the will of the people and in their election domain.

    Parliaments Acts on the scale required to remove members would be impractical. Also impractical would be the removal of their ‘Writ of Summons’ as these naturally expire at the end of each Parliament. Members failing HoL re-election would still be able to attend the house on the throne steps but would lose their right to attendance allowance and their voting franchise.

    In any General Election year a ‘Writ of Election’ would be issued to peer leavers to attend the General Election in the manner of sitting MPs. There would be no impediment to the free flow of expertise between both Houses, subsequently sitting MPs having left Parliament would be allowed to contest a HoL domain election.

    Currently, new MPs are allowed to enter Parliament without the necessary skills to be an effective player. They learn on the job. Under the new arrangements mature members will have had a life time to prepare for Parliament through a range of accredited academic courses. New members would sit Parliament examinations. A given level of accreditation would be required to vote on constitutional matters and to become Ministers.

  10. Senex
    22/11/2012 at 5:15 pm

    3. Payment of MP Salaries.

    As a resource retired people have qualities that would benefit the Commons by bringing to Parliament the very same qualities that make the HoL a success. However, unlike the HoL whose self reliant members usually come from the top tier of civic society many MPs entering the Commons would find their self reliance amounting to nothing more than their state pension.

    Until the Parliament Acts were removed it would be difficult but not impossible for people of ordinary pensionable means to take office as an MP. However, with the removal of the Acts the HoL would be in a position to approve salaries by Act of Parliament. Only those falling below a given income threshold would receive a salary and it would be boosted or reduced to maintain the required level. Currently only some 6% [Fig 1] of MPs rely entirely upon their parliamentary salary.

    With a self sufficient house filled with ordinary people who have made their own pension provisions during their lifetime there would no longer be a need for an MP Parliamentary Pension Scheme. The present scheme was largely put in place to provide the HoL with appointed members. This flow from lower to upper house would essentially reverse.

    The Asquith project has delivered pensions to ‘everybody’. This has been a wonderful success making the above reforms possible. Going forward the first duty of MPs must not be to themselves but to the dignity of people that have delegated their authority and placed their trust in them.

    Ref: Media; Hansard Latest Press Release
    New MPs struggle with work/life balance…June 3, 2011
    A Year in the Life: from member of public to Member of Parliament.
    http://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/blogs/group.aspx?GroupID=6

  11. Rhodri Mawr
    24/11/2012 at 8:42 am

    <It occurred to me that maybe women are less able to intervene in these circumstances because they might be inherently more inclined to give way and are more softly spoken.

    I often wonder why there are any healthy and full voiced people in parliament at all.

    You have to whisper to get heard.

    If you have got a good speaking voice parliament is the place not to go. Strange really.

  12. Lord Blagger
    24/11/2012 at 11:29 am

    The Asquith project has delivered pensions to ‘everybody’. This has been a wonderful success making the above reforms possible. Going forward the first duty of MPs must not be to themselves but to the dignity of people that have delegated their authority and placed their trust in them.

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

    Soon to deliver no pensions to anyone.

    http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171766_263808.pdf

    Page 4.

    4.7 trillion owed. No money to pay them.

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