The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the House of Commons is undertaking an inquiry into ‘The House of Lords: what next?’ essentially exploring what, if anything, can be done in the present Parliament to enable the House to carry out its tasks more effectively.
Last Thursday, I gave evidence to the committee, along with Lords Hennessy, Goodlad and Tyler. You can watch the proceedings here. It was a useful session for fleshing out the changes which we would like to see in legislation. Various changes in procedures are within the gift of the House itself, but various changes we wish to achieve require primary legislation. These encompass primarily the provisions of the Steel Bill (now the Hayman Bill, Baroness Hayman having taken over as the Bill’s sponsor in this session): putting the appointments commission on a statutory basis, closing off the hereditary peers by-election, and removing members who never attend or who commit serious criminal offences. As I stressed on removing those who commit criminal offences, it is a case of bringing us into line with the provisions in the Commons.
We got a receptive hearing from Members. Even Labour MP Paul Flynn admitted he was in danger of becoming a fan of the Lords. I sense a mood that now favours making some changes, with Government opposition to any legislation receding.
Hansard in the House of Lords, unlike in the Commons, tends not to record interventions ‘[interrpution], [laughter]‘. If there is a notable outburst of laughter or protest, it is recorded as ‘Noble Lords: Oh’. When I checked my speech online, a few hours after delivering it last Tuesday on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, I discovered I had achieved one:
“…The recent YouGov poll is especially revealing. Not only is same-sex marriage supported, overwhelmingly so by those aged under 40, but also by women, by a margin of about two to one. Opposition appears to come predominantly from older males.
Noble Lords: Oh!
Lord Norton of Louth: I am inclined to say that you know who you are, my Lords.”
I have been in the House nearly fifteen years – this October will mark the fifteenth anniversary – and I have never before achieved an ‘Oh’. When I mentioned to the deputy editor of Hansard in the Lords that I had achieved one, he said ‘But did it have an exclamation mark?’ I confirmed that it did. ‘That is very rare’, he said – ‘a collector’s item’.
During the two-day debate on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill earlier this week, there were moving speeches from various members of the House who are gay and reference was variously made to the speeches of Lord Browne of Madingley, Lord Smith of Finsbury, Lord Black of Brentwood and Baroness Barker. Some speakers spoke against the Bill. Among vociferous opponents were Lord Tebbit and a member of Ian Paisley’s flock, the Democratic Unionist peer Lord Browne of Belmont.
Lord Dear responded to the debate, indicating he planned to push his amendment to reject the Bill to a vote. His ability with names rather let him down. In the course of his speech, he declared:
“I, like many others in your Lordships’ House, was moved by the speeches of, for example, the noble Lords, Lord Browne of Belmont, Lord Smith of Finsbury, and Lord Black of Brentwood, and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. Their ability to speak as they did, and that those views can be accepted in public, was refreshing and commendable.”
I am not sure how Lord Browne of Belmont took this inclusion of his name with members who had expressed themselves as gay! I laughed. I suspect he may not have done.
It has been difficult deciding the winning entry for the caption competition. I narrowed it to a long list of eight. There were some especially clever plays on words and/or links to earlier posts. (Jonathan’s entry was a winner in linking to earlier discussions.) I avoided one or two that may give rise to controversy (e.g. ‘short and tall, thin and fat’) when applied to the picture. I decided to go for the one that seem to fit especially well with the actual picture.
The winner is Daniel Wood with:
‘Hull Mafia Recruitment Drive – Pick up a free flyer for information on how to apply’.
With the runners-up being:
genorm with ‘Honestly it’s fun packed – just wait until you see page 3!’
[Not sure if I should mention that page 3 deals with the decline of legislatures.]
Rob Falconer with ‘They’re selling well – everyone thinks it’s the Big Issue’.
I decided against Andrew’s ‘The boys were shocked to find that although the book was modest in size, the references to Norton’s previous works were not’ on the grounds that, knowing my students, they would not be shocked at all.
I shall arrange for the winner to receive a copy of the 2nd edition of Parliament in British Politics, assuming he hasn’t already rushed out to buy a copy.
I spoke in the debate yesterday on the Second Reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. The debate was spread over two days. I was the last scheduled backbench speaker – at number 91. However, three peers ‘scratched’ (withdrew their names), so I was actually the 88th speaker. Two other backbenchers then spoke briefly in the ‘gap’ (between the last backbench speaker and the first frontbench speaker). My speech can be read as free-standing speech here. An amendment to reject the Bill was defeated by 390 votes to 148. I was anticipating that there was a majority against the amendment, but I was not expecting it to be defeated by such a massive majority. I have posted a breakdown of the voting here on Lords of the Blog.
Given the number of speeches, those participating were advised to keep them short. I spoke for about seven minutes, responding to the arguments deployed against the Bill. I was not quite expecting the response I got afterwards. There were many excellent speeches and I wasn’t expecting people to comment on mine. However, I have never had such a positive response to a speech – including two expressions of love on Twitter! – be it from people outside the House or from colleagues in both Houses. However, the most rewarding aspect was being told that what I said was influential in how some peers voted. One of the great things (among many) about the House is that members listen to what is said and, by being the last backbench speaker, it meant that I was addressing a packed House.
Someone on Twitter did suggest I use the picture in the last post as the basis for a caption competition, but I decided a door may not be the most exciting of subjects. Instead, I have opted for a photograph taken at the Hull reception for the publication of the 2nd edition of Parliament in British Politics. The picture shows three of Hull’s finest – Ben Goldsborough, Ross Picton and Stephen Hankinson – holding flyers for the book.
The reader coming up with what in my judgment is the wittiest caption will win a copy of one of my recent publications.
Yesterday did not quite go as planned. I was getting ready to go to a meeting shortly before noon. Another peer left the office and, apparently without realising I was still working at my desk, locked the door behind her. Realising I was locked in, I went to unlock the door ready to go to my meeting. I put the key in the lock, turned it - and as I did so it broke and jammed in the lock. I was stuck in the office. There was no other means of exit.
I ‘phoned security, but because the key was stuck in the lock the security guard who came could not unlock the door from the other side. Engineers were summoned. When the engineers arrived, they encountered the same problems. I had visions of it being necessary to break down the door – a rather substantial one (see picture) – or cutting the lock out. I could see myself stuck for hours. I was asked if I could extract the key. Eventually, I managed to apply sufficient force to the head of the key to turn it and break the remaining links and extract what remained of it. The engineers then managed to force the lock and open the door. This was, to put it mildly, a relief. The engineer who did the principal work then took the lock out and dismantled it prior to replacing it. In the lock, he found not only the remains of my key but of other keys as well!
Almost forty years ago, when I was at Sheffield, I had a similar incident. The door to my office jammed. On that occasion, I was on the outside and not the inside: that was just as well, as my office was on the tenth floor and there was no other exit. It took until the next day to get the door opened. That memory did come back to me. However, on this occasion, it was all over within the hour.