‘This boy’s a fool’…

maxresdefaultThe entries for the October caption competition demonstrated readers’ wit and attention to detail.  Several produced entries based on Anthony Barnett’s hand gesture, others the look on my face, and one or two very individual observations.  I thought some of those based on the hand gesture were especially innovative.

Not for the first time, choosing a winner was difficult.  It was a close run thing between several entries.  However, based on those which made me laugh most the moment I saw them, there is a winner and a very close runner-up.  The latter may reflect my particular sense of humour.

I decided that the winner was barry winetrobe with:  Lord Norton thinks ‘This boy’s a fool’.

The runner-up is ken wilkinson with: ‘Lord Norton left shell-shocked after Mr Barnett’s glove puppet is caught streaking’.

The other entries were not far behind.  A copy of one of my books will shortly be on its way to the winner.

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October caption competition

maxresdefaultFor this month’s caption competition I have selected a picture taken from an occasion some years ago when I was interviewed for Al Jazeera England by Sir David Frost.  I was appearing to discuss electoral reform with Anthony Barnett, who seemed to have difficulty accepting that someone could possibly take a different view to his.   It was  a rather enjoyable occasion.

As usual, the reader to provide what in my view is the wittiest caption will be the winner.  The prize will be one of my books.  Good luck.

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Oh dear

NORTON OF LOUTH LordI have previously written about the different ways I have been addressed in letters.  I have had mail addressed to LNO Louth, Lord Louth, and Lord Norton O Louth, and letters opening with salutations such as ‘Dear Lord’.  This morning I received a letter that was addressed to ‘O Norton’.

I suppose all that remains is to receive a letter that opens with ‘O Lord’.

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Another milestone

Lord%20Norton%20MSP_0918%20copyLast week, the blog reached, and now well exceeds, 200,000 views since it was created just after the last general election.  That means it is averaging about 50,000 views a year, which I gather is not bad going.  The traffic has increased over the past year or so by virtue of tweets drawing attention to posts.  The blog also attracts a notable international readership, with some readers coming from rather remote parts of the globe.

Posts on constitutional issues appear to attract a high readership.  So too do the caption competitions – at least they attract usually a good number of entries.  Talking of the caption competition, I appreciate it is now October, so time for me to see if I can find an appropriate photograph…

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Recall of Parliament

45007Last Friday, both Houses were recalled to discuss military action in Iraq.  When the recall was announced on Wednesday, I spent some time correcting media reports that the Speaker had authorised the recall of Parliament.  The Speaker can only authorise the recall of the House of Commons.  The Lord Speaker authorises the recall of the House of Lords.   Since the war, both Houses have been recalled almost thirty times, usually to discuss an international crisis, but occasionally for other purposes – for example, tributes on the death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Baroness Thatcher.

There is an interesting difference in terms of the conditions for recall between the two Houses.  Under the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, the Speaker, having received representations from the Government, may recall the House if satisfied that the public interest requires it.  The Speaker cannot act on his own initiative.  In the Lords, Standing Orders provide for a recall if the Lord Speaker (or, in her absence, the Chairman of Committees), after consultation with the Government, is satisfied that that it is in the public interest.   The wording would suggest that the Lord Speaker may take the initiative.  There is a requirement to consult the Government, but no stipulation that a negative response would prevent a recall.  The likelihood of the Lord Speaker acting on her own initiative are doubtless extremely slim, but, if my reading of the Standing Orders is correct, it gives the House of Lords somewhat greater scope for assembling, despite the wishes of the Government, than exists with the House of Commons.

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The West Lothian Question: the answer is not the solution

44044Lord Irvine of Lairg, when Lord Chancellor, said that the best way to deal with the West Lothian question (named after Tam Dalyell’s constituency, but actually dating from home rule debates in the 19th Century) was not to ask it.  He had a point.  The only logical answers are to undo devolution or to move to a federal system.  The former is not politically feasible and the latter would create a totally asymmetrical federation.  Neither really provides a solution.

One possible way to deal with the problem, very much in the news, is English votes for English laws (EVEL).  This is feasible in terms of process (it is something we addressed in the Commission to Strengthen Parliament), though there are problems in terms of determining what measures to put through that process.  Another, less discussed, is not so neat in some respects, but once implemented is somewhat more robust (though the two are not mutually exclusive) – and that is to reduce the number of MPs returned from Scotland to the House of Commons.  This is in line with precedent.  When Northern Ireland had its own Parliament at Stormont, the number of MPs returned from Northern Ireland was less than its population justified.  Stormont was suspended in 1972 and then abolished.  Because the province no longer had a Parliament, the Labour Government of James Callaghan accepted that the number of MPs returned from Northern Ireland should therefore be increased and legislated accordingly.

The number of MPs returned from Scotland was reduced following devolution, but that was to bring the electoral quota in Scotland in line with England.  Scotland had acquired over time more seats than its population warranted, but that was not a conscious act to compensate for the absence of its own legislature.  Bringing the electoral quota into line with England was a change that arguably should have been made anyway, regardless of devolution.  Scotland is now on a par with England, but it has its own parliament and is set to see an increase in its powers.  There is thus a clear case for reducing the number of MPs .  There is also a practical argument for doing so.  MPs representing Scottish seats no longer shoulder the same constituency burdens as MPs in the rest of the UK, especially England.

Reducing the number would not solve the West Lothian question, but it would make it less problematic.  There would not be two tiers of MPs (though in practice there are various tiers of MPs) and hence no problems over process.  When Northern Ireland had the Stormont Parliament, MPs from Northern Ireland were the same as other MPs.  The problem that MPs from Scotland could tip the balance in some votes would remain, but that was the case with Northern Ireland MPs and was raised as an issue in the 1964-66 Parliament, the complaints coming from the Labour benches and the Conservatives arguing that the votes of Northern Irish Members were the same as those of any other Members.

As I say, it is not the neatest of solutions, but it is a practical one for which there is a precedent.  This and EVEL are not mutually exclusive, but this may be something on which progress could be made and, indeed, as in 1977-78 with representation from Northern Ireland, implemented quickly.

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You know you are old when….

imagesI shall be writing in greater length on constitutional issues shortly, but for the moment I thought I would pen a few comments on age.  It struck me that in a few years time, mention a ‘car tax disk’ to a young person and they won’t know what you are talking about.  You possibly know that you are no longer young when you can remember:

A three-penny bit

A half-penny

A ten-shilling note

National Insurance stamps

Green Shield stamps

Pressing Button B to get your money back

AA patrolmen on motor bikes with side-cars

A Roneo machine


The absence of breakfast TV

I am sure some readers (mentioning no names) can add to the list….

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