Just over a week ago, I was speaking at a conference in Oxford held to discuss the passage and consequences of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. My paper addressed the Act and votes of confidence. There were notable changes in the move from the commitment in the Coalition Agreement to the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill and in the passage of the Bill.
The agreement made no reference to votes of confidence. The Bill as introduced included votes of confidence, seeking to maintain the previous forms of votes of confidence – explicitly worded votes of confidence, those to which confidence attached by declaration of the Government, and those deemed to be implicit votes of confidence. There was no definition of a vote of confidence – it was to be determined by a certificate of the Speaker. This created substantial potential problems, with the result that the Government accepted a backbench amendment that provided that a vote of confidence was confined to an expliclity-worded vote of confidence (‘That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government’). If passed, and if within 14 days a new (or reconstituted) Government cannot be formed a gain a vote of confidence, a general election takes place.
The changes to the Bill had the effect of removing a significant power from the Prime Minister. He can no longer say ‘confidence attaches to this issue and if defeated on it, an election will follow’. The premier is thus denied an important means of maximising voting strength. The reult is not to strengthen the House of Commons – it already had the power to carry a vote of no confidence – but recalcitrant backbenchers. This could prove a major problem in the event of a serious split in the Government’s ranks on an issue central to its programme.
The House sits on various Fridays to consider Private Members’ Bill. On 24 October, the third and final Bill under consideration was Baroness Hayman’s House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspensions) Bill. It is a modest measure to give the House the power to expel or suspend peers, over and above the limited power of expulsion given by the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. If it gets on to the statue book, its real success will lie in how little it is used.
Because of the time taken up by the preceding two measures, we had a limited amount of time to discuss the Bill – the House tries to rise by 3.00 p.m. or shortly thereafter – so members kept their contributions short. What was notable was that everyone who spoke supported the Bill. I was the last backbench speaker. You can read my contribution here. The minister, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said that the Government did not have a settled view on the measure. Why not is not quite clear, given that – as I pointed out in my speech – all three main parties have previously signed up to its provisions.
Just over two weeks ago, I spoke at a conference, on ‘The National Assembly for Wales: Studying the Welsh Legislature’, at the Welsh Governance Centre in Cardiff. I gave the keynote lecture and spoke on ‘Making sense of diversity – The National Assembly: A framework for analysis’. I drew on analyses on legislatures, including previous work I have done on assessing the legislative effectiveness of legislatures.
I addressed challenges facing legislatures and the challenges facing the National Assembly for Wales. The latter I discussed in the context of devolution, newness, and size. On the first of these, I quoted John Kincaid: ‘Devolution’s key challenge is not so much dividing powers as it is sharing powers.’ This also extends more broadly to co-operation. There is the danger of legislatures missing out. In a dynamic environment of multi-level governance, there is the danger of executives developing institutional links, but with legislatures not developing similar links. As the Silk Commission has recognised, there is a need to think about ways of engaging. The challenge, as the Commission recognised, is ensuring that inter-parliamentary engagement, and not just inter-governmental engagement, is strong. Co-operation between parliaments within the UK is developing, but there is a case for ensuring that it has a more established basis.
The 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.
For 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.
I 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’.
Last 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…