The value of committees in the Lords

The House of Lords, like the House of Commons, has become a more specialised body, working through investigative committees.  Its sessional committees, re-appointed each session, have grown in number over the past twenty years – most recently with the creation of an International Relations Committee – but these have been complemented by the appointment of ad hoc committees, appointed usually for the lifetime of a session to report on particular issues.  The House now appoints four such committees each session, including one to undertake post-legislative scrutiny – a development I particularly welcome.  Post-legislative scrutiny is an important, but previously much neglected, dimension of the legislative process.

I have just contributed a post on ‘Lords of the Blog’ on the four committees appointed for the new session.  The House has not wasted time in appointing sessional and ad hoc committees and already three of the ad hoc committees have published calls for evidence.  As I have pointed out on ‘Lords of the Blog’ the committees cover important contemporary issues, including those relevant to the health of the political system, notably citizenship and civic engagement, and political polling and digital media.  The committees enable the House to draw on the experience and expertise of its members and to generate informed analyses and recommendations.   After publication, the House has the opportunity to debate the committee reports and the Government’s response to them.  I shall look forward especially to the reports of this session’s committees and the opportunity to contribute to those debates.

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Hull’s finest – class of ’17

It was the degree ceremony yesterday for Politics at Hull.  The picture shows me with some of the British Politics and Legislative Studies (BPLS) graduates.  It was a particularly good year in terms of results.  No fewer than four of those in the picture achieved Firsts, two of them being prize winners.

The fact that it was the degree ceremony meant that teaching and exams finished some weeks ago.  Some people think that therefore this is a holiday period.  If only.  The period between semesters often tends to be the busiest time of year.  This is reflected in light blogging.  I am busy dealing with several commitments.  I appreciate that British politics is not exactly in a state of quiescence.  I plan to blog shortly on the Salisbury convention – where a lot of time is consumed by focusing on form rather than the principle – and on the EU Withdrawal Bill.

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And the winner of the Brexit contest…

imagesSF9B1IEKI thought the latest caption competition was challenging, but readers have proved how inventive they can be.  The entries were notable for their quantity and quality.  As a result, I faced the usual problem of choosing a winner.  One reader – Dean B – almost won a prize for his comment on one of the entries!  D F Rostron was very keen and submitted multiple entries.  Who’s stolen the comfy chair also put in a couple of entries.  One – ‘Mr Stuart to the Secretary of State: “Will Susie Dent accept Brexit yet… the word I mean?!’ – struck a chord.  I fear it was a word that grated when I heard it delivered in the Queen’s Speech.

I managed to produce a short list of four.  I was tickled by Pendragon’s ‘Maybe we could get Theresa May to make up a fourth for our version of Mount Rushmore’ and Jonathan’s  ‘£350 million would pay for proper lighting in all university conference rooms.  Or have we allocated that money already?’  However, after much deliberation, I decided the runner-up was hullwarstudies with ‘Stuart: Ah, finally the UK’s leading constitutional expert and a Cabinet minister; can you tell me what the long term impact of Brexit will be?’  The winner, because it made me  laugh most, was John Stephens with: ‘So I said to Boris, “Don’t bother reading the Queen’s Speech..’.

If John Stephens would like to get in touch, a copy of Reform of the House of Lords will be on its way.

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Brexit caption competition


Given all the dreadful things that have been happening – and I may comment on them in a later post – I thought it may be appropriate for a bit of light relief and, by popular demand, offer another caption competition.  The picture shows Mark Stuart, Brexit Secretary David Davis and me in conversation.  The picture was taken some time ago at a conference in Hull.  I think it is a challenging picture for a caption competition, but whenever I think that I am usually proved wrong.  As usual, the reader providing what in my view is the most witty and appropriate caption will be the winner.  The prize will be a copy of Reform of the House of Lords.  What greater  incentive could one wish for?

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Now available….

I have now received copies of my Reform of the House of Lords, published by Manchester University Press.  As explained in earlier posts, it is a short guide – the first in MUP’s series of Pocket Guides – to the different approaches to reform of the Lords.  Those familiar with my Constitution in Flux may recall the four R’s – retain, reform, replace, and remove altogether – and these provide the framework for the volume.

I have just realised that at 86 pages it is the same length as my Voice of the Backbenchers – illustrated in my previous post – providing an analysis of the 1922 Committee.  As a short, pocket guide, it is priced at £9.99.

Having just checked, it is doing well in the Amazon bestselling ranking – even better than when I last wrote about it – though perhaps I should not mention that.  When I last wrote about it, it then plummeted in the rankings.  All being well, its appearance will put it on a roll…

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The formation of the 1922 Committee

The 1922 Committee attracted widespread media attention when it was addressed yesterday by the Prime Minister.  In my nineteen years of attending the 1922, it was by far and away the best attended.

The media coverage has encompassed the usual misreporting of the foundations of the Committee.  I have previously posted a note on its formation.  The Sun, Daily Telegraph and even the Parliament website continue to get it wrong.  The 1922 Committee was not formed in 1922 and there is no evidence to link it with the Carlton Club meeting.  It came into being in April 1923 when a group of newly elected MPs, led by Gervais Rentoul, got together to form what amounted to a form of self-help group.  Its name – the Conservative Private Members (1922) Committee – reflects the fact that it was formed by, and initially was confined to, Members first elected in 1922.  Only later was membership expanded and it became open to all Conservative private members and take the form that we see today.

For those interested, details may be found in my The Voice of the Backbenchers, published by the Conservative History Group in 2013, to mark the 90th anniversary of the Committee.  I will be working on the centenary history. As a political scientist, I am aware of the value of being a participant-observer!

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Gay rights back in the news…

The issue of gay rights has come to the fore as a result of the PM’s plan to do a deal with the DUP to craft a majority in the Commons.  The development occurs as I prepare notes for a short speech I am giving next week, looking at how attitudes have changed in the Lords.  I have previously published a post on why the Lords voted by such a massive majority for the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.  As I noted then, attitudes have changed over the years since I entered the House.  When I spoke in 2000 on the proposal to lower the age of consent, I was in a minority, notably so on my own side, but also in the House as a whole. The situation was notably different  in 2013 on second reading of the same-sex marriage bill.  Those opposing the bill constituted the minority.

Re-reading my speeches, there is nothing I would change in either.  Both are relatively short – there was an advisory time limit in the 2013 debate – but that I think is a benefit, since it meant the key points were not lost.  For anyone interested, here is the speech in the debate in 2000 and here is the speech I delivered in 2013.  I am not sure if my speech in 2000 influenced any members – I received a good many congratulations, but mainly from those who agreed with me.  I also got a few strange looks.  One peer told me my speech in 2013 did influence how some peers voted, though the only evidence I have is a fellow peer who said that as a result of my speech he was not going to vote against the bill.  Every little helps.

Attitudes on same-sex marriage changed markedly in the UK at the start of this century (and have done so more recently in the USA) and it was notable in the 2013 vote how some more traditional peers were voting for the bill.  Every main political grouping in the House (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Cross-bench) produced a majority in favour. Looking back on the 2000 debate, I was struck by some of the claims that were made which today would sound outlandish and, in some cases, were simply factually incorrect.  Popular attitudes have moved on.  We have same-sex marriage and society has not collapsed.  I believe it is strengthened.

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