Keeping to time

There was a long speakers’ list on Tuesday for the Second Reading of the Public Bodies Bill.  Over 55 peers took part.  There is no time limit on Second Reading debates.   Each back-bench speech should not last more than 15 minutes, but if every speaker used up their fifteen minutes we would be sitting well into the early hours.    Recognising this, most speakers kept their contributions to ten minutes or less.  I spoke for eight minutes.  Given that I was the 41st speaker on the list, I didn’t want to test the patience of the House.  One can have a greater impact by keeping a speech short than by droning on at length.  I made the points I wanted – addressing the problems with having Henry VIII provisions in the Bill – and sat down.   The criticisms of the Bill, from all parts of the House, were so extensive that the minister in replying had little option but to concede that the Government would be bringing forward amendments to address our concerns.

I spoke again on Wednesday.  Lord Grocott had a Question for Short Debate (QSD) on the effect of an elected House of Lords for the relations between the two Houses.  QSDs are time limited – this one to 90 minutes – and given the large number of speakers, each – other than Lord Grocott and the minister replying – had two minutes. 

Shortly before I spoke, Lord Bates came in and joined me on my bench.  Seeing I was on the speakers’ list, he said he would stay to listen to me.  I leaned over and warned him ‘I may take my full two minutes’.  ‘That’s all right’, he said, ‘string it out’.

In the event,  I kept well within my two minutes.


About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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10 Responses to Keeping to time

  1. Carl.H says:

    My Lord, if the House were elected it should have to act in the peoples wishes else suffer accountability or it`s members would have to pledge things like “No tuition fee rises” and then go back on their word.

    The electorates House of Lords would be the electorates Aristocracy with as much power as the Sovereigns Aristocracy of the Middle Ages. The people would demand it listens and acts in their name or suffer the consequences at the ballot box, it would become no more than extension of the “other place” and would have to consider itself equal. It would become a place of pure politics like The Commons, of “for” and “Against” with little room for logical thinking, expertise and life experiences.

    The Upper House has to retain the expertise, we`ve seen from recent Governments what a hash they can and do make of legislation, with too much being decided finally by Judges in Law Courts. The latest being the DEB which left to the wash-up where my Lords did not have time for careful scrutiny may prove it`s undoing. It`s ludicrous that legislation may prove illegal because my Lords were unable to do their job in the normal fashion. An elected House maybe worse, we could see both Houses with a similar political majority where little expertise exists and it may prove often that legislation is decided in a Court by someone not only not elected but with little experience in the matter to consider ( No disrespect to Judges).

    If we think on electing a House of Lords when exactly would you hold a ballot ? Mid-Term ? It would go against the Party in power. At the same time as Government election? It would go with the forthcoming Government. Who would stand ? Who could afford an election campaign ? Politicians with a backing of a Party that`s who and then of course they owe the party. It`s hardly likely a Party would put forward for election someone who is free thinking, who may go against the leadership.

    My Lordship`s House is not about popularity, it is not “X Factor”, I may vote once in every 4-5 years, I may get it wrong as we actually know little and what we do know may prove false as with “Tuition Fees” and the Lib-Dem leaders pledge. Therefore the Country needs a stabilising factor, one able to hold Political Parties to account in some manner, this cannot be done with the sharp edge of elected accountability and party at their throats.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Carl H: Many thanks. There is also the question of ‘who would bother to vote in such an election?’ Not least if the Government pursues it plans for a House with no increased powers (even though it would be likely to demand them). I take your point that membership should not be based on a X-Factor approach. If it was, there would be no chance for me. Courting popularity is not my forte.

      • Carl.H says:

        At risk of raising your ego more, if at all possible, I would certainly think you popular within the realms of LoTB and here. However in the realms of TV land I really cannot see you winning against Michael Buble.

        BUT then would the public be voting for a person or a party ? Based on what knowledge ?

      • Lord Norton says:

        Carl.H: Many thanks.

        “At risk of raising your ego more, if at all possible”

        Oh, have a go….

        “However in the realms of TV land I really cannot see you winning against Michael Buble.”

        Who’s Michael Buble?

  2. djb13 says:

    If the electoral system were STV, I’d happily 1st preference you! Unfortunately, it would seem that the government wishes to push some sort of party list PR forward, and I don’t think I could bear to vote Conservative, even if I supported some of the Conservatives on the list.

    I missed your speech at the time, but it read nicely in Hansard. I really fear for the fact that we’re reforming the House of Lords without a referendum, and (more worryingly) without any consideration for changing the powers of the chamber.

    Carl.H makes an interesting suggestion about X-Factor. I wonder if we could a reality TV formula for choosing the PM? Perhaps if we locked all the MPs in the Commons, and evicted them one-by-one, then the winner becomes PM. Upside is that we get a fair few weeks with all the politicians safely locked away where they can’t do any harm, the downside is highlighted by the fact that Anne Widdecombe will probably win Strictly.

  3. Carl.H says:

    “Who’s Michael Buble?”

    Popular, apparently, with young ladies of the working class my L`d, absolutely nothing to concern yourself with.

    He just hasn`t met you yet.

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