Reforming the Lords

43995The 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.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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16 Responses to Reforming the Lords

  1. Malden Capell says:

    My goodness, Paul Flynn in danger of becoming a fan of the Lords? Anywhere I can read that in writing?!

    • Lord Norton says:

      The transcript should be posted on the Committee’s website shortly.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Malden Capell: I now have it. In response to what I said, Paul Flynn said: ‘You are in danger of converting this long-standing opponent of Lords into a fan because of the contribution you have made, so I find it very disconcerting.’

  2. Alex M says:

    You may sense a change in mood, but do you feel it was translate into actual action being taken. It is just rather irritating and hypocritical that Clegg now vocally champions the majority of the contents of the so-called “Steel Bill” after pooh-poohing it in the aftermath of not getting his way with Lords Reform.

    • Lord Norton says:

      We are detecting some shift on the part of Government. The other development is that the Steel/Hayman Bill is also being introduced as a Private Member’s Bill in the Commons.

  3. ladytizzy says:

    Oh dear, might there be some link to the next general election and at least one Lib Dem’s obsession with early death? Which reminds me, Lord Tyler and Nicholas Parsons: shared genes somewhere along their lines?

    Recent debates on Lords reform demonstrated an in-built disconnect between the two Houses, now amplified by members of this Committee. The PCRC session felt a little odd, even flat, missing the benefit of experience by the earlier Joint Committee. Some appeared to lack the understanding that HoC members having second, third, or more, incomes is entirely different from the continuous experience brought in by HoL members by way of their salaried job. I also noted a good amount of age discrimination coming from the more callow on the Committee yet it is the members of the Commons who more need to address age-related functionality.

    The discussion of how many peers regularly pitched up for Parliamentary business was equally jarring, almost as if the rationale was secondary to the number in mind.

    Lord Hennessy provided some light relief but, Lord Norton, the day was yours when, as Stephen Williams was making a prat of himself*, you literally (and with some spectacle) drew the line.

    * 10:44 on the above video link

    • Lord Norton says:

      Did I? Oh right, I had better watch the video link as well!

      • Croft says:

        Hmm The Cmtt seemed rather familiar and all of the problems and false assumptions equally so.

        On a somewhat similar note – I listened to Lord Tyler on not having the need for experts in the house and that they should be outside advising the house. I fear he commits the predominant fault in believing politicians listen to advice or more disturbingly even understand it. In almost any sufficiently complex scientific or technical area you require a certain knowledge to even understand the expert advice. You simply can’t ask the right questions or understand the implications of the answers without it. Without experts in the house, to bring up the issues and bang on about them on the floor and in debates and legislation, good advice can be given and ignored though ignorance or because it is politically uncomfortable with ease.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Croft: Absolutely, that was a point I argued and have done before. You need members who not only know what questions to ask, but also who can appreciate immediately the quality of the answers.

      • Croft says:

        The problem with your answer LN seems to be that if I understood your evidence you agreed that among several options reduction of the house could be left to the parties to select from among their number. Any such internal selection would be bound to favour ultra loyalists/former MPs who will turn out for the increasingly important numerical votes in a smaller house. Such members are most likely not to be those with great expertise but less frequent attendance or who ask awkward questions that don’t follow the party line.

      • JH says:

        Croft – I haven’t yet studied LN’s evidence (although I caught some of it on BBC Parliament), but I would suggest that if it was down to the membership of the House (as with ‘Weatherill hereditaries’), rather than the party machine, it would not necessarily ‘favour ultra loyalists/former MPs’. Furthermore, it would only take a little tweak to make the House’s size regularly moderated while maintaining the aim of broadly reflecting the parties’ electoral positions.

      • Croft says:

        JH: I forget the exact form of words LN used but it was by no means clear what he meant and your interpretation is of course possible and less problematic.

  4. Princeps Senatus says:

    Dear Lord Norton,
    Can I pick your brains on a specific element of the Steel/Hayman Bill; the placing of the Appointments Commission on a statutory footing?
    As I understand it, the Appointments Commission currently has two duties; to recommend the appointments of new cross-bench peers and to vet the appointments of party-political peers. I suggest to you that the latter of the functions could and should be carried out by a Committee of the House of Lords. And it does not require legislation.
    Each House has the inherent right to regulate its membership. thus, for instance, the House of Lords has rules about hereditary peers not being eligible to take thier seats before the age of 21, for instance. Therefore the House could direct that a cross-party committee of the House of Lords vet the appointment of party-political peers and report to the House. It might be that such a committee could be an existing committee (such as the Committe on Standards) or an entirely new committee, perhaps sharing the membership with the Appointments Commission (in the same way as the Supreme Court and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, two separate bodies with separate jurisdictions, share the same membership and sit in the same building).
    My underlying point is that various parts of the Bill are actually inherent powers of the House and do not necessarily need legislation to be brought into force.

    • Lord Norton says:

      That’s a very interesting point. Let me reflect on it.

    • JH says:

      Might there be an ‘age of rule’ thing here? The rule of the House regarding 21 year olds (SO 2) dates from the 17th century and the Companion to the Standing Orders shows that statute has been used in the 18th century (s.3 of the Act of Settlement 1701), 19th century (Forfeiture Act 1870) and 20th Century (s. 427 of the Insolvency Act 1986 (as amended)). Statute was again used in preventing judges from the Supreme Court down from sitting in the House – s.137(3) of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 – but that affects sitting and voting and not receipt of the writ (cp. Insolvency). There is s.1 of the House of Lords Act 1999 as well, but s.2 was implemented through Standing Orders which may nonetheless be very powerful and useful things in evolutionary reforming of the House?

  5. franksummers3ba says:

    I can imagine that even after all these years it must seem odd to some who see me consistently standing up for the Hereditaries in the House of Lords while being an American, The real answer to why I do so is a book in itself which I am not going to write and far less publish. However, it can be summed up that nobility and mixed government can be human principles just as democracy and totalitarianism can be. In addition the HoL is a site of international significance. Of course I oppose the abolition of the hereditary by elections. Some small token of evidence that I am not fabricating a position in America that does not actually exist is evident in these links provided below:

    I am also aware of dozens of other organizations which hold to such ideas although they are rtuly secret. I just wish to state again that some Americans seriously value the hereditary contribution to discourse despite the vast media assertions that would imply the contrary.

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