House of Lords

12 Jul 2013 16:43:35

Hereditary peers' byelection

By Harry Phibbs
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One of the more amusing constitutional legacies of Tony Blair's modernisation programme as Prime Minster is that we have byelections for hereditary peers.

A campaign is under way for one at the moment. The death of Lord Reay means a byelection for a replacement hereditary peer will take place on Tuesday - using the Alternative Vote System.

Douglas Hogg, who as a Tory MP was embroiled in the expenses scandal for claiming for the cleaning of his moat, is seeking a return to Westminster. Mr Hogg, as he usually calls himself, has since 2001 been Viscount Hailsham - a hereditary peer albeit one hitherto with a seat in the Lords rather than the Commons and currently without a seat anywhere. These days the real power in that family is with his leather jacket wearing daughter Charlotte - the Chief Operating Officer in the Bank of England.

Rivals for the Lords seat include Harold Macmillan's grandson The Earl of Stockton - who is currently a councillor on South Bucks District Council. There is Lord Sudeley whose hobbies include ancestor worship. He says :

Land Registry must record ownership in compliance with a unified national standard. Current inconsistencies and omissions are a cover-up for criminal elements and their illegal activities (takeovers, auction rings, collusion, etc.) I have personal knowledge of both abuses, and can supply further detail on many cases.

Continue reading "Hereditary peers' byelection" »

2 May 2012 08:45:07

Lord Forsyth likens Lords reform to the Austin Allegro's square steering wheel

By Tim Montgomerie
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In day two of yesterday's debate in the House of Lords about reform of the Upper House, Lord (Michael) Forsyth was in very good form.


220px-Austin_Allegro_Interior_with_Quartic_steering_wheelFirst of all he compared Lords reform to the Austin Allegro:

"I wonder whether your Lordships remember the Austin Allegro. The Austin Allegro was probably the worst car ever built. It was completely unreliable, it had a totally underpowered engine, and its big selling feature was that it had a square steering wheel. This car was designed by the management for political reasons. They ignored the people who knew about cars and design and it was meant to save British Leyland. It was the management's answer. In fact, they were so convinced that it would save the company that it was nicknamed the "flying pig". I do not know whether noble Lords can see the parallel that I am drawing here, but it seems to me that this Bill, which has been so comprehensively filleted by the Joint Committee, has many similarities to the Austin Allegro in so far as the Deputy Prime Minister believes it will save the Liberal Party at the next election. It was conceived for political reasons and without any recognition of the needs of the consumer and the customer-in this case the wider electorate."

Continue reading "Lord Forsyth likens Lords reform to the Austin Allegro's square steering wheel" »

22 Apr 2012 08:31:29

Nadhim Zahawi MP notes that "exactly 0% of people" say Lords reform should be Coalition's priority

By Tim Montgomerie
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Since entering Parliament Nadhim Zahawi has been one of the Government's most loyal supporters. To the best of my knowledge he has not rebelled even once. He has been regarded by Number 10 as one of its Praetorian Guardsmen. This does not mean he doesn't know his own mind. As a member of the BIS Select Committee Nadhim was a lead critic of the decision to appoint Les Ebdon as access tsar. Nonetheless, he's always been ready to go on TV and radio to defend the Government's line. I sometimes watch Prime Minister's Question Time from the press gallery and Nadhim sits directly opposite Ed Miliband and deploys every trick in the book to try and knock the Labour leader off course. It's fascinating to watch.

So when this MP for Stratford-upon-Avon criticises the Tory leadership's priorities as he did at Thursday's special 1922 meeting on Lords reform - it's noteworthy. In today's Observer he has set out his case in more detail. He warns that an elected Lords would challenge the Commons and that deadlock might result:

"The idea that deadlock between two chambers is a good thing is complete madness. You only have to look at the US public's exasperation with the paralysis that sometimes takes hold of its legislature to see that this won't work. And not only that it won't work, but that the public, many of them already feeling disenchanted by politics, won't thank us for it."

Continue reading "Nadhim Zahawi MP notes that "exactly 0% of people" say Lords reform should be Coalition's priority" »

4 Feb 2012 14:18:01

Tory peers accuse Government of treating them "with contempt"; ignoring amendments to poorly debated bills

By Tim Montgomerie
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The Coalition may get its welfare bill passed but it may do so at a cost to its relations with the House of Lords.

The Upper House repeatedly amended the welfare bill - sometimes by large majorities. Labour, crossbench and Lib Dem rebels defeated, for example, the benefits cap but there were also a significant Tory rebellion - led by the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay - against reforms to the Child Support Agency.

The Coalition is attempting to prevail by asserting what is known as "financial privilege". This gives the Commons "sole rights" in respect of financial legislation that applies indivisibly to public expenditure and to the raising of revenue to meet that expenditure (PDF background here).

Grayling Chris NewsnightWork & Pensions Minister Grayling explained the Government's position:

"It cannot be denied that we are in extremely difficult financial times, and that the government has no choice but to take measures to address the situation. Tackling the unsustainable rise in spending on benefits and tax credits, as part of the government’s overall deficit reduction strategy, is undeniably important."

Continue reading "Tory peers accuse Government of treating them "with contempt"; ignoring amendments to poorly debated bills" »

22 Jan 2012 12:58:33

Should the Commons be sold off as it risks sinking into the Thames?

By Joseph Willits 
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WestminsterBoth the Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday have reported today on the deterioration of the Palace of Westminster prompting Big Ben to lean by 0.26 degrees, 18 inches at the top. Tomorrow, MPs will hold a House of Commons commission meeting chaired by Speaker John Bercow to air various possibilities on how to tackle the increasing problem in the building's fabric.

One of the more controversial and divisive proposals (and perhaps least likely) would be to sell off the Houses of Parliament, and relocate MPs to a new site elsewhere. Selling the current site could raise £1billion, and the construction of a new Parliament is estimated to cost around £500 million. The Mail on Sunday suggested that the very fact that this idea has been raised is indicative of the seriousness of the problem.

If the building was to be repaired, beginning at the end of the decade, it would be expected to take at least five years to complete. During this time, the Commons may have to relocate to a secure location (already ready if a terrorist attack was to occur), or use the Lords Chamber. This would not be the first time that the Lords Chamber has been used temporarily by MPs. The Commons chamber was destroyed in the Second World War, forcing MPs into the Lords.

The House of Commons commission will be shown the results of a surveyor's report which warns of a risk of the Commons falling into the Thames due to subsidence. The report also details electrical problems, health and safety hazards, fire risks, and outdated boilers. Surveyors have advised closing off different sections of the building over a period of years to support the building's foundations. Two of the key factors in the present state of the Palace of Westminster are believed to be the Jubilee Line extension in the 1990s, and construction work on the House of Commons' underground car park. 

7 Dec 2011 18:10:41

We should not aspire to the inequality of hereditary peerages as portrayed in Downton Abbey, says Eleanor Laing

By Joseph Willits 
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LaingDownton Abbey has a way of entering in to the political arena. David Cameron's controversial mimicking of Australian PM Julia Gillard, will always be associated with his dressed like "an extra from Downton Abbey" attire. More recently, the series has been highlighted by MP Eleanor Laing as evidence of inequality in hereditary peerages in the House of Lords, and a historic lesson of what not to aspire to.

In his Lord Mayor's speech, Cameron discussed "the historic agreement" made about royal succession at the Commonwealth conference in Perth, that "if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a little girl, that girl will be our Queen." Whilst changes have been made to the law on royal succession, there are currently no plans to do so regarding hereditary peerages in the House of Lords.  

A report by MPs in the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform committee, have discussed "modest" rule changes to the House of Lords, but at present, suggests "there may be no compelling reason to alter an historic system of inheritance", due to the fact that "aristocratic titles no longer confer any particular rights, duties or privileges".

Continue reading "We should not aspire to the inequality of hereditary peerages as portrayed in Downton Abbey, says Eleanor Laing" »

21 Jul 2011 10:30:27

Guess how many members of the public have responded to the House of Lords reform White Paper - 10,000? 100,000?

By Matthew Barrett
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STRATHCLYDELord Strathclyde, the Leader of the House of Lords, was asked yesterday how many representations from the public on the House of Lords reform White Paper had been received. 

He was first asked by Labour peer Lord Grocott - Lord Strathclyde answered in a dry tone, and managed to suppress laughter when speaking:

"Lord Grocott: Have the Government still not learnt the lesson of the AV referendum? Unlike the Deputy Prime Minister, the British public do not think that our constitution is broken and they think that Government should spend their time on other, more important matters. Can I suggest that before the Government embark on any future constitutional experiments they apply two tests? First, do the public want it? Secondly, is there a political consensus to deliver it?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is true that the Government have not been overwhelmed with responses from the public after the publication of the White Paper. However, at least one interpretation of that is that the public are reasonably satisfied with the proposals that the Government have put forward."

The House was united in laughter.

Continue reading "Guess how many members of the public have responded to the House of Lords reform White Paper - 10,000? 100,000?" »

18 Jul 2011 18:14:44

Crossbencher Baroness D'Souza elected new Lord Speaker

By Matthew Barrett
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Lords_Chamber Crossbench peer Baroness (Frances) D'Souza has been elected to be the new Speaker of the House of Lords, succeeding Labour peer Baroness (Helene) Hayman.

Baroness D'Souza, a scientist and human rights campaigner who became a peer in 2004, was previously the Convenor of the Crossbench Peers. 

Baroness D'Souza beat Conservative peer Lord Colwyn, who has sat in the Lords since 1967 and had already served as a Deputy Chairman of Committees and as Deputy Speaker. The election was held under the AV system, and D'Souza beat Colwyn by 296 votes to 285 after four rounds of voting. Voting took place last Wednesday, but the results were announced today. 

Continue reading "Crossbencher Baroness D'Souza elected new Lord Speaker" »

13 Jul 2011 07:06:02

Lord Colwyn increasingly seen as more dynamic choice for new Lord Speaker

By Tim Montgomerie
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Meanwhile, slipping under the radar amidst all the uproar, an under-reported election takes place today: For the new Lord Speaker.

Baroness Helene Hayman’s five  years as first Lord Speaker have generally been seen as successful.  She has performed the role with dignity, and instigated an extremely popular Lords in Schools programme, as well as performing the ceremonial role well, witness her welcome when President Obama addressed both Houses of Parliament in June.

Although there are six candidates standing for election - Lord Colwyn; Baroness D’Souza; Lord Desai; Lord Goodlad; Baroness Harris of Richmond and Lord Redesdale - it is widely felt that the job should go to a Conservative. So why are there two Conservative candidates standing?  I understand that many Conservative peers felt that there should have been a primary election, allowing them to unite behind one candidate but Lord Goodlad, Chief Whip under John Major, rejected this idea and David Hunt, another Major-era minister, therefore chose not to stand.

Lord Goodlad may have the establishment vote sown up but newer members and many on the Liberal Democrat and Labour benches increasingly fancy the chances of jazz trumpeter and former dentist, Lord Colwyn, a deputy Speaker who only a few days ago looked an unlikely winner, but who is now the bookies' favourite.

With the Lord Speaker’s ceremonial role more prominent during Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee year, and with Lords Reform looming, increasing numbers of peers are feeling that a modern image is more important than ever before. Lord Goodlad will probably win but Lord Colwyn is gaining support. The vote takes place today with the result being announced on 19th.  Watch this space.

> More on the election from the BBC's Mark D'Arcy

28 Jun 2011 10:07:44

Two Conservatives among the six candidates to be the next Speaker of the House of Lords

By Jonathan Isaby
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Lords_Chamber The current Lord Speaker, Labour peer Baroness Hayman, is stepping down from the role next month and an election is about to be held to elect her successor.

All members of the House of Lords are entitled to vote in the ballot for the Lord Speaker, who oversees proceedings in the Upper House, but with far fewer powers than their counterpart in the Commons.

Voting will take place on July 13th, the result will be announced on July 18th and the new Lord Speaker will take office at the beginning of September.

There are six candidates in the running:

  • Lord Colwyn (Con)
  • Lord Desai (Lab)
  • Baroness D’Souza (Cross Bench) 
  • Lord Goodlad (Con)
  • Baroness Harris of Richmond (Lib Dem) 
  • Lord Redesdale (Lib Dem)

Of the two Conservatives standing, Lord Colwyn has sat in the Lords since 1967 and has already served as a Deputy Chairman of Committees and Deputy Speaker there; Lord Goodlad, meanwhile, was Chief Whip for the final two years of John Major's Government before serving as High Commissioner in Australia and then taking his seat in the Lords in 2005.

Click here to download full details of all the candidates.

28 Jun 2011 06:56:33

House of Lords approves proposal to allow peers to retire "with honour and dignity" from the Upper House

By Jonathan Isaby
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Yesterday the House of Lords was invited to approve the report from its Procedure Committee, Members leaving the House, which proposes a procedure by which peers would be able, for the first time, to retire from the House.

HUNT DAVID LORDTory peer Lord Hunt of Wirral, who oversaw the Leader's Group which originally came up with the proposals, explained why he felt he and his colleagues ought to have the option of retirement:

"What we have come forward with for the first time ever is a scheme to allow Members of this House to retire with honour and dignity... The extensive consultations we undertook demonstrated that there is a broad consensus in this House in support of a provision to enable Members voluntarily to leave on a permanent basis."

"We determined that for a conscientious Member who has played a full part in the proceedings of this House, and indeed in the other place, and who takes his or her commitment to this House seriously, but for whom the practicalities of continued participation might be burdensome, there should surely be an honourable and dignified means of retirement. One noble Lord has given me authority to quote him in this debate. This is not an isolated case but it is one I am able to recite. The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, says, "Please mention me as an example: first elected to the other place in 1951; 36 years in the Lords; now 87 years of age, uncertain health. I wish to retire".

"Until now membership of this House has always been a "life sentence", to quote one of those who gave evidence to our group. We have the opportunity today to introduce a much fairer system. Why? A number of Members who are not motivated by financial reasons might well want, because they find it very difficult to continue to attend, to slowly and gracefully - not retreat, as the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza put it - but resign, retire from this House. We have set out various ways in which we believe that tribute could be paid to the individual Member who so wishes by referring to their distinguished service. In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, many of those here will know the noble Lord and the tremendous charitable work he has done. It would be marvellous if I were able to e-mail him tomorrow to say that this Motion had been passed and that he will be able to retire in the way that he wishes."

That email will doubtless be winging its way to Lord Northfield this morning, since the motion was approved without a vote.

18 Jun 2011 13:20:24

Douglas Hogg - aka Viscount Hailsham - is tipped for an unconventional parliamentary return

Douglas Hogg By Jonathan Isaby
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The latest issue of the House Magazine (not online) features an interesting little snippet: the ex-MP formerly known as Douglas Hogg could be returning to Parliament through an unconventional route.

When his father, Viscount Hailsham, died in 2001, he inherited the title, but did not style himself as such whilst he remained in the Commons until his retirement as MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham at last year's general election.

Prior to Tony Blair's 1999 House of Lords Act, he would of course have had to resign from the Commons in order to take up his seat in the Lords on his father's death, but after the cull of most of the hereditary peers, he no longer had to do so (and neither did Michael Ancram, when his father, the Marquess of Lothian, died).

However, under the terms of the same House of Lords Act, 92 hereditary peers were saved and the same number have been entitled to remain ever since, meaning that there are still 47 Tory hereditary peers on the red benches.

And when one of the party-aligned hereditary peers remaining in the Lords dies, a by-election takes place to replace him among those remaining hereditaries taking that party's whip in the Lords. Candidacy in these contests is open to any hereditary from that party who was expelled in 1999, or the heir who inherited the title of a former hereditary peer who has since died.

As such, Hogg, now Viscount Hailsham, is on the register of hereditary peers entitled to stand in these by-elections and the House Magazine reports that in the contest to replace the Earl of Onslow, who died last month, Hailsham "appears to be the frontrunner".

If successful in the by-election (whcih is taking place next month), the former Agriculture Minister's return to Parliament will be controversial, since it was reported in March that the House of Lords Appointment Commission had recommended against accepting David Cameron's proposal that he be given a life peerage.

He did of course attain notoriety for his moat-related expenses claims, whilst his wife, Sarah Hogg, who was head of John Major's policy unit, already sits in the Lords in her own right as Baroness Hogg.

Full details of the procedure for the by-election - a postal ballot conducted by, ahem, Alternative Vote, is available in this House of Lords briefing paper.

18 Jun 2011 06:19:07

An elected second chamber seems even further away as names continue to emerge of those who will be scrutinising the plans

Lords_Chamber By Jonathan Isaby
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Yesterday's Times (£) reported that the peers being put onto the joint committee of both House of Parliament to examine the draft bill on House of Lords reform were overwhelmingly sceptical about an elected second chamber.

The full list of peers being proposed to sit on the joint committee has now been published and is as follows (though it is still subject to formal approval by the Lords):

  • Baroness Andrews (Lab)
  • Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield (Cross Bench)
  • Bishop of Leicester (Bishop)
  • Lord Norton of Louth (Con)
  • Lord Richard (Lab)
  • Lord Rooker (Lab)
  • Baroness Scott of Needham Market (Lib Dem)
  • Baroness Shephard of Northwold (Con)
  • Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean (Lab)
  • Lord Trefgarne (Con)
  • Lord Trimble (Con)
  • Lord Tyler (Lib Dem)
  • Baroness Young of Hornsey (Cross Bench)

In terms of where those peers are coming from, Roland Watson explained in the Times (£):

"All four Labour members — Lord Rooker, Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean and Baroness Andrews, along with Lord Richard — have opposed elected peers in the past. So too have three of the four Tories: Baroness Shephard of Northwold, Lord Norton of Louth and Lord Trefgarne. Lord Trimble has no voting record in the Lords on the issue. Of the two crossbench peers, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, the constitutional expert, has recently changed his mind to support appointed peers."

The list of MPs who will sit on the committee is yet to be published, although from the Conservative benches I can reveal the names of three MPs set to be nominated to serve on it:

  • Gavin Barwell - A member of the 2010 intake who serves on the 1922 Executive and is in principle  broadly in favour of reform, but whose pragmatic instincts would only want parliamentary time and energy expended on a proposal that could command enough support to have a reasonable chance of being passed.
  • Oliver Heald - A one-time shadow secretary of state for constituonal affairs under Michael Howard, confusingly he voted in 2003 for a fulled elected second chamber, only to vote against the same proposal when it came before the Commons again in 2007. Instinctively leaning towards a predominantly elected second chamber, but concerned that the Commons should remain the predominant chamber.
  • Eleanor Laing - Chairman of the Conservative backbench constitutional affairs committee and instinctively the most resistant to change of this trio. She voted to retain a fully appointed second chamber in 2003 and in questioning Clegg when his proposals were published last month, she outlined her fear that an elected second chamber would end up competeing with the Commons for democratic legitimacy.

Continue reading "An elected second chamber seems even further away as names continue to emerge of those who will be scrutinising the plans" »

7 Jun 2011 06:47:55

Conservative peers are statistically less silent than the average

By Jonathan Isaby
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Lords_Chamber Yesterday, Andy McSmith in The Independent wrote that there are 137 members of the House of Lords who have not spoken in the chamber or asked a written question in the year since the general election.

That is equivalent to 17.4% of the House's membership.

And you may have wondered how many of those are Conservative peers. Well, taking those on leave of absence out of the equation, only 26 of those currently in receipt of the Tory whip fall into that category, equivalent to less than 12% of the 217 Conservative peers.

They are:

  • Lord Bell
  • Lord Blyth of Rowington 
  • Lord Carr of Hadley 
  • Lord Chilver 
  • Lord Coe 
  • Earl Crawford and Balcarres 
  • Baroness Eccles of Moulton
  • Lord Feldman 
  • Lord Feldman of Elstree 
  • Lord Hayhoe 
  • Lord Heseltine 
  • Baroness Hogg 
  • Earl Home 
  • Lord Kirkham 
  • Earl Lindsay 
  • Lord MacLaurin of Knebworth 
  • Lord Macfarlane of Bearsden 
  • Lord Montagu of Beaulieu 
  • Lord Moore of Lower Marsh 
  • Lord Palumbo 
  • Lord Parkinson 
  • Lord Saatchi 
  • Lord Sheppard of Didgemere 
  • Baroness Thatcher 
  • Lord Waldegrave of North Hill 
  • Lord Wolfson of Sunningdale

1 Jun 2011 07:15:48

John Taylor shouldn't be allowed to return to the House of Lords

By Tim Montgomerie
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TAYLOR JOHN Those of us who don't see Lords reform as a priority do not believe that the Lords is perfect. One reform that should be made is the exclusion of law-breakers from the membership of the upper house. The Sun is on its high horse this morning, chasing down the position of Lord Taylor of Warwick, jailed yesterday for expenses abuse:

"How absurd that a man who systematically stole from taxpayers, lied on oath and was jailed can still keep his seat in the Lords. Slippery Lord Taylor provided a false address to illegally claim £11,000 in expenses. He lied to a reporter who uncovered the scandal, then denied his thieving in court - only admitting guilt once convicted. Now the disgraced peer is set to serve just three months behind bars before walking free to reclaim his place in Parliament. Having flagrantly flouted the law, he could be entrusted with creating it. The Sun doesn't believe major reform of the Lords should be a Government priority. There are dozens of more urgent concerns. But there SHOULD be a new Act of Parliament to prevent crooks from shaping the law of the land. And Taylor should not get a vote on it."

The Sun is right.