Meet the Lords – or at least two Lords and one Baroness….

Manderston House 2005

BBC2 started a new series last night called “Meet the Lords”. In the style of last year’s documentary series about the House of Commons, the film crew wondered around the corridors of the House of Lords, and produced some interesting sights.

In fact, it centred on three peers:

Baroness King – This is the previous Oona King, the inspirational MP for Bethnal Green and Bow. In her office she has a photo of a black Margaret Thatcher – which is interesting. We see her putting through an amendment to the Housing Bill – a process involving many hours of lobbying, and we see her children and a bit of her home life. She tells us that she has been through eleven unsuccessful IVF attempts – which qualifies her as an alumni of the school of hard knocks, I would suggest.

Baron Bird – This is John Bird, former homeless youth who founded “The Big Issue”. We see his entrance into the Lords as a “People’s Peer”. He is quite a card and deserves every inch of the red leather on which he perches his experienced bottom. He also can be truly said to have gone through the school of hard knocks.

Lord Palmer has not been through the school of hard knocks, I think it is fair to say. He was born with a chocolate digestive biscuit in his mouth. As the Housing Bill threatened to push the impoverished out onto the streets, we saw him walking around his huge house (see above). We saw him getting quite exercised that the House of Lords TV room had been turned into an office. This prevented him from watching the cricket and the racing in the afternoon – and he was quite upset about that.

We also had a few salty remarks from our own Paul Tyler, wearing a superb selection of colourful ties.

Black Rod was featured quite a lot. We saw him putting on his tights. (I had to look away). He said that he is an expert in the various deniers of the said hosiery.

So that probably sums up the programme. Great entertainment. I marked off about a dozen Lib Dem peers on my bingo card. I saw Lord Purvis twice. We saw the Housing Bill going through its paces. And yes, of course, the House of Lords does a great job and they are all lovely people.

It would be equally lovely, though, to be able to vote for and against them.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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15 Comments

  • I feel the Lords will come to regret this series.

    The ridiculous comments from Lord Palmer about the conversion of a TV room being converted into an office summed up how out of touch many Peers are with the public perception.

    Lord Tylers’ comments about the best day centre in London might be true, but they really don’t help the perception of Westminster or politics as a whole.

  • I’m afraid I found Leicester City v Liverpool more compelling last night but I have since watched the programme. I noticed my old friend David Shutt enjoying his lunch.

    To be fair to my near neighbour Adrian Palmer, he is quite a nice chap and a few years ago he allowed Manderston to be used for a TV programme – ‘The Edwardian Country House’. It featured a dinner party with M.P.’s David Steel, Archie Kirkwood and Alan Beith all dressed up to the nines dining in fine Edwardian top and tails – and no doubt getting aspirations for their own future elevation.

    I believe ‘downstairs’ didn’t have a vote at the time and suffragettes were still being force fed by the people’s hero and Home Secretary, Winston Churchill.

    One reform I would support is to ban new life peerages to anyone who has donated more than £ 5,000 in any one year to a political party in the last ten years.

  • I am hoping that by the end of this series, the importance of a second chamber, and the need for its reform will have been clarified. I have to confess my ignorance, in so mmuch as I assumed that the hereditary Lords remaining after the reforms of the 90s would not be replaced. I was fine with keeping some of the better ones, but as a transitional measure only.

  • Ruth Bright 28th Feb '17 - 3:53pm

    Paul Tyler was brilliant on the Lords as a posh day centre. Take a 53 bus from Westminster to the Old Kent Road and you can find the weekly club for the elderly where I used to work. By my calculations that club was run for a year for less than a quarter of the annual cost of a single peer.

  • ethicsgradient 28th Feb '17 - 4:16pm

    I’d like to start/have a debate about the House of Lords/house of Lords reform, but I am not sure if I can write an article/comment piece on LDV? I will try to precis my thoughts here:

    1. I have moved from supporting the House of Lords (for pragmatic reasons) to now wanting to abolish the Lords and replace with an entirely new chamber. One that is partly elected, partly appointed and based on Proportional representation of public vote at a general election.

    2. What I like about the Lords at the moment: a) having much more independent minds review legislation b) this independence arising from not being accountable to an electorate (from a pragmatic point of view not a democratic one!) meaning unpopular but necessary and good arguments are brought to the debate. c) Experts from various areas (science, industry, arts, teaching, charity, etc…) being able to add to legislation directly rather than though just an advisory think-tank/consultancy role. d) previous long term political experience not being lost when good, effective MP’s leave the commons (ex-pm’s, radical change driving ministers, really competent long term MP’s for 20 odd years). e) much less tribalism and party politics i.e. the members seem more independent and you have the significant about of cross benchers. f) ability for senior civil servants who have helped the function of government over many years to use this experience in an input into reviewing legislation

    3) What I don’t like about the house of Lords: a) unelected hereditary peers who have not merited or done or shown any thing to be able to have a say over legislation (that’s insane). b) having an honours system ( it is great to reward people who have done good things in their areas of competence) leading to some being given honours that then have the ability to legislate over us. i.e. they should not be made lords with voting rights (as andrew lloyd webber said… paraphrase ” and they expect me to turn up and vote?”. c) The sheers size of the lords. Get it down to similar to the commons.. 450-600 members. d) Cronyism of rewarding some who help the government of the day then getting a seat in the lords. e) Many members note actually doing the job of reviewing and amending legislation and yet getting money and privilege for just being a member. f) it resembling some thing of a private members club rather than a secondary reviewing chamber of government.

  • Matt (Bristol) 28th Feb '17 - 4:30pm

    As a longterm aim, I support our party’s policy of a fully elected (by STV) chamber.

    To move on from the impasse we are in, if there was a possibility of a deal that could be done on a cross-party basis I would quite happily support something broadly on the lines of the Irish Senate, with (for eg) some kind of cap on total numbers, fixed terms (20 years from time of first appointment?) for all current members, and any new members to be – for now – elected by the Commons (by regions, using STV, for 5 years?), not appointed by the PM.

    This would not be ideal. But it would be more acceptable than what we have now, and create a route forward that did not depend on prime-ministerial patronage.

  • ethicsgradient 28th Feb '17 - 4:43pm

    My initial proposals: I want to retain the good things and get rid of the bad: here are some ideas:

    1. Break the link between the honours system and the 2nd chamber. we can hve mbe’s, obe’s, knighthoods etc. No worries but none entitles the person to sit or be a member of the 2nd chamber.

    2. the majority of the the 2nd chamber (55- 60% maybe??) chosen from Proportional representation of national vote in a general election. I am wary of using a list system (because inability to get rid of person top of the list for each party) but maybe a list system with caveats (can become a commons member, can only serve 2 terms etc?

    3. a quota of members from each region of the UK: Scotland, Wales N.Ireland, North west, North east, Midlands, south east, south west.. something like that. To represent regional voices. Possibly elected (PR from the general vote in each area?…. problem of vote counting X2, could be delageates/ apointments from county coucils/mayors? )

    4. significant appointments of experts in leading fields/areas. I think these should be made by an independent body so that the government of the day cannot jerrymander it. But the quango would have to be accounatble to a regulator/ the public. all experts would only be able to serve 2 terms of government (10 years)

    5. appointments from the judiciary and clergy/faith groups.???? My instinct tells me this is a bad idea as region and politics should be kept separate as should politics and the judiciary. Yet I would like some imput from these very important areas of society. Something a bit like the law lords and bishops in there now? Maybe limited to 10 a piece? again only able to serve a maximum of 2 terms (10 years).

    6. Ex-Pm’s given life long membership of the 2nd chamber. A bit against my own thinking. But nobody can know what being PM is like until you have been PM. Maybe keeping that experience is valuable. Plus it would never be more than say 6-8 people anyhow.

    7. Make the total membership somewhere between 450-600 members. Which Commons still be the primary chamber and the new secondary chamber reviewing and amending.

    What do you think?

  • ethicsgradient 28th Feb '17 - 4:45pm

    Typo on this:

    2. the majority of the the 2nd chamber (55- 60% maybe??) chosen from Proportional representation of national vote in a general election. I am wary of using a list system (because inability to get rid of person top of the list for each party) but maybe a list system with caveats (CANNOT become a commons member, can only serve 2 terms etc?

  • My dear Paul,

    You couldn’t possibly expect me to be so indiscreet as to comment on a financial arrangement by his Lordship, could you ? Any such comment on the Quaker aristocracy really would be taking the biscuit.

    Equally, you couldn’t possibly expect me to be so indiscreet as to comment on a financial arrangement by three Liberal M.P.’s and the television companies. At the time they no doubt enjoyed their dinners and televised exposure but only mustered one knighthood between them.

    Since then they have progressed and acquired a further two knighthoods – and now – all three have joined his Lordship, in the Upper House.

    My lips are sealed, though I confess I should have dined out a bit more.

  • @ethicsgradient, when you say break the link with the honours system, do you simply mean no more Government appointed Lords? I’ll grant you that the likes of Andrew Lloyd-Webber is an awful appointment, but I thought he was given some kind of nominal appointment to gain the title, rather than Lord being a promotion from Sir for writing catchy tunes. Sir Alan Sugar became Lord Sugar in exchange for being some kind of business Tsar, and Seb Coe became Lord Coe because he was doing work for the government, not because he could run fast. In that respect, I don’t consider appointed peers as being part of the regular honours system.

    As far as I can tell, Lords Coe and Sugar did actually do work for the Government/country in exchange for the title, but I can’t quite work out what Andrew Lloyd-Webber ever did to justify a position, rather than a nice title.

    One thing is clear, the confusion over how people got into the Lords, and why, is part of the problem.

    I’d like to see some kind of record of the attendance rates for each of the Lords, and the reasons for their appointment. If someone is appointed to give advice on their area of expertise, then I wouldn’t expect them to be turning up on a regular basis, as I would hope they are continuing with their regular job, which is what would help them have good insight when they do attend the Lords. I’m thinking of the likes of Robert Winston. However, if you are a hereditary Lord, but do little, then you should be asked to vacate your office. There’s clearly a shortage of space, and it is a joke that you have the apparently hard-working peers such as Oona King having to run when she hears the division bell, while others are trying to work out where the tv went.

  • ethicsgradient 28th Feb '17 - 6:45pm

    @Fiona,

    Hi, so (I think floating ideas here you see) what I am proposing is rewards great accomplishments and services to and for the country should be a completely different, separate system to people who would serve in a 2nd chamber. Success in sport, the arts, business, great innovations, great service to the community is valued and honoured.

    Now if you then wanted to bring expertise in any field; business like Alan Sugar. Instead of making the a lifetime Lord. They could become one of the nominated expert appointments to the second chamber (the appointment having a maximum term of 2 parliaments/ 10 years).

    The key point is “sir” whoever who got the knighthood in something else (lets say Sir Bradly Wiggins, I love him and think he is a great role model) would not automatically then be able to review and amend legislation in the 2nd chamber.

  • Becoming a Sir doesn’t mean you get to sit in the Lords.

    There will be some appointed Lords who have also been made a Sir, but there’s no chance of Sir Bradley, Sir Mo or Dame Jess rocking up to vote, because becoming a Sir or a Dame does not entitle you to a seat at the Lords. Alan Sugar was Sir Alan for years before he became a Peer at which point he became Lord Sugar.

    I just think that a lot of people from outwith politics who go on to be appointed as a life peer come from the group of people who will have been awarded and accepted a Knighthood. If someone really has excelled in their field, they’d be offered one, and if they are the sort of person likely to accept a role in the Lords, they are likely to be the sort of person who accepts an honour. This does not mean that those who have been made a Sir or Dame can expect to go onto to be ‘promoted’ to Lord.

  • Simon Freeman 1st Mar '17 - 4:29pm

    I really enjoyed the programme. My thoughts are:

    1. I’ve always liked Oona King. Somebody I’d like on my side and would be happy to vote for.
    2. The 92 hereditary peers should be removed from the Upper House Immediately. Let them keep their titles though.
    3. Likewise the 24 Anglican Bishops. They may be decent people who contribute useful things but there is no justification for one religion being given preferential treatment over the others.
    4. We do need a second chamber doing what the Lords does now. Rename it the Senate.
    5. Why do they have such a luxurious restaurant when every other staff canteen in the public sector is run on a cost recovery basis?
    6. It can’t be allowed to just get bigger and bigger. I suggest fixed 400 to 500 members but open to compromise.
    7. My preference is for a 100% elected chamber using a PR system(I’m flexible about which one). I’d use larger multi member constituencies than for the Commons. In our case South Yorkshire. Elections every 5 years same day as the General Elections should ensure a reasonable turnout.
    8. I know what people mean about experts, but can’t they just be asked to become advisors to select committees?

  • Richard Underhill 4th Mar '17 - 11:27am

    Another by-election in the Lords, in which only peers can vote. Labour should remember their manifesto for the general election in 1997, which led to a large majority for Labour in the Commons (and an increase in the number of Liberal Democrat MPs). That manifesto led to negotiations in which the Conservative leader in the Lords negotiated with Prime Minister Tony Blair and was sacked by Tory leader William Hague. The then leader of Labour peers repeatedly said that they would finish the job and remove all the hereditary peers, but appears to have failed to persuade Tony Blair to stick to their manifesto commitment. As Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has nominated one life peer. Former UKIP leader Lord Pearson is an hereditary peer, who has admitted to his incompetence, not knowing the mainifesto of his own party.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_Pearson,_Baron_Pearson_of_Rannoch

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