“Appalled and embarrassed” – Paul Tyler on attitudes in the House of Lords

“Appalled and embarrassed” – that is how Liberal Democrat peer and Constitutional Affairs Spokesperson Paul Tyler described his reaction to the attitude and behaviour of some members of the House of Lords:

I have been appalled and embarrassed by the number of Peers, even including a few former Cabinet Ministers, who use the place as a convenient private club, with good parking and subsidised catering.  They never speak or even ask a question, let alone contribute to a debate.

His comments were made when discussing the publication of the Consultation on Members Leaving the House, which looked as the views of peers as part of a review to identify options for allowing people to leave the House of Lords other than through death or misconduct.

As Paul pointed out, with the use of block capitals, underlining and an exclamation mark, there are 79 peers who did not turn up (let alone speak or vote) even once in the 2009-2010 Parliamentary session. There are some very rare cases where long-term non-attendance in justifiable, and in the past some peers have spoken out over the lack of an option to retire if their health is no longer up to attending. Yet the overall picture, especially when you extend the figures to include peers who almost never turn up or who turn up but do not participate, is of large numbers who do not carry out the role of being a Parliamentarian in even the most minimally reasonable way.

There are also practical problems about the sheer size of the Lords, as Paul also commented,

The case for reducing the number of Peers is compelling:  increasing costs, not enough room for all to get into the Chamber or have desks, excessive size compared with the Commons and (most persuasively) “damage to the credibility of the House occasioned by the large number of members who take no active part in proceedings.”

Lovely dining club – with a Parliament attached

So with Lords reform in the air and promised in the Coalition agreement, you might expect peers to be thinking sensibly about how to leave behind the idea that the upper house is a lovely dining club, great car park and a mark of social distinction – with a Parliament attached.

Alas, not everyone – for the suggestions made by some of Paul’s fellow peers show how out of touch many of them are with the idea that Parliament is a place to work on holding the government to account and governing the country:

In the circumstances I cannot take seriously some of the suggested remedies to this serial non-attendance.  Giving retiring Peers “dining rights”, let alone offering the opportunity to speak but not vote, seems totally inappropriate.  As for the idea that they should be awarded an honour “on the lines of the armed services’ Long Service, Good Conduct medal”, or that their “life peerage might be converted into a hereditary peerage”, I can only suppose that somebody was taking the mickey.

Yes really: there was the suggestion that the ‘reward’ for not turning up and doing a job in the Lords should be to be given a medal. The Order of the Free Car Park perhaps?

Paul TylerPaul’s pugnacious attitude towards the views of other members of the Lords is very welcome, especially as there is a very strong rearguard action being fought by many members of the Lords against having democracy in the Lords. Or if there really must be democracy having it in as weak and diluted a form as possible – and certainly not moving any time soon to the idea that all members of the Lords should have to do a job of work there.

The political debate within Parliament and within the coalition on this is finely balanced at the moment. It may yet tip either way, as the report last week in the The Times illustrated when it talked of how:

A 300-strong mini Senate would replace the House of Lords under plans being drawn up by Nick Clegg. However, the Deputy Prime Minister is facing setbacks as he tries to deliver constitutional reform. He is having to surrender the Liberal Democrat ambition of a wholly elected Upper House amid stiff resistance from peers in all parties and will struggle to ensure that a reformed second chamber will be mainly elected.

Superficially that sounds a bad news story (and contrasts with the tone of The Times in August – “Absent peers face sack … The least active and least effective peers could be ejected at the end of each Parliament”). However a much smaller house would also up the pressure to only have minimal ‘grandfathering’ – that is letting existing members of the Lords continue in place without having to face elections – as otherwise it’d be a house dominated by the unelected.

As on so many other issues in the Coalition, it is not a simple case of Lib Dems versus Conservatives, because Cameron has no great love of many of the ranks of the Tory peers. In this case it is more a case of MPs versus peers, with honourable exceptions on the peers front including many Lib Dems such as Paul Tyler.

People such as Paul deserve our full support in those debates.

Consultation on Members Leaving the House

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This entry was posted in News and Parliament.
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3 Comments

  • Antony Hook 9th Nov '10 - 9:48am

    My impression is that some MPs are as much a problem as peers. They want to limit reform to prevent an upper house having a comparable claim to legitimacy as the Commons. Outrageous self interested behaviour.

  • richard morris 9th Nov '10 - 9:51am

    Isn’t it fantastic to see a front line politician really opening up and speaking his mind. Great stuff

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