Tuesday 31 January 2012

In which Tris ponders the purpose of the House of Peers and wonders at the politics behind the benighted deknighted

I'm not entirely sure how much the House of Lords costs us taxpayers every year. Many figures are bandied about (and we are told how much cheaper it is than the Commons), but no one seems to know exactly what the figures represent:
Expenses of peers (or attendance allowance as it should properly be called) is surely only a small part. There is an historic building to be run, with priceless artwork to be hung and maintained; there are restaurants, tearooms, shops and bars to subsidise, staff to pay to open doors, type letters, run errands, polish coronets, oversee robing rooms, clean toilets, offices, corridors, etc. There are windows to wash, drains to unblock, doors to paint. And then there's security. There are government ministers to be paid and transported. And it all has to be heated and lit. (A lot of them are elderly and need lots of warmth...)

I dunno...£ 1/2 billion...£ 3/4 billion? More?

So... whatever it costs, if, as Mr Clegg tells us, it is necessary for the smooth running of our democracy, why is it that when the government suffers defeats, such as it has over the last few days because various sections of the Welfare Reform Bill have been voted out by their noblenesses, the aforementioned government can simply overturn aforementioned defeats the next day in the Commons, as if nothing had happened.
You see, I reckon that we don't need the Lords. Well, that goes without saying. Ermine collars, red gowns, coronets, together with titles like Duke, Viscount, Marquis, Earl, Baron, and styles like "your grace" and "my lord" seem to me to be completely out of touch with the reality of today. (I'm not, of course, saying that the reality of today has a great deal to recommend it, however, at least our parliamentarians should be living in it the same as we are forced to.) 

But I don't think we even need a Senate. Surely one chamber, with good committees, real debates (without the disruptions of the wearing of top hats and cries of "I spy strangers"), and with sensible a good chairmanship (not pompous overblown little pip squeaks), should suffice to get the job done.
It's not as if having a second house has saved the UK, and England in particular, from some incredibly inept legislation, which can be, and is, challenged in courts, usually in London, but sometimes in Europe.

Every time I hear the government of the day saying that it will overturn the votes of the second chamber, I ask myself if the half or three-quarters of a billion pounds or more per annum, wouldn't be better spent on something useful.

I see that Fred Goodwin is just that, Fred Goodwin...now that they have taken away his 'Sirness'.

Against titles as I am, it's a matter of complete indifference to me whether he has (or had) one or not. Like the titles in the Lords it all belongs to another day, another society, even more class ridden and riven than the one we live in. But that aside doesn't the whole "removal" thing have the smell of an exercise in futile populism by Cameron? That's how it seems to me, anyway.
Fred was, probably still is, a greedy bounder, who is as clever as clever can be at making money, and behind whom all these MPs were standing cheering when he was making that obscene money for the RBS Group, and of course for the UK. But he, like every other gambler, was bound to back the wrong horse sometime.

And he did. Big time. But he wasn't the only one. Goodwin didn't bring down the UK economy single handed. Oh no. There were many others. The City of London is teaming with them. Goodwin was just the best known. And Cameron wants to look tough with the bankers.

Fail...again. It all just looks as silly as giving him the daft title in the first place.


  1. Ah a renaming to The Flatulence House has a more meaningful aroma for these tu..s.

  2. tris

    Fred Goodwin was first class W.....Banker BUT many politicos Alex Salmond amongst them where more than happy to heap praises on him and honors too.

    Now every thing economic has gone all pete tong he (although he has become easy to hate MSM influence there)
    Is the Scapegoat for the noughts and will go down in history for it.

    the real issues are being sidelined by the distraction with Fred bashing..

    the real issues being the endemic corruption throughout the City of London and the financial sector in the UK and their close links with the snp(joke ha ha) ruling political elite.

    But we dont want to there do we?

  3. Niko... exactly. [And yes, I remember that Alex Salmond was one of the politicians who praised the Royal Bank...]

    Your last paragraph (with an obvious exception) is bang on.

  4. Quite right about the lack of need for an upper chamber. As usual, people look at the UK structure (or, if they're feeling adventurous, the US structure) and assume that is the standard on which all parliaments must fit. But as is so often the case when it comes to looking for the best examples of democracy, a quick glance over to the Nordic region shows that they all have unicameral legislatures.

    The irony of the UK media's clamour for "strong government" is that it is precisely that tendency to return majority governments that leads them to need an upper chamber scrutinising their bills. Moving to a PR system of electing MPs completely eradicates the requirement for a scrutinising chamber, as it suddenly becomes impossible to just push things through.

    (Well, unless you're such a popular government that you "break" the PR system...)

    Scotland needs no upper house. However, I would suggest we WILL need more MSPs when we're independent. 129 is affy sma for a country of 5.2 million. Nearer 170 would do the trick.

  5. Oh, and just as a bit of justification for that last point - the more MSPs you have, the harder it becomes for anyone to get a majority.

  6. If there was no House of Lords the Labour party career path would be sadly truncated.

    No attendance allowance, no flunkeys serving tea, no ermine robes, no title and a decent club in London too look forward to at the end of their service to the British Establishment.

    The Labour party would be bereft.

    Then again so would be their chums in the Tories and the Lib-Dems.

  7. Hi Doug,

    Good to see you back at Munguin's Republic.

    There are some things you just can't "legislate" for...like a PR system that produces a majority! :)

    But that is a real rarity and unlikely to happen again...

    I agree too that a chamber of MSPs that was designed to cope with maybe half the work of government is not suitable for one that has to take on tax raising and foreign affairs, defence and social security/pensions and more besides. Not enough people to provide ministers and Cabinet Secretaries, and still have decent scrutiny at 129. I hope they can adapt the chamber though! I'd not care to see the expense of a new building falling on our new country.

    I'll not argue with your figure of 170 as I hadn't, until you mentioned it, given it any thought, and you clearly have.

    I certainly wouldn't be looking for an upper house in the new Scotland.

    I think (as a passing thought) that some of our new structures, because we would have to create them, would remain British, because as James always points out, correctly, we are, and will remain British, by virtue of our geographical situation as part of the British Isles.

    But we we could do worse than look to the Nordic countries for patterns that are successful. I'd like to see us develop much stronger ties with Norway, The Faeroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Baltic states.

    As for strong government, I'm not sure that "strong" is the first adjective I want to describe government. "Sensible" would be better; "sound", "intelligent" and "representative are all above "strong".

    And I don't think that not having a towering majority (so you can't push through whatever you want, regardless of how stupid it may be) makes you weak. Often quite the reverse.

    Mrs Thatcher and those since, have treated the strength of government with such reverence that it has become the standard by which "good" government has been judged here.

    It doesn't take a genius to see that the "strong" governance of the UK has hardly rendered it in a better situation than the comparatively "weak" governance of, say Germany with its federal system and coalition governments. Angela Merkel is still managing to take the lead in Europe.

  8. Oh yes, Doug. With no retirement home, and nowhere else to put those who have done favours, the party whipping system would have to rely upon the threat to reveal "black book" secrets to wives and constituency chairmen, or worse, The Daily Mail.

    Of course it would still be effective, because most have something to hide, but it would narrow the options nonetheless. A carrot is safer than a stick.

    And where would all these codgers go to write their memoires if the HoL shut down?

    And why would most of them join up in the first place if they couldn't see themselves 30 years on, in red with some lower order saying: "You rang, M'lord?

  9. Fred the Shred has been made a scapegoat, which is even more pathetic than him having the title.

  10. Yep. Agreed, Dean

  11. What is the point of just short of a thousand so called “experts” (really a load of doddering old fools and party placemen) all trousering expenses? Nick and David tell us one minute how much we need them and how good they are but as soon as they show any independence they are the biggest load of idiots who don’t know what they are doing and need to be put right. Once again it seems that they think we zip up the back and will accept any old incredible rubbish as fact if they premise it with “let’s be clear....” even if it totally contradicts what they said and did yesterday!!

    I think Fred should get to keep his knighthood. He was given it in all good faith in 2005 when things were going oh so well and nobody thought he was doing a bad job: not the British Government; not the FSA; not the shareholders; not the board of directors; not Alex Salmond and certainly not St Vince of Cable. This is just rank tokenism at its very worst just as bonus season is coming round again.

  12. Well, I don't know about putting TOO much thought into the numbers Holyrood really requires - just a quick look at Wikipedia!

    Norway: 169
    Denmark: 179
    Finland: 200
    Sweden: 349

    But then, Sweden is a good few million people bigger than the rest, and us. If Norway can manage with 169, it sounds right to me. That would be an increase of almost a third. If people moan about it, we just say "well it's either that or a whole new upper chamber" - they'll soon pipe down!

  13. What about Lord Swann Vestas of the Hotel?

  14. Doug

    Instead of adding 41 MSPs to the Holyrood parliament, why not have 40 in an elevated house similar to the American system, where they have 100 senators for their huge population.

    The second house could be elected every four years half way through the Holyrood cycle. No patronage needed wholly elected.

    It would be no more democratic that your 41 extra MSPs but as it would be nearer the two legislature system most people are familiar with it could be more reassuring to the general public.


    You never named the politicians who gave Fred his knighthood, I wonder why? Does wee Jack and Gordon Brown sound familiar?

  15. Christ on a bike, I agree with Dean. I better go and lie down.

    Daily Mail knee jerk reaction often comes back to bite people up the bum.

  16. Queen opens £350m bank HQ

    Four RAF Tornados flew overhead at 11am as she declared the massive complex open, in front of First Minister Jack McConnell and the bank's group chairman Sir George Mathewson.

  17. Yes Munbguin. The problem with the Lords is that they are appointed for life, so there is a tendency for them to be elderly.

    Nothing, of course wrong with some elderly heads to rethink the policies of the young turks (like Dennis Skinner) in the Commons. (OK that was a joke).

    But what is the point if the wise counsel of these "elders" is ignored and the government does what it was going to do anyway.

    Seems a load of pointless money wasting, which when we are tightening the belts and everyone, all the decent hard working families up and down the country, are in it together, that they waste all that money getting nowhere.

    And, we agree on Freddy's unkighting, or deknighting, and possibly igknighting...

    Cameron doing his usual stupid thinking after he does the acting. This time he can't climb down or do a u-turn. The Queen is hardly likely to want to reknight the blokey.

    Lordy but how she must shake her experienced head in complete bemusement at the antics of her British government.

  18. Well Doug, you'd thought as far as finding out the size of the parliaments of our neighbours, which is more than I'd done.

    Norway is the most like us, in terms of population, so I guess that that makes sense.

    They manage to find sufficient people to make up their government from that. I'd go quite happily with that.

    I think in fairness that, although parliamentarians haven't got a great name, people would understand that if you are taking on a whole new set of responsibilities, you need ministers to cover these areas, and the MSPs themselves will have more work to do; more legislation, and more constituency work.

    We also would lose 59 seats at Westminster, so there would actually be a reduction in the costs...given we would only be adding 401 MSPs.

  19. What about him Wolfie?

    I've no "burning" desire to involve him in anything.

    (Although, in fairness to the man, I remember John Brownlie [who knows him] telling me that he wasn't a bad bloke...when he was sober!)

  20. I see your point about things being comfortingly reassuring, Dubs, but an upper chamber would cost a lot more than just having one expanded one. And the additional responsibilities of ministerial office would be hard to split between two houses, given the necessity to have government representatives for each department in both houses.

    It works (if not brilliantly) in England, but they have 650 people in one place and it seems like thousands in the other, although I'm sure it's only about 850 at the moment.

    I'd be happier with one chamber doing all the business.

  21. Hmmm... how embarrassing CH...

    "Mr McConnell hailed the new headquarters - which will house 3250 staff - as a symbol of Scotland's ambitions.

    "He said: 'Building world-class Scottish companies that are competitive across global markets is a central part of our strategy for developing a modern and prosperous Scottish economy.

    " 'The Royal Bank of Scotland is a perfect realisation of that ambition.

    " 'Their commitment to a headquarters in Scotland confirms that we are creating the right business environment to attract and retain the headquarters of globally successful companies."

    I see that Darling Alistair was there as SOS. So he must have been happy with their performance back then.

  22. Well I'm really amazed about this. I had no idea that a Knighthood could be revoked for anything less than criminal misconduct. I'm even somewhat surprised that a certain modest level of actual criminality would not be tolerated. Some time ago I recall that we established that Her Majesty's majesty would likely remain intact even if she went off her nut and dispatched Philip with a sharp kitchen utensil. What with the law and courts being "hers" of course. And I seem to remember that some time back a peer of the realm was languishing in an American prison. Of course royalists always did have it rough here in the states.

    Anyway, if malfeasance and misfeasance in your field of endeavor is suddenly to disqualify you for honours and titles, surely the ranks of sirs, dames, lordships, and ladyships will be thinned considerably. But it IS after all a way to impose punishment without actually punishing anybody. In the states, business executives who bring down companies and destroy the lives of workers can only be paid millions of dollars to cancel their employment contracts and go away. No punishment short of a prison sentence is available.

  23. Danny

    Peers if charged with a serious criminal offence can elect to be tried by their "peers" and if found guilty of murder, and sentenced to be hanged, can ask for a silk rope for the drop.

    I wonder how many lamp posts are in Westminster around Westmidden and how much an 6 foot length of silk costs.

  24. Hey Lupus, that silk rope thingy is cool. I wonder when the Lords last sat as a legal body. I seem to remember that in one of the novels, Lord Peter Wimsey's brother was tried for murder by the Lords.

  25. Yep, Danny, I look forward to a list of some 3,000 titled people who will be losing their gongs and associated bits and pieces because of the precedent set by this piece of populist nonsense by Cameron.

    One who springs immediately to mind would be SIR Marc Thatcher, who seems to have been aiding and abetting a coup in Equatorial Guinea.

    Of course he didn't actually do anything to "earn" his knighthood. Mrs Thatcher gave it to her husband for... erm... uh.... erm... well, anyway, moving swiftly on, she made sure it was an hereditary title (although by that time hereditary titles were only ever given to royalty), because she knew the little tosser would never amount to anything,or maybe by that time she imagined that she WAS royalty. So there he is: SIR Murk Thatcher II of Coups are Us (get your helicopters here).

    There are any number of disreputable peers who come out of prison and turn up on the red benches the next day greedy for their £300+ money and the cheap drink. Ordinary criminals have to make an appointment with the Jobcentre for a few weeks away, possibly why so many of them return to crime, having nothing to live on in the interim.

    Arsonist Mike, Lord Invergowrie (as referred to above by the Wolf man) comes to mind, and novelist Lord Archer or Wrinkles, the celebrated novelist, who lied his backside off in court about something to do with women or tarts he was seeing ... or something of that nature.

    Then there are all the thieving toe rags that had their greedy snouts in the swill until they were outed by journalists a couple of years ago.

    Of course only one of them actually went to prison and then only for a matter of days. (He's awaiting trial on more theft charges at the moment). But he is still The Noble (oh please, if ever a word ceased to mean anything at all) Lord Hanningfield and should be addressed respectfully as My Lord (except when he is wearing a suit with arrows on it, when he should just be bowed to).

    This is such a joke of a country, so it is, with a complete joke of a PR man...sorry, I mean prime minister.

  26. My researches tell me, Wolfie, that silk costs around £70 a yard, so we could have a whip round (don't tell George Osborne) and see what we can raise. God knows it's in a good cause.

  27. Danny: From Wikipedia...

    .... the House of Lords was once the court that tried peers charged with high treason or felony. The House would be presided over not by the Lord Chancellor, but by the Lord High Steward, an official especially appointed for the occasion of the trial. If Parliament was not in session, then peers could be tried in a separate court, known as the Lord High Steward's Court. Only peers, their wives, and their widows (unless remarried) were entitled to trials in the House of Lords or the Lord High Steward's Court; the Lords Spiritual were tried in Ecclesiastical Courts. In 1948, the right of peers to be tried in such special courts was abolished; now, they are tried in the regular courts. The last such trial in the House was of Edward Southwell Russell, 26th Baron de Clifford in 1935.

  28. Hi Tris,

    What HAS Britain come to when a Peer of the Realm must endure trial in the same court as commoners?! I just checked Wiki about the Peter Wimsey trial. The Sayers' novel "Clouds of Witness" was published in 1926, and had Lord Peter's elder brother the Duke of Denver charged with murder and tried by the Lords.

    As for Formerly Sir Fred and Cameron's "populist nonsense," is it worthy of note that the he was an executive with "Royal Bank of Scotland" and not with a Bank of....oh say.....England?

  29. Well, actually it happened quite recently, Danny, when aforementioned Hanningfield who had to endure standing in the dock where before him had stood common people.

    And when some of the scapegoats for the wholesale thievery that was going on in the Commons were charged, they actually thought that THEY should be able to be tried by the Commons under the English Bill of Rights. They were disabused of this notion.

    Then when they turned up in court, they asked the magistrate if they could be excused from standing in the dock where common or garden criminals stood. He refused, presumably on the grounds that they WERE common or garden criminals.

    Some people are so far up their own backsides, they are only recognisable by the soles of their shoes.

  30. Danny -

    They are sacrificing Goodwin in order to create some rabid headlines about Alex Salmond's endorsement of him.

    Mind you, Eck endorsed him when RBS was generally accepted to be doing well for the "country". As Lord McConnell, Darling and Broon the Invisible obviously agreed.