2 Mar 2010

What Ashcroft says of state of House of Lords

One subject that guarantees a yawn amongst the chattering classes, and that is more or less anything to do with the House of Lords.

Now that its unreceipted expenses system, its appointments ethics and its governance have all been exposed at various moments during the overall parliamentary expenses scandal, its reputation has slipped subtlety into the realm of farce.

The opacity of the appointments procedure and the conditions that were and still are demanded for membership of the Lords is revealed by the fact that it has taken 10 years to discover any of the terms Michael Ashcroft was set for his admission.

Even now we don’t have the precise details. It reveals too that – until the law changes (safely after the next election) – there was no requirement that in order to enter the Lords a member actually had to pay full UK taxes on all income whether at home or abroad.

Ever since the erstwhile chair of the Appointments Commission (who also Chaired HBOS when it hit the wall) declared that there was no place for hairdressers as members of the House of Lords, there has been a question mark over the whole question of who gets in and how.

And yet as we approach the election, the political classes are still desperate to get in.

And why not? As revealed in Snowblog recently, the governance of the House of Lords and the approach to expenses remains lax if not worse.

A significant, albeit undemocratic element of our legislature with nearly 800 members, why does the institution matter so little?

It may be that many people think the place no better than providing free parking, office facilities and somewhere to sleep in the centre of London.

Others may think it is no more important than providing a few old fogeys with airline upgrades and tables at London eateries.

SOME SAY that is DOES matter, that it does indeed contaminate our body politic.

That in addition it sanctifies inheritance (there are still 90+ peers who are there because of who their mother married); it gives the lie to the idea that our ‘mother of parliaments’ is the cradle of democracy; and enshrines privilege and social hierarchy that infect the rest of our society.

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28 reader comments

  1. Bedd Gelert says:

    Oh ‘Grow Up’ Snowblog !!!

    If you spent any time at all listening to ‘Today In Parliament’ or reading ‘Lords of the Blog’ you would realise that, for all its faults, it achieves a lot more than critics give it credit for.

    There are some grasping time-servers in there – but there are also some fab people like your friend Baroness Kennedy [who may be in favour of reform for all I know] and Lord Ramsbotham.

    By all means look at reform, but for heaven’s sake don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater because there are a few ‘bad apples’ or because you have a visceral loathing of anything which would damage your image around the trendy bourgeois dining tables of the smallish metropolitan set you inhabit.

  2. margaret BrandrethJones says:

    Primarily I am interested in your language in this blog. The Snow “erstwhile”has popped up again whilst talking about the titled.

    Then you talk about , infection , contamination ( a sort of bad apple in the barrel)

    You also herald democracy as the all important ( an ideal I once held sacred)

    Then you refer to the chattering classes , not necessarily in that order, yawning about upper chamber goings on and I add, political interests in general, yet it is the chattering classes who vote.

    Katie Price for PM?

    1. margaret BrandrethJones says:

      Good morning Jon. Despite that rather superficial analysis of your blog,we are talking about a man who sold doughnuts (I may have bought 5 for 2/6 as kid in Blackpool) and has made a mint using that situation to gain credibility…one of the glitz brigade.. I could agree if I knew more about the person and not the imagery, but why bother …I usually agree with you.

  3. Dave Edwards says:

    Got an personal agenda here at all Jon? As I understand it the whole Lords expenses system is being reviewed, you dont seem to mention that. I think your personal distaste for the Lords as an institution is blinding you to the importance of journalistic neutrality

    1. adrian clarke says:

      Jon has never been neutral whilst i have watched him

  4. Anthony Martin says:

    Given my last blog was denied, I’ll try contain my hatreds towards these people.
    Across Britain there is a colossal divide in peoples financial standing. The ‘United Kingdom’ houses a vast swathe of poverty that is truly breathtaking and, very alarming. The cancer of poverty and inequality is spawning seeds of great hatreds, as a result of inequality and huge debts. Crime has become the direct result from lives of utter misery in the this country yet, we see and read these stories right at the centre of government. We see these Bankers bonus’ and MP/Lords fiddles & favours, we see & feel a recession like no other, we see the rich enjoying the Lions share of wealth, we see unrestrained capitalism producing a unfairness and control that makes communism respectful and, we see resources, the retail sector, land, and materials being dominated by the worst of greedy businesses and, we see & feel the demise and breakdown of society while the rich swan off abroad to Monte Carlo, Dubai and all the rich ‘boys’ hangouts.
    What we see in the House Of Lords is an example of these type of people who collude to preserve the perks of elitism and, arrogantly scupper investigations.

    1. adrian clarke says:

      Anthony for once i like your blog .You made valid points withoutthe awful smears.In a free society where we are not all equal despit legislation to pretend we are , there will always be these anomolies .If we stamp out the corrupt but keep the good and the producers of wealth we will have less poor and less poverty .Remember the poorwill never remove themselves from poverty

    2. andrew aitken mccluskey says:

      I am in full agreement.
      The “Political Classes” will continue rule because the established system can be so easily manipulated by them to suit their own desires and those of their cronies.
      This power system has been in place for along time as we all know with the majority of the lower and middle classes naively regarding them as their leaders who have their interests at heart.
      The way forward has to be a system for the benefit for all the people not the ruling minority.
      The likelihood of this happening within the status quo is as we know very remote unless a true party for the people appears and gains an overwhelming majority.

  5. Sarah Oates says:

    I obviously agree about the opaque appointment procedures, the shambles of the expenses system, and the need for all hereditary peers to go, but I believe that the HoL has a vital part to play in legislation and must remain.

    The HoL is formed of experts from a whole range of subjects – people who were/are at the top of their field. Having them there to input in legislation is necessary so that the UK Parliament isn’t overrun by party politics and careerist voting. MP’s may be advised by external experts but they’re not listened to in the way the Lords have to be. HoC will never provide us with a set of experts in a range of fields – experts are not necessarily the most charismatic people and I don’t believe the best people for the job would ever be democratically elected.

    HoL must change but stay!

  6. Saltaire Sam says:

    Couldn;t agree more, Jon. One of the many shameful things about the three-terms under New Labour is that they have failed to reform the lords.

    The only reason seems to be self interest – it is a convenient way of thanking the generous and/or compliant with status and lucrative perks.

    We clearly need a second chamber to keep the first in check but no more than 100, no bishops, no hereditaries and no time servers. And certainly no people who are so ‘patriotic’ they refuse to pay their fair share of taxes.

    In order to avoid a mirror of the main house in terms of membership, I would allow each of the major parties to nominate ten people, two each to five minority parties and 60 to be appointed by an independent body based on tight guidelines to ensure that the arts, sciences, industry, charities etc are properly represented

    1. Kes says:

      I am afraid that such a system would be abused from day one. If the Lords is to have any credibility, it has to be voted.

  7. Kes says:

    I propose having a referendum on the position of the House of Lords along the lines of making it a fully elected house with strict criteria for candidates. For example:

    All candidates should have had a real job (not researcher for a party or union) for at least ten years.

    Exclusion of anyone with a criminal record or bankruptcy.

    Inflexible requirement for all candidates to be UK domiciled, resident and tax paying.

    All candidates to be up for re-election every six years (one third of the house at a time) with no choosing the timing.

    Complete transparency of finances and expenses.

    Their expenses should be run by the same group that deals with MPs’ expenses – to the same rules.

    Come to think of it, this might be good for the Commons as well.

  8. adrian clarke says:

    Ashcroft has nothing to do with it .Since Labour came to power and were going to reform the house of lords , it has been an almighty botch .I suspectthey intended to set up a second chamber that suited themselves .At present it is an almighty mess and they have no answers , plus it is too late for this parliament.A complete new system , both how it is formed to start with .I believe it needs to be a totally elected chamber purely for the overseeing and correcting government legislation .It needs a constitution and totally transparency,Patronage needs to be done away with and the current lords disbanded .Let them keep their titles until death , but no other benefits from those titles and certainly not legislative powers nor monetry recompense

  9. Wilma Miller says:

    Surely this is very definitely a case of the whole lot of them being the same-except apparently Lord Paul claims expenses as well as being a Privy Councillor.Labour dirty tricks are in high gear I would say. Mandelson in high dudgeon is not a pretty sight.

  10. Malcolm Dunn says:

    I notice that in the last seven years Ashcroft has attended the House Of Lords 285 times at a cost to the tax payer in expenses of £0.During the same period Lod Paul fellow non dom peer but Labour claimed £281,263 for 1047 appearances in the Lords.
    Will Channel 4 now lead the news on this man rather than today’s non story on Ashcroft?

    1. Saltaire Sam says:

      Malcolm, while I don’t condone Lord Paul’s activities and would suggest the labour party repay his contributions, that doesn’t negate the Ashcroft problem.

      At the very least he has allowed us to beliee something he knew to be false concerning his status and he has only spoken out now because the Freedom of Information Act was about to expose him. Without that he would almost certainly have continued the deceit.

      Even more important from my point of view is the role of David Cameron and William Hague. They have either gone along with the deception or been too spineless to ask the right questions, either of which makes their ability to govern us questionable,

      Ashcroft, Paul an the MPs’ scandals show a ruling elite completely out of touch with how ordinary people live their lives, and frankly not bothered as long as they are OK

  11. S G says:

    Had Gordon Brown rid us of House/Lords,he might’ve negated the SNP vote in Scotland.
    The SNP vote is not from tartan-wearing racists, you know. SNP vote comes Westminster/Lords-hating voters.
    Why does the House of Lords still exist?
    What was the last bill that they held up?
    Does anyone know?
    Why does a “Socialist” Labour Party, in control for sooooo long, allow this institution to stand?
    Scottish votes kept the the Labour Party alive thro’ the Thatcher years. Scotland voted for Labour while the “UK” voted Conservative.
    We’ve now had Labour in control,after a decade of Tory control. But we have sufferred Post Office closure/sell-outs, illegal Iraq bombings, nil-regulation of capitalist bankers, free-reign for MP expenses…Now we are even picking a fight with Argentina over the Falklands- its like an 80s revival with slightly better music.
    Why are we not screaming about the lack of democracy? Oh that’s right- we do in Scotland…we vote SNP, because we feel that no matter who rules Westm inster we end up being disenfranchised Rotten Burghers.
    What do you do in other parts of the UK?
    Just not vote at all?

    1. Southern Brit says:

      No, we shovel money your way and put up with useless Scottish PMs and Chancellors.

  12. BAFFLER says:

    The Government and the Financial Intelligence Unit of Belize (FIU) announced on Friday that charges had been dropped against two of Belize’s most prominent banks, Michael Ashcroft’s Belize Bank and First Caribbean International Bank – a Canadian-controlled bank. They were facing charges related to several millions in “suspicious transactions” they were accused of failing to report – suspicious, says the FIU, because of the size and frequency of the transactions.
    The official reason for dropping the charges: because foreign corresponding banks were discussing severing ties with the local banks, threatening to cause a possible collapse and a destabilization of the country’s financial sector. The set-off: the banks are to fund an electronic reporting system for the country, and fund refurbishment of two parks – between them, a penalty of roughly $300,000 total.

  13. Jim Flavin says:

    One old standing joke re House of Lords – was that ” its existence proved there was life after death ”.I got a shock – if I read correctly that there were 800 of them -why that number ??. How can that be justified – its a virtual pension given to those who had the sense to choose rich/ upper class parents . However – as ever here in ROI – we are no saints . There are 166 members in the Irish Parliamnet [ the Dail ] for a population of 4 million – which if that level of reprentation were transfreed to UK would give well over 2,000 MPS .Are our need better taken care of – of course not . Like virtually all politicians whether Lords or Ladies – their main interest is themselves as we have seen by the recnt scandals – which thankfully have not yet been exposed in ROI – probobly because all our politicians are honest !!.. How to cure it – is there an honest dictator in the house ??. These political institutions whether in UK/ ROI/ most other parts of world are so corrupt – they are beyond rehabilitation.

  14. adrian clarke says:

    hurrah Saltaire i agree absolutely

    1. Saltaire Sam says:

      Blimey, Adrian, that’s worrying for both of us :-)

  15. adrian clarke says:

    nearly right jim but if you look many are political place persons put there by patronage and not hereditary reasons any more

  16. tanya spooner says:

    I’m afraid that as long as we have a monarchy, institutions such as the House of Lords and the fundamental notion that certain persons are “better” than the rest of us will continue. Why on earth this motley collection of people should have been constituted in the way us beyond belief, but it is an example of the complacency of the British, who always assume that they have done things the right way. Yes, there must be a second house, which should be linked to retired experts in as many fields as possible. Why not hairdressers, for heaven’s sake? But as a nation, it is time we got a properly organised country and regained the secular sense of morality that we once had. It starts with getting rid of the Royal Family, I’m afraid.

  17. Tom Wright says:

    Jon’s distaste at heredity chimes with me. But why stop at the House of Lords? There’s plenty of ‘keeping it in the family’ going on in our elected chamber.

    Gwyneth Dunwoody attempted to parachute her daughter Tamsin into her seat. Philip Gould is intent on a place for his daughter Georgia. Harriet Harman is the neice of the Earl of Longford, a former Labour minister, born into the political elite. Hillary Benn is the son of Tony Benn. Boris Johnson’s father was an MEP. Former speaker Michael Martin sought to handover to his son. All well publicised stories. Surely the only thing that’s changed is that we don’t have titles?

    Heredity is alive and well in the House of Commons. Don’t pretend because these people get elected its OK – if Georgia Gould does end up an MP, the fact her father was before her will not be insignificant.

  18. JohnBC says:

    Whats all the fuss about. There is nothing much more corrupt than a poliyician at any level. They go into it ‘for the good of the people’ but within weeks are looking for the main chance.

  19. Dave H says:

    At the moment the Lords provides a useful counterweight for the abuses of power by the government in the Commons. More than one Bill in the current session has been passed through the Commons without proper and full scrutiny, due to excessive use by the government of timetabling powers. Now the only thing stopping this stuff becoming law is the fact that the Lords will hopefully do what they are supposed to, and sit down and carefully go through line by line, clause by clause and examine these Bills and hopefully weed out weaknesses and flaws. Chances are they’ll run out of time because of the sheer amount of work handed to them by the Commons with an impossible deadline.

    Standards have indeed slipped though, they’ve let some quite dire stuff through in the past thirteen years. I wonder if we can lay blame for that on the packing of the chamber with Labour appointees since the hereditaries got kicked out?

  20. Framer says:

    There is a Snow dynasty on TV. I can think of three. What are the statistical chances of this happening randomly?

    Tiny I assume, therefore Snow is present because of his family yet he grinds on about the hereditary principle elsewhere.

    So metro-right on.

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