House of lords

When is a Lord not a Lord? 

The Financial Times seeks applicants for the Sir Samuel Brittan fellowship. Announcing this, the paper refers to him as Sir Samuel, which is correct. It also quotes its obituary of him where he is called simply Brittan. That is also correct for a dead man, as we might say Churchill, not Sir Winston. It would have been wrong, though, to call Brittan Sir Brittan. That is a rule of the English language. Yet the FT has taken to referring to peers by their first names and titles, with Lord tacked on before: Lord David Cameron, Lord David Alton. That is as wrong as to say Sir Brittan. The FT style

Is Labour bluffing on Lords reform?

Is Labour really going to reform the House of Lords? The party has ended up in a bit of a pickle over abolishing a chamber that it also wants to stuff with its own peers. The party’s spokesman yesterday told journalists that there was still a plan to create a Labour majority in the Lords because it was ‘essential’ for the party to be able to get its business through the Upper Chamber. The party’s leader in the Lords, Angela Smith, also told Times Radio that ‘there are 90 more Conservatives than Labour. The priority for Keir will be ensuring he gets the Labour programme through.’ It isn’t mutually exclusive

Lords a leaping over declining standards

It’s not easy being a Lord. No, really, it isn’t, judging by the latest poll of the Upper House. Mr S has obtained a copy of the most recent Members’ Survey – conducted in March of this year – and it shows that dissatisfaction in the House of Lords is at record levels. Responses from 355 peers reveal concerns over internal governance, working spaces and catering, with just half of peers under-65 giving it a ‘positive’ satisfaction rating. Overall opinion of the facilities and services provided by the House of Lords Administration has slumped from 80 per cent reporting it as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ in 2008 to just 63 per

Peers blighted by Whitehall tech failings

When it comes to technology, it’s no secret that our ruling masters in Westminster and Whitehall have had their issues. From the NHS ‘supercomputer’ to disk files being regularly lost; gross mismanagement of resources to poor cyber security, problems with computers, software and equipment have bedeviled the inhabitants of SW1 for years. And now another venerable name can be added to the list of long-suffering institutions facing such difficulties: the House of Lords. But this being the Upper House – where the average age of membership is 69 –  the technology is decidedly more old school than the newfangled kind of kit coming out of Silicon Valley these days. For the

Lords gear up for new by-elections

They’re the by-elections all of Westminster is talking about. No, not the race for Tiverton and Wakefield in the Commons but the battle to replace two vacant seats in Lords. For, following the retirement of Lord Brabazon of Tara and the death of Lord Swinfen, hereditary peers who take the Tory whip are gearing up to decide who among their number shall take their place. These contests are held every time one of the 92 hereditary peers still in the Upper House die or choose to leave the chamber. Some 42 places are reserved for Conservative members. Each candidate submits a brief manifesto statement with previous highlights include the Earl of

Watch: peer rapped for snoozing

War in Ukraine, soaring inflation, spiralling energy bills and the shadow of the bomb – things are all looking pretty grim in Westminster at present. So what better place to find solace and a quiet moment to reflect than the rarified atmosphere of the House of Lords? Unfortunately for one septuagenarian, meditative contemplation went slightly too far yesterday after the ageing peer accidentally drifted off to sleep. The offender in question was the ironically named Anthony Young, who at 79, is by no means the oldest member of their noble lords’ chamber. Popping up last night in the genetically modified organisms debate, Lord Young, a trade unionist and Labour party peer, was slapped down by

Peer asks why nuclear war would be ‘unwelcome’

War, what is it good for? So asked The Temptations about Vietnam. But now a maverick independent peer appears to be answering that question quite seriously. As Westminster works itself into a frenzy over possible conflict with Russia, Lord Truscott – a non-affiliated member of the Upper House – has used the subject to ask the British government for its stance on nuclear oblivion. For Truscott, who was one of the first peers suspended from the House of Lords since the 17th century, has raised eyebrows with his latest inquiries to defence minister Baroness Goldie. The former MEP recently tabled the following question: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the remarks by Baroness Goldie

Commons chiefs buy half-a-million masks

Labour has been making much hay out of the government’s £8.7 billion spend on personal protective equipment (PPE), much of it bought at the height of the Covid pandemic. The shadow Treasury minister Pat McFadden claimed the figure would be ‘galling to hard-working households’ while his colleagues have made much of the government’s VIP lane to secure kit that was in desperately short supply throughout much of 2020 and 2021.  Mr S abhors waste as much as the next man. But it’s worth asking as to what Labour’s own alternatives would have been if they were running the country when millions of items were suddenly required for frontline NHS staff.

Toby Young

What more do I have to do to get a peerage?

Watching Lord Hannan of Kingsclere being introduced in the House of Lords on Monday was a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, I’m delighted for Dan. He is one of the heroes of Brexit, and his impromptu speech about Margaret Thatcher in the pub following her memorial service brought a tear to my eye (you can find his speech on YouTube). But on the other, I can’t help thinking: where’s my bloody peerage? I’ve edited this and that, co-founded four free schools, served on the boards of numerous charities and set up the Free Speech Union. I was the chief exec of a high-profile charity, for Christ’s sake, and my

Lebedev’s Lords’ launch

Evgeny Lebedev is a man of many talents. Since taking up the reins as Evening Standard proprietor in 2009, he’s turned his hand to everything from newspapers and restaurants to philanthropy and property. Theatre buff, elephant lover, a man who collects famous friends like his Francis Bacon paintings: is there anything this Russian renaissance man can’t do?  For during his Gramscian waltz through the institutions of the British establishment, Lebedev became close to Boris Johnson, Mayor of London when he bought the Standard. The pair have enjoyed caviar parties and Italian soirees together, with Johnson famously being spotted dishevelled, alone and without his security detail at an airport after one such bash in

Animal Sentience Bill gets mauled (again)

It hasn’t been a great 24 hours for Downing Street. Under fire for its lockdown-busting Christmas party, facing fury over the Afghanistan debacle, surely solace could be found from the fray in the rarefied atmosphere of the House of Lords? Sadly not, for yesterday their noble lordships turned their aristocratic fire on the government’s Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. The flagship legislation, which Mr S has covered extensively, is designed to protect helpless creatures and recognise they can feel pain by creating a new super-committee to judge the effects of government policies. Lobsters and octopi are to now be included; ministers forced to do morning media rounds are sadly not. And

Lords blows six figures on correcting its peers

While much ink has been spilled over the Covid Commons, far less has been written about the Lords. Overlooked and unloved, the impact of the pandemic on the Upper House has attracted little of the attention granted to their elected counterparts – despite increasing rumblings about the chamber’s future direction. In September, Mr S brought news of discontent among peers at recent efforts by self-styled modernisers in the Palace to usurp what many feel are the traditional rights of members of the Upper House.  Lord Forsyth, the newly elected chair of the Association of Conservative Peers, cited discontent with the administration of the House as a major factor in his victory, telling Mr S

Abolish the Lords!

So three million quid gets you a seat in the House of Lords? That’s according to the latest revelations about our sleazy second chamber. According to a Sunday Times and Open Democracy investigation, people who give big bucks to the Conservative party are virtually assured a seat on the red benches. Wealthy benefactors seem to be ‘guaranteed a peerage if they take on the temporary role as the party treasurer and increase their own donations beyond £3m’, the report says. It stacks up. Fifteen out of 16 Tory party treasurers have been offered a seat in the Lords. And 22 of the party’s main financial backers, including those who have

Peers tear their hair out over wigs in the Lords

‘The House of Lords’ remarked Clement Attlee is ‘like a glass of champagne that has stood for five days.’ But there’s more vim and vigour in the current vintage and now peers are fizzing with righteous anger. The source of the outrage? Recent efforts by certain staff in the Palace to usurp what many feel are the traditional rights of members of the Upper House. A virtual Parliament with the advent of Covid has given self-styled modernisers the ideal chance to mount what traditionalists fear is a hostile takeover on the Palace of Westminster. Peers have already been subject to the indignities of the ‘Valuing Everyone’ sexual harassment training at taxpayers’ expense

Would you pay £80 for a video from John Bercow?

There is much to be said for meritocracy, and Adrian Wooldridge, in his new book, The Aristocracy of Talent, says it very well. He is right: a society organised on anti-meritocratic principles will decay, making life worse for all, not just for the naturally successful. And yet I feel that meritocracy is inadequate. Most of us, sensing our lack of merit, feel left out. It takes small account of things that matter in real life — love of family and friends, relationships across generations, enduring ill health and bereavement, beauty, landscapes, animals, flowers, kindness, joy, pleasing idleness, traditions, prayer, being silly, jokes, song, meals, bed. Meritocracy rightly seeks results. But

Labour frontbencher’s unpaid bar debt

Shadow Lord Chancellor Charlie Falconer recently hit the headlines for claiming the covid crisis is ‘the gift which keeps on giving.’ Unfortunately, it appears the Blairite millionaire with the bulging wallets and slimmed down waistline is less giving when it comes to settling his own bar bill. The peer was one of nine recorded as have outstanding debts at the House of Lords at the beginning of last month alongside fellow Labour lords Robert Winston and Maurice Glasman, according to a Freedom of Information request sent by Mr S. Fortunately for Falconer, the sums are not too extravagant – a mere £9.15 – which places him just between his fellow

Labour ramps up its cladding campaign

The Fire Safety Bill comes back to the Commons this afternoon for MPs to consider the changes made by peers — and there’s an amendment in there that Labour hopes is going to cause a bit of a fuss. It’s the reiteration of what’s become known as the ‘McPartland-Smith amendment’ after the two Conservative MPs — Stephen McPartland and Royston Smith — who originally made the demand. The amendment bans leaseholders from being made liable for the costs of remediation work, such as removing flammable cladding from their homes. Raising the cladding issue is something Labour plans to do repeatedly in certain areas as the May poll approaches This amendment was

Why I joined the trans debate

It was easy to miss because even at the best of times the House of Lords doesn’t grab public attention. But this week, something remarkable happened in parliament. In narrow legislative terms, peers have forced the government to accept amendments to the Ministerial and Other Maternity Allowances Bill. The Bill will make it possible for a minister who is pregnant — such as Suella Braverman, the Attorney General — to take leave from work without resigning ministerial office. That should be uncontroversial, but the language of the Bill left something to be desired. The Bill passed the Commons earlier this month using phrases such as ‘the person is pregnant’ and

In defence of British institutions

‘Terms and conditions will apply.’ That, or something near it, was Dan Rosenfield’s initial response when Boris Johnson invited him to become Chief of Staff in No.10. Naturally, Mr Rosenfield was tempted. But he wanted assurances that he would have the authority to run a serious political outfit. He was not interested in becoming a zoo-keeper. That was not a problem. The zoo has been closed down. The Dominic Cummings era is over. Boris’s willingness to hire a completely different character, following the appointment of Simon Case as Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, suggests that the PM can recognise and value seriousness in others, even if he

(photo: Getty)

The strangeness of voting in the Lords from my bed

Having only recently entered the House of Lords, I must tread with caution, but I had always understood that it is chiefly a revising chamber. By strong convention, it does not reject legislation arising from the election manifesto of the party victorious in the House of Commons. Yet on Monday night, faced with the Internal Market Bill (which helps provide for a full Brexit), it attempted no revision at all. The House was sitting in committee, whose very purpose is revision, but the anti-government majority was on such a high horse that it happily let an amendment from critics of the government fall. It refused to engage. A key feature