A new coat of paint

You’ll notice today that the look and feel of the blog has changed. You’ll see a new, cleaner interface and some changes and improvements to the layout.

Just for today, however, you’ll have to bear with us as the implementation means things will move around a bit. The site will hopefully settle down by the end of the day, so if things aren’t quite right, our apologies!

This re-launch also marks another auspicious event – the project is no longer in Beta but is now a fully-fledged live blog! Since we launched Lords of the Blog, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive from all sides so this day marks a major milestone for us all.

We hope that you find the new layout a little friendlier and more usable!

Andy Williamson, Hansard Society

Political geography


Pictures of Parliament are normally confined to the Palace of Westminster.  However, the parliamentary estate stretches well beyond the Palace to the north and to the south-west.  Just as the Palace shapes behaviour, so too does the way the estate is configured.  The building of Portcullis House - modern, with a floor of dedicated committee rooms and a large social space - has shifted some of the focus from the Palace.   It is easily reached from the Palace.

However, the position of Norman Shaw South and North (the old Scotland Yard) is different.  Portcullis House stands between them and the Palace.  To reach Norman Shaw North one has to go through Portcullis House to Norman Shaw South and then through that building to Norman Shaw North.   Norman Shaw North and 7 Millbank constitute the two outposts of the estate.  A map shows the extent to which they are outliers. 

I was visiting Norman Shaw North yesterday.  It is the part of the estate furthest from the Lords end of the Palace.  As soon as I arrived, I was told there was a division in the Lords!  Fortunately, I made it within the eight-minute limit.  However, many peers are reluctant to venture to Portcullis House, let alone beyond it, in case there is a division and they don’t see a screen in time. 

It is not only peers’ behaviour that is affected.  Norman Shaw North does not have the attractions of Portcullis House.  It resembles Hull: it is not somewhere you visit on your way to anywhere.   There is no scope for social interaction in the way that there is in Portcullis House.  I referred to it as the parliamentary equivalent of Siberia.  The MP I was visiting said that was exactly how he described it. 

Offices in 1 Parliament Street and Portcullis House are attractive and well appointed, so Members are generally happy to be there.  Otherwise, the real attaction is being in the Palace itself.  MPs and peers resist moving out of offices in the Palace – even if the carrot is a larger or more modern office – and some in outlying buildings are very keen (some might say desperate) to get a toehold in the Palace.  In the Palace, you are close to the action and everything is within moderately reasonable reach.  The building itself has a magnetic effect.  How we behave is shaped in part by the need to exploit space within the vicinity.   Portcullis House is purpose built.   Otherwise, we have had to make do and adapt existing  buildings.

Walking straight into it….

_39082269_lordsstill_300In Question Time on Thursday, there was a question about taking steps to ensure that people over 60 are able to access the Internet.  Towards the end,  there was an interesting exchange:

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, as a person over 60, I am continually bombarded with spam emails?  They are always the same and are usually about penile extensions, Viagra or inkjet cartridges.  Do I look like a man who requires inkjet cartridges?

A noble Lord: Yes!”

Weekend quiz questions

47573This weekend’s quiz questions:

1. The chamber of the House of Commons was destroyed by enemy bombing on 10 May 1941.  Until the chamber was rebuilt, the Commons sat in the chamber of the House of Lords.  Where did the House of Lords sit?

2. Who was the last Leader of the House of Lords to have served as an MP?

3. Which of the present members of the House of Lords have served as Head of the Diplomatic Service?

Doing a debate tomorrow

Tomorrow morning I have a main debate in the Chamber on the new National Dementia Strategy http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_094058

I’ve been finishing off my speech today…I will only get 15 minutes. It’s a truism that when you stop worrying about the kids, you start worrying about your parents and what you worry about is their minds failing. Given peers’ average age of 68, I can say with some confidence that one third of us will die with dementia. It’s us next. Dementia has a greater social and economic impact on families and Government in the UK than the whole of cardiovascular disease and cancer put together and its time we tackled the problems seriously.

There are well over half a million people with dementia in England and this will rise to nearer a million by 2025. The King’s Fund estimates that the cost of dementia in England to the NHS, local authorities and individuals will rise from £17 billion now to over £23 billion by 2018. And yet Government Investment in research is paltry, eight times less than in cancer for example and the delivery of care often shamefully poor. Terminally ill dementia sufferers have to purchase their own care in inadequately staffed care homes with poorly paid and poorly trained migrant staff who don’t speak colloquial English. Most patients are contributing over £300 per week.  Compare that with the free care provided to cancer patients in the NHS; this is the profoundly inequitable; the Alzheimer Society call it the Dementia Tax.

The recently published National Dementia Strategy has the potential to be one of the Government’s triumphs. There is common agreement that if followed it’s a blueprint for transforming care.  But there are few really effective community services out there at present, there just isn’t anything like adequate funding in Social Care and what is there is often poorly spent. The forthcoming green paper on adult social care (it’s rumoured to be coming out on 30 June) had better come up with some good solutions to the funding dilemma. I grew up witnessing the stressful impact of my grandmother’s mental decline on my own family. I am dispirited that after working all my professional life in this field I feel ashamed of the care we provide for older people afflicted by this catastrophe.

Do these debates make any difference? Probably their immediate impact is minimal. But over the years I’ve learned to work on the ‘drip, drip, drip ‘ principle to effect changes in this area. Wish me luck.

And here’s my new parliamentary photo for this year arrived from Dods today….