Crisps and Sandwiches

Lord Tyler 28/11/2012 – 1:11 pm

At the end of the Earl of Sandwich’s speech last Thursday on the Millennium Development programme, before he gave way to Lord Crisp, the printed Hansard records the following:

“I was going to say a word about health targets, but in this environment, it seems very appropriate that a Crisp should replace a Sandwich.”

Yes, it appears in ITALICS.  I have never seen such splendid presentation of a joke, even as good as one as this, in the Hansard for either House.  The rules by which the wonderful composers of the Official Report operate are usually very comprehensive and very precise.  Can anyone explain how a joke, comment or witticism qualifies for this italicised treatment?

Regulating the press?

Lord Norton 27/11/2012 – 8:32 pm

My views on press regulation are encapsulated in a letter to The Daily Telegraph, signed by over eighty parliamentarians.   I am one of the signatories.  You can see the details here.  I am wary of state regulation and very much take the view that the problem at the moment is not so much the absence of legislation as a failure to enforce existing law.

A frustrating autumn

Lord Norton 26/11/2012 – 10:26 pm

It has been a somewhat frustrating time since the House resumed after the summer recess.  Last session, I was busy both with committee work and with legislation before the House.  I was on the Constitution Committee, which had a busy – and rewarding – schedule, the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Bill, which was time-consuming and challenging, and the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, which does important work with little public recognition.  I was involved with a number of Bills, both on the floor of the House and in meetings with ministers, not least the Public Bodies Bill and the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill.

As for this session, I remain only on the Merits Committee (or the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee as it is now known); I finished my stint on the Constitution Committee at the end of last session and the Joint Committee ceased to exist once it reported.  I was planning to spend more time speaking in the chamber.  However, fate intervened.  There were debates on three or four successive Thursdays when I would have liked to speak – they were all in my areas of interest.  This semester, though, Thursdays are my busy teaching days, so I could not be present.  I was preparing to be active in debate on the Electoral Administration and Registration Bill.  I spoke briefly on Second Reading.  I had notes prepared and amendments tabled for the second and third days of committee stage of the Bill.   The Government put the Bill on hold after the first day in committee.   My contributions on overseas voting and the edited version of the electoral register wait to be made.

I have no intention of speaking purely for the sake of speaking, so most of my work this autumn has focused on all-party committees and discussing policy options with colleagues, as well as reading the papers for the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee; as the committee does not meet in public, the only record of my activity is my name in the attendance list in the Minutes of meetings.

At the moment, I seem almost to be busier at the other end of the corridor than I am at this, as well as further afield.   Last week, I took part in a seminar on civil service reform organised by the Public Administration Select Committee.  This week, I am giving evidence to the Procedure Committee on Private Members’ legislation.   And in recent weeks I have spoken to legislators in Mexico about legislatures in a new representative age (that was by videolink) and spoken at the Italian Chamber of Deputies on parliaments and legislation.  All I need now is to find an opportunity to speak in the Lords!

Light touch or right touch regulation?

Baroness Deech 25/11/2012 – 11:34 pm

Like everyone else, I am waiting to see what Sir Brian Leveson recommends in his report on the media, due in a few days’ time.  I have no decided views at the moment about press regulation, except that I am very well aware of how difficult it is to regulate what is on the internet, especially what comes from abroad.  (On this topic, see the Report of the Select Committee on Communications and, while you are at it, take a look at the Committee’s  prescient report on the governance of the BBC

Some commentators on the Leveson Inquiry are calling for state regulation; others are very much opposed.  One thing I am sure of, is that there is no half way house.  In my experience there is no such thing as “light touch” regulation.  In making this comment, I am not referring to the substance or standards required by a regulatory authority of the regulated body.  I am referring to the paraphernalia that is unavoidable in any formal regulatory scheme.  In modern times it appears to be impossible to set up any regulatory body without requiring it to be accountable, naturally, and that means business plans, strategic plans, annual reports, CEOs, KPIs, mission statement, vision, risk register, corporate plan, governance, internal regulations, HR, PR, meetings, subcommittees, working groups, equality and diversity plans, consultations, responses, stakeholder relationships etc. This is expensive and cumbersome and it all has to be in place, whether the regulatory body is attempting to impose light or heavy touch regulatory standards.

And then the regulatory body will indulge, often quite inappropriately, in the language that is deemed necessary today, language which gives the appearance of being busy and effective.  It will deliver goals going forward, it will have relationships with stakeholders, it will drill down, take deep dives, manage issues offline, be transparent and robust, subscribe to Nolan principles, take a holistic approach, see things under or over the radar. Problems will be challenges, easy actions are low hanging fruit.  It will think out of the box and appraise 360 degrees; its ducks will be in a row and at the end of the day the necessary will be actioned. It will step up to the plate and avoid representative capture.  It will go down to a level of granularity and leverage talents.  There will be competencies and core competencies, and after blue sky thinking,  there will be deliverables. Extra staff will be parachuted in, and other organisations will be partnered.  There will be pushback and project creep.  I could go on and on, but you get the picture.  It will be expensive, and whole reports full of this language will be issued. 

Good luck Leveson LJ.

Quiz: a peripatetic House

Lord Norton 24/11/2012 – 10:34 am

I fear that other commitments have meant I have rather neglected the blog recently.  I hope to make up for lost time.  Congratulations to Dave H and Jonathan, who were the winners of the previous quiz.  This week’s quiz relates to the House, or rather the chamber.   As many readers will know, the House has not always sat in the current chamber.  After the chamber of the Commons was destroyed by enemy bombing on 10 May 1941, the Commons moved into the chamber of the Lords and the Lords sat in the robing room.  Church House, Westminster, was also used in the war for parliamentary sittings.

1. The first question relates to where the House may have sat had extra peers been created.   King George V agreed, reluctantly, that he would create 500 new peerages if the Lords failed to pass the Parliament Bill in 1911.  The Bill was passed, so the new peerages were not created.  But some thought had been given to where the House would sit with such a large number of members.  What venue had been tentatively considered?

2.  The second question relates to the time that the Commons sat in the chamber of the House of Lords.  What mark did Churchill leave on the Table of the House?

3. The third relates to the history of the House after the Commons moved out.   There has been one further occasion when the members of the House of Lords have had to relocate and sit elsewhere.   When was it?  Why was it?  And where did the House sit? 

As always, the first two readers to supply the correct answers will be the winners.