March 16, 2007

The Payroll Vote

The House of Lords has in general a good reputation- filled with individuals who have contributed a lot in their respective fields in scrutinises British government leglislation with an expert eye. Individuals like Baroness Kennedy, Lord Lester and plenty of others bring an intellectual lustre to Parliamentary proceedings and debate with intelligence and expertise on the matters brought to them by the lower house. Many at the moment are considering reforms of the Lords to make it more democratic- but few wish it to lose the element that it provides to the British polity of reasoned, expert scrutiny of leglislation.

The Lords however it functions is not perfect though. Yesterday Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove, a Liberal Democrat peer raised a question with the minister Lord Davies of Oldham concerning how many Lords served on bodies as chairs or even board members which were in the gift of the Prime Minister or Ministers of the Crown, Lord Oakeshott is not alone in expressing concern, the formidable conservative ex-cabinet minister, Lord Tebbit has also questioned ministers with regard to how many Lords serve on these quangos in the gift of ministers. The Government's list of public bodies appointments does not provide an easily observable list of peers with connections to such bodies- it does provide a list of the bodies and their appointees but it would take an enormous ammount of patience and time, more than your humble correspondent has, to sift through all 300 odd pages of the report that Lord Davies referred Lord Oakeshott too. This is an area where the Government ought to publish data- we ought to know how many members of the leglislature are members of bodies that lie in the gift of the Prime Minister.

Its long been rightly presumed that the House of Lords is an independent body- rightly in many cases this remains the case. But how much confidence can the public have when it appears that some Lords hold positions- some might be unkind and say sinecures but we would not wish to stigmatise in that way- that are in the gift of the Prime Minister. I find it hard to beleive that Government Whips would not crack the Whip on those who hold such positions- and anyway the conflict of interest ought to be removed. This has been an issue in politics for a long time- in the seventeenth century Parliament even ennacted a self denying ordinance whereby members of both of the Lords and Commons resigned government offices because they feared the influence of those offices on their deliberation, the use of sinecures was a scandal in the eighteenth century where men like Walpole bought majorities. Lord Oakeshott and Lord Tebbitt are adressing a matter that needs addressing- the Lords has the virtue of independence from the executive and must stay that way. Any appointments from the Prime Minister to Lords call into question the appearance of independence and potentially the substance of independence, I would second any calls to regulate what looks like a potential abuse of power.

The Lords are well known for their sensible deliberations- they are almost certainly unclouded by corruption- but they must not appear corrupt either and therefore we need another self-denying ordinance- let the Lords on public bodies choose- their quangos or their peerages. Afterall it takes two to quango- the government and the appointee- but being a Lord should be a matter of applying one's judgement in solitude, uninfluenced by Ministerial threats and influenced only by one's perception of reality and the arguments.


james higham said...

...the Lords has the virtue of independence from the executive and must stay that way...

This is what some of us are campaigning for, Tiberius.