Lords, bishops and Michelangelo Wakeham

ONE OF the consequences of Mr Paddy Ashdown's declaration of his intention to resign was that the White Paper on the Lords did not receive the attention it would otherwise have received. Having decided to write about the Lords, colleagues in the daily commentating trade found they had to turn their attention to the Liberal Democrats instead. My heart went out to them. Some jettisoned their original thoughts, while others tried to combine the two subjects along the lines Lords - constitutional reform - Lib Dems' influence on same - Ashdown and Blair, closeness of - whither constitutional reform? - whither Lib Dems?

Often enough have I found myself in this predicament in the past. But Lords reform is one of the few constituents of Mr Tony Blair's constitutional package that can be considered more or less independently of Mr Ashdown or his successor. It depends on the Commons, where Mr Blair has an impregnable majority; on the Lords, where the hereditary peers are still in a majority; and on the Royal Commission which is to be chaired by Lord Wakeham.

The Mr Worldly Wisemen assumed the chairman would be Lord Butler, the former cabinet secretary. Indeed, his future role was presented as an established fact. It did not seem at all unreasonable. Lord Butler has always appeared to see his task as that of helping the prime minister of the day successfully to surmount life's little difficulties. He it was who, in Mr John Major's time, gave Mr Neil Hamilton a clean bill of health, and sent Mr Jonathan Aitken on his way without a stain on his Old Etonian tie. In these and other helpful dispensations, he was doing no more than following the equally helpful precedents set by Lord Armstrong, who had turned the post into that of Margaret Thatcher's Poo-bah, though he did not like her much.

At all events, the head of the commission is to be someone else. It was the other Lord Butler - RA, not the former Sir Robin - who called politics the art of the possible. If that is so, Lord Wakeham is Michelangelo.

In all the recent talk about his past history, no one, as far as I could see, accurately recalled his role in the Fall of Thatcher. Before the first ballot he said to Mr Kenneth Clarke and Mr John Gummer that, if she did not win outright, she could not go forward to a second ballot. She duly failed to win outright, falling four votes short of the 15 per cent "surcharge" required by the rules. But she decided to contest the second ballot none the less and asked Lord Wakeham to be her campaign manager. Despite his initial opinion he agreed but, after a few inquiries, reported to her that he could not assemble a team. She then saw that fatal procession of ministers and, with his full agreement - even encouragement - tearfully withdrew from the contest. Make of this what you will.

The Royal Commission, we should note, is something the Government has tacked on to its plans. There was nothing about it in the manifesto. This promised a joint committee of both Houses to consider the future after the legislative functions of the hereditary peers had been abolished. The committee is still to be established after the commission has reported on or before 31 December. It has already been announced, though no one seems to have paid any attention, that Mr Gerald Kaufman is to be Lord Wakeham's deputy. The commission is supposed to consider and recommend on functions and powers as well as on composition. Accordingly Lord Wakeham, Mr Kaufman and their new chums are going to have their work cut out.

The White Paper already gives a good deal of guidance to them about what the Government will and will not put up with. For instance, Mr Blair clearly favours a mixed composition, partly appointed, partly elected. The bishops are to stay. This we already knew, though there was a film on Newsnight the other evening, as ignorant as it was tendentious, which predicted they would not. Not only are they to stay: the number of religious representatives is, like the loaves and the fishes, to be multiplied. The document suggests that standard bearers for other than Christian faiths ought to end up in the Lords, the Senate or whatever it is going to be called, and that the Church of Scotland ought to be represented also because it is the established church of Scotland.

Yet the White Paper goes on to state that the bishops (most of them chosen on a rota basis) are where they are not because the Church of England is established but for different historical reasons. This is all very well: but why, in that case, has the Church in Wales had no representation in the Lords since its disestablishment in 1920? I ask both out of curiosity and as a confirmed member of that communion. Indeed, the then bishop of St David's once placed his hand gingerly on my heavily Brylcreemed head. Justice for the Church in Wales!

In the meantime, let us have a look at the interim House. It is to consist of the following categories. I have, I may say, worked them out for myself and for the benefit of the readers of this newspaper. The White Paper, though quite a distinguished document in its way despite being got up typographically like a building society brochure, does not set them out clearly:

The bishops; existing life peers, including the Law Lords; new life peers appointed by Mr Blair; new life peers appointed by the other party leaders, over whose appointment Mr Blair will, how-ever, exercise no veto (which is an innovation); new life peers, the so-called "people's peers", appointed by a new independent Appointments Commission, which will also vet all other peerages and over whose appointments Mr Blair will likewise exercise no veto; as I once predicted, those of the existing nine hereditary peers of first creation (including Lord Snowdon) who opt to receive life peerages; and 91 representative hereditary peers, "Cranborne's Finest".

Let us end our investigations with this last category. Why 91? Why not 50 or 100? The reason is that the Cranborne conspirators took one-tenths of the existing 750 hereditary peers for possible preservation, a kind of decimation in reverse - for under that Roman procedure a tenth of the captives were killed rather than preserved. To the 75 lucky ones are added 16 of what are described as "hereditary office holders". All these (including, presumably, the mysterious hereditary office holders) are to be chosen "by an electoral college based on the separate established groupings" in the Lords. I should have thought this was a matter which the hereditary peers, as an already clearly defined body, could have been allowed to decide for themselves, without the interposition either of an electoral college or of other groups in the House.

There is no promise, as far as I can see, that Cranborne's Finest will in due course be converted into life peers, as the hereditary peers of first creation are to be. That possibility cannot, however, be far from the minds of some of them. The excluded hereditary peers will, under the Lords Bill, be able to stand for and vote in elections to the Commons, which is only fair. I still think, however, it is a bit mean not to allow them even to have lunch in the Lords any longer. That, after all, was the reason why many of them bothered to turn up at all.

Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
News
British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking
people
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This design and print company a...

    Recruitment Genius: Lift and Elevator Contract Manager - London

    £38000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Engineer - OTE £40,000

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Engineer is required to...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Hull - £32,000

    £30000 - £32000 per annum + £4200 car allowance: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Suppo...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence