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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
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

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

    Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

    Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

    £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

    Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

    £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital