The Sketch: Babies in the breadbin and brawling in the front room

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The Independent Online

You could tell something unusual was up in the Lords. The dozing gave it away. The napping and snoozing. Heads rolling and slumping as they slept through invective, abuse and mobile phone rings. "A tired man is not a good legislator," Lord Anderson had said, and that was only 5pm the day before. They'd been up all night listening to Julian Fellowes on his television career, Sebastian Coe on the Olympics, and an interminable opposition on the demerits of the proposed voting system. The all-night session could have rolled into an all-day session. That meant Tuesday would have remained Monday, and today could have been Monday too. But the new intake has learnt from the last time it sat all night. They don't get paid for Tuesday and Wednesday if it's all a parliamentary version of Monday.

You'd have thought the Lords would be above such low considerations. But it's a new Upper House now, and there is a strong sense of "the trade union of former Members of the other House", as Baroness Hayter had it.

It's a different sort of place. Coal in the bath, babies in the bread bin and brawling in the front room. How has it come to this? The place is fuller by the minute with superannuated MPs, that's the problem. You can take politicians out of the Commons but you can't take the Commons out of politicians. There is much more argy-bargy than there used to be about whose turn it is to speak. And then, when it's settled, the things they say! "Knee-crawling deference," Neil Kinnock attacked the Liberal Democrats in his Saturday-night style.

George Foulkes recalled his description of Douglas Hogg as "an arrogant little shit". You wince. I winced. Everyone winces but there it is in Hansard. Lord Foulkes (who was for some years a lonely exponent of this party-political toad-spitting in the Lords) got interrupted by a Whip who told him he hadn't come up with any new arguments or new points, and Foulkes replied he found "that sort of rudeness detestable" and appealed to the "traditions and conventions of this House".

That was almost as funny as Tommy McAvoy complaining about being subjected to House of Commons "bullying".

Lord Snape clearly implied that Lord Strathclyde had lied. Lord Roberts heckled "Nonsense!" Lord Strathclyde got into a bitch-fight with Charlie Falconer, and Falconer accused the Government of being hypocrites, and Lord Trefgarne summed up by saying many of the speeches were "an abuse of the procedures and demeaning to this House".

Lord Soley made the most sinister contribution by remarking that the reduction of MPs in the Commons would probably result in 60-odd more MPs being put into the Lords. Maybe they should be reformed. Good Lord, see what it's come to now.



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