The Sketch: Culture from the Other Place is found alive in the Lords

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The Independent Online

The Lords was debating a Commons amendment that would allow the Lord Chancellor to be an MP rather than a peer. And why not, you say? It's a modernising initiative. Obvious. Sensible. It would allow a Roy Jenkins to be made Lord Chancellor rather than some second-rate party hack with a law degree lawyer (none springs to mind just now).

The Lords was debating a Commons amendment that would allow the Lord Chancellor to be an MP rather than a peer. And why not, you say? It's a modernising initiative. Obvious. Sensible. It would allow a Roy Jenkins to be made Lord Chancellor rather than some second-rate party hack with a law degree lawyer (none springs to mind just now).

The Lord Privy Seal can sit in the Commons, Charlie Falconer told them. And the Deputy Prime Minister exercises quasi-judicial functions in planning - "I hear no one question whether he's fit to carry out that work" (he must be deaf) "because he's a member of the Other Place (oh, have it your own way).

Charlie told us that the Lord Chancellor needed to have judgement, courage, stature and independence (which he pronounces "dependence"). Without wanting to be rude - which isn't to say I don't want to be rude - it is by no means clear how much or how many of these qualities Charlie has himself. "It is the person who holds the office that is important, not the place," he said, with the sort of cheerful vulgarity you expect from the Other Place, as they call it here.

The fact is, culture draws out certain sorts of behaviour, and that in turn creates character. The culture of the Commons is not one that encourages the superlunary poise we expect of a Lord Chancellor. During the terror Bill last week we saw, in the early hours of Friday morning, MPs shouting, bellowing, boozing, busking, barking at the Health Secretary and oinking at the Labour chief whip. Culture creates the company ("then the pig got up and slowly walked away"). The culture of the Commons has created, for instance, David Lammy, the Lord Chancellor's representative down there. He is, everyone agrees, the single most over-promoted of all the junior ministers (and believe me there is competition for that award). We'll attend to him in more detail at a later date. For the time being: "There is no doubt about the status of the office when we look at the current Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs," Lord Kingsland said. "It is rather ... lowly."

Kingsland went on to an impossible win. In his view there was a fundamental conflict between an MP's electoral requirement to do the will of the majority, and the Lord Chancellor's duty to uphold the rule of law. He said that a proper Lord Chancellor would never have allowed the proposal to suspend habeas corpus to have emerged from the cabinet room.

I thought he was calling the Lord Chancellor, in the nicest possible way, a snivelling wretch. Looking at the text, I'm sure of it.

Age and experience - the two don't always go together - prevailed over Charlie's youthful enthusiasm. The Lords voted to retain their exclusive right to the highest legal office in the land. Well, they should, shouldn't they?

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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