Unelected, unaccountable and unknown to the British reading public, a gang of press-hating peers last night forced a double defeat on the government which could pave the way for Leveson 2. Lords voted by a majority of 29 to effectively green light the proposed second part of the Inquiry. Lengthy Leveson 1 already produced a 2000 page report at a cost of £5.4 million to the taxpayer – and left the press with legal bills in the tens of millions.
The Conservative manifesto pledged in black-and-white that the Inquiry would not be reopened. Despite this promise, Leveson 2 will now face a vote by MPs in the spring. Commons maths means the outcome is far from certain. Tom Watson can hardly conceal his glee. Cop-thumper Max Mosley will consider it a spankingly good development…
The peers, led by Baroness Hollins, effectively hijacked the Data Protection Bill, twisting consumer protection measures into yet another press-bashing free-for-all. Their illiberal agenda includes introducing measures akin to the harsh Section 40, which would mean newspapers could have to pay both their own and their opponent’s legal costs even if they were successful in data protection cases.
Guido understands government concessions are in play. A ‘press sustainability review’ may be put on the table. There’s a danger opponents of a free press will run away with any concession and try to force through their anti-freedom agenda. The government last night said it will seek to overturn the Lords’ amendments in the Commons.
The press has been publicly scrutinised to an extraordinary level in recent years, put under the spotlight unlike any other industry, with lengthy inquiries and multiple (fruitless) police probes. The threat of yet another inquiry was described in last night’s debate as amounting to “harassment” of the press by the state. Some politicians are still on their hellbent crusade to muzzle the free media, the force that exposes their wrongdoing and holds them to account…
When he stood for leader arch opponent of the House of Lords Jeremy Corbyn vowed that he wouldn’t nominate any more Labour peers. Post-Shami, Michael Crick reports that Jezza has formally sold out on his principled stance and is now in the process of choosing which comrades he wants to ennoble. What about Lord Mason of Lambeth, since he never did run for parliament? Surely Lord Loach for services to filmmaking. Lord Lansman of Shad Thames could be a good shout. There has been talk of a senior Stop the War figure being nominated – not Lord Murray? Unfortunately Lord Livingstone of Caracas wouldn’t be able to take the Labour whip. Though Lord Galloway may be able to soon. Alas Lord Jones of Islington may be overlooked for disloyalty…
Legendary Tory peer Baroness Trumpington has announced she will retire on 24 October. she was a wartime codebreaker at Bletchley Park and at 94 is the oldest female peer. Famously, the Baroness gave Lord King the v-sign in the House of Lords after he alluded to her age in a speech. She said later: “he got what he deserved”. Guido brings you her career highlights…
No, not that Alastair Campbell… but Alastair Campbell, 4th Baron Colgrain and the former High Sheriff of Kent has won the House of Lords hereditary peer by-election. Lord Colgrain, a Tory, is an old Etonian who has worked for 30 years in the City in the financial executive search sector. PR guru Lord Bethell came a close second. One for the Lords diversity quota.
Last night’s BBC documentary Meet the Lords saw Baroness D’Souza attend the unveiling of a portrait of herself costing a cool £12,000. Asked whether this was taxpayers’ money well spent, D’Souza said the media were correct to hold her to account but suggested they had not reported her spending accurately. For the sake of “accuracy“, here is the full litany of how D’Souza has spent your money:
- £12,000 on a portrait of herself which the Baroness described as “a really good painting”
- £4,000 on flowers
- £1,100 on a trip to the ballet
- £26,000 on a ten day trip to the Far East
- £738 to keep her car waiting outside Windsor Castle
- £270 to keep her car waiting during lunch with the Japanese Ambassador
- £230 to keep her car waiting during a trip to the opera
“One would require them to be accurate”…
Interesting timing for the new BBC documentary on the House of Lords. The choice quote is from Baroness D’Souza:
“There is a core of peers who work incredibly hard, who do that work, and there are, sad to say, many, many, many peers who contribute absolutely nothing but who claim the full allowance. I can remember one occasion when I was leaving the House quite late and there was a peer – who shall be utterly nameless – who jumped out of a taxi just outside the peers’ entrance, left the engine running. He ran in, presumably to show that he’d attended, and then ran out again while the taxi was still running. So I mean that’s not normal, but it is something that does happen and I think that we have lost the sense of honour that used to pertain, and that is a great, great shame.”
That would be the same Baroness D’Souza who infamously billed the taxpayer £230 to keep a chauffeur-driven car waiting for four hours while she watched an opera a mile from Parliament. As well as another £270 bill to keep the meter running while she had lunch with the Japanese ambassador. And another £738 to keep a Mercedes parked while she attended an event at Windsor Castle. D’Souza also spent £4,000 of taxpayer cash on flowers for her office and £1,120 for drinks and a trip to the ballet with a delegation from Russia. “We have lost the sense of honour and that is a great shame…”
Theresa May and Commons leader David Lidington are sitting on the steps of the throne in the House of Lords as they begin their Brexit debate this afternoon, to remind peers of the democratic mandate issued by the elected chamber. Sound.
UPDATE: Another angle:
A “government source” in this morning’s papers threatened the Lords with abolition if they obstruct Brexit, now Oliver Letwin has asked for a debate if they do hold up the process. Instead of implausibly threatening to abolish the Lords they should promise to cut daily their expenses from £300 to £0. Focus the peers’ minds…
Ed Miliband has secured an adjournment debate tonight on HS2 where he will argue against the line going through his Doncaster constituency. Miliband has been on quite a journey – he used to say he “absolutely” supported the project before u-turning because it will “disrupt” his constituents. Will it disrupt relations with the wife too? Ed’s other half Justine Thornton QC has for the last few months been working as counsel for the Department for Transport, defending HS2 as it faced public opposition at Lords committee stage. MPs needing lines to take before Ed’s debate tonight can read Justine’s evidence on behalf of DfT and HS2 here. Mr Miliband attacking HS2 in the Commons, Mrs Miliband defending it in the Lords…
At least 20 peers who tried to derail the government’s Higher Education Bill last week are in the pay of universities, Guido can reveal. Jo Johnson’s Bill aims to encourage competition by allowing new high-quality higher education providers to call themselves universities. Naturally existing universities oppose the extra competition and want to block the Bill. Last week it reached committee stage in the Lords, where peers voted for a wrecking amendment to derail it. Guido can reveal a stunning conflict of interest: 20 of the Lords who voted to frustrate the Bill are in the pay of universities. They are:
- Lord Alton of Liverpool, Director and Professor of Citizenship, Liverpool John Moores University Foundation for Citizenship (Paid until Sept 2016)
- Lord Blunkett, Holder of a personal Chair of Politics in Practice, University of Sheffield (Paid)
- Baroness Brown of Cambridge, Vice Chancellor, Aston University (Paid)
- Lord Elystan-Morgan, Independent Chairman of a Forwarding Group Committee established by the following Higher Education Institutions, namely, University of Wales; University of Wales Trinity/St Davids; University of Swansea Metropolitan; to consider ways of bringing about the amalgamation of these institutions; (Paid – “fees paid on an ad hoc sittings basis”)
- Lord Hain, Visiting Professor, University of South Wales (Paid)
- Viscount Hanworth, Professor of Econometrics and Computational Statistics, University of Leicester (Paid)
- Baroness Hayman, Chair, Cambridge University Health Partners (Paid)
- Baroness Hughes of Stretford, Chair of Council, University of Salford (Paid)
- Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, Master of Mansfield College, Oxford (Paid)
- Baroness Kidron, Visiting Fellow, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University (Paid in kind – Member’s expenses are reimbursed and accommodation is provided)
- Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, Professorial Fellow, University of Stirling, Scotland (Paid)
- Lord Mair, Professor of Civil Engineering and Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Cambridge (Paid)
- Lord Morgan, “Retired Academic” (Paid)
- Baroness Quin, Member of the Court of Newcastle University; Council Member, University College, Durham (Paid)
- Lord Reid of Cardowan, Chairman, Institute for Security and Resilience Studies, University College, London (Paid)
- Lord Smith of Finsbury, Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge (Paid)
- Baroness Smith of Newnham, Senior University Lecturer in International Relations, University of Cambridge; Graduate Tutor and Director of Studies/Fellow in Politics, Robinson College, University of Cambridge; (Paid)
- Lord Tomlinson, Higher Education College, in partnership with a number of UK State Universities; Chairman, Advisory Panel, London School of Commerce (also, of its two associated Schools: School of Technology & Management; and School of Business & Law) (Paid)
- Lord Winston, Professor, Science and Society, Imperial College London (Paid)
- Baroness Wolf of Dulwich, Professor of Public Sector Management, King’s College, University of London (Paid)
These conflicted ermine-clad boffins voted against the reforms while taking money from universities who want to block them. They essentially form a paid up self-interested “Universities Party” in the House of Lords, with no one there to represent students’ interests. If all those with a personal interest in higher education had recused themselves from last week’s vote, the wrecking amendment would have failed. Imagine the outcry if such a conflict of interest existed over a vote on any other industry…
UPDATE: Baroness Brown of Cambridge is no longer in the remunerated employment of Aston University.
Tom Watson has been touring the TV studios to attack Cameron over the honours row, though he’s happy for Labour Remainer Will Straw to get a gong. Meanwhile Corbyn’s office say they don’t have a comment. Surely nothing to do with Shami’s peerage…
UPDATE: Watson tells Wato that giving Miliband’s campaign director Spencer Livermore a peerage was “rewarding failure”:
Always keen to see an MP at the end of a rope, Guido popped down to the annual parliamentary Tug of War last night (all proceeds to Macmillan Cancer Support). Ladies first – Macmillan employees versus Therese Coffey’s team of MPs. Kelly Tolhurst chose the losing side again…
Then the men’s Lords v Commons bout, which saw well-built Remainiacs Alec Shelbrooke (his sixth tug of war appearance) trialling the phrase “Remain” instead of “Stay” as a rallying cry to team-mates. Though in the end it was the Leave heavers who made the difference – hardman captain Mike Penning and Eurosceptic musclemen Nigel Adams and David Burrowes tugged their team to victory. Even the Daily Politics’ Giles Dilnot turning out as a ringer for the Lords couldn’t stop them. Highlight was Bercow calling Shelbrooke “a very big bloke” – Shelbers replied “it’s all relative…”
Panjandrum turned peer Bob Kerslake has never voted with the government since he joined the Lords a year ago. Even on votes where the majority of crossbench peers back the Tories, ‘independent’ Kerslake has always voted against. His tedious lefty interventions have seen him dubbed ‘Comrade Bob’ by ermine-clad colleagues.
This afternoon Kerslake has been trying to nobble the attempt to abolish trade union check-off, the outdated system where union subs are automatically taken from civil servants’ pay packets, instead of making them opt in to pay. Comrade Bob not only wants this covert union funding to stay, he wants to expand it to “Any employee whose employer deducts income tax”. A bizarre intervention which would end up costing businesses tens of millions of pounds a year…
The Rt Hon. the Lord Hain, ennobled yesterday, 24 November 2015:
“I, Peter Gerald Hain, do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law.”
Peter Hain MP, a year ago, 3 November 2014:
“The Lords are an archaic anomaly which fuels disillusionment with British politics. It exists purely on a democratic deficit which has been allowed to evolve unchecked for centuries… the fact is that people are fed up with an out-of-touch political class and the growing sense that Westminster is failing us all.”
What was it about the £300-a-day allowance that changed his mind?
Today’s debate on pornography in the Lords takes a bizarre turn during this speech from the Bishop of Chester…
Sadly Osborne was probably joking about the suggestion of saving the taxpayer millions by abolishing the Lords. This does deviate from Tory party policy though:
“That is a very decent proposal for the Autumn Statement which we will give proper consideration to… My view is clear, we should have an elected House of Lords.”
“Very proud of LibDem Lords,” crowed Tim Farron after Osborne was defeated in the Lords last night, adding: “We have sent a clear signal… Tonight’s vote gives people hope”. Yet what did Farron say about the second chamber just a few months ago?
“a system which is rotten to the core and allows unelected, unaccountable people to think they are above the law… Nothing will be achieved until Parliamentarians vote in favour of abolition”
What was it about the LibDem wipeout in democratic elections that caused Farron to change his mind about the “rotten, unelected, unaccountable” second chamber?
What about John McDonnell? Last night he praised the “huge blow in the House of Lords“, claiming the vote showed “people are waking up to what Labour has been warning“. That is the same John McDonnell who voted to abolish the Lords entirely in 2003.
“Only the Labour Lords motion could deliver the results needed,” said Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign team last night. That’s despite Corbyn vowing just two months ago to block new peers in a bid to increase pressure in favour of abolition.
Sadiq Khan said “I welcome” the vote, despite previously insisting that the current make up of the Lords had “no role in a modern democracy”. Turns out these principled parliamentary reformers are big fans of the Lords when it helps them score a win…
The 289 to 272 defeat in the Lords forces Osborne into a humiliating climbdown to “help in the transition” of tax credit cuts…
Lord Lexden, the official historian of the Conservative Party, tabled an interesting question this afternoon, asking whether the Civil Partnership Act could be amended to allow siblings to register as partners:
[…] Read the rest
“Is it not the case that in Britain today, all other stable and loving couples are now able to formalise their relationships in legal terms, so vitality important where inheritance and its tax implications are concerned.