I think I was misguided. I decided to watch the House of Lords debate on the bill to trigger article 50 on the assumption that it would be enlightening and, possibly, entertaining.
I have got through several hours of it and am now enormously depressed. We are endlessly told how superior the Lords are to the Commons. Their debates, it is said, are much more thoughtful and influenced by the wonderful expertise which their lordships can bring to important issues.
What complete tosh.
The new House of Lords, by which I mean the one created by Tony Blair, is dire.
My complaint is not about the political leanings of all these frightful appointees to Mr Blair’s second chamber. I am as cross with those who agree with me as I am with those who disagree.
This is not a debate. It is a succession of set piece speeches by self-important peers who hardly even acknowledge that anyone else has spoken. One by one even quite distinguished peers stand and read speeches to the House (yes, they do, they write out their usually entirely predictable diatribes and actually, against all parliamentary tradition, read them out). No interventions are allowed. A sort of ballet seems to be being played out. We now know what the result will be (Labour is being sensible and has made it clear it will allow the House of Commons the final say so the bill will eventually be passed unamended). But we have to spend a few weeks listening to men and women who obviously haven’t the faintest idea what the word “debate” means.
I mustn’t be too hard on them. There was a girl (I can use that word because her main theme was that she was one of only five peers who had been born after 1969 – the inevitable result of the abolition of hereditary peers) who spoke without any reference to her notes at all. I think she was called Baroness Smith of somewhere or other. She was a Liberal Democrat and therefore had nothing of importance to add to the debate, but she, almost alone, understood that speeches in the House of Lords should never be read out, She is to be applauded.
I compare the Lords’ attempt at a debate with what happened in the House of Commons. Yes, of course, there were MPs who broke the rule and read their speeches. But lots didn’t. And almost all allowed interventions. The Commons gave us a real debate. The Lords are failing miserably.
Why should that be? The answer, I am afraid, is that all these dreary political appointees to the House of Lords are just not up to the job.
We must try to find another way of filling the second chamber. The obvious answer is to bring back the hereditaries. But I know that is not possible. I think I will go with random selection.