Begone, Baroness D'Souza, and give the second House a second chance

Clueless: Baroness D’Souza

by Sir Thomas Crapper

Begone, Baroness D’Souza. By her own definition, her job is “to protect the reputation of the House of Lords”.

So by her own definition, she should be sacked. Now that the series, Meet The Lords (still on iPlayer and highly recommended) has finished, so should Baroness D’Souza’s job be done with.

She alone was responsible for all the headlines that came out of the media previews. The ‘lazy Lords’, the ‘freeloading Lords’, the antiquated ‘day care centre Lords’. Really, if you wanted a radical to wield a sword and run through the House Of Lords laying waste to all and sundry, you could scarcely hope to do better than the woman whose job it is ‘to protect its reputation’.

And it’s clear, also, that this played right into the hands of the programme makers. Even the commentary was snide and sneery.

And yet a fair-minded viewer could not avoid, over the three hours of the series, coming to the conclusion (if you had not already known) that we owe an awful lot to this institution. The reason it is still there is not only because no-one has come up with a better alternative.

Holding Parliament to Account

It is still there because it does a sterling job of reviewing government legislation and sending it back to Parliament. In the Lords, it will have been read by and debated upon by experts in the field, people who have life experience and professional expertise.

All this guff about ‘outdated institution, silly clothes, and time-servers’ has some merit, of course. But you cannot know the history of the past 30 years of British politics and not remember some occasion when you’ve thought: “Good Lord, the House of Lords have actually achieved something”. If you don’t have any such memories, then you haven’t been paying attention, and perhaps you should question your own ability to judge the matter.

But not content with this very interesting tale, Baroness D’Souza preferred to play to the gallery – the obvious bias of the programme makers who wanted to ridicule the traditions, the ceremonies and even the hard-working people.

She said, to camera: “All is not well in the House Of Lords. The reputation has gone down and down and down – it’s probably never been lower.

“The public perception is of a House full of aged males, sitting around, perhaps sleeping on the benches. And the public only gets to know of the work of the House when the House really thwarts the government. Or there’s been a scandal.” Oh, you mean like your own expenses scandal in 2015, Lady D’Souza?

Not even very expensive

Tony Blair, who swung into power like Tarzan through the jungle, promising to modernise government for the 21st century fell at the first hurdle. In a rush to cut ties with tradition, he announced plans to abolish the 1,000 year old office of the Lord Chancellor. At the time, the position was held by his close friend, Lord Irvine. Not much with the friends any longer.

Unfortunately, Blair hadn’t done his homework. The Lord Chancellor didn’t just dress up in funny clothes and sit on the Woolsack (a symbol of the once valuable trade in wool). Actually, he had very important roles as head of the judiciary and Speaker of The House of Lords. A new system had to be hastily stitched together, and the title was not abolished.

The total cost of running the Houses of Parliament – the Command and the Lords – is getting on for £500,000,000. If every Peer turned up every day to claim their £300 daily expense allowance, they would only account for less than 20% of the total cost. And, of course, they don’t all turn up.

We need a second House. We need our MPs and Prime Minister held to account. And until someone comes up with an alternative, workable proposal, we would be shooting ourselves severely in both feet to get rid of the Lords. With the likes of Alf Dubbs, Oona King, John Bird (founder of The Big Issue), Joan Bakewell, Charlie Falconer, and Robert Winston, not to mention a whole raft of former Cabinet Ministers (some of them at least) it is a broad church, with broad experience, and a microcosm of the UK’s fabled class system.

The BBC clearly set out to sneer; and Baroness D’Souza obliged them apparently willingly. But the rest of them, shown going about their daily work, some with real passsion – that’s the real story. Meet The Lords – the ones who work hard, who know something, the ones who make a difference.

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