Lords Diary: Lord Mann

Posted On: 
17th January 2020

“The Commons could be made more democratic if MPs spent 20 minutes observing the Lords”

Lord Norman Fowler, the new Lord Speaker speaks in the House of Lords chamber during his first sitting
Credit: 
Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Archive/PA Images

A curious place. My maiden speech descriptor of the House of Lords is probably not entirely within the rules for a maiden speech, but then there are no written rules. A bit like the House of Commons. For 18 and a half years I was regaled about how effective these invisible conventions are in the elected Chamber and naturally I have been given sound advice about how well the conventions work within the unelected Chamber. Naturally, both Houses think they know best.

The welcome was hearty to the Lords – none of the evasiveness that I met in the Commons, though it is as unnerving as it is inaccurate to have so many people tell me I must be the youngest in there. How my grandchildren would laugh. They would also be fixated by the number of mice, perhaps winter evacuees from the Commons terrace. At least I know my way round – it will takes several years for total newcomers to memorise the building layout. GPS and HoL are not acronyms that sit comfortably together.

What I have found to be the most startling is how more democratic the Commons would be if MPs spent 20 minutes observing the Lords. Every speaker is taken, on a written and public list, complied by electronic self-inclusion. Significantly more egalitarian and democratic than the Commons. No speakers eye to catch, and (so far at least) no never ending self-indulgent front bench repetition so familiar to the green benches.

But I observe that neither team has yet really grasped the modern world, subservient to the gentleman’s club architecture, which is glorious, and its operating hours which are increasingly obsolete. I make it 2-0 to the Reds at the break. It’s a bit too early to be definitive on who provides the best half time refreshments, though both houses are united in being far more geared up for the post-match celebrations than the healthy pre match supplements.

But then there is Question time, where the Lords argue, in a most unlordly manner about whose turn it is to speak. No referee to create any order. It’s a goal back for the greens.

Can the greens now come back and equalise? Well the Lords’ unwillingness to advance its unyielding structure classifies as an immediate own goal. A 2-2 score draw on first observations, but the green benches have the ball if the red benches fail to get their defences in order. The Lords of course presume that after a thousand years there is no full-time whistle, while the Commons are far too concerned about their image rights and public appearances to worry about such a trifling matter.

Perhaps both teams might spend some time sending spies to observe one another’s tactics and discretely change their game plan by stealing the others’ best ideas. The illustrious Argentinian coach Marcelo Bielsa is renowned for observing others and learning from this- the media labelled it spygate. Perhaps I should invite him down as he will find it much easier to observe such matters in the Houses of Parliament. Change agents rather than undercover agents would make good coaches if we are to satisfy our spectators.

My defining impressions and my first post-match summary of the first weeks following my free transfer from the green benches to the red benches is that democracy would be well served if the greens and the reds stole from the ‘other house’ their best systems for  how to play the game.

Lord Mann is a non-affiliated peer