UK House of Lords Takes Lord Chancellor Hostage

Because there are so few committees in the British Parliament, and because the majority party enforces iron discipline on its members to make them vote for all of its proposals, British MPs have much less to do than their counterparts in, say, the US. As a result they turn up for debates, which are often entertaining (and result in there being I suspect more coverage of the UK debates on cable in the US than there is on TV in the UK….).

There's a whole industry of UK 'sketch writers' whose job it is every day that Parliament sits to produce an entertaining vignette of the day in parliament. It's often the most fun part of the daily paper, as Parliament has its share of eccentrics, and the writers also often have a good eye for the telling detail or the comedic analogy.

The House of Lords tends to get a more gentle treatment, although it is not exempt. And indeed, there's stuff going on there:

Telegraph | News | Commons sketch

Last June Mr Blair suddenly announced in a statement from Number 10 that, after 1,000 years or so, the office of Lord Chancellor was to be abolished as part of a vague upheaval of our judicial system.

One of the Lord Chancellor's duties had been to sit on the Woolsack as Lords Speaker. But Mr Blair indicated that the Lords now had to decide who did that. Then someone remembered that a Lords standing order, dating from 1660, said that the Lord Chancellor could only be absent from the Chamber for more than one day by permission of the Lords as a whole. The Tories were certainly not going to give permission. So they took the Lord Chancellor hostage, holding him on the Woolsack until the legislation abolishing him.

The captured man's name is Lord Falconer, a former flatmate of Mr Blair. Yesterday he looked as if he was well-fed and was being treated reasonably well. But the inactivity and boredom must be getting to him.

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