Friday, 6 March 2009

What do Peers do?

Many people question what members of the House of Lords do. Of course, with a diverse membership of 731 (as of 2nd March) - there are many different patterns of work. There are a handful of peers in their nineties. A number suffer ill health (membership is for life, only Bishops 'retire' from the House). Some live far away, or have busy careers outside Westminster.

In a recent post on "Lords of the Blog" (which I highly recommend - http://lordsoftheblog.wordpress.com/) Baroness D'Souza (Convenor of the Cross benchers)described her week -

MONDAY: Office to answer mail, e-mails, brief PA, meet on individual basis with several fellow crossbenchers to discuss forthcoming business, possible debate topics, future MoD visits, and the like. Our office is tiny and houses three people and sometimes feels like Piccadilly Circus.
Oral Questions in the Chamber and then the last day of the Banking Bill - Ministers must feel relief.
Leaders’ meeting to discuss current events - and digest a number of papers for the following morning. Have a meeting with three other crossbench peers to do some brainstorming; this is a mini think-tank I have set up to review from time to time the work of the Independent Crossbenchers and to talk around any structural/political issues
Attend North London Chinese Association dinner at Royal Albert Docks - takes a good hour to get there and find the restaurant. Speak on need for Chinese representation in Parliament, get home by midnight.

TUESDAY: Get in by 8.30 to answer all the mail and write all the letters I failed to finish yesterday. Write up Minutes of last evening’s think-tank meeting. Coffee with Viscount Montgomery who wishes to discuss aspects of the House machinery at length. Regular monthly meeting with the Lord Speaker to exchange views and brief her on crossbench issues. Another Leaders meeting to give opinions on papers received yesterday. Oral Questions and another long committee day on the Marine and Coastal Access Bill.
House Committee (this is the primary committee to which most other committees ultimately report and is chaired by the Lord Speaker). Meeting with the Government Chief Whip. Supper with a colleague. Meet Lord Adebowale and once again try to persuade him to become a blogger - he is willing but also really busy (and actually thinks it may be more difficult than it is!).

WEDNESDAY: Meeting with Opposition Chief Whip on forthcoming business. Prepare agenda for crossbench weekly meeting and brief staff. Meet with various colleagues and then with the LibDem Acting Chief Whip. Chair crossbench meeting at which the Leader (Baroness Royall) speaks to us. She is bombarded with questions all of which she answers quite straighforwardly.
Oral questions in Chamber at which I ask if the UK Government will make representation to the SADC Countries who are the guarantors of the recent settlement in Zimbabwe to lobby for the release of human rights activists and political detainees.
Rush to and back from the dentist in time to meet Christine Lee who is now legal counsel to the Chinese Government in the UK and busy with the recent incident involving the shoe thrown at the Chinese Premier during his visit to London. Begin writing up Minutes of crossbench meeting
Attend the Channel 4 Political Awards dinner and home relatively early

THURSDAY: cancellation of a meeting (agreed with a colleague the other day that we must be the saddest people because we both get very excited when something is cancelled!) which allows me a blissful hour and half to read all the press clippings piling up on my desk for the last three days.
Consider a Private Notice Question (PNQ) which has been tabled by Lord Taverne of the LibDems and concerns the Government’s intention to deny the Dutch MP, Mr Geert Wilders, entry to the UK. The criteria for a PNQ are importance, topicality and urgency. This was all three but I feared that the question might itself lead to a kind of slanging match in the Chamber. However, it was allowed by the Lord Speaker and I took the opportunity amongst many others to question the Government’s action. I do not much like aligning myself with the UKIP member who had invited Mr Wilders to show his film in Parliament but it is a free speech issue as all those who also asked questions pointed out.
Privileges Committee Meeting - a long and thorough couple of hours.
Tea with two crossbench colleagues to discuss a new project. Back to my office to do more letters, answer voice mail, do e-mails, clear my desk, discuss the coming week with my PA and our research intern and then off to present the award to the crossbench researcher of the year at the HOUSE Magazine Awards ceremony.

FRIDAY: meeting in Cheltenham and then to Gloucester to record a BBC interview and home to catch up on domestic mail (including a parking ticket), read background papers for speeches I will give on Afghanistan and House of Lords Reform at the end of February.
Feed birds, water plants , e-mail friends and family etc and PACK for departure to Namibia tomorrow as part of Parliamentary Delegation.

I did some research last year on the turn out for divisions (Votes) by the Government party (Labour). What is surprising is the regular high turnout - though there is nothing to require Members to attend.