On Thursday evening, when Tony Blair announced he was abolishing the office of the Lord Chancellor, there was an angry discussion about it in the House of Lords (in the middle of the discussion of the Water Bill). Hansard transcripts are available at 8 a.m. (British time) or earlier the following day. The beginning of Thursday’s discussion is here :
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, it has been announced on the television that the office of Lord Chancellor should be abolished. Is it not totally disgraceful that no Statement has been made to Parliament and no discussion has taken place, and that an office of 800 years has been abolished without anyone debating it? At the whim of the Prime Minister, we have altered the constitution. Suddenly we are landed with this, and nobody knows what is happening. It is an abuse of process, of privilege and of office. What can we do about it? I therefore beg to move that the House do now adjourn.
Usually a good read, and now even more so:
Lord Borrie: My Lords, the noble Earl knows that I normally sit in this place. Noble Lords sitting in front of the noble Earl will confirm that I have sat in this place throughout most of the day.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has been glued to that Bench for as long as he has been in this House. I concede that that is his normal place. But suddenly a block of noble Lords appear opposite. They were summoned in by the Whips. We know the origin of the Whips. They were invented by Walpole who was a beagling fanatic. I refer to hunting whippers-in.
I may be flippant as regards Whips and noble Lords opposite sitting in a block in the hope of being seen on television but I am not being flippant when I refer to the abuse of the constitution that we have just witnessed. I am not being flippant when I say that you cannot just change 800 years of British political history at the whim of the temporarythank Godoccupant of No. 10. All occupants of No. 10 are temporary.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, unless anyone else wishes to contribute to the debate I should like to make a few points. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde, who would otherwise no doubt speak from this Dispatch Box, is at the moment taking part in a television programme in the north of England.
Noble Lords: Oh!
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, noble Lords may laugh at that but they know perfectly well that when one is involved in political life one takes on those engagements.
(Lord Williams of Mostyn, Leader of the House, who is the person who might explain the government’s behaviour, has not actually been brought in by the Whips).Here is athe Earl of Onslow’s ‘Pooh sticks’ remark:
bq. I do not think I have ever been so angry in the 30 years I have been in this House. I love this House. I love the constitution of this country. I love a balanced Whig arrangement. But to be treated like this! A Member on the Benches opposite said in a barracking way, “Shut up!”in that lovely, old-fashioned House of Commons tradition that we all love and revere, but let us please not treat the constitution in the way it is being treated. Let us not treat this House in the way it is being treated. Let us not just play Pooh-sticks with 800 years of British liberty. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
In case anyone doesn’t know what Pooh sticks is (from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame), here is an online version, but I haven’t tried it (you have to register).
And here is a description, from a BBC news report on the world championships:
The championship, known across the globe, involves dropping a stick from a bridge over a river and seeing how fast it travels to cross a finishing line.
The Friday 13th Lords Hansard starts with Lord Falconer of Thoroton being welcomed as new Lord Chancellor. The deliberations are then postponed till Monday 16th, when the government is making a statement.