South Park Me

Political Grandees and the House of Lords

[ Originally posted 21 October 2013. Last updated 16 July 2016. ]

In the hagiography that greeted Mrs T's death, other politicians of her era emerged out of the woodwork. I was intrigued. How many of these old fogeys were still knocking about? The oldest I was certain of was Tony Benn (88). I also knew
Peter Tapsell, Douglas Hurd, Shirley Williams, Norman Tebbit (all 83), Dennis Skinner, Nigel Lawson (both 81),
Roy Hattersley and Michael Heseltine (80), were still alive. But who else? My findings threw up some interesting names...


In particular: Denis Healey (96), Joel Barnett (90), Bill Rodgers and Jeremy Thorpe (both 84). And in the eulogising that followed Thatcher's demise, Peter Carington (94), Geoffrey Howe (86) and Cecil Parkinson (82) were wheeled out to reminisce about the good ol'days. As I compiled the list below, I began to realise just how many of these grandees were still alive, even if they weren't all politically active any more. The vast majority remain peers in the House of Lords, with the obvious exceptions of Sinn Fein, the Scottish National Party, and incumbent members of the House of Commons. Keen readers of this journal will remember my strongly-felt opposition to an unelected upper chamber. But truth be told, having compiled the list below, I'm not sure if we should opt for a wholly-elected upper chamber. It would be a shame if we could not find a way to accommodate - and tap - the vast experience and knowledge of a limited set of senior politicians.

I haven't really fleshed out a thorough set of ideas, but my initial feeling is that we should allocate between 10-20% of upper house members to experts appointed from all walks of life, including politics. Perhaps we could set a threshold, similar to the one I've adopted below. Which if memory serves, as I began compiling the list in an ad-hoc fashion a few months ago, was limited to those over 60 years old who were either former prime ministers, party leaders or secretaries of the Great Offices of State; other cabinet ministers, who in the absence of the great offices, served in at least two or three ministerial roles; and for members who never joined the executive, served at least twenty-five years as an MP. Of course, this is just my view. I'd love to hear your perspective. And if I've left someone out or if I've made an error, please let me know. Thank you.

Age - Name (Birth year) Birthday
97 - Peter Carington (1919- ) Jun 6
92 - Edward du Cann (1924- ) May 28
89 - James Mackay (1927- ) Jul 2
87 - William Rodgers (1928- ) Oct 28
87 - Winnie Ewing (1929- ) Jul 10
86 - Betty Boothroyd (1929- ) Oct 8
86 - Peter Tapsell (1930- ) Feb 1
86 - Douglas Hurd (1930- ) Mar 8
86 - Gerald Kaufman (1930- ) Jun 21
85 - Shirley Williams (1930- ) Jul 27
85 - Bob Wareing (1930- ) Aug 20
85 - Norman Tebbit (1931- ) Mar 29
84 - Dennis Skinner (1932- ) Feb 11
84 - Nigel Lawson (1932- ) Mar 11
84 - Tam Dalyell (1932- ) Aug 9
83 - Roy Hattersley (1932- ) Dec 28
83 - Michael Heseltine (1933- ) Mar 21
83 - David Winnick (1933- ) Jun 26
81 - Kenneth Baker (1934- ) Nov 3
80 - Robert Maclennan (1936- ) Jun 26
79 - Seamus Mallon (1936- ) Aug 17
78 - Peter Fowler (1938- ) Feb 2
78 - David Steel (1938- ) Mar 31
78 - Geoffrey Robinson (1938- ) May 25
78 - John Prescott (1938- ) May 31
78 - David Owen (1938- ) Jul 2
77 - Donald Anderson (1939- ) Jun 17
76 - Kenneth Clarke (1940- ) Jul 2
76 - Frank Dobson (1940- ) Mar 15
75 - Paddy Ashdown (1941- ) Feb 27
75 - Michael Howard (1941- ) Jul 7
75 - George Young (1941- ) Jul 16
74 - Neil Kinnock (1942- ) Mar 28
74 - Lynda Chalker (1942- ) Apr 29
74 - Norman Lamont (1942- ) May 8
73 - Margaret Beckett (1943- ) Jan 15
73 - John Major (1943- ) Mar 29
73 - Alan Beith (1943- ) Apr 20
73 - Vince Cable (1943- ) May 9
72 - Peter Lilley (1943- ) Aug 23
72 - Chris Patten (1944- ) May 12
71 - Peter Bottomley (1944- ) Jul 30
71 - Margaret Hodge (1944- ) Sep 8
71 - David Trimble (1944- ) Oct 15
71 - Douglas Hogg (1945- ) Feb 5
71 - Ken Livingstone (1945- ) Jun 17
71 - Michael Ancram (1945- ) Jul 7
70 - Clare Short (1946- ) Feb 15
70 - Malcolm Rifkind (1946- ) Jun 21
69 - Jack Straw (1946- ) Aug 3
69 - John Reid (1947- ) May 8
69 - David Blunkett (1947- ) Jun 6
68 - Gerald Howarth (1947- ) Sep 12
68 - Tessa Jowell (1947- ) Sep 17
68 - Ann Widdecombe (1947- ) Oct 4
68 - Virginia Bottomley (1948- ) Mar 12
67 - Gerry Adams (1948- ) Oct 6
67 - Patricia Hewitt (1948- ) Dec 2
67 - David Davis (1948- ) Dec 23
67 - Peter Robinson (1948- ) Dec 29
67 - George Howarth (1949- ) Jun 29
66 - Peter Hain (1950- ) Feb 16
66 - Alan Johnson (1950- ) May 17
66 - Martin McGuinness (1950- ) May 23
66 - Tony Baldry (1950- ) Jul 10
65 - Harriet Harman (1950- ) Jul 30
64 - Gordon Brown (1951- ) Feb 20
64 - Stephen Dorrell (1952- ) Mar 25
64 - Eric Pickles (1952- ) Apr 20
63 - Tony Blair (1953- ) May 6
63 - Michael Portillo (1953- ) May 26
63 - Francis Maude (1953- ) Jul 4
62 - Diane Abbott (1953- ) Sep 27
62 - Peter Mandelson (1953- ) Oct 21
62 - Geoff Hoon (1953- ) Dec 6
62 - Iain Duncan Smith (1954- ) Apr 9

RECENT PASSINGS
98 - Denis Healey1 (1917-2015)
96 - Michael Foot (1913-2010)
91 - Joel Barnett (1923-2014)
88 - Geoffrey Howe (1926-2015)
88 - Tony Benn (1925-2014)
88 - Ian Paisley (1926-2014)
87 - Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013)
85 - Jeremy Thorpe (1929-2014)
84 - Cecil Parkinson (1931-2016)
84 - Alan Williams (1930-2014)
75 - Leon Brittan (1939-2015)
75 - Michael Meacher (1939-2015)

1 An interview with Denis Healey by the New Statesman in 2013.

This entry was originally posted at http://mcgillianaire.dreamwidth.org/2215379.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
The most remarkable name on that list has to be Ian Paisley. It's astonishing that Sinn Fein never assassinated him. Indeed as far as I can recall, I don't think there was even an attempt on his life.

Whatever the faults of our two house system, at least it seems to work rather better than that of the US! I believe that a few years before WW1 legislation was passed so that the Lords could no prevent the passage of bills indefintely but at most delay them for a limited period. The PM of the time (Lloyd George?) threatened that if the Lords wouldn't accept the act bringing this into force, he would simply have enough peers created who were in favour of it to get it pushed through. (Presumably the King was on his side since, at least in theory, the monarch can prevent a bill from becoming law by refusing to sign it.)
How true indeed!

> at least it seems to work rather better than that of the US!

I disagree. There are certainly problems with the American system, but on balance, I think I prefer their constitutional settlement. I certainly think we both have lessons to learn from each others systems, and that too many people are wedded to the status quo to do anything satisfactory about it.

As for the legislation you referred to, it's the 1911 Parliament Act, which was subsequently amended, incidentally, using the method enacted by the 1911 Act, in the 1949 Parliament Act, which was eventually used to pass the controversional Hunting Act in 2004. The PM in 1911 was Herbert Asquith, but the minister responsible for the parliamentary fracas was Lloyd George, who as Chancellor of the Exchequer wanted to pass the first-ever welfare reforms in what was known as the "People's Budget". The Tories who had an overwhelming majority in the Lords, could not countenance increased taxes to pay for the upliftment of the working poor. The rest was as you pointed out. The King was in a dilemma because personally he (probably) sided with the Tories, but it would've been a serious constitutional crisis if he refused a government with a mandate to govern, to flood the upper house with Liberal peers. And as you pointed out, legislation only becomes law upon their Royal Assent, he probably also didn't fancy becoming the first monarch since Queen Anne in 1707 to refuse it. As it happens, both pieces of legislation were eventually passed, with an intervening election in which the Liberals emerged victorious, albeit with a much reduced majority, and King George was able to provide Royal Assent. Which means that Queen Anne's refusal in 1707 remains the last time a monarch blocked the passage of legislation.

Mind you, that's very good knowledge of constitutional history!

Edited at 2013-10-21 11:44 pm (UTC)