Seanad like House of Lords as no one pays ‘blind bit of notice’, says Hattersley
British Labour veteran acknowledges the Seanad has produced figures of note
Roy Hattersley, former UK Labour Party deputy leader, in Dublin yesterday. Photograph: Alan Betson
British Labour Party veteran Roy Hattersley has a certain sympathy with those who wish to abolish Ireland’s upper house.
Speaking as Lord Hattersley, or Baron Hattersley of Sparkbrook in the County of West Midlands to give him his full title, he says the problem with Britain’s House of Lords is that no one pays any attention to what its members say – similar, as might be said, to our own death row Seanad.
In Dublin for a Festival of History public conversation tonight with John Bowman (Dublin Castle printworks at 8pm) on Britain and Ireland’s shared heritage and his recent book, The Devonshires: the Story of a Family and a Nation (Random House), the former deputy leader of the Labour Party said yesterday he wished Britain and Ireland shared a desire to abolish their upper chambers.
“The basic problem we have with the House of Lords is that its undemocratic. You can’t have a modern democracy where one house of parliament is appointed by the prime minister,” he said.
“The quality of the members of the House of Lords is much higher than the quality of the members of the House of Commons. They give wise advice but nobody takes it. There are great people, really spectacularly important people saying wise things about science, about the law, about the environment . . . but nobody takes a blind bit of notice and this devalues the operation.”
Despite this, he acknowledges the Seanad has produced figures of note in Irish public life. “It did give you Conor Cruise O’Brien [and] I’m not sure that Yeats made a great contribution to the politics of Ireland but he gave great glory to the Upper House.”
The shared heritage aspect of our two islands’ history includes our parliamentary systems, he noted. “We’re the only two countries in western Europe where the executive and the legislature overlap.
“Every other country in Europe picks its cabinet from the whole nation of talents; we only pick ours from the limited amount of talent in parliament.”
Avuncular, clubbable and extremely alert, his 80 years notwithstanding, Hattersley expresses optimism at the electoral prospects of the British Labour Party and its often-under-attack leader, Ed Milliband. He was impressed with his party conference leader’s speech this week.
“What we now stand for, for the first time in 10 years, chimes with the aspirations of the British public. They want the state to intervene on their behalf to protect them from rapacious companies, they want the state to intervene when housing companies are hoarding land.”
His heart is with those who want to see austerity eased, even if his sympathies are also with governments who borrowed excessively during the boom: “They were doing what the people wanted!”