Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)



  140. Given that, if you then have whatever system you want except for first-past-the-post, are you not therefore just going to get party apparatchiks coming into the second chamber?
  (Lord Lipsey) In the elected element?

  141. I am sorry, I take it from your letter of 15.1.02. You are just going to get party animals, are you not? It is a lovely sentiment but that is actually what you are going to end up with, is it not?
  (Lord Lipsey) I am not a fantastic passionate supporter of more election for the Lords. One of the reasons I supported the 20 per cent element originally was because I thought it was the least that could be got away with, rather than for its own virtues, for the obvious reason that the competition with the Commons would actually be even more so. I think, however, that there is a genuine argument for election which goes: we do want to have regional representation; we do not at the moment have a structure for indirect elections such as they use in the Republic of Germany for regional representations; and therefore here is no very good alternative to elections for regional elections. So I think there is a case to be made, but, as I say, it is not one I feel with deep passion.

  142. Can I ask one last question? Devolution: how do you see the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish? Do you see proportion there?
  (Professor Lord Norton of Louth) No, because you have got asymmetrical devolution. I do not see how you can fit that into the second chamber in any form of election and, since I am against election anyway, it is not a question.

Mr Prentice

  143. I want to come on to David Lipsey's point later about what peers actually do, whether we need you all, and his idea that peers are philosopher kings. First of all, I want to ask Lord Norton about appointments. I have in front of me, Lord Norton, the speech that you made in the Lords on 9 January. You are an appointments man. You say here, and I am quoting back your own words to you: a proactive, independent Appointments Commission could do an invaluable job in ensuring that members are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds. What about the present Appointments Commission, the one chaired by Lord Stevenson? Do you think it has fulfilled its remit in appointing people from a wide range of backgrounds?
  (Professor Lord Norton of Louth) I have to be honest and say: no, I do not think the present arrangements really are adequate. That is why I am looking for something completely different, both in terms of the membership of the Appointments Commission and how it goes about its task. The present Appointments Commission could have been proactive, if it chose to be. It was its decision to put this emphasis on self-nomination, which I think is the wrong way of going about it. In my evidence to the Wakeham Commission, I did put forward a proposal on how you can create an appointments commissions completely independent of patronage, so it is not creature of government, and so that you have an appointments commissions that is independent of government. The characteristics would be: its remit would be to be proactive, actually to go out and find people who have contributed things to society in all walks of life. So you would end up with a much broader spread of people in terms of background, age, gender and so on, who have got something to contribute, not necessary representative in speaking for that section of society but drawn from it. That would help the House enormously as well because it would identify where we have gaps. I think we are good on some topics; in other areas we are not that good or our knowledge is old.

  144. How do you actually do that, given that the present Appointments Commission has gone off on four road shows? I looked at its website this morning and they say they are going to write again to 10,000 organisations. Do you think the experience of the appointments of last year, the 15 people's peers, just turned off a lot of people; they are just not going to get involved in that?
  (Professor Lord Norton of Louth) It may have done. That is why I think in a way we need a fresh start with a new appointments commission.

  145. No more Stevenson and all the rest - swept away?
  (Professor Lord Norton of Louth) Oh, yes, and one would need to think about membership to make it clear that this was an independent body, not just in terms of the way it was produced but who was on it. In that sense, I want a new body fulfilling that particular task and going out and finding people. I would have them fulfilling two roles. I still think the parties should nominate members to serve. The Appointments Commission would be reactive to make sure they fulfil certain standards, certain high standards, but then should be proactive in nominating what I call the independent peers but—and this is a very important point—I would want to see some formula that linked the two; for example, that for every member nominated through the political route, the Appointments Commission would then be empowered to appoint one through the independent route. You see, that is a deflator that would stop the parties being able to try to pack the House, knowing that for everyone they nominate, there would be somebody else coming in through a separate route. I think that would strengthen the House of Lords.

  146. I mentioned of course the philosopher kings earlier. Where are you going to find these very talented people to sit on this new Appointments Commission? Where are they? What do they look like?
  (Professor Lord Norton of Louth) Modesty forbids!

  147. This is being recorded, by the way!
  (Professor Lord Norton of Louth) I should mention that a local free sheet once awarded me the title of "self-publicist of the year"! So I immediately issued a statement thanking all those who made it possible! I think it is possible. There are certain dangers; as you say, philosopher kings. That puts it on too high a pedestal, if you like. I am not looking for those who are the great and good. I think an awful lot of people in society have already established something, not at the top of their profession but they have fulfilled things that other people recognise they have done. We get lots of nominations for awards for honours through the existing route. You look for some others who have achieved things who can contribute something from their particular perspective. For example, one of the advantages of having the elected hereditaries is that you have got people who are still doing day jobs, not just those who are nominated through patronage. We have a police officer, quite a senior officer who has risen through the ranks, is in the Lords. When he comes in and speaks, that is enormously valuable to provide current knowledge. That is the sort of thing I have got in mind.

  148. I understand that and I am not being facetious when I ask you this question because I understand you are a professor of politics. Are you familiar with the legislative assembly in Hong Kong?
  (Professor Lord Norton of Louth) I have visited it but I would not say I was an expert on that one.

  149. Let me tell you that here are 27 functional consistencies in Hong Kong and circus performers and people like that have their own category, I suppose. There is catering.

  Chairman: I can feel hairdressing coming on!

Mr Prentice

  150. I do not have a fixation with hairdressing. It is a serious point. If you want to draw people, and you told the Lords this a few days ago, from a wide range of backgrounds, why not do something like in Communist Chinese Hong Kong where they have functional constituencies. You could actually go out to groups. Go out to train drivers, to ASLEF, and say, "Nominate and elect someone from ASLEF to come into Parliament and help legislate".
  (Professor Lord Norton of Louth) I think the objection is that it is difficult with Hong Kong partly for reasons of size. The problem in this country is purely a practical one. You can see the argument and you can see why people might object. It is a purely practical one: I do not think you would ever reach agreement on the sections themselves. So are you going to give the AA and RAC one member? Somebody else would then complain. I speak as someone who has given thought to it and indeed has tried to come up with how to create a functional second chamber. I do not think it is do-able. That is why I think my process is preferable. It gives you the flexibility because these people are not coming in from organisations that may then start to use it as a way of pensioning off people by thinking, "We will stick them in the Lords". I think you need to get people perhaps at a stage in their career when they have got something to offer and that is recognised.

  151. Forgive me but I cannot recall if I read the paper that you submitted to Wakeham but did it outline how this Appointments Commission would work?
  (Professor Lord Norton of Louth) Yes, and I also addressed the point you have just made about a functional second chamber as well.

  152. Can I just ask Lord Lipsey about the peers? Do we need 750? I know about the dead duck, the interim chamber. Do you need 600 working peers? What do peers actually do? Of the total membership of the House of Lords, how many are working peers? How would you define a working peer?
  (Lord Lipsey) I do not know whether you need 600 or 750. You do need quite a substantial number. Some do not turn up at all, often for the very good reasons that they are old and ill or, like Lord Hattersley, they are thoroughly disenchanted with the whole business. You have a few people like that. There is a lot of them who are just sitting around and that is a waste of time. But, in order to have a critical core of knowledgeable people on a given subject, you do need a fairly large House. I have taken a close interest in two bills recently. There was the OFCOM bill where there was stage army of about 25 on communications from Lord Thomson of Monifieth, former Head of the OTC, to John Birt of the BBC. In order to have that spread and all that spread across parties, you really need to have 20 or 25 people who know what they are talking about. You do need quite a lot of peers. There are very few debates of that detail where you feel there is an excess of people.

  153. Is there any information which you could give the Committee which measures the contribution of peers, the number of items they speak on in the chamber, and so on and so forth, because I am not clear in my own mind how many working, fully participating peers there are, if you get my drift.
  (Lord Lipsey) I have not seen information such as you suggest. There is stuff on voting. We know how may days people attend; we know in what percentage of votes they have taken part.

  154. I want to pick up this point about the stage army. I am interested in peers that roll up their sleeves and get stuck in, make a contribution, are experts—and I am not just talking about the bars and restaurants in the House of Lords.
  (Lord Lipsey) I think it is a pretty good number if you take the number of committees there are, and most peers are only on one committee. I think you would probably find 200 to 250?
  (Professor Lord Norton of Louth) I would have thought so. I agree completely with the point that has been made by Lord Lipsey. I describe it as a full-time house of part-time members. As a house, it is working harder than the House of Commons, but you need that part-time membership—and I know, Mr Chairman, that you regard these people as dropping in—but I regard that as very much a House of Commons mind-set about the way the chamber operates. Lord Lipsey is absolutely right: you need that critical mass so that people come in when there is a subject on which they can offer some informed contribution. That leads on to a methodological problem in relation to the point you are making because you would have to relate the activity to the topics that are actually discussed in any one session. If you just have one debate on medical ethics, you may just get members speaking on that. If you have a whole string of bills going through on medical ethics, then those same members are going to be very involved. So you have to factor that into it as well. You will get members more involved at particular stages. I speak regularly but, being an academic, I stick to my area of interest, and therefore that means that when the Freedom of Information Bill was going through, I was more or less on my feet every day. Then there are stretches when I am not.

  155. A final question because other colleagues want to come in: given what you said earlier about the Appointments Commission, are you disappointed that the present Chairman of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, Lord Stevenson, has only spoken twice in the House of Lords since he was ennobled by the present Prime Minister in 1999?
  (Professor Lord Norton of Louth) Not necessary, and may I refer it back to the point I have just made? You have to look at his area of expertise and see what other topics have come up. My point was that you have to look at it in a qualitative sense and not just in a quantitative sense. It is not how many times you speak but the quality of the contribution to the debate.

  156. What happens if you do not speak at all?
  (Professor Lord Norton of Louth) It is sometimes better not to speak and leave people wondering why you have not spoken than it is to speak and leave people wondering why you have.

  157. You are treading dangerously now. That is a ferocious test, certainly of Members of Parliament.
  (Professor Lord Norton of Louth) There is something in it. I think that is a benefit of the Lords because there is not the same incentive as in the Commons to get to one's feet as you do not need to get noticed.


  158. Just for the record, you are both at one in believing that a part-time house in terms of arrangements for remuneration is the way that it should be, whatever else?
  (Professor Lord Norton of Louth) I strongly believe that, because that is what gives it the benefit. You have people coming in, if you like, from the day jobs. You have knowledge that is current. Once you get a chamber where the imperatives of the job mean it must now be full-time, even if you are expert in a particular area, your knowledge starts to become old after a certain period and sometimes very quickly.
  (Lord Lipsey) I am not entirely in agreement. This again is the difference between being in opposition and being in government. This is not a part-time job for us. The House of Lords sits longer hours than any other legislature in the world, including the House of Commons, and we on the Government side have to be there for every single one of them.
  (Professor Lord Norton of Louth) You do not have to be.
  (Lord Lipsey) Those of us who have not got incredibly thick skins, I have to say, have to be here for every single one of them. I can tell you, I have been punished in various way, including being sacked quite often in my life, but the disapproval of the whips is far worse, especially when it is backed by the feeling you are a member of the team. It just is not a part-time house. I think, properly organised, it could again become a part-time house. There is just no need for all this. It is a scandalous waste of scarce national talent to have those people sitting around. I know that when you are in the House of Commons it is not like that and you are actually part of and creating a vibrant political culture. We are not. We are having cups of tea and tyring to fill the time. That is a scandalous waste. If we organised it properly so that a lot of the work was done in committee, people who do not need to be there for a committee could have a rest.

  159. With respect, I think those are matters for a second chamber itself to resolve. What I am interested in is whether you think the full-time or the part-time model best gets at what that second chamber should be doing.
  (Professor Lord Norton of Louth) I think it has to be part-time to deliver those benefits. I think it does work well. I hear what Lord Lipsey says. I think quite a lot of members of the Upper House are actually rather good at time management, which is one of the attributes. We are far better at organising things, if I may say so, than Members of the Commons who at times I have noticed are not.

  Chairman: I am conscious that we have hours of this to do. Could I ask members if we could rattle through fairly quickly?

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