Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340 - 359)



Mr Prentice

  340. You would be quite happy to see hairdressers, who could be defined as people of distinction, in a reformed second chamber, hairdressers, dinner ladies, lollipop ladies, would they fall into the definition of people of distinction?
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) As you extend the list I would simply say that we have a process and the answer to your question is yes. If they apply through the process and they are nominated the answer is yes.

  341. I want to know whether people like hairdressers can get into the Second Chamber and you are telling me about the process, if they apply they will be considered, and so on.
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) The answer is yes, as it was when I was first asked the question.

  342. In order to get hairdressers, dinner ladies and lollipop ladies into a reformed Second Chamber the remit would have to be changed. People like hairdressers are not going to get into the Second Chamber using the criteria that has been set for you by the government of the day.
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) I understand where the question is coming from. I would say not necessarily so. We used our language very carefully, "people of outstanding achievement in their chosen way of life."


  343. Distinguished hairdressers might get in.
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) You are using emotive language. When we launched our website, the first time the process was taken in and opened up, if I am allowed to move away from hairdressers, a journalist asked the question, "Could a midwife get in to the Lords?" We had a very interesting discussion, in which we made it quite plain, yes, you could imagine a midwife who had done very well in his or her career and who would go through the process and be selected.

Mr Prentice

  344. When are you going to embark on the second round of appointees as People's Peers?
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) As you know, the one, power the Prime Minister has kept to himself is that of specifying the number of nominees, so ultimately the question is his.

  345. Do you think he is backing off?
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) First, in light of the manifesto commitments and then in the light of the White Paper coming out we took the view that insofar as there was a possibility of phase two of the reforms going through in this session the right thing to do would be not to approach the Prime Minister with the suggestion of a number, or a list, because when you have a democratic elected government with a clear view, endorsing Wakeham, which will have some characteristics that would not apply to our list, we should wait. We took the view that the moment it is obvious that there is not going to be a bill in this session, we would start again.

  346. You are going to start again? You are going to embark on the four road shows.
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) We have done four road shows.

  347. I know, but that was for the first round.
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) I am sure you are just talking hypothetically at the moment, we are extremely keen on embarking on them, we would not just limit it to four.

  348. I am not talking about something that is hypothetical. You just told us if there is not going to be movement on House of Lords reform in this session then you are going to press ahead with the second round of People's Peers. You are going to be writing out to the 10,000 organisations, soliciting applications, you are going to embark on more than four road shows to solicit applications. My question is this, do you think "ordinary people" are going to apply in the same numbers this year as they did last year, given the experience of the 15 people's peers, that is my shorthand, that were brought forward do you think the Commission has been fatally compromised as a result of your remarks about hairdressers and your choice of the 15 People's Peers?
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) I would duck the judgment because I do not know. I just make the observation, I am not sure what you mean by "ordinary people", number one. Number two, I do not think we have ever thought there would be the same response second time round as there was first time round. Third, there has continued to be a steady stream of nominations. I would infer from that the process is not fatally damaged.

  349. What is your best guess, you have over 3,000 applications for the first round of People's Peers and you must have discussed this in the Commission, you must have done?
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) Discussed what?

  350. When you were planning the logistics of going out with the road shows, you did four road shows last year and you told the committee there are going to be more than four road shows and on your website you tell the world you are going to write off to 10,000 organisations. That is a huge exercise, my question is a simple one, how many applications you do you think all this effort will elicit?
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) First of all, we did, indeed, wonder how many applications we would get and we had no idea. That would continue to be our thinking at the moment. Secondly, I do not think we have said that we would write off to 10,000. When we decide to solicit more applications we will embark on a process of solicitation which will learn from what we have done in the past.

  351. Finally, two very brief questions, do you ask potential peers, aspiring candidates about their commitment to participate in the working of the House of Lords?
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) Yes.

  352. They all tell you they are going to participate as working peers? Again, that is shorthand.
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) No. If you have read our website we do not frame it that way.

  353. Do you feel any sense of embarrassment you have only spoken twice in the House of Lords since you were ennobled in 1999?
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) Embarrassment in relation to what?

  354. Your Commission is selecting people to sit in a chamber of the legislature?
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) The Chairman asked at the beginning how I had been selected, and I was selected in open competition for which there was a job specification. It was made absolutely plain that being in the Lords was not a condition for this job, quite the reverse. If you read the job specification, which I imagine is in the public domain, you will find the presumption is that the Chairman would not be in the Lords, and that, no doubt, is why the government put three peers on it. I did not accept the job on the basis that I was in the Lords or had any commitment to the Lords. There were a whole lot of other criteria they put down for the selection, but not being a member of the Lords.

  355. This is astonishing stuff!
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) There is nothing secretive about this, it is not to do with me, it is in the public domain, it is normal post Nolan procedures. There was a clear job specification and we have seven commissioners, three of whom are in the Lords.

  356. On one of the two occasions when you spoke in the Lords, this is early on, you told their Lordships that you would be looking forward to making many, many more contributions in the House of Lords in the coming years?
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) So I do. First of all, I rather agree with someone who was a witness on a previous occasion with you when he said that he thought—by the way I am not a working peer, it is an important distinction, with a "W" and "P", and I was not appointed on the working honour's list. That is a non-trivial distinction, as you also know—that the contribution of independent peers on the honours list should be measured by the quality not the quantity of their speeches. Secondly, the job I applied for said I would be working at least 8-10 days a year. The Commission has been very demanding and I have been working, I would think, six or seven days a month. As a practical matter, my ability to contribute in the House of Lords is a little constrained by this job. I do assure you in years to come I will be involved.

  357. Great stuff. My final question is this, people who were turned down, aspiring candidates for the peerage, why do they not get reasons for their rejection?
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) We debated this hard and long. It is a very difficult issue. The distinguishing characteristics, as I said to you, our role has been to take something that has been done in secret and turn it into a normal job application process. There is one aspect of this that makes it different from any other job application, which is the quantum of people. Quite rightly each one has to be treated properly, seriously and considered seriously. We concluded, although it was a very difficult judgment, that the cost to the Exchequer of writing a letter to each person and finding the right words judiciously chosen in relation to their application would be far too high.


  358. The reason for exploring these issues is because if we are to have an Appointments Commission all of these issues would be absolutely germane. Could I extend Gordon's question in one direction, not just asking you about your contribution, when you were appointing people this time round—and I look at your specifications that you were working to in your selection criteria, did you think you were primarily awarding people an honour or you were appointing them to do a job of work?
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) The latter.

  359. A job of work.
  (Lord Stevenson of Coddenham) Chairman, as you will appreciate until we came along there were working peers and there were those in the honour's list. Those on the honour's list had no obligation at all ever to go to the House. We changed that, we debated this and decided this was not on and we made preparedness to work in the House one of our conditions. Going back to the dialogue that Mr Prentice and I were having, we made a distinction between the commitment required of them and of working peers. We took the view these were jobs, part-time jobs.

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