Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340
THURSDAY 24 JANUARY 2002
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.
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
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
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
(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
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 thoughtby 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 knowthat
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 roundand 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.