Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
THURSDAY 17 JANUARY 2002
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
(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.
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
(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
145. No more Stevenson and all the rest - swept
(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 butand this is a very important pointI
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
(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!
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
(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
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
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 expertsand I
am not just talking about the bars and restaurants in the House
(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
(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 membershipand I know, Mr Chairman,
that you regard these people as dropping inbut 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
(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