Are the Lords listening? Creating connections between people and Parliament - Information Committee Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 142 - 156)

WEDNESDAY 29 APRIL 2009

Ms Lynsey Davison, Mr Danyal Khan, Mr George Ritchie, Mr Liam Sanders and Mr Michael MacDonald

  Chairman: The first thing I want to do on behalf of the Committee is thank you all very much for coming. I know that some of you have come a much further distance than others and we really do appreciate your finding time to come. What we are doing is we have this House of Lords Select Committee which is trying to find out how we at Westminster, particularly us in the House of Lords, can relate better to people old and young, but particularly to those who probably do not always turn on the radio in order to listen to Yesterday in Parliament. We want to try to meet and talk to people who maybe are not that interested in Parliament, although sometimes they may hear about it, about what can we do better to relate to all of you. What we are going to do, in fact, is Lord Puttnam, on my right here, is going to, as it were, ask a few questions to you, Bede Sixth Form, first and after that it will be Baroness Coussins and then the Earl of Erroll. What I am going to do first though is we are each going to tell you one sentence about ourselves so that you can have some idea of who we are, et cetera. I will start as Chairman. My name is Tim Renton. I was a Member of Parliament for Sussex constituency for a good many years. I have been in the House of Lords for 10 years and I am Chairman of this Information Committee. I must say that we are having a very interesting time in trying to work out this People and Parliament Inquiry. We will go round the table starting with Lord Taylor to say a few words about ourselves.

  Lord Taylor of Warwick: Hello, I am John Taylor. I am a lawyer by background. I was a barrister for 20 years and a judge for five years. I also run a foundation for young people called the Warwick Leadership Foundation that mentors young people from all over the world. My only claim to fame is that my father played cricket for Warwickshire and the West Indies. Cricket was his life and when I was growing up he used to say to me, "Boy, I want to see you at Lord's." He meant to play cricket at Lord's but I ended up here!

  Lord Jones of Cheltenham: I am Nigel Jones. I was the MP for Cheltenham for 13 years. Probably the only time I hit the headlines was when I was attacked by a man with a Samurai sword who injured me and killed my assistant. For my sins, I am now Vice President of Cheltenham Town Football Club who got relegated at the weekend.

  Baroness Coussins: I am Jean Coussins and I am an independent cross-bencher, which means I do not belong to any political party so you can be as rude as you like about politicians to me, I am strictly neutral. I have been in the House of Lords for just two years now and so I am quite new. My interests include modern languages and I chair the All-Party Group on Modern Languages. I am also interested in football. I am a season ticket holder at Fulham and if you want to feel sorry for me, that is fine, but we are doing quite well, better than his team!

  Lord Methuen: I am Robert Methuen and I am an electrical engineer. I used to work for IBM and for Rolls-Royce Aerosmith. My local team just managed to stay up; that was the Derby Rams, but I am not a footballer!

  Earl of Erroll: I am Merlin Erroll and I have been here a long time. I am a hereditary peer elected to stay. Basically my interests are ICT, computers, internet and software. Also I am interested in entrepreneurship and those sorts of things. I am a cross-bench peer as well.

  Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My name is Anne Gibson and I have been in the House of Lords for nine years on the Labour benches. Formerly before coming into the Lords I was a trade union official and many, many years ago a bank clerk, so there is quite a difference in the two things. My main interests at the moment are industrial relations, obviously, but I am also passionate about Latin America and I am Chair of the All-Party Group on Latin America.

  Lord Puttnam: My name is David Puttnam. I have been in the House of Lords for 12 years. I used to make movies. For ten years I was the Chancellor of the University of Sunderland. I know your school quite well but I think the last time I was there was probably before you arrived. I will not touch on football knowing what the situation in the North East is at the moment. I have worked for the Department of Education for ten of the last 12 years.

  Lord St John of Bletso: I am Anthony St John. I have been here since 1978. I spent many years in Africa and I speak a lot on African issues. I am also a lawyer. I have been in the City for the last 20 years so I speak on financial services matters as well. It is great to have the opportunity of having you here today.

  Lord Selsdon: I am Malcolm Selsdon, bottom of the pile. I have only been here 47 years and over time the Government have tried to get me to do some good! My greatest fun was six years in charge of the Development of Sport and Recreation for Greater London, Surrey, Sussex and Kent. We were trying to stop playing fields being closed down and I managed to get the police to join with me so we could play basketball in the street. They wanted to play games so we had them diving and every single one of the games in the book, and that was half the fun of my life. I became an honorary Rastafarian, I became everything. You watch the skills of people of your age and what you could do when you did not have to have full-scale football pitches; it was just play. I got involved in the Scarman Report at the time when he said if you can get people to play in the street it would be better than some of the other things that they could do.

  Chairman: I have to say that we are all learning a great deal about each other in this process! I am now going to hand over to Lord Puttnam to ask the questions to you from Bede Sixth Form for 10 or 15 minutes. Others may come in but he is now going to act as Chairman for 10 minutes or so.

  Q142  Lord Puttnam: The most important question and the reason why we exist as a Committee within this context is to find out what more the House of Lords could do to help young people like yourselves to feel more connected to Parliament in general and to have a better sense of your role as citizens; and the notion that each and every one of you could actually be here, because, believe me, when I was your age the notion of being in the House of Lords did not ever cross my mind or my parents' or my grandparents' minds.

  Ms Davison: Maybe a good idea is if you teach it as part of the school curriculum in citizenship. Before I did my course on politics I did not really understand what it involved or how it affects me. I think that young people need to learn a lot more how it affects them because to them it just seems like a big scary thing and they do not really want to get involved in it. It seems it is for older generations instead of younger people. Part of it is that is they need to know more on how to get involved.

  Mr Khan: I think more visits as well to the House of Lords so then more people would get involved because, like ourselves for example, it was an opportunity and we saw this opportunity and therefore we took it. If there were more opportunities for other people I think they would do the same as well.

  Mr Ritchie: We had Baroness Harris come into our college, but a lot of people do not actually know what their role is. A lot of people do not understand politics but even more so the role of the House of Lords. It was interesting to get an overview of what the actual role of the House of Lords is to do. A lot of people would associate the House of Lords just by titles and to be all toffs and big-wigs. As soon as they hear "Lords" mentioned it just seems to put them off. A lot of people my age do not think that politics is anything to do with them and especially the House of Lords because it is Lords so they think, "Well, it is nothing to do with us, it is Lords." A lot of them, like when Baroness Harris came in, are just ordinary people who have worked their way up to that stage so if more people knew what the role of the Lords was, as when Baroness Harris came in, I think that would be a big help as well.

  Mr Sanders: There should be more events that the Lords could be involved with to help people get involved with politics because it worked well at our college. A lot of people were involved in learning about politics and debates and things, so that is pretty useful.

  Q143  Lord Puttnam: I will come on to Question Time in a moment. Michael?

  Mr MacDonald: I think a basic, general raising of awareness is needed especially through media such as television and the internet, things people our age watch more.

  Q144  Lord Puttnam: It is interesting what you said about the Lords. Do you find then that our titles are alienating? Is that distancing in itself?

  Mr Ritchie: It just makes people think that they are the highest class of people. I think a lot of people associate it with a couple of centuries ago when Lords meant they were Lords and they owned land. People just associate it as just a title and not the people behind the title.

  Q145  Lord Puttnam: On your way home on the train this evening what will you think of the day you have spent looking around? What is your take-away? What is the thing you are going to discuss among yourselves that was surprising to you or that you wanted to follow up on?

  Ms Davison: How the different sides of Parliament deal with things. We thought that was a lot different. It has changed my opinion because before I did have the view, as George said, where I thought that you were all of a higher status, but you are just like normal people who have worked to get somewhere, so I think it has broadened my perspective of the people that are actually here.

  Q146  Lord Puttnam: Any other surprises about the building itself or the way we work or the conditions under which we work?

  Mr Ritchie: The atmosphere in the Commons—you cannot get that. When it only shows you brief snippets on the News at Six you do not get the atmosphere. There was not a full House by any means in today because we had just missed Prime Minister's Question Time. What you do not get is the banter, like someone makes a comment and sits back down, and you will see the other side smirking and you can tell that he has touched a raw nerve and he will get back up and say something. You do not get that. It just cuts out those little bits that really show the atmosphere. And the history of the place as well.

  Q147  Lord Puttnam: That is very interesting. We have a lot of discussions here about the whole issue of reaction shots in television. The truth is that you as a generation are completely used to reaction shots, therefore not having them feels unnatural. I think what you are saying is that you want a sense of the way in which people are responding to what is being said as opposed to just what is being said. Is that what I am hearing here?

  Ms Davison: Yes.

  Q148  Lord Puttnam: We can pursue that. How did your experience in participating in the Schools Question Time affect the interest of the school generally and yourselves in particular?

  Mr Khan: Question Time involved more or less the whole of the college. Everyone participated in it in some sort of way. That bought a lot of people from our college into politics who were not even doing the subject. If a lot more colleges took part in the Question Time, obviously they would take part in the Question Time and then they would learn a lot more. That is what I think. The Question Time was brilliant for ourselves.

  Q149  Lord Puttnam: Do you all agree with that?

  Mr Ritchie: The few parts of the team running it, it got us thinking more about topical awareness and what things really matter and different bits of the college were involved and they came to see it. A lot of people who were not aware of Question Time or politics came along and watched it and it made them aware. It is the workshops as well that came in, they were helpful. There were a couple of workshops that came in to help us and that helped us with a little more understanding of how politics works.

  Q150  Lord Puttnam: Having had the experience do you think it is in a way slightly odd that there are not more Schools Question Times? For example, it does not have to be nationally, and every region could run a Schools Question Time.

  Mr Ritchie: I think there were three from southern areas. We were the only one from the north. It was not even a politics thing. I think all of us enjoyed it, even the ones that were not politically motivated. It was fun to do it and it was a great sense of achievement at the end of it that we had actually put this on and it had all worked.

  Mr Khan: What it also shows is that politics can be fun as well. Obviously, when you are talking to someone about politics it is not what they really want to be talking about. They would rather be talking about something else. If you can show them this side of politics then it will involve a lot more people, and that is the way you should go.

  Q151  Lord Puttnam: Is there more that we could be doing proactively to engage with you? Are we being lazy? Are there things we should be doing? Baroness Harris came to see you. Is there more we should do?

  Mr Ritchie: I know someone made the point before about the American system—and I know they have just had an election last year—the way they are putting it all on YouTube and they are voting through texting and things like, which are all ways that maybe people of our generation are more used to seeing it on that and they would find out information on rather than the traditional ways of getting things out.

  Q152  Lord Puttnam: So it is us going to where you are rather than asking you to come to where we are?

  Mr Ritchie: We have enjoyed it but I do not think a lot of people would come down here by choice just because of where they are going. They would think it was boring and they are not going to have any fun.

  Mr MacDonald: Cost is a big factor in coming down here as well. It costs a lot of money to come from up north and it puts people off.

  Q153  Chairman: Are you all planning to vote when you are of the right age? Do you think you will?

  Mr MacDonald: Yes, definitely.

  Mr Ritchie: One of the things we are working on, I think one of the lads had one of the little information booklets on women's right to vote, and it seems daft that they fought so hard to get the vote and a lot of people are so apathetic. I am not generalising this just to women, a lot of men as well, they have got the right to have a say and a lot of people just choose not to use it.

  Mr Khan: I think the reason that they do not vote is because they feel that their vote is not going to make a difference. As long as you can show that it is going to make a difference, there is no reason why people will not vote.

  Q154  Lord Methuen: Do you think voting should be compulsory?

  Mr Khan: I do not think it should be compulsory, no, because then I think people would vote just because they have to vote. I do not think their vote would mean as much because they might vote for a particular party which they have no interest in or they know nothing about but because they have to vote they will go and vote. I do not think it will work like that.

  Mr Ritchie: Maybe not compulsory but there would be more incentive to vote. Maybe more ways than just going in and putting a little tick in a box somewhere, maybe texting and things like that like they do in America or things on the internet, or something like that. As long as it worked then it might encourage a lot of people just to do it because of the ease. A lot of people do not vote just because they cannot be bothered to go out and vote.

  Q155  Baroness Coussins: Do any of you think that the voting age ought to come down to 16?

  Ms Davison: No, not at all.

  Q156  Baroness Coussins: Why?

  Ms Davison: I see being 18 as turning into an adult and I think that that is the right age that people should vote, but I think before getting to that stage you should learn more about politics so that your vote means more, just to understand it so that you are not just voting for voting's sake, you actually know how it affects you. I think that would encourage young people to vote if they knew how it affected them.

  Chairman: That is a very sensible answer! Sadly, we must draw the curtains there. Thank you very much indeed. There are two other schools sitting behind you and we do not want to make anyone terribly late. Thank you very much for coming. If you do think of other things that you wish you had said to us do not hesitate to write in and we will look at it. We are very grateful to you for coming in today.



 
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