Examination of Witnesses (Questions 142
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
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 Commonsyou
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
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 systemand I know they have just had
an election last yearthe 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.
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
Q155 Baroness Coussins:
Do any of you think that the voting age ought to come down to
Ms Davison: No, not at all.
Q156 Baroness Coussins:
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.