Becoming a Lord

Lord Norton

Matt asks how I became a Lord.  This is the question I am most frequently asked when I speak to student audiences on the role of the Lords. 

The answer is that I had a ‘phone call, completely out of the blue.  I was sat at my desk in the university one morning: well, at just after 11.00 a.m. on Tuesday 24 March 1998 to be precise (you don’t forget these things).  It was the Opposition Chief Whip, James Arbuthnot.  He explained that William Hague, as Leader of the Opposition, had been approached by the PM: the PM was intending to create a list of working peers and was offering the Conservatives the opportunity to nominate five names.   William wondered if, were he to put my name forward, I would be willing to be nominated.  It was only at this point I realised the full significance of the call.  I had no hesitation in saying yes.  He explained that William thought that, given my expertise on constitutional matters, it would be valuable to have me in the House when there were so many constitutional measures in the legislative pipeline.

He said he realised it would entail a lot of work and sometimes people liked time to think about it and talk it over with their families.  Would I like time to think about it?  For someone who is a total politics anorak, has devoted his life to the study of Parliament, and who is a workaholic to boot, that was a no-brainer.  I said ‘oh no’ with some alacrity!

He explained things may move quickly.  In the event, they didn’t.  There was some delay on the Labour side – most of the new working peers were to be Labour, in order to bolster the party’s strength in the House.  It was not until 00.01 hours on 20 June that the list was announced from No. 10.   I knew the ropes – you have to keep silent until the nomination is announced – so I spent three months keeping rather a large secret.  Close friends realised there was something in the offing, but did not know what. 

After the formal announcement, it was a case of arranging to see Garter King of Arms to discuss and agree the title.  There were then two remaining stages: first, the title taking effect (formally when the Great Seal is attached to your Letters Patent) – in my case on a Saturday morning (1 August) – and second the introduction into the House itself.  I was introduced on Tuesday 6 October 1998.  You have two supporters: to reflect my interest in Parliament, I had Lord Weatherill (former Speaker of the House of Commons) and Lord Newton of Braintree (former Leader of the House of Commons).  After the short ceremony, I was then a member of the House.   On top of a full-time job (200 miles from Westminster), membership is demanding but I have never regretted a moment of it.  The ‘phone call was probably the best thing that has ever happened to me.

13 comments for “Becoming a Lord

  1. 16/04/2008 at 5:47 pm

    Careful, that enthusiasm is infectious…

    (Seriously it is pleasant and even reassuring to hear such unqualified enthusiasm for parliament.)

  2. Stuart
    16/04/2008 at 6:02 pm

    What were you doing at the moment you took the call? If you were marking an essay, did students get some very good marks that day?

  3. Former BPLSer
    16/04/2008 at 6:55 pm

    In March 1998 I was one of your BPLS students (in Hull, not during the year in Westminster). You did extraordinarily well to never let even a hint of your news slip out until the formal announcement!

    We were all absolutely delighted to hear the news when we did learn of it. But to think that until then you had to listen to us all propounding our views on the House of Lords in your office, without being able to allow us to have any inkling of what was about to happen.

    Congratulations on your first ten years or so, and I hope the next ten are just as successful.

  4. 16/04/2008 at 8:55 pm

    The following are quotes from a government document dated April 1971…

    ‘The loss of external sovereignty will however increase as the Community develops, according to the intention of the preamble to the Treaty of Rome ‘To establish the foundations of an even closer union amongst the European peoples’.’

    ‘The more the Community is developed…the more Paliamentary sovereignty will be eroded…the right…to withdraw will remain for a considerable time…The sovereignty of the state will surely remain unchallenged for this century at least.’

    ‘The impact of entry upon sovereignty is closely related to the blurring of distictions between domestic political and foreign affairs, to the greater political responsibility of the bureaucracy of the Community and the lack of effective democratic control.’

    These documents are held by an ex-policeman called Albert Burgess who is pursuing a case of treason against the Heath government. You can hear what he has to say here…

    What do you make of this Lord Norton? Was it treason and if so what do you think should be done about it?

  5. Bedd Gelert
    16/04/2008 at 9:48 pm

    Sorry to rove ‘off-topic’ again, but I am wondering how much attention the House of Lords could, or should, pay when considering legislation to how effectively it will be enforced once implemented ??

    I am not particularly trying to make a ‘party political’ point here, but we do get a lot of legislation, some well through, some not, and some well-meaning and other bills pushed through ‘in good faith’.

    And whatever one’s views on the ‘smoking ban’, it is at least being enforced. But laws on things like child safety seats, and prohibiting driving whilst using a mobile, whilst laudable, aren’t as far as I can see really enforced. The police have a 101 other priorities to consider.

    I am just wondering what the view is, when the Lords review new legislation, of the balance between a ‘utopian’ world, where risk and danger is minimised, and the reality that a ‘risk-free’ world is not realistic. Or that it might, for good-or-ill, be better handled by businesses reacting to the threat of personal injury litigation, and therefore keeping their house in order without the need for new legislation. Or is that just pandering to a ‘compensation culture’ ?

    This links into the earlier point about RIPA – with the best will in the world, how much control can the Lords have to ensure that laws will be monitored or enforced, or that on the other hand enforcement will not become draconian and cover things which the legislation was never really intended for ?

  6. 17/04/2008 at 6:35 am

    How did your family react when you told them about the phone call ?

  7. 17/04/2008 at 9:00 am

    It’s a long way from your childhood in Louth.

    Keep up the good work, your a very valuable member of the House of Lords.

  8. Stuart
    17/04/2008 at 9:41 am

    Britney British has complained in the past about her comments not being approved for display on the website. I don’t know if that is true or not, but what I do know is that I have no problem with comments totally unrelated to the post that they accompany being declined.

    If all that she is going to do is use this as an outlet for her anti-European propaganda, regardless of what peers have blogged about, then what’s the point of approving them for display?

    It’s not a matter of censorship, it’s a matter of relevance.

  9. lordnorton
    17/04/2008 at 4:14 pm

    I wasn’t expecting this level of interest (or any interest to be honest). Thanks for the comments and questions.

    In response to Chris Dornan, I’ll be delighted if I can enthuse others. Parliament is crucial to the health of our political system. Both Houses have their faults, but the institution deserves more attention and understanding than it gets at the moment; all the good work of MPs and peers (which is considerable) tends to get lost behind the latest critical headlines. The media ignore the important for the sake of the sensational. People may read about Parliament but not glean any information about what it is actually doing.

    Stuart asks: what was I doing when I received the ‘phone call? I was talking to one of my research students, Craig Beaumont (now Government Relations Manager for the London 2012 Committee). He realised something important was involved but since he only heard me say things like ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘delighted’ he wasn’t sure what it was. He found out three months later. No, I wasn’t doing any marking, but that afternoon I had a meeting of the Personal Professorships and Readership Committee (I am still on it): no one got promototed, though, who didn’t deserve it!

    Eithne: How did my family react? Delighted, as you may expect. (My mother had turned 90 that year, though sadly my eldest brother had died only a few months before.) One especially pleasant feature of being introduced in the Lords is that, prior to the ceremony, you get to host a lunch for up to 16 guests; so that was a good family occasion.

    Turning to the contributions of two of my former students: thanks for your comments. Former BPLSer: I believe the discussions in class that year on the Lords were as sensible as they have tended to be most years – the benefit of having good students. Giles McNeill: I think the answer is yes and no. I may have come a long way since my childhood in Louth but, as I mentioned in response in an earlier thread, I believe in having roots. I maintain my links with the town: I’m still a governor of my old school (have been now for 20 years) and still get back for civic ceremonies and other events. I am one of the few people for whom the Hull Bridge is especially useful!

    Bedd Gelert: you raise an important point. We tend to legislate almost for the sake of legislating. ‘There’s a problem – let’s legislate’. There may be better ways of approaching problems (for instance, by education – far better than legislating for the purpose of ‘sending a message’, which is not what legislation is for). Your point is very pertinent to a particular cause of mine – post-legislative scrutiny. There is virtually no study by Parliament of whether legislation actually achieves what it is designed to do. There have been some important steps recently in the right direction. I’ll do a post on it in due course.

  10. Matt
    18/04/2008 at 9:19 am

    Thank you Lord Norton – very interesting. I look forward to the post on the volume of legislation and post-legislative scrutiny, even it does break the Guardian columnist’s rule that blogging should be personal!

  11. lordnorton
    18/04/2008 at 10:14 am

    I realise I wrote Hull Bridge when I meant Humber Bridge. No excuse: it was a mistake. Am I allowed to admit that?

    Stuart: you are quite right. Comments that are unrelated to the actual post are against the spirit and indeed the letter of the terms and conditions, so are unlikely to be accepted in the future.

  12. 19/04/2008 at 8:14 pm

    Heh – I was there when the phonecall came through and parliamentary history was made.

    We were in (then) Professor Norton’s room talking through some research tasks over copious cups of tea. It was clear something big had happened, and I guessed it was either a Peerage; some kind of active role in the Conservative Party structure; or a role on some QUANGO or other. I was glad that it turned out to be the first of those.

    I think after the phonecall the future Lord Norton of Louth celebrated the news fittingly – i.e. with yet another cup of tea.

  13. Colin MacArthur
    21/04/2008 at 6:24 am

    I agree with Craig, your celebratory cup of tea was most fitting. Being an ex-student I recall seminars in your room with cups of tea as some of the best hours spent at University.

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