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.