In praise of interns

Baroness Deech

There is a pressing need for research and support if you are to do your job in the House properly.  And it is even greater if you have an outside job as well, because you need time to read all the material that comes out every day – the new bills, the briefings, the reports and reviews, the announcements of forthcoming business, the written questions and the questions for debate, daily Hansard, select committee papers, emails from lobbyists and members of the public,  and so on.  If your time is constrained you need to know what days and hours to save for the Lords, so that you can be there for the business to which you can make a constructive contribution.   

I have found it immensely useful to have an intern.  He (and in the past she) checks out the papers, tells me when to be sure to turn up, and does some research for me, drafts the occasional letter and makes contacts with others involved in the issues that are coming up for debate.  I pay my intern a modest sum.  Interns are usually students (the LSE runs a useful scheme for placing them and there is also a website called, where jobs are advertised.  The Senior Salaries Review Body has recommended that our annual research allowance be cut, and I am not sure that I will be able to afford an intern in future if that recommendation is accepted.

There is a view that interns should not be paid but that they should undertake the work simply for the love of it and because it will help their careers.  I do not agree with this, because of the social mobility implications.  Unpaid work is only realistic for those whose parents can afford to keep them.  Placements for unpaid work are likely to go to the sons and daughters of friends.  If one wants to make these opportunities available to all young people from every walk of life, then they should be advertised and paid.

7 comments for “In praise of interns

  1. Julian
    20/12/2009 at 9:45 am

    I absolutely agree that interns should be paid. Too often it’s a way of getting valuable work for a vague promise that “it’ll look good on your cv”.

    You make a good point that unpaid internships are only available to those of independent means.

    I think an unpaid internship is ok when working for someone who is also unpaid, but many don’t fit into this category. On there are internships offered to work for people who would appear to be quite generously paid. This doesn’t feel right.

    There must surely also be a disadvantage for the employer also in that an unpaid intern is likely to leave as soon as they get a good offer of a paid job.

  2. Croft
    20/12/2009 at 11:35 am

    Because what parliament really needs is less well informed, advised and assisted peers to scrutinise the government! Really it makes you sigh with disbelief for all the reasons you mention.

    Do we know as yet what the position is of the major parties and the XB towards this proposal?

  3. Carl Holbrough
    20/12/2009 at 12:45 pm

    Having had to study for a reasonable input into the Digital Economy blog I can see there is a need for help in looking at bills in The Lords. I do not consider myself uneducated but I know I am possibly behind some members in the House. Looking at relevent acts such as Copyright, Wireless Telegraphy etc., was time consuming and no one would or should know them off by heart. Understanding them completely must require a legal mind and not everyone has their experience in this field.

    We, to some extent, rely on the wise experience of the Lords but looking into it I feel that this may not be enough given the subject matter. Looking at the Digital Economy Bill requires technical, legal and public knowledge and there is possibly enough work to keep a small team going for a good while.

    The importance of the job is hand requires a good deal of study and I have to wonder that the passing of what appears “bad law” at times is down to this. Of course there has to be balance, constraints of time and finances, this appears the difficulty. We have all read on this blog members state that often idealism is impossible in the face of budgets. We have read the whinging of members regards the SSRB and how they will suffer and I believe ultimately the public will suffer as finances are transfered from work related payments over to personal in order to cover reasonable costs.

    This is worrying, infact the whole setup is worrying. Baroness Deech appears to dedicate her time, efforts and finances professionally and I would be surprised if any discrepancies were found in her file. However I believe that cannot be said for all, so regulation is needed. The regulations that are being put forward by the SSRB appear to be wrong according to some who have written on this blog. I cannot say nor do I have exact details or evidence to the contrary. The way forward in commercial enterprises is to form a Union and put the views of members forward through the official Union Representative. Of course this won`t happen. What is needed then is someone to put forward evidence that certain costs are necessary to succeed in doing the work at hand. Of course the Government may reject this as they do not want the “other” House messing with their Bills. Then we have cases of members using funds improperly so this requires a third party to control these.

    At present the system is running like some sort of volutary organisation and this needs to stop. In my opinion the job is required and deserves financial benefit for the work involved BUT the employees must be doing said work and not on a voluntary basis. The Second House cannot go on the way it is, if members are not going to take the job seriously and work for the people that pay them they MUST go.

    To be professional in your approach to being a member, I believe, would require an intern or such. The public however are ultimately the employer, so perhaps all such employment should be controlled by an external regulatory body and payments to members of the house merely salaries. If budget constraints are such that they preclude a necessary item such as interns then it would be beneficial to get rid of the chaff in the House. The public, the employer, should be entitled to a professional useful organisation overseeing their law, which is productive and value for money.

    Limits of course will have to be put on the number of members to remain in budget. The House contains many successful business people whom I believe could manage a budget. If a set budget was proposed, I believe they would be able to ascertain the optimum number but I also believe the house would be unable to self regulate, as has been proven to some extent.

    In conclusion I find that interns (or such) are necessary, a budget is also necessary. Self regulation is impossible so a third party would be required. Interns should be paid from funds set aside for this purpose by a regulatory body. Members should be answerable to an independent panel overseeing their productivity and input. Members failure to attain a reasonable level of professionalism to be removed from office. Limits on numbers and independent (of party) source to employ new members.

    Students have a great opportunity for entry into politics through the use of interns, however they must not be treated like unpaid slaves. Remuneration should, at the very least, be at the level of minimum wage. Too many industries at present use the excuse of “training” to gain unpayed employees.

  4. Nick
    23/12/2009 at 10:50 pm

    Aren’t the Lords there because of their experience and specialist knowledge?

    Now what you seem to be saying is that this isn’t the case and they need lots of researchers?


    • Croft
      24/12/2009 at 10:51 am

      Sighs; many authors employ research assistants, QCs employ clerks/paralegals, businessmen PAs/secretaries. Expertise doesn’t mean you know everything nor does it give you six arms or four sets of eyes. It does hopefully mean that with some assistance, to sort the wheat from the chaff, you can devote your finite available time to the issues.

  5. Len
    24/12/2009 at 10:16 am

    Nick, you seem to misunderstand, while the Lords do have among them many experts, rather the point about experts is that they specialise in one area, not all. So really, if they want to understand complex issues outside their purview, I can very much see the need to research into it. Listening to speeches in the House can be well and good, but certainly it may not be enough to get to grips with an issue. Not to mention that not all the Lords have specific expertise.

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