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House of Lords: Peerages

Volume 720: debated on Monday 19 July 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are the criteria used for nominating peerages for representatives of different professions, with particular reference to the nursing profession.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare a non-pecuniary interest as an honorary vice-president for the Royal College of Nursing.

The House of Lords Appointments Commission is responsible for making the recommendations for the appointment of non-party-political Members of this House. The commission does not currently look to fill from particular professions and does not target nominations from them either. However, the commission recommends individuals on the basis of merit and their ability to make a significant contribution. It welcomes nominations from all backgrounds and encourages nominations that would broaden the expertise and experience of this House. The criteria of the commission in making these recommendations are publicly available.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, which I appreciate. Is he aware that my noble friend Lady Emerton, who I am sad to say is in hospital, raised this matter with me because, to our knowledge, we are the only two nurses in your Lordships' House, and for various reasons neither of us is adequately up-to-date with current issues in the field to represent here the nursing profession’s distinctive contribution to healthcare provision and policy-making?

The noble Baroness rather underestimates herself; she is a formidable articulator of both health issues and the humanitarian issues in which she takes a great interest. I am sure that the House wishes her noble friend Lady Emerton well. Although I understand the point that the Question makes, there are other Members from across the House who have a nursing background—my noble friend Lady Cumberlege is one—and who, together, form a remarkable group. Indeed, we have just had a Question showing how strong the House is on these very issues.

In March this year the Appointments Commission received a report from the Constitution Unit at University College London analysing the make-up of the House. This is a fascinating document which noble Lords can now find in the Library. It shows that 4 per cent of the House, totalling 27 Members, have a primary or secondary interest in a medical or healthcare background. I might add that the number is far higher here than it is in another place.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Platt of Writtle, has just sought leave of absence from the House because she does not feel able to continue to come? In her nearly 30 years here, she has done a tremendous amount for Women into Science and Engineering. Although I do not approve of selecting people because of their professions, some expertise or knowledge can be of great benefit to the community as a whole. Does the Minister agree?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. One of the great successes of this House is the expertise that comes in through the Cross Benchers. One has only to look around at the Cross Benches, in particular, to realise the variety of walks of life from which they come. That adds greatly to our debate and I hope that that tradition will continue. The House should pay tribute to the Appointments Commission. Three noble Lords will be retiring this autumn: the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell. Their contribution has been remarkable. One has only to look to see the end product.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the negative impact that a wholly or partially elected House would have on precisely the range of expertise to which he has paid such eloquent tribute?

There are at least two members of the all-party Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform either side of me. I am sure that they are very much aware of the role of the Cross Benches and, indeed, the Episcopal Bench in this House. Although I cannot anticipate, I would imagine that that must be one thing that it will be bearing in mind.

My Lords, is it not possible that, in the event of a partially or wholly elected House, the criteria currently used by the commission could be used by the parties to endeavour to select people of equal calibre?

We would like to think that nominations, at least from this side of the House, are already made on merit.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the problem highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is shared by all professions which are extremely worthy but not very well paid—for example, school teaching; I doubt whether there are many schoolteachers here—and that that problem will be exacerbated given the sitting hours and the cut in expenses, which will make it impossible for members of the teaching or nursing professions to attend, especially if they live outside London?

Maintaining the diversity of the House is very important; all the contributions that have been made have made that quite clear. I am sure that it is the aim and wish of all noble Lords for that to be maintained. It is important to bear in mind that, while Members of this House have direct experience, they also have indirect experience. When we have debates on which there is little or no experience in this House—let us say, teenage unemployment, which is a major issue—many noble Lords have indirect experience of it and are able to contribute to such debates with skill. That is a factor that we need to bear in mind. Direct experience is only one way in which people can contribute to this House.

My Lords, returning to the Question, does the noble Lord agree that the profile of nursing has changed dramatically in the past 10 to 15 years? We have nurse prescribing and nurses dealing with very complex long-term conditions. We have nurses taking direct referrals from patients. Much more than that, nurses are now taking strategic decisions in universities, in the Armed Forces, in prison health and in all sorts of other areas. Is not that experience important to this House and would it not enrich our debates and help with the scrutiny of legislation?

I can only add that the Appointments Commission looks for nominations from all walks of life. We welcome all nominations from the nursing profession and, indeed, I hope the nursing profession will be listening to this short debate and take steps to make sure that nominations come forward.