The long wait

I was reminiscing last night with a friend about the fact that twelve years ago I was experiencing a remarkable, and long, hiatus. 

I had been approached in March of that year (1998) about taking a peerage – well, Tuesday 24 March to be precise, shortly after 11.00 a.m.  I received a ‘phone call out of the blue.  I was told things could move fairly quickly.  I was then contacted for my CV, for vetting purposes, but thereafter things did not move quickly – indeed, nothing happened for nearly three months.  March ended, April came and went, May came and went…

The delay meant that after a while I began to wonder whether something had  happened – had the security vetting thrown up something, had William Hague had a change of heart, or had I simply been dreaming I had a ‘phone call?   I did see a report that Labour was having problems getting names together for its list, so hoped that was the explanation. 

In the event, the new list of peers was announced just after midnight on Friday 19 June.  I received a letter from the Prime Minister only a few days before the announcement.  That was the first official confirmation of the fact that I hadn’t been dreaming or deemed a security risk.  Joy was tinged with a very great sense of relief! 

Thereafter the process got under way – seeing Black Rod to agree the title, being informed of when my title would take effect (the forenoon of 1 August) and agreeing with the House authorities the date for my introduction to the Lords (6 October).  Things have certainly been busy since.  I need hardly add that the wait was certainly worth it.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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30 Responses to The long wait

  1. Carl.H says:

    My Lord this may seem a silly question but bearing in mind the only remuneration is to cover expenses what exactly do you honestly get out of it ?

    • The Duke of Waltham says:

      For a self-described “total politics anorak” (with a sense of humour), I should think that being involved with the political process is a reward in itself. Besides, it’s one thing for a person with many and often good ideas to have to bombard Parliamentarians with letters to (perhaps) get something done, and another thing altogether to be able to air such ideas in the Chamber and committee rooms of the House of Lords and thus influence the legislative process directly.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Carl.H: The DoW anticipates my response. The simple answer is total satisfaction, in terms of what I would identify as input and output activity. Input in that I have an opportunity to contribute to proceedings, both in the chamber and (more consistently) in committee, in a way that draws on my particular expertise and also enables me to engage with others in the field. It is greatly satisfying in output terms in that I am a participant-observer and can draw on my experience to inform my teaching and research. All in all, I find it hugely stimulating and rewarding. It is a great feeling to be able to have some effect on the law and the processes of government (I trust in a beneficial way). To be honest I cannot think of a downside. It is hard work, but that is my choice; there is no great financial reward, but that is of no great concern. It probably won’t come as any great surprise either that I enjoy the train journey back and forth each week – I get lots of work done and it’s a fairly efficient service. The House itself is awe-inspiring and the members, and staff, extremely friendly and helpful. It’s a wonderful place to work.

  2. franksummers3ba says:

    A very nice story Your Lordship. I imagine it is the only story I have read of that specific event by anyone I could regard as someone I know enough to get that second perspective of familiarity.

  3. Fr. Peter says:

    My Lord,

    Being from across the pond, perhpas you could explain the changes in the House and the differences in the Peerages and how it all works. I am facinated by all of this but would like to understand it more.

    • Croft says:

      As people have written books to explain the answers to those questions that’s a tall order for a blog post! For all it’s faults a quick look at wikipedia’s article on the house of lords will answer many of the general questions!

      • The Duke of Waltham says:

        Well, those with the time and resources can always try and improve the article. 🙂 I know Wikipedia can sometimes be a hostile environment for strangers to its ways, and this has driven away people who could have contributed useful work, so I am more than willing to offer assistance to knowledgeable people who want to address some of the many errors and omissions to be found in the various articles. In light of my relative lack of substantial contributions to the encyclopaedia (I mostly do copy-editing and all-around fixing), I’d be very happy to make my considerable experience there a little more useful!

      • Croft says:

        Dow: As I remember it the HoL article is pretty good and well referenced but many articles on individual peers are not. Often if you look up a Lord Someone they are listed as Lord Someone of Somewhere and when they actually are Lord Someone of Somewhere they are listed as Lord Someone. Clearly there are many people trying to get these things right but they appear to bang their heads against plenty of other editors who haven’t a clue!

  4. Lord Norton says:

    Croft: Indeed and even with the books there are still a fair number of gaps. I doubt if I will fill many of the gaps, but rather reinforce what is already available (albeit at times in obscure sources) as well as provide some illustrative material from personal experience.

  5. FinnishCowl says:

    Lord Norton, this brings up a question that I have always had. Is there some sort of ceremony involving the Queen (investiture/ennoblement) where a new peer receives the emblems of his new station (coronet, robes, etc)? I believe that bishops still have such a ceremony, but I was unsure about the lords temporal. I also believe that a simple writ of summons can be deemed sufficient, but it would seem that one of the highest honors in the country would be without something involving the monarch (compared to honours lower in precedence, such as knighthoods, which do have one).

    • Lord Norton says:

      FinnishCowl: There is no longer a ceremony involving the monarch. There was originally, but it ceased under James I. Investitures for other honours, such as knighthoods, do indeed remain but the introduction of a peer in the House of Lords is a substitute for that. The Lords Spiritual are introduced in a manner similar but not identical to that of the Lords Temporal. Though it is possible to create peerages by writ of summons, in practice most are created by Letters Patent. One thus gets a magnificent red box incorporating the Letters Patent with the Great Seal of State attached.

      • FinnishCowl says:

        Lord Norton: I figured that must be the case. However, might there be something for special persons such as royal peers who would be awarded a hereditary peerage and have no right to sit in the House? This is in addition to the Prince of Wales mentioned by The Duke of Waltham.

        Also, by bishops, I did not mean the lords spiritual who are members of the House. I meant whenever a bishop is chosen for a new see and receives the temporalities of his see after taking an oath (“…declare that your Majesty is the only supreme governor of this your realm, in spiritual and ecclesiastical things as well as in temporal…”).

        The Duke of Waltham: I agree that with so many might be difficult, but then again there are a lot of knighthoods and other investitures every year. Although I would imagine even a modernised (also known as “shortened”) or en masse ennoblement ceremony would still be quite a task for the Queen.

      • The Duke of Waltham says:

        My Lord, I find it rather interesting how the House of Lords has almost made a full circle with regards to the purpose of peers. As a writ of summons to Parliament was sufficient to make one a member of the Lords a few centuries ago—and indeed, the Scottish equivalent of a Barony is a Lordship of Parliament—the modern situation is very similar in that peers seem to have been created for the purposes of becoming legislators. (The main difference, of course, is that now they are not hereditary.) As a matter of fact, even if a writ was issued by mistake, it could not be revoked and its receiver was irrevocably ennobled!

      • The Duke of Waltham says:

        FinnishCowl, I don’t believe there is any difference between royal peers and the rest, other than in precedence. In the same sense, I think (not entirely sure) that before 1999 they were entitled to sit in the Lords but by custom did not exercise this right. Now, of course, no hereditary peer is entitled to sit in the Lords by virtue of their title alone.

        Regarding investitures, one must keep in mind that peers are nowadays created for life, and therefore do not generally trouble themselves with purchasing expensive robes and coronets which they might rarely, if ever wear (coronets are only worn in coronations). It is hereditary peers that mostly have such accessories, and pass them from generation to generation.

      • Lord Norton says:

        The Duke of Waltham: Some of us do have our own robes, in my case acquired from a departing hereditary.

      • The Duke of Waltham says:

        I did say “generally”. I don’t suppose Your Lordship knows whether the said hereditary peer possesses a coronet and coronation robes? Considering that the next coronation will be the first to see such numbers of life peers, I wonder how many of them will be invited relative to hereditaries (I’d say just enough to represent the House). The available space in Westminster Abbey is fairly limited.

      • Croft says:

        Dow: ‘As a matter of fact, even if a writ was issued by mistake, it could not be revoked and its receiver was irrevocably ennobled!’

        Actually you can revoke a writ of summons via a writ of supersedeas. The legal point is once a non-peer has sat in the lords via the writ the second writ is null. Of course if we were to get down to the details the whole notion of a peerage being created by the writ was never intended in the earliest parliaments but a legal fiction of sorts invented much later

      • The Duke of Waltham says:

        Hrmph. Serves me right for trying to be sensational.

    • The Duke of Waltham says:

      FinnishCowl, I’d say investitures were more common when peers were in the low dozens; it would be unwieldy now. But the Prince of Wales is still invested, and I believe his dignity is technically a peerage of its own, or something like that.

  6. Senex says:

    LN: You don’t pay duty on cigarettes, beer, spirits or petrol, you avoid caffeine and I suspect you buy Jaffa cakes just to avoid the VAT. Had Gordon Brown been Prime Minister at the time this lack of duty would certainly have counted against you?

    • Lord Norton says:

      Senex: I should point out that I do drive, so do have to buy petrol; admittedly not that often – I took my car in for servicing recently and was told that my mileage since my last service a year before was such that I should come back next year instead. It’s a consequence of letting the train take the strain.

  7. Croft says:

    They still have a website and seem to be the going but either way I think I peer roaring into parliament in leathers and and goggles would certainly do more to change the image of the house that many a well intentioned official press release!

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