The top ten peers' peers of 2013

By Ed Lowther
Political reporter, BBC News

  • Published
House of Lords (interior)

In football there's the players' player of the year. In the movie industry there are the Oscars. But who would be the front runners if there were such a thing as the peers' peer of the year?

In the absence of that type of, er, peer review vote, we've come up with a top 10 based on the number of times each member was name-checked by colleagues in the House of Lords*. This approach may not measure popularity or power, but it gives an impression of impact.

1st: Lord Deben

John Gummer, or Lord Deben as he is now known, tops the chart for 2013, with 270 references to his name appearing in Hansard's transcripts of House of Lords debates.

He has been a Conservative peer since 2010, previously serving as environment secretary under John Major and agriculture minister under Baroness Thatcher.

Active in numerous policy areas, Lord Deben was a strong supporter of the same-sex marriage legislation which wended its way through Parliament in 2013.

His plea to curb noisy protestors outside Parliament also resonated in the chamber.

But Lord Deben's advocacy of a ban on caste discrimination in the UK won him more citations than any other issue.

"Is it right that a person who is a subject of Her Majesty in this country shall not be able to claim against discrimination when they would be able to in India or Nepal, or indeed in Bangladesh?" he asked.

Lib Dem Lord Avebury commented: "I have seldom listened to a more powerful speech in this House."

The ensuing government defeats prompted a U-turn on the subject from ministers.

2nd: Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

Another former Conservative cabinet minister, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, achieved second place with 256 citations in 2013.

Unafraid to give his own frontbench a stern dressing down, he condemned Chancellor George Osborne's "ill-thought through, confused and muddled" move to allow employees to give up some employment rights in return for shares in the company they work for.

He also had stinging criticism for the Lib Dems in 2013, accusing them of "double crossing" PM David Cameron over electoral boundary reforms and attempting "to gerrymander our constitution for political reasons".

But the self-professed "committed unionist" and former secretary of state for Scotland's contributions to debates on Scottish independence, which were scathing of the SNP's "wishful thinking" and "nonsense" policy pronouncements, were to win him the most citations.

3rd: Lord Pannick

The top-ranking independent or crossbench peer, Lord Pannick was mentioned by name in debates 255 times in 2013.

A QC who has represented the Sunday Times, the BBC, and the Queen, his verdicts on legal affairs are frequently deployed by colleagues to bolster their case.

Like Lord Forsyth, Lord Pannick's interventions in the shares-for-rights bill helped to secure concessions from the government.

He also strongly criticised ministers' handling of a case involving a graduate who challenged in the courts the legal standing of regulations underpinning a back-to-work scheme that saw her stacking shelves at Poundland in return for continued benefit payments.

After the courts ruled against them, ministers brought in new rules allowing the scheme to continue.

But their use of emergency legislation was an "abuse of power", Lord Pannick declared.

4th: Lord Greaves

Liberal Democrat Lord Greaves garnered 252 citations in 2013.

A member of Lancashire County Council for 23 years and Pendle Borough Council for the best part of four decades, he brought extensively cited experience to bear on administrative changes to the planning regime and reforms to the definition of anti-social behaviour.

He also led a well-subscribed debate on "outdoor activities", reminding peers of a line by pioneering conservationist John Muir: "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."

5th: Lord Lester of Herne Hill

Image source, (C) British Broadcasting Corporation

Fellow Lib Dem Lord Lester of Herne Hill elicited 220 citations.

The second QC to appear on this list, Lord Lester is a human rights specialist whose interventions on same-sex marriage and caste discrimination contributed heftily to his citation haul.

His dogged campaign to reform libel law, launched in 2010, came to fruition in 2013, by which time discussion of the subject in the upper chamber could not conceivably have taken place without reference to his name.

He dismissed as "manifestly excessive" a last-minute attempt to attach Lord Justice Leveson's press regulation proposals to the Defamation Bill, but the subsequent vote went against him, temporarily threatening to derail his efforts.

Lord Lester also led a debate on whether government-funded medical care for women and girls raped during armed conflicts should include abortion services "where they are medically necessary".

"Sexual violence against women is a global evil... [and] rape used as a weapon of war is often fatal," he told peers.

"Yet these women war victims are routinely denied, by blanket exclusions, life and health-saving abortions in humanitarian settings, leaving them with the terrible choice of risking an unsafe abortion, suicide or being forced to bear the child of their rapists."

6th: Lord Ramsbotham

Meanwhile, crossbench peer Lord Ramsbotham notched up 213 citations.

The former chief inspector of prisons inflicted a government defeat over probation reforms which he argued went "too far, too fast".

He also spearheaded opposition to government plans to reform campaign spending which he said would do "untold damage" to the work of charities, causing ministers to "pause" the legislation and subsequently offer some concessions.

But former Adjutant-General Lord Ramsbotham's most citation-provoking speech was on military matters.

"Nuclear weapons with the potency of Trident were appropriate weapons in Cold War strategy but are not appropriate in the post 9/11 world," he declared, to some scepticism from hawkish peers.

7th: Lord Warner

Image source, PA

The sole Labour peer to appear on this list, Lord Warner, accrued 212 citations.

A former health minister under Tony Blair who served on the current coalition's Commission on Funding of Care and Support, he focused intently on the detail of the government's Care Bill in 2013.

His demands for public spending watchdog the Office for Budget Responsibility to carry out a study into the cost of the care system went unheeded.

But he lent his support to a successful cross-party bid to extend the protections of the Human Rights Act to elderly people in private care homes.

8th: Baroness Hamwee

The third Lib Dem in the top ten, Baroness Hamwee's name came up 209 times.

While not a frontbencher, she co-chairs a Liberal Democrat committee on home affairs, justice and equalities and was active in 2013 in debates on the Children and Families Bill and the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.

She also raised the needs of female offenders during consideration of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill.

In a debate on women in developing countries, she told peers she felt "somewhat out of my comfort zone in speaking on this subject".

"I put my name down partly because at that point, apart from my noble friend on the front bench [Conservative Baroness Jenkin of Kennington], only men had put their names down to speak," she explained.

9th: Lord Lawson of Blaby

Image source, PA

Lord Lawson's name passed the lips of his colleagues 206 times in 2013.

A former secretary of state for energy under Baroness Thatcher, Lord Lawson's climate-scepticism is well known.

He described the government's Energy Bill as not merely "harmless lunacy", but a "bad, bad bill", prompting criticism from - among others - former government advisor Lord Stern, the author of a report on the economics of climate change.

But the former chancellor and member of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards' contributions on financial regulation were better received.

Labour's Lord Barnett commented: "Nobody could deny - whether we agree or disagree with him, and I have had my share of disagreements with the noble Lord in my time - that he must be second to none in the breadth, depth and length of his service and experience in this House."

10th: Lord Alton of Liverpool

Crossbencher Lord Alton accounted for 204 citations in 2013.

Many of these sprang from his leadership of general debates on human rights, Korea and Burma.

But, on the domestic front, he spearheaded a bid to impose a levy on insurance companies to pay for research into cancer caused by asbestos. It failed by just seven votes.

He also delivered a stern warning over how the government's cap on rises in welfare benefits might affect disabled people who needed specially adapted vehicles.

* We have excluded ministers and opposition frontbenchers, as it is impossible to untangle their personal impact on debates from that of their office.