Baroness Susan Kramer’s maiden speech

In recent months, LDV has been bringing its readers copies of our new MPs’ and Peers’ first words in Parliament, so that we can read what is being said and respond. You can find all of the speeches in this category with this link. Yesterday, Baroness Kramer made her maiden speech in the House of Lords during a debate on the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Bill [HL] . Her words are reproduced below. Baroness Dee Doocey also made her maiden speech in the Lords yesterday; we will be featuring it tomorrow.

My Lords, as I rise to make my maiden speech, I am incredibly conscious of the honour and privilege of joining this House. I particularly thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield for his words of welcome a moment ago. I have to admit that when he went on to say that the clergy are also subject to stereotyping, for a panicky moment, I thought we were about to get an embarrassing declaration. He went on to make a powerful moral argument, for which this House has its reputation. The quality of such arguments makes me particularly conscious of the privilege of serving here.

As your Lordships know, I come from the other place. I served there for five years as a Member of Parliament for Richmond Park, but I also come determined to shed its habits and to be a proper Member of this Chamber. I have to say that this week has perhaps not been the best start. My much adored granddaughter explained very carefully to a friend that, “Granny goes to work for sleepovers”. However, I am assured that that is not the norm. In these first days, I want to pay tribute in particular to the staff of the House, who have been so generous and supportive and who have brought so much experience to help me and others join the ranks here. If I may, I will refer again to my granddaughter, who asked me if I would give particular thanks to the lovely people in the black clothes who were so kind to her at my introduction. The quality of the staff is an outstanding hallmark of this House.

I was introduced by two noble Lords for whom I have great admiration, my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lord Watson. They are old companions and compatriots of mine. I find that I join what may now be called the Lords’ Richmond mafia. I think that there are nine or 10 of us from the same neck of the woods in south-west London. I must say of all of them—another is making her maiden speech today—that they set a fine example for how to act as a Peer of the realm.

I understand that it is a custom in a maiden speech to talk a little about one’s background and of one’s passions. I am a Londoner born and bred with a great affection for and deep attachment to this city. I stood as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London in 2000, a circus of an election, but one which showed me the potential to achieve change through politics. I then served on the board of Transport for London until elected to Parliament in 2005. In that period on the board of Transport for London I was very much part of introducing the congestion charge and of battling against the part-privatisation of the Tube, so I have frequently found myself both hated and applauded essentially within the same sentence. That was an incredibly important learning curve for me.

In 2005, I was elected to Parliament by the people of Richmond Park. That was such a privilege. I have lived in the area for 20 years; it is, I think, one of my most beautiful in the country with some of the finest constituents that anyone could hope for. I look back to very fond memories of campaigns with local constituents on issues such as opposition to the third runway at Heathrow, a campaign that was ultimately successful. Unfortunately and sadly for me, my constituents thought it right not to re-elect me in 2010, but so goes politics.

There are years before the political years. I lived for nearly 18 years in the United States, the consequence of marrying an American. A number of noble Lords knew my husband John, who died four years ago. Although I lived in the United States for 18 years, I never became a citizen. America is not my country, but I come away infected by that American sense of optimism and possibility. I bring that to this House. My career otherwise—my trade, in effect—is banking. When I left banking to enter politics, one constituent said to me, “Why are you leaving one despised profession simply to join another?”. I have a lot of work to do on both fronts to restore the reputation of both the trades in which I am now spending my life. My background in banking was in the United States and eastern Europe. I very much hope to bring to the House the expertise that I gathered, particularly in this time of financial stress. I hope to focus on two issues for which I have a great passion: one being community banking and the other green infrastructure financing. We will see if that holds true.

I wanted to speak in this debate today because of the vital issues involved. The Bill was introduced by my noble friend Lord Dholakia who is, frankly, one of my political heroes. It is an incredibly important and well crafted Bill. In my years as a Member in the other place, I worked closely with Latchmere House, a resettlement prison, one of only three in this country. There are 207 prisoners, who are serving the last 12 to 18 months of their sentence. Because that prison focuses on resettlement and rehabilitation, the reoffending rates from Latchmere—every prisoner is serving a long sentence for serious crime—are as low as 25 per cent, very different from the prison system as a whole. The focus is on reintegrating prisoners with their families, which is crucial, introducing and linking them to AA and NA groups in the areas where they have lived and will live again.

The most important part of the work of Latchmere is reintroducing prisoners to the life of work and to jobs, helping them build working habits, rebuilding a CV and creating possibility for the future. I pay real tribute to the employers who support the programme and who are willing to give prisoners a second chance. I know the kind of work that has to take place to give an employer the confidence to have a prisoner work as part of the establishment, trust them with their business, their clients, the people they work with and, sometimes, with their financial affairs. It takes a great deal of courage but it also takes a great deal of training and teaching. It is impossible to make that kind of offer sweepingly to employers at large. Therefore, the purposes of this Bill are not only to keep in place essential safeguards but also not unduly to hang around the necks of prisoners a stigma attached to a past which they have now moved beyond—a point that seems to me particularly crucial. For that reason, and because I believe very much that rehabilitation, when done properly, can be incredibly effective—it really does work—I ask your Lordships to support the Bill brought forward by my noble friend today.

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