Lord James Palumbo’s maiden speech

"Frozen Poetry" - Houses of Parliament, LondonIt is a tradition for LDV to bring 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. On 6 March, Lord Palumbo made his maiden speech in the House of Lords during a debate on the contribution of women to economic life. His words are reproduced below.

Lord Palumbo of Southwark (LD): My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Northover for bringing this debate forward and allowing me the opportunity to contribute today. I would also like to thank noble Lords too numerous to mention for their warm welcome. It is an honour to be speaking for the first time. I owe a debt of gratitude to the excellent staff who have helped me navigate my new life as a Peer. Throughout the past few months I have been gently admonished and warmly supported in equal measure. Finally, I thank my noble friends Lord Strasburger, Lord Alliance, Lady Suttie and Lady Scott of Needham Market for their support and encouragement, none of which is taken for granted.

While businessmen such as myself can be a little abrasive in their day-to-day dealings, I have chosen this Motion for my maiden speech for the cross-party nature of the issue. Despite recent stories demonstrating the numbers of women in work, there is still more to do to ensure that women can work should they want to. It is not just for women to make this case, we should all do so. I do not think anyone in this Chamber would disagree with this. The great imponderables of affordable childcare and flexible working still disproportionately shackle many women of working age. This will change only if we work together. I believe that the best solutions are found when people from all parties put their heads together and differences aside.

It will not surprise your Lordships to know that I did some research on maiden speeches before today. Indeed, it may not have taken me four months to deliver my own had there not been such a wealth of material available. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws — already mentioned by my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond — put it perfectly in her own, exceptional, speech. She said,

“the idea of cross-party co-operation on major national issues seems so incontrovertible”. — [Official Report, 19/11/97; col. 600.]

I believe in the role of this place, its personalities and its power to deliver on major national issues. It is often women who drive change and bridge partisan divides. Only last week, we were privileged to be addressed by the German Chancellor, a role model for pragmatism and progress, not to mention her thoughtful views on the future of Europe. I should also mention my dear friend Dame Tessa Jowell, who sits in the other place and had the foresight to work across party lines to make the Olympics such a success.

Twenty-five years ago, I started a nightclub in a disused warehouse five minutes from where your Lordships now sit, on the other side of the river. It did not open until midnight and served no alcohol. It was a difficult beginning and had all the problems of a late-night business, not least frequent visits from the right honourable Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark. Building a business from scratch has been the biggest challenge of my life. Trying things out, making mistakes too numerous to mention, has been a difficult but also life-enhancing experience. Over the years, the business has expanded into live events, recorded music and digital media. What was previously a disused warehouse is now the proud headquarters of a global enterprise. It is this journey which has shaped my views on the topic of today’s proceedings.

The late-night entertainment and music industries are by their nature male dominated. While my own appearance might not immediately give this away, the world I inhabit is as muscular as you can imagine. At the Ministry of Sound, women occupy four of the nine most senior director positions and there is roughly a 50:50 male to female ratio at intermediary and junior levels. I do not hold up my organisation as an exemplar, but the empathy and common sense of women has played a key part in building my business over the years. The issue then becomes how to strike the right balance when women want to start a family. There are a plethora of rules and regulations, which are fine as far as they go, but there is a difference between following the rulebook and creating an atmosphere of empowerment. Recently, we have been in discussions with a woman to join the business in a senior position. She is uncertain, as she wants to start a family within two years. Our view is that she would be able to build her team within this timeframe and that her skills outweigh the perceived inconvenience of flexible working.

We will have done our job if starting a family is seen as career enhancing, not a problem, and something which goes beyond the strictures of HR — support rather than compromise. While I am sure there will be many excellent suggestions made in this debate, it is perhaps more difficult to legislate for the attitude to which I refer. If we can win hearts and minds, so as to encourage a more embracing type of behaviour, I believe that businesses of all types will change for the better.

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