Musings from the Front Bench…

I have supported the Liberal Party and its successors since the General Election of 1950, although I did not follow a political career. Instead, I was involved in the railway and bus industries before moving into academia at the Universities of Salford and Oxford.

My entry to the House of Lords was a complete surprise. It took place over a two year period, and the process began with an interview with John Harris and Bill Rodgers, the then Chief Whip and Leader in the House respectively. Having been sworn to secrecy, I was asked firstly whether, if appointed, I would promise to attend on three days per week and then, having agreed, was asked about what I had done. I was by then a County Councillor in Oxfordshire, as well as a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority.

It was in July 1999 that my appointment was made. I took part in debates and questions about policing and transport and, about two years later, was made transport spokesperson. Since then I have worked with, I think, six members of the House of Commons who have held the transport portfolio. I don’t know why I was appointed but have done my best to represent the interests of the Party, attending for most votes and, I believe, getting on with my colleagues. I am seventy-four this year and commute daily from Oxfordshire. I enjoy being here immensely.

The House is a very polite place, and almost all Peers are friendly and helpful. There are some very obvious anomalies. However, I believe that the hereditary Peers should not be replaced, and that those who commit crimes should not be allowed to be members. There should be a voluntary retirement age and a properly independent Appointments Commission. David Steel has, on many occasions, introduced Bills to give effect to these changes but they have been resolutely resisted by many on the Labour and Conservative benches, as well as by some crossbenchers.

As a Front Bench spokesperson, I try to frame written and oral questions in an attempt to hold government to account, and it frequently requires persistence to get an answer. The Liberal Democrat Peers support one another and are distinguished by our high attendance level and the number of questions we put down and the amendments we move.

Whilst reform to bring about an elected second chamber is an aim of the Party, I am not sure that this would mean that the expertise needed would be available. I, and many of my colleagues, would never have considered contesting an election. The Whips here have little power as we are unsalaried and cannot be deselected. We do scrutinise every Bill and can speak on any amendment. Speakers and amendments are not selected by the Lord Speaker, neither is there a guillotine.

I believe that much reform must be carried out in the Commons before we touch the Lords, and we must strive to ensure that any elections attract good talent rather than just the cast-offs from the Commons. We also need to settle the issue of the nature of the relationship between an elected House of Lords and the Commons.

Lord (Bill) Bradshaw was, before arriving in the Lords, a former General Manager of British Rail’s Western Region and was one of the people interviewed by Ian Hislop in his 2008 documentary about the Beeching cuts of the early sixties, ‘Ian Hislop Goes off The Rails’. By a curious coincidence, the film’s director, Deborah Lee, is the daughter of Liberal Democrat Peer, Lord Lee of Trafford…

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