Some final reflections on the Second Chamber

I hope that readers of Liberal Democrat Voice have enjoyed today’s series of pieces on the House of Lords – I know that I’ve had a lot of fun writing, editing and commissioning the various postings. However, I’d like to finish with a few serious points.

Firstly, I am of the view that we need to value our Peers more and, whilst that may seem like special pleading, I’m convinced that, by doing so, everyone gets to benefit. For instance, there are parts of the country, my own county of Suffolk for example, where we don’t have an MP, but do have Peers – Berkshire, Hertfordshire and North Yorkshire are just three examples that come readily to mind. They have a range of specialist interests and knowledge that make for entertaining after-dinner speeches and are often closely involved in legislation in a way that MPs can never find time to match. Best of all, they are not limited in their casework by the boundaries of a particular constituency, and are happy to raise issues that might not otherwise get an airing.

Charles makes a very good point in that we do have difficulties in promoting the work of our Peers, especially in the light of our historic opposition to an unelected Second Chamber. As a result, we miss out on a valuable adjunct to our campaigning efforts. As an example, one of our councillors in Canterbury used a question in the Lords to advance her campaign to allow disabled councillors to benefit from the Access to Work scheme. The result was that advice was issued by the Department of Work and Pensions which will hopefully encourage more disabled people to play a part in their local democracy. The system of written questions, with published answers, means that limits of Parliamentary time don’t apply.

One other aspect of our Parliamentary Party in the Lords is its diversity. Five Black and Minority Ethnic Peers out of eighty, or just over 6%, is pretty good, although it could be better, and twenty-three women make the Liberal Democrats the best of the four Parliamentary groupings in terms of gender. There is still much to do, but the nomination system currently gives our Party a chance to create those beacon figures who act as an encouragement to younger Black and Minority Ethnic and women members.

I would also take up Ian Sanderson’s point, in that we also overlook much good work being done in Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont, not to mention City Hall in London and, most disappointingly, in Brussels, where our MEPs play central roles in European legislation and decision making. Perhaps a future guest editor will take up those challenges.

Finally, a personal aside. Like many people, until I became more personally connected, I paid little attention to the work of our Parliamentary Party in the Lords (admittedly, I wasn’t too bothered about the Commons either). However, over three years, I have been touched by the kindness and camaraderie that our Peers display towards each other and to the spouses and families. People who I looked up to with a degree of awe have made me very welcome and I hope that I will have the pleasure of sharing their company for many years to come. The Lords is like a rather extended family, and whatever happens in terms of reform, I hope that this sense of community and mutual support will not be lost. We would all be a little worse off if that were to happen.

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