“You are not what we expected” is quite often the response from people when they have invited a Baroness to speak but have not looked up my biography. Their response is normally in relation to my age and for that they can be forgiven as the average age for Members of the House of Lords is 70. It was wonderful to be able to speak about the experience of being the youngest female peer on Radio 4 ‘Woman’s Hour’ last week http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01v2q5m with the Labour Peer Baroness Worthington and the Liberal Democrat Baroness Parminter.
It is quite an amazing experience to be among the country’s leading experts in so many subject areas. The challenge has always been to learn from all these wise, experienced people whilst maintaining the courage and boldness to make my own contribution. The different generational perspective struck me from my very first times in the Chamber when the House was considering the Alternative Vote legislation. So often colleagues would say “Your Lordships will remember the two elections of 1974..” which of course I had no idea about. I have also had to research the day light saving experiment between 1968 and 1971 which my colleagues so often refer to in debates about whether the UK should move to European Time. Conversely some of my colleagues assume that I know all about modern technology, alas I don’t, so I am grateful to be able to pass them onto the youngest female peer Baroness Lane Fox who has just joined the cross benches.
I was surprised at how seriously my colleagues believe in the fact we are all “Peers” and are therefore on an equal platform. I still find it strange that everyone is on first name terms and I would be corrected if I did not call Lord Bragg, Melvyn or the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin. Although the House defers, especially during question time, to those who have experience in or campaign on a particular policy area, this is rather meritocratic. During a recent question on Central African Republic, a country I have informally adopted, colleagues gave way to me when I wanted to speak.
The sad aspect of having so many older people in your work place is that regularly the Lords Speaker has to announce the death of one of my colleagues. I have never been in a workplace where death is so often a feature and still find this rather odd and sad of course.
Perhaps it is because of the speed of change over the last 20 years but I increasingly think the different generations that people grow up in, affect their perspective more and more. Someone who is a ‘baby boomer’ really does see the world very differently to someone who is ‘Generation Y’. I have never thought that my colleagues are wrong factually although opinions between Peers differ enormously, but I have on occasion thought the world is just not like that during a debate. So I do hope the Lords will increasingly have a focus on recruiting those who can bring the younger person’s perspective to the House.