Recognising that the House of Lords does not get a great deal of media coverage, and as such its work is not well known to the public, the Lord Speaker, Baroness Hayman, has initiated an outreach programme to schools and other institutions. Given that she cannot accept all the invitations she receives, other members of the House participate in the programme.
One of the things that has struck me about the various visits I have made to schools has been the level of interest in the work of the House. When I spoke last year at Franklin College in Grimsby, I was told attendance by pupils was voluntary but they were hoping for an audience of about 50. About 200 turned up. The explanation may lie in the comment of the pupil who moved the vote of thanks when he said ‘We don’t get many people like you here’!
Earlier last week, I spoke to the Derbyshire Women’s Institute. It was a notably larger audience than I am used to: almost 600. I cannot claim to be responsible as I was only one of four speakers during the day. (The main speaker was the widow of the steeplejack Fred Dibnah.) Towards the end of the week I spoke to Putney High School for Girls and the next day Notre Dame College in Leeds. Both schools offer Politics A-level, so there were some informed questions.
What is noteworthy about these visits is not only the level of interest but also the questions that are raised. At the Derbyshire WI, the main question concerned Parliament and war-making powers. However, with sixth-formers, the questions I have been most frequently asked – other than the obvious one about Lords reform – have been about the representation of faiths in the House and about the diversity of the membership. The other question that is most frequently asked is ‘How did you become a peer?’ A variant of that is ‘Why were you chosen to be a peer?’ Whether or not I am the best person to answer the last question is aonther matter.