Wednesday 20th found the chamber exceptionally crowded. Every seat was taken by the time prayers were read; and those who came in afterwards either had to stand behind the bar, or sit on the gangway steps, or around the throne or between the Speaker and the despatch box. As soon as one of the seated peers leaves, there is a bit of a dash to get the empty seat. One may not speak from the gangway. Ryanair is comfortable compared to this! There are about 250 seats and about 730 members. Fortunately, they do not all turn up at once. The greatest turnout I have seen was about 450, on the issue whether the House of Lords itself should be elected rather than appointed. The members who are rarely seen are those who are old or infirm (and a couple who are or were in prison). Yet age and infirmity are no bars to being outstandingly valuable members of the Lords.
At the risk of offending them, I might mention some exceptional members who are in their 80s, and whose every word is listened to with respect and found to be persuasive. Lord Walton, medical man and former Warden of Green College; Baroness Park, who worked in intelligence and was Principal of Somerville; Lord Lloyd of Berwick, former top judge and master scrutineer of bills; Lord Clinton-Davis, former minister and European Commissioner; Baroness Warnock, philosopher, all on top form. We have spaces for the disabled too – Lord Low, chairman of the RNIB, has his place just inside the entrance. Behind the clerks sit, amongst others, Lord (Jack) Ashley. and Baroness Masham, tireless campaigners for the disabled. There is room for wheelchairs and audio visual aids.
Youth is represented by inter alia Baroness Warsi, Shadow Minister for Social Cohesion, who helped to secure the freedom of the British teacher jailed in the Sudan for naming the class teddy bear Mohammed; and the Earl of Listowel, an elected hereditary peer and specialist in children’s welfare. It takes all sorts.