Sitting in economy

Baroness Deech

I echo Baroness d’Souza in pointing out that there simply is no more room on the red benches for new peers.  I have just come back on Ryanair from a family law conference in Bratislava; the seating was roomy (an empty seat remained in a row of three) compared with the Lords.  I raced to get on board the Ryanair flight ahead of the crowd so I could find a seat, in the same way that crowds of peers turn up for prayers at the start of business so that they can get in early for a seat. There is also a crisis in office space, with many sharing a desk and computer, if they are lucky enough to get a look in at all.

Sadly, the main way in which our ranks are thinned is by death, which is not surprising since the average age of peers is 69.  The new session was opened by the Lord Speaker announcing the deaths of Viscount Colville, Lord Bernstein and Lord Wolfson.  I knew Lord Wolfson because he was a benefactor of my Oxford college, and I will always be grateful to him.  His philanthropy was conducted with the same skill and on the same size as his business, GUS.  His Wolfson Foundation has given away £1 billion to science, the arts and education, and I appreciated especially his generosity to the women’s colleges at Oxford, who, being fairly new and less prestigious, found it so much harder to raise funds than the men’s colleges. 

When I went to see him to seek funds for the college, I mentioned in passing that I was also trying to set up a university nursery.  Without prompting, Leonard Wolfson came forward with scholarships to enable young university researchers to afford childcare, and he provided all the toys and equipment that the nursery needed from his store. His father, Sir Isaac, had funded  the Wolfson Building, a student residence at my college, and Leonard came to visit it occasionally.  He would arrive early, so that we were not prepared for his visit, and would start by inspecting the bathrooms, for he believed that if they were in good condition then the rest of the building would be as well.  He alarmed me by insisting on knocking at the doors of some randomly chosen student rooms.  This was at midday but of course who knows what a student might be doing in their room at that time of day.  Luckily all was well, although the selected rooms were not in apple pie order, and the students did not believe him when he said he was the Wolfson! And he had a great conversation with a student who was reading history, for history was Leonard Wolfson’s passion.  Lord Wolfson made lasting investments in the best of British education and science, and his benign influence will remain for a very long time to come.

4 comments for “Sitting in economy

  1. 31/05/2010 at 9:21 pm

    Whenever I look at the TV programs of the Lords, there are empty seats all over the place. So what you say doesn’t square with the evidence.

    However, lets assume you are correct.

    Do we

    1) Ship you all off to a wharehouse and save the cash?
    2) Cut your numbers. If so, who goes, and how many? All of you is of course an option. We get to save half a billion over the parliament. Not chicken feed

    Lord Blagger

  2. Gareth Howell
    31/05/2010 at 9:38 pm

    It must surely also be said that the people of Worcester where Kay&co was owned as a subsidiary of GUS were not particularly highly paid for what was menial work.

    It was an exaggeration to say that they were well paid at all, and yet they were loyal and hard working for the business.

    It was probably the people of Worcester who paid the bill that the noble Lady describes as having been paid by Lord Wolfson, for all his virtues, and for none of their vices.

  3. Carl.H
    01/06/2010 at 12:56 pm

    It appears to me the House is being deliberately undermined. The constant additions are making it unjustifiable and the other place knows it.

  4. tory boy
    01/06/2010 at 1:08 pm

    Why does a peer not ask the chairman of committees, if the two blocks of benches on either side of the house, nearest to the bar cannot be joined to make one big block of benches? You would only loose the space which is currently used a stair isle.
    Also as at the State Opening the bar of the house can be moved further back to create more room for red benches.

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