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.