Interview with the former Lord Speaker - part two

The previous Lord Speaker, Baroness Hayman, talks about her past role in the House of Lords.

Are there limitations on what you can talk about?

One of the things that really fascinates people is that 50% of the membership has come in during the last 10 years. In terms of diversity, we have a higher proportion of black and ethnic minority peers than are members of the House of Commons; the participation rates of women are very high; and we have very distinguished peers with disabilities who speak and contribute to debates.

I can talk about the views that come out of public opinion surveys on the Lords: people seem to value its experience, its independence and its distance from day-to-day party politics.

Is it a challenge to communicate the modern aspects of the Lords to the public when the media image is of ceremony?

The media have a certain image about the House of Lords, but what did Enoch Powell say? "A politician complaining about the media is like a sailor complaining about the sea." It would be better if you had a picture of a working day in the House of Lords used when there was a story in the newspapers or on the news, rather than everyone in their ermine at State Opening.

However, I think marking out that Parliament is significant at the start of the legislative year is important; parliamentary democracy over centuries is to be celebrated, as is a constitutional monarchy. These are things that have been very important to the United Kingdom and we should properly recognise them.

What is your background prior to this role?

I was an MP from 1974-1979. After that I did not stand for another parliamentary seat. I had 17 years when I was bringing up a family and doing part-time things: I got involved in the health service and ended up chairing an NHS hospital trust.

I came into the House of Lords at the beginning of 1996 and have been here 10 years.

I did three ministerial jobs in the first Blair administration. I then chaired Cancer Research UK and the Human Tissue Authority - until my election as Lord Speaker.

Are you continuing that work or retaining your membership of the Labour party?

No, I've had to give everything up, including my party membership.

This job has to be wholly independent. I have to be as responsive to any member of the House as I am to any other member, regardless of party.

How should members of the public address you?

I'm not too fussy. People like to be correct, so "Lord Speaker" is the proper title. They can write "Dear Lord Speaker", but they can write "Dear Baroness Hayman", "Dear Lady Hayman", they can write "Dear Helene" as far as I'm concerned.

How was your first State Opening?

It was a wonderful spectacle, and a huge privilege to be involved in it. I still pinch myself about what I'm doing.

Related information

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Interview with the Lord Speaker - extended

Read an extended version of our interview with the Lord Speaker in PDF format.

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