Episode 2, part 1: meet Baroness Grey-Thompson and the Legislation Office
11 December 2020
In this episode, hear from Olivia about how the House of Lords Legislation Office works and what it feels like to mix modern and traditional processes in a role that dates back hundreds of years.
We also speak to Tanni Grey-Thompson, Baroness Grey-Thompson, about her career, her role in the Lords, campaigning for disability rights and getting people in the UK active.
Discover more about topics in this episode
- The process of changing the Agriculture Bill in the Lords
- Read more from members about Disability History Month
In part 2, coming next week, we’ll continue our Disability History Month theme with Baroness Campbell of Surbiton and also speak to Lord Teverson about the EU, the environment, chlorinated chicken and fisheries.
Matt: Hello, and welcome to part one of this December episode of the House of Lords podcast.
Amy: Yes. We've got lots to share with you this month, so we've decided to split this episode in two.
Matt: This week, you'll hear from Baroness Grey-Thompson about her experience in the House of Lords. You'll also hear from Olivia in the Lords Legislation Office. She's going to explain to us some of the work that goes into helping the House create and scrutinize legislation.
Amy: Next week, we'll be speaking to Baroness Campbell of Surbiton about her work campaigning for disability rights in the Lords, and we'll also speak to Lord Teverson about the environment and the EU.
Matt, it's very busy in the House of Lords at the moment.
Matt: Yeah, that's right, huge amounts of legislation, new laws relating to Brexit, such as agriculture, trade, the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, plus there's lots of secondary legislation relating to coronavirus and Brexit.
Amy: When I first started, I remember that secondary legislation was something that just took me so long to get my head around. Matt, what exactly is secondary legislation?
Matt: Yeah. Basically, secondary legislation comes from primary legislation, which is probably no more helpful in explaining it, but primary legislation are the acts of Parliament. They're the laws of the land. Often, the detail that's needed to implement a policy comes in secondary legislation though, so an act of Parliament will provide powers to a government minister to set out later on exactly how something's going to work. Secondary legislation will often come back to Parliament to be approved or to be opposed, depending on the nature of be legislation itself.
Amy: I suppose instead of having to start the whole parliamentary process again, then to put through a new bill, you can just take the existing law and add in the new bits of information or the new requirements?
Matt: Yeah, absolutely. If you think about the coronavirus secondary legislation, the recent implementation of the tiers, the tier system's obviously changed. Rather than putting primary legislation back before Parliament, which would need to go through both Houses and take many months in usual times, the powers are there in the original acts of Parliament to allow ministers to do that through secondary legislation. There are two Lords committees that look at secondary legislation, as well as a joint committee. We have the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and also have a Delegated Powers Committee. You can find out more about the processes for secondary legislation on the Parliament website. You can also find out more information about secondary legislation before the House of Lords by heading to the Lords Library website at lordslibrary.parliament.uk.
Amy: Here's what Olivia had to say about the work of the Legislation Office.
Olivia: Hello, I'm Olivia. I'm a clerk in the House of Lords Public Bill Office, and my specific role is Clerk of Messages and Clerk of Private Members' Bills.
Amy: Olivia, welcome to the podcast. Thank you for joining us.
Olivia: Thank you for having me on it's great to be here.
Matt: Could you start by explaining what the Legislation Office is?
Olivia: The Legislation Office is an office within the House of Lords that deals with, as the name suggests, the legislation that's going through the Lords at any moment in time. It consists of the Public Bill Office, which I think we're going to focus our conversation on today because that's where I work, but also the Private Bill Office, Delegated Legislation Office, and Hybrid Bills. The difference between all those kinds of bills are public bills are bills that the government puts forward, they go through Parliament, and they apply to the population as a whole. Private bills apply to only certain members of the population, and similar with hybrid bills. A good example of a hybrid bill is the HS2 Bill that's going through Parliament at the moment. Obviously, that will affect some parts of the population more than others. There are parts of the population that will be directly affected by that railway line being built through their communities. Then delegated legislations is a little bit more complicated, it is legislation that's created by ministers under powers that are given to them in acts of Parliament.
Amy: As you said, you work in the Public Bill Office. What sort of work does that involve? What kind of things do you guys have to get involved with?
Olivia: What we do is we manage and assist the processes relating to the House's consideration of legislation, and what the bulk of that is, is dealing with amendments that members want to make to bills. We deal with the processing, drafting, and advising on those amendments. That's when a member wants to make a change to a bill that's going through Parliament. They'll come to us, and they'll say, "I want this bill to do this instead of that." We figure out, "Is that within the scope of the bill? Does that fit within the bill?" and how that should be drafted. That's a lot of the work that we do. We also brief members about bill proceedings within the chamber, so particularly the member that is going to be, what we call, on the woolsack, so the Deputy Speaker that's in charge of the proceedings. We also advise members just generally on parliamentary procedure to do with bills that are going through Parliament.
Matt: It sounds like a really busy office. What's happening at the moment? What's a typical day look like?
Olivia: A typical day, it's quite hard to say because it does vary. Interestingly, what's happening today, so on the day that we're recording, is there a Royal Assent that's happening within the chamber that we as an office organised. That's Royal Assent to the Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill and the Fisheries Bill. That's where, when the bill has been through both houses of Parliament, the Queen then gives her assent for that bill to become law, to become an Act of Parliament. We're also dealing with lots and lots of public bills that are going through, and hybrid bills. I've been working on amendments to the HS2 Bill, and that's part of the high-speed line that's going West Midlands to Crewe and the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill. We've got the UK Internal Market Bill that's been in the news quite a lot. That's going through as well.
We've also got the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill, which is quite interesting and has been generating a lot of activity amongst members. We also just have things that go on on a day-to-day basis, so briefing members for the briefings for the next day's proceedings, and also, longer running, we're working to digitize a lot of the work that we do and update lots of the digital content that we have and that we put on the parliamentary website. There's lots of long-running things, but then also day-to-day things that we do.
Amy: Do you all have to work on all of the different bills, or do you have different members of staff for each one?
Olivia: That's a really good question. I think this is where we slightly differ from the Commons. There are about four clerks in the office, though the office is obviously much wider than that, but we all deal with all of the bills. We have to have a good knowledge and a good working knowledge of all the bills that are going through Parliament. We'll spend lots of time looking at the scope of each bill, looking at the bills that are going to be introduced in the next few weeks. Yeah. We work on them all, and I guess the idea is that we all get a generalist knowledge of what's going through Parliament and that anyone should be able to advise a member on any bill that's going through Parliament, but I find it really interesting because it means that you get to learn about lots of different kinds of bills.
Amy: Do you ever get confused between the different ones and have to remind yourself what each one actually means?
Olivia: Definitely. Definitely. More often than I'd like to admit to, to be honest.
Amy: You mentioned earlier about digitizing your processes, and I know that you've got bills that are drafted electronically, and members of the public can go online and see all the different information and its progress through Parliament, but then you've also got quite traditional ways of doing things as well. How does that work, going between the modern and the traditional?
Olivia: Yeah, that's a really good question, and I think it's one of the aspects that's really unique to working in Parliament, is that we all working in this modern office, serving a 21st century legislature, but we have this interesting blend of lots of different traditions. I am Clerk of Messages, which doesn't actually say that much in terms of the title, but messages are what happens when a bill is moving between the two different Houses. It's a bicameral legislature, bills have to pass through both Houses to become law. Say, for example, a bill that starts in the Commons, goes through all its different processes in the Commons, the Commons might make a few amendments to it, or they might not, it then goes to the Lords, and we call that process a message from passing from the Commons to the Lords. It would go through the Lords, maybe they'll make a few changes to it, and then it goes back to the Commons. Again, that's a message from the Lords to the Commons.
Then you can get into really complicated messages, where the Lords want to make some amendments, then the Commons want to make amendments to those amendments, and then the Lords might want to amend those amendments, and it gets a little bit complicated, but I'm in charge of managing that from the Lords' side of things. One of the really interesting things actually in lockdown is that this all used to be done on paper, in-person. We used to have to find a clerk who would take this actually physically down to the Commons, but we've changed that now, and you just have to do it over email, but something that stuck-
Amy: Much simpler.
Olivia: Much simpler. It's great for me, but something that stuck is the endorsement on the bills. That's a senior clerk who has to write a bit of Norman French on the front of the bill, saying exactly what the message is doing so ‘the Lords agree to the amendments put forward by the Commons’, but in Norman French. I actually looked this up, and the process has stayed the same for about 200 years until this year when we've had to move it online to being done over emails, but it's a relic of the very founding of Parliament way back hundreds and hundreds of years ago that we still have this Norman French. It's a really wonderful blend, I think of, modern and older traditions. It doesn't really hinder our work in any way. It's just a really nice link with the past. I do think every time that I'm processing a bill how humbling it is to think how many other clerks have done this in previous years and that it's a continuation of that chain that's linked with history, but I really like it.
Matt: Do you work closely with members on legislation? Do you ever have to tell them they can't do something? How does that process work when you do?
Olivia: I think the really important thing to remember is that we are public servants who work to advise and help the Lords in their task of scrutinizing the government and holding them to account. Often, members will come to us with an amendment to a bill, and what that really is is a solution to a problem that they have envisaged with the bill or that they think the bill will engender. The first thing we always do if there's an amendment that we think maybe isn't quite right is we'll just go back to the peer and say, "What is this amendment actually trying to achieve? What is its purpose?" Then by working with the peer, we can usually find a way to come up with a different solution that works within the scope of the bill.
It's often that we don't really ever say to the members, "No, absolutely not. You can't do this." It's more taking it a step back and saying, "How can we figure out a way to get this to work?" because it's worth bearing in mind that it's often the members that are the experts on that particular policy or that particular thing that the legislation is trying to change, but we're the experts on parliamentary procedure. It's actually working with the members and both coming at it from those two different sides that you can come to a good solution that satisfies a member and achieves their purposes in a way that maybe is a bit better than the first solution that they'd envisaged.
Amy: When we talk about legislation, that encapsulates quite a lot, doesn't it? There's lots of different types of legislation. What where does it actually all come from? What's its starting point?
Olivia: Yeah, that's a really good question. Most bills are introduced by the government. That's putting into practice the promises that they've made in their manifesto and that they say at the Queen's Speech. They might say, "We're going to change the immigration policy of this country," and then there will be an immigration bill or a bill that puts that into effect that goes through Parliament. That's Parliament's chance to scrutinize that bill before it becomes law. Sometimes bills or legislation might originate from Green Papers, which the government will propose and can have several alternative policies, and they'll consult on those. Then it usually goes to what's called a White Paper, which is an authoritative statement of government policy. Sometimes there's a consultation on those. Then it gets introduced by government into Parliament. Some bills have had years and years of consultation before they get introduced to Parliament. Other bills might not have done.
You mentioned the different kinds of legislations. One of the types of legislation that I'm in charge of running the process of is what we call private members' bills. It's a bit confusing because they are public bills, but they're called private member's bills. Just take a second to get your head around that because it took me a little while to. They can be introduced by any member of the Lords. Once they are introduced, they go through the same procedure as government bills, and that's a really good way that members can introduce a law. At the start of each session, we hold a ballot, which determines the order of introduction, and we help members in our office to draft these bills.
There's lots of different ways that legislation comes into force. We've also got things, as I mentioned before, like delegated legislation, which we staff committees for in the Legislation Office, the committees that scrutinize those kinds of legislation. That might be a bit of legislation that's provided for in an act of Parliament, and that can help the government or the law to respond to circumstances or particular technicalities. That really saves the time of the legislature. Rather than having to go through the whole process of getting it through the Commons, through the Lords, you can just make small changes.
Amy: You've talked about delegated legislation there. I think some of our listeners may perhaps have heard about secondary legislation. Is that the same thing, or what's the difference?
Olivia: Yeah, that's the same thing. Delegated legislation, secondary legislation, they're terms for the same thing. Really, it's a way for the law, the government to respond to things like public health emergencies and to change aspects of the law without having to go through the full parliamentary procedure of going through all the different stages in the Commons and then going through all the different stages in the Lords. It allows the government to respond quite quickly to emerging events or emerging trends. It's really just, as I said, a way of saving the legislature's time.
Matt: In the last podcast, we spoke to members about how the House of Lords has changed during the coronavirus. How has your work changed during the pandemic?
Olivia: Yeah. Like everyone else, we've just been getting used to everyone working from home. I think this has been a particular change for us because we are a member-facing office. Our office is situated within the Palace of Westminster. Usually the door's open, and members can just walk in, we can discuss amendments with members, and it's really nice having that face-to-face interaction with members and coming to a solution to a problem that they've seen, and working with them. We've changed to completely remote working, working from home, and have been adapting to that with everybody else. In terms of how that's actually affected the work that we do, I mentioned before about messages and how that's moved to taking place over email, which has been great. It saved a lot of time, so that's been one positive thing that's come out of this, but also the briefings that we provide to the House on bill proceedings have become so much more complicated with virtual proceedings.
There's a lot more to brief the chair on than would usually be the case. That takes up a lot more time. Actually, we've brought in more staff from different parts of the administration to deal with that increase in workload. I think it's probably also worth noting that this has been a really, really busy time for us anyway with lots of legislation going through to do with Brexit. There's lots of legislation going through at the moment that's looking to change what the law looks like after we leave the EU. Even if we were working in person, we would have been really, really busy anyway. Working from home has only magnified that, and working remotely has only magnified that, but there's definitely been positive changes, welcome changes. It's shown that we can work from home, and we can still provide a really good service to members. It's just maybe a case of picking up the phone and ringing a member rather than sitting and having a nice discussion with them about the scope of a bill and the scope of an amendment.
Amy: Olivia, thank you so much for joining us. It's been really interesting talking to you. I personally have found out so much that I didn't know. Thank you very much.
Olivia: No, thank you so much for having me on. It's been great to talk to you. Hopefully you found it interesting.
Amy: Next up, you may have heard that it's Disability History Month at the moment. At the House of Lords, we're exploring the work of members with disabilities, plus some of the legislation that has been passed. We spoke to Baroness Grey-Thompson about her career, about her work campaigning for disability rights, and for getting people active. We also hear about how the House of Lords fits into all of that.
Amy: Here's what Baroness Grey-Thompson had to say.
Baroness Grey-Thompson: I'm Tanni, Baroness Grey-Thompson of Eaglescliffe in the County of Durham, and I've been a crossbench peer since March 2010.
Amy: Baroness Grey-Thompson, thank you for joining us. You've had an incredible career so far, having won 28 Paralympic and World Championship medals, breaking 30 world records. You've been a regular face on TV and a campaigner. How do you think that being a member of the House of Lords fits into all of that?
Baroness Grey-Thompson: For me, it's amazing that I can work in politics, and I'm fascinated by politics, but not necessarily party politics. For me, that House of Lords gives me an opportunity to be doing both, but not to have to tie my political thought to one party, so always interested in politics. I actually did a politics degree at university while I was training and became interested in athletes’ rights and how you affect change. Traveling around the world opened my eyes to lots of different things. When I retired, it was a huge privilege to have the opportunity to enter into the process. I came out at the other end and joined in 2010.
I think sport teaches you a lot of skills that are quite transferable. In sport, you spend a lot of time training for this tiny amount of time competing at the stuff that's really important. My Paralympic career is 19 and a half minutes on the track from 25 years competing. Politics is a bit the same. You spend a lot of time in meetings, reading huge amounts of briefing sheets and papers, and when you're in the Chamber, you've got two minutes to take people with you to vote in a certain way. In some ways, there's a lot of similarities between the two.
Amy: Do you find that now being in that political arena and being a member of the House... Has that given an extra dimension to your work as a disability rights campaigner?
Baroness Grey-Thompson: Absolutely, because it gives you a different platform to speak from because you can obviously speak in the Chamber, and then there's all party groups. There's lots of other things that you can do because of the title and the position that comes with it. It's an effective way to get in touch with people because if you write to somebody on a House of Lords paper about, I don't know, say, somebody who's experienced discrimination in public transport, then probably the companies are more likely to answer. You do have this platform. I think you've got to be really conscious of how you use it, but it does give you a platform to do other things and start different conversations. The one thing that I didn't realize until I joined was partly the presenteeism that that is needed to be in the Lords, but you can just do loads in corridors or over a cup of teachers or...
There's this really weird... I call it an institution, called Long Table, which you can have meals or you can have afternoon tea. When I first went there, I was like, "I haven't got time to sit and have a cup of tea in the afternoon. I'm grabbing something from the canteen and going." Then someone's sitting, "No, no, no. Don't underestimate it." I went, "Oh." I remember one of the first times I went there, and it's a long table. The rule is you have to take the next free seat, so you don't choose who you sit next to. It makes you talk to people that you probably would never ever talk to. I remember a fellow peer saying to me, "Okay. What are you working on at the moment?" I was like, "I'm trying to work on some campaigning for better wheelchairs for disabled children."
They were like, "right. You need to speak to Lord McColl, who did Mrs Thatcher's review of wheelchairs. You need to speak to such and such who did..." and basically named every prime minister and everybody who'd done it, all the different reviews. Within 10 minutes, I had contacts with people that I never would have realized that I needed to speak to. There's stuff like that, that you can achieve a huge amount, where it doesn't actually necessarily have to be in the Chamber. There's lots of different ways that you can achieve change.
Amy: Yeah. I think that's a really important point, actually, because we focus so much on the Chamber and the red benches. I think it's quite easy for people to think that that's where all the action is and forget that there's actually so much more to it than that and so much that happens away from the Chamber that has such an effect.
Baroness Grey-Thompson: What's amazing is you might get a briefing paper through from... It might be not something that I work on all the time. You go, "That's interesting." Then an hour later, you bump into somebody who's a world expert in it, and you can say, "I've got this paper. Can you just explain it?" People are very open, and they're willing to talk. They're willing to meet. Being able to tap into that expertise, I didn't realize it until I went there how valuable that is. I talk to lots of schools and say, "When we have a debate on beekeeping..." I can't remember. There's six or seven peers who keep bees. There are always people around who know something at a very high level about something. I remember my first day, a colleague saying to me, "It's a bit like school." Not really. It's not like the school I went to, but then you go, "You're constantly learning." people are really open. If it's a subject they're into, they're really willing to talk to you about it. Yeah, you do learn loads when you're there.
Amy: You became a member back in 2010. Did you see yourself having a particular goal that you wanted to achieve over your time as a member?
Baroness Grey-Thompson: Disability rights and physical activity are the things that I spend most of the time working on. It's quite hard to have a specific goal because we're ultimately limited by the government program, what legislation they want to put in front of us. Yes, you can put a private members' bill in, but the chances of that happening are fairly slim. Look, you've got to keep your eyes open because the things you're interested in might appear in bits of legislation that you're not expecting, or there's lots of ways that you could put an amendment or talk about something in different legislation. You've got to be quite creative sometimes because the last time we did a major piece of welfare reform was 2012, so you can't just sit and wait for the government to introduce another welfare reform, but you have to find ways to raise it and bring it up.
But you can do that through questions and short debates, and there's lots of written answers. There's lots of ways that you can raise the things that you're interested in, but a specific goal is quite a... That's the bit where it's different to sport. It's easy because you go, "I want to do the next Paralympics, and I'd really quite like to win a gold medal." In politics, it's harder as a crossbencher to say, "Right, there's that one thing I want to change." There's probably 50 things I want to change. I might, at some point, get a chance to do some of them. I also came at a time when we were still doing legislation at the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. I remember someone on the outside saying, "Wow, that must be so exciting." It was like, "Yeah, we're doing Sunday trading regulations, and we're doing road closures.” No, it's not, but…
This is one of the things with the expertise, is that we were in committee on it. I remember someone talking about road closures... well, actually, of the five Games I competed at, and I'd been to one other Games working, "This is why we need road closures. This is why we need Games Lanes." I never ever thought I would use that bit of my expertise for legislation. It was quite funny because we were doing welfare reform and Olympic and Paralympic amendment legislation at the same time. It was the same junior ministers. One day, I'd be in the Chamber being quite challenging with the junior minister, and the next day I'd be in the committee room, being really supportive, but that's how the Lords works. I've never ever found it to be personal. I've found people to be really open about the things that you're trying to do. You just accept people have a different opinion. You might not agree with it, but actually, that's what makes the place work, is that we've all got a lot of very different opinions.
Matt: Tanni, you're a member of the new Sport and Recreation Committee. What do you hope will come out of your work on the committee?
Baroness Grey-Thompson: It's really exciting because we don't get a huge amount of opportunity on the floor of the Chamber to talk about sport and recreation. It might be in the short debates, but it's not often in big bits of legislation. I'm hoping that we have a chance to have a new or a different way of looking at what sport is, how it's provided, how we get young people involved. The physical activity side is massively important because we have... Before COVID, we were entering a health crisis anyway in terms of how much physical activity people do. 80% of women aren't fit enough to be healthy. If you look at a class of children today, the five fittest in the class today 30 years ago would have been the five least fittest. I think what we can do with the select committee...
It's great being able to bring in lots of different people and explore different views and different opinions and gather all of that information, but also sport is quite complicated because you've got your different governing bodies. You've got devolution, which affects different things. I remember talking to a friend from abroad who was thinking of applying for a job in the UK to work. "Right. Okay. I'll explain to you how the sport works." I got to six bits of paper, and she was like, "Right, is that it?" I went, "No, no, that's England. Right. I'll get onto Wales next." You work in silos. Each different body is doing its own thing. I think what I'd like to be able to do is look at how we can make just connections across that. It might be there's not a better way or a different way of doing it, but it's very exciting to be able to talk about something that I'm really passionate about. Select Committees have a great ability to delve into these things.
Matt: You mentioned though the impact of COVID on physical activity in the UK. What more do you think could be done?
Baroness Grey-Thompson: It's challenging because in the first lockdown, we know that physical activity dropped by about 70%, and that's even with lots of people out walking and on their bikes that you could see they had never used before. I am sure where I lived people thought I was slightly mad because I'd see all these people on bikes, and I'd start shouting across the road for them to fix their seat height. Actually, Chris Hoy has got a really good video online that tells you the right seat height. Because actually, if you don't enjoy it, if you don't have a positive experience, you're not going to come back and do it again. There were lots of challenges in the first lockdown. Where we are now with the second lockdown, it's winter. It's not so nice to be outside, so it's finding creative ways for people to be active.
I think it's one of those things that is really hard as people know we're meant to be active, but it's what to do. It's got to be something that connects to you on an individual basis. Telling someone to go for a walk who doesn't like walking is not going to get them to do it. It's one of those things that you have to try lots and lots of different things to find the thing that connects for you. There's got to be that personal motivation there as well. It's the thing that people tend to put off until they have to make a big change to their lives. Yeah. There's lots of challenges, but again, with the committee, I think there's an opportunity to look.
It's called Sport and Recreation. That covers everything in the whole sector. Sport's a tiny bit of it, and elite and competitive sport is an even smaller bit of it, but it's physical activity, physical literacy. It's a huge area to come up. What personally I'd like to do is find a way that we can encourage people to take personal responsibility, to think about how fit and active they are in their own lives, because actually this is about saving money for the NHS. It's about having a long, healthy life. People are hitting frailty in their 50s these days, and you don't have to hit frailty until your 90s. Activity is one of the things that sorts that, so we've got to find that personal motivation for people.
Matt: Turning back to your personal experiences in the House, do you think the House of Lords itself enables people with disabilities to operate effectively and to fulfill their duties? What more needs to be done?
Baroness Grey-Thompson: I do because I think on different levels, it's an amazing institution. It is still slightly bonkers at times, but you embrace it. I think having a Crossbench route through I think is really helpful for a lot of people like me whose views change depending on what the issue is. But I think also if you look at how hard it is for disabled people to get into elected office in terms of campaigning. It's really difficult to do. You look at this across the world. It's a real challenge for disabled people to become elected. I think that there's lots of people, and I think there's lots of challenges for us as an institution in terms of what the laws might look like in the next five, 10, 15 plus years, but I think it does give disabled people and people with very specialist areas of interest the opportunity to contribute in a way that you wouldn't if you were elected.
I think actually if you look at the building, I can get to every single part of the building... I think it's quite different being a pass holder to being a guest in the building. As a pass-holder, I can get everywhere, but you just need to know the different back routes to get places. As a building, I find it pretty good. I get asked that a lot. "It's a really old building. Isn't it really difficult?" The other thing is the staff and the team who work there do an awful lot to make sure it's as accessible as it can possibly be for something that is a really old, listed, and quite complicated building. I do think it does enable disabled people to contribute in a really positive way.
Amy: Finally, one of my favorite questions to ask people, are there any particularly memorable moments that spring to mind of your time being a member?
Baroness Grey-Thompson: How many can I have?
Amy: We've got all day.
Baroness Grey-Thompson: Okay. 2011, we were doing a lot of late-night votes, and it was about two in the morning. It's pretty hard. It sometimes feels like you're never going to get out of the building, and the level of concentration and things you need in terms of voting and voting the right way and being respectful to the people speaking. Sometimes the hours are pretty tough. But I was having a cup of tea with Baroness Trumpington, who is such a character and amazing. She said to me, just as I took a mouthful of tea, she said, "This is a bit like the Second World War." This is Baroness Trumpington so you can't say, "I really don't think it is." You go, "What, relentless?" She said, "Yes." As I took a mouthful of tea, she whispered to me, "But with a lot less sex." I remember spitting my tea back into my cup and just looking at her, and she just had this really...
She used to just be really cheeky, and she knew exactly what she... She was so funny with things. She went, "I knew that would get you. You were looking a little bit serious there." There was that one. That always just makes me smile that she did that. There was another one. I've been in a debate with Lord Joffe, and we had different views on this particular subject that we were debating. At the time, there was a lot of debate around reforming the House of Lords and all those things. I'd walk through Central Lobby. A member of the public came up. They'd been in listening in, in the gallery and said, "The House of Lords, it's just full of all these really old people who don't know what they're talking about. We should get rid of them all." I was like, "Okay. Right," trying to have a bit of a chat.
This person said, "That man that you were having a debate with, who's he? What's he ever done?" I said, "Well, Joffe, human rights..." He said, "Well, human rights. Well, that's all rubbish. Well, what's he ever done with his life?" "Well, Joffe's the chap that pretty much single-handedly got Nelson Mandela off the death penalty." He went, "Oh. Oh. Right. Well, he can stay. Yeah. It was one of those moments that it was just like... It was just this person. Then I spent about 10 minutes talking to the chap and saying, "Actually, look at the people in the Chamber. Look at their background. Look at what they talk on." There's this image from the outside, and that's not my working life experience of the place. Then the final one, my very first amendment in the Welfare Reform bill. It's fairly terrifying the first time you speak. The first time you do things, it's a bit… This was my first amendment, which I was going to vote on. I had a government peer rewrite it to make it stronger. When I looked at him like, "Really?" I was like, "No, you must be taking the mick," and in fact, I don't… No, actually, that's a better version of what I was trying to say. I looked at him, and I remember saying to him, "Well, why?" He went, "Well, I'm just going to help you with your first time. I'm just going to help you. If you vote, I'm not voting with you, but…"
Yeah. Sorry. I still get a bit lost for words with it because it was really kind and helpful, and it gave me a better sense of what I was trying to do. That's the bit that I find amazing about the place, is that people will just be really open with you. If they're not going to vote with you, they'll tell you, and they'll tell you why and explain why. Actually, you can learn, and you can become better at what you do because of that openness. Yeah. Yeah. I love it. The thing I always think is just when you think you know the rules, and you think you know what you're doing, something will pop up on the annunciator, and you go, "Right. I didn't know what that was," but that's why you've always got to learn. You can never be complacent about the place. You always have to learn and look forward, and you always have to try and be the best that you can be there.
Amy: Tanni, thank you so much for joining us. It was just lovely chatting to you. It was really interesting. Some really funny stories as well, so thank you so much coming on the podcast.
Baroness Grey-Thompson: Thank you very much.
Matt: That's it for part one of our December podcast. Thank you to Olivia and to Baroness Grey-Thompson for joining us this week.
Amy: Don't forget to subscribe and join us next week for part two, where we'll be speaking to Baroness Campbell of Surbiton about her lifelong campaigning for disability rights.
Matt: We will also hear from Lord Teverson, who will be talking about some of the issues in front of the EU Environment Committee, which he chairs.
Amy: If you enjoyed listening, please don't forget to leave a review wherever you get your podcasts from.