Episode 2, part 2: with Lord Teverson and Baroness Campbell of Surbiton
18 December 2020
In part 2 of our December podcast, we hear from Lord Teverson, chair of the EU Environment Sub-Committee, about his work on the committee, plus why fisheries and chlorinated chicken have been big subjects in Brexit negotiations.
We also continue our interviews for Disability History Month with Baroness Campbell of Surbiton. Baroness Campbell is a lifelong disability rights campaigner and we hear about her journey from protesting on Westminster Bridge to the House of Lords, and what more can be done for disability rights today.
Want to find out more about topics in this episode?
In part one of this episode, we spoke to Baroness Grey-Thompson and Olivia from the House of Lords Legislation Office.
Amy Green: Welcome back to part two of this episode of the House of Lords Podcast.
Matt Purvis: This week we are talking to Baroness Campbell of Surbiton about campaigning for the rights of people with disabilities.
Amy Green: And we also hear from Lord Teverson, who is chair of the EU Environment Sub-Committee about what brought him to the House of Lords and some of the issues that his committee have been investigating, such as fisheries.
So, Matt, you recently spoke to Lord Teverson.
Matt Purvis: Yes, he's the chair of the EU Sub-Committee on the Environment and, among other things, also a former MEP. I spoke to him about what brought him to the Lords, and some of the environmental issues around Brexit. Here's what he had to say.
Lord Teverson: I am Lord Teverson, Robin Teverson. I am Chair of the House of Lords EU Environment Sub-Committee and I've been a member of the House since 2006.
Matt Purvis: Thank you for joining us. One of the things we'd like to explore on the podcast is what brings people to the House of Lords. You'd previously been an MEP during the 90s, you were on Cornwall Council, I understand. Obviously you're now chair of the EU Environment Sub-Committee. But how did you come to be in the House of Lords?
Lord Teverson: Well, it was back in 2006 or maybe the end of 2005 and Charles Kennedy was the leader of the Liberal Democrats at the time. I'm a Lib Dem in the house. And I received this phone call saying, "Are you interested in becoming a member of the House?" I'd shown some interest in it before. And, of course, it was the real decision was that of the Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair. And there were some spaces available at that time and we were given the opportunity to take up one or two of those and I obviously said yes, although at the time I had to say to Charles, because I was about to meet my daughter who I hadn't seen for a long time, I said, "Can I phone you back?" Which I think quite surprised him.
And in the end, when we managed to speak, obviously I was pleased to come in. But I had made it clear I had an interest in continuing my political involvement in Parliament, having finished being an MEP some years before, and a real opportunity to stay involved in national and international affairs as well, in European ones.
Matt Purvis: Compare being in the Lords to being in the European Parliament.
Lord Teverson: Well, funnily enough, there are some similarities in a way. I always think the European Parliament, which I was always proud having been a member of in the 90s, and there's a number of former MEPs in the House of Lords, some of them very much of a Brexit bent, some of Remain or in the old arguments, but I would say it has a gentler form of politics than the House of Commons, which is true of both the European Parliament and the House of Lords. It probably has a broader, longer-term perspective as well, to a degree. The European Parliament is obviously international in certain ways that it looks across all the nation and the states of Europe, but also that bigger, worldwide view.
And so, in a certain way, from a certain perspective, they're quite similar. Mind you, there's some big differences as well. Funnily enough, they obviously had electronic voting and now in the House of Lords we have electronic voting ourselves because of the COVID crisis. But the move between Brussels and Strasbourg was always a real pain to all MEPs. None of us wanted that, but unfortunately it was part of the international treaties and France was never going to agree the other way around.
The speeches were often ... That was a big difference. In the House of Lords, outside parliamentary questions you often can have a speech which is 10 minutes or 15 minutes and get away with it. In the European Parliament sometimes it was down to two minutes. So there was differences.
And also, obviously, the surroundings. In the House of Lords you have a chamber that goes back to the mid-19th century, all of those traditions, whereas in the European Parliament you had your own desk, you had a microphone and it was a lot, lot more modern. Something, actually, which could be a challenge if we go through the whole refurbishment of Westminster Palace. Who knows what might happen then?
Matt Purvis: You are Chair of the Lords EU Environment Sub-Committee. Can you tell us a little bit about what that involves and how that's changed during the Brexit process?
Lord Teverson: Yes. One of the things that the House of Lords does, it tends to concentrate very much more than maybe the House of Commons in terms of looking at our relationship with what used to be the rest of the European Union, the other 27 member states. So it has built up a really well-deserved reputation in understanding European issues in depth. And that's what the European Union Committee and its subcommittees have been about.
So when Brexit was decided at the referendum in 2016, clearly one of the big things that was needed, not just by the House of Lords but by, I think, the nation as a whole, let alone the government perhaps, was to understand what the implications of that vote were and what sort of deal we should look for and what the advantages and disadvantages were.
So, right after the referendum we were plunged into looking at, well, what are the actual detailed implications of that. And in my own committee, Environment, then we looked at fisheries, agriculture, environment, climate change, energy, chemicals, all of those broad areas in some detail to see what the implications were. And we did that mainly through getting witnesses. At that time we could do all that physically. Nowadays we do all these public consultations over Zoom. But actually getting them round the table and understanding what the challenges were for those various areas. And I have to say that I think we did actually get to some of the real deep questions and practical questions that we're still at today as we wait to hear the outcome of the negotiations at the tail end of the transition period.
And I suppose one of the things that struck me was we put a lot of challenges to government, because those reports go to the House and then the reports go to the government and the government replies. And I think, at that time, really the ministers and government, to a degree, found us a nuisance. They didn't really want to hear about all these problems that there might be. And we also highlighted the opportunities as well. But those issues were still there, and many of them still are. And so, if you like, we were a bit of a thorn in the side of the government in terms of really focusing on the issues that affected real people, business, farmers, fishers, consumers, everybody outside the sort of things, the challenges that came up.
As we come to transition, it gets a little bit more difficult because now we're quite close to final negotiations as we talk about this. Then, clearly, and understandably, ministers don't want to say what the details of the negotiations are. When we ask them questions about that, they come back and say, "Sorry, you've got to wait and see." And I guess that that's fair enough. And so we wait for the outcome.
We're going to have to still be there after transition ends on the 31st of December, and I guess what we'll be doing then is looking at really the outcomes and seeing how those need to be improved or how they can be taken advantage of more. So it's going to be just as challenging then. Hopefully not Kent full of lorries trying to get through to the continent and the sort of agricultural produce that we looked at being tied up. But the other area we did particularly look at was the Northern Ireland-Great Britain relationship and how those flows of products are going to work. And some really big questions there.
Matt Purvis: Previously you chaired the Lords Committee on the Arctic, didn't you? What's inspired your political interest in the environment?
Lord Teverson: Yes, the Arctic committee was one of the ones that the House of Lords sets up just for one session for a year and you look at a particular subject that isn't necessarily covered by other committees in their whole. Yeah, the Arctic was really interesting, that was a great privilege to be chair of that. And, in terms of climate change, the Arctic is where it's happening. The temperatures there have been over 10 degrees higher than expected or was historically there. And now there are predictions that the ice cover in summer is going to disappear by the end of this decade. So, real issues there. Really interesting. And something that we are going to go back and challenge the government and the broader international community on what they were doing around some of those issues, from defence through to climate change.
But my interest in environment is ... I suppose like most people that are into this area, you look at the world, you look at the long term, as the House of Lords is so much better at doing in many ways, and what are the things that really challenge us beyond the pandemic that we have at the moment, and one of those is climate change. The other is the whole biodiversity issue around our loss of nature, our loss of species. And both of those are different while very interconnected. And those challenges are something that, as a member of the House, and certainly when you have a privilege of being a chair of a committee, you can really start to get to. And, as all these committees and a lot of other things that Parliament does, it's around nudging, cajoling, persuading government to really concentrate on these areas and not forget them in comparison to some of the short-term issues, which obviously have to be dealt with as well. So you keep on reminding that there's long-term issues.
And, well, I've just become a grandfather as well last year. And so you think just not about your children, you think about your grandchildren. And she, Cassie, was born in last year, 2019. So you think, well, by the time she's 50, it's 2069, we're well beyond the zero carbon targets of 2050 and if the world doesn't manage to do that, it's going to be really, really difficult for those future generations. And it's us that have to make that difference now. So it needs people to concentrate on some of those really core long-term issues and get them sorted now.
Matt Purvis: You mentioned earlier, in relation to the EU Environment Committee, the possible Brexit deal. I think, certainly from the coverage I've seen about the negotiations and, for example, the whole chlorinated chicken situation, it's raised awareness that a lot of our environmental and agricultural protections are actually EU-based. How do you see those protections developing outside of the EU?
Lord Teverson: Yeah, really interesting. Because, isn't it funny how you can talk ... We were saying just about climate change and sometimes it sounds very unemotional as a phrase, and maybe that's partly because not everybody's really got involved in that issue until quite recently. Whereas, mention chlorinated chicken and everybody immediately thinks, "Hey, I don't fancy that. Is that going to be on my supermarket shelf? Is that actually going to affect what I feed my family, how I put food on the table in the future?"
And that issue, although a lot of people would maybe deny that it's a problem, I think it is a problem, then that really has concentrated minds. And, yeah, there's a real challenge there. I think one of the things that we maybe took evidence sessions between Brexit and when the referendum was in the transition period, was when we went back to government on farming and environmental issues, we always got a huge reassurance from DEFRA, the department that deals with agriculture and fisheries, that chlorinated chicken wasn't going to be a problem. We weren't going, as a country, to lower food standards under any circumstances.
We then talked to the Department of International Trade and you get a different angle altogether. They don't contradict what DEFRA is saying, or the Secretary of State for food, but they have an angle on it that says, yeah, we're absolutely going to go out there, we're a free trading nation, we're actually going to get free trade agreements and we're going to open up the U.K. economy to the world. And when you ask about food, then they're much less specific.
And there is a real challenge there. And if one thing is for sure, in terms of an American trade deal, an Australian or a New Zealand or South American trade deals, they have a lot of access already in terms of goods without huge tariffs. A lot of those tariffs have disappeared under World Trade Organization rules.
So, what is not covered by that? One is services. Well, okay, financial services, we export it, we don't so much import that. What's left is agriculture. Agriculture is always the difficult area of trade negotiations.
And if there's one thing that the United States and those countries will want, the one area they haven't got access to at the moment is agriculture. So it's very difficult to see how we can have any sort of trade deal with a lot of those countries without opening out our agricultural markets. And then they're unlikely, just to have a trade deal with the United Kingdom, to change the whole way that their agriculture works.
So is this all a challenge? Yes, it is. And I think it could be a major, major barrier to actually getting those trade deals. The whole farming industry is going to go through huge change because of the way that financing, EU subsidies is disappearing, very different regime in terms of being environmentally orientated, which I welcome hugely, in terms of the way that money is allocated in future. But there's going to be a real challenge internationally and I think it'll be quite difficult for those trade deals to take place. And it's not just environmental standards. Obviously it's also animal welfare and all those other things. Just economies of scale. It's so much cheaper to raise cattle, sheep, and a lot of other agricultural products in those vast areas that there are in other parts of the world.
So, yes, outside EU protectionism, and it is protectionism, then there's a real challenge there to those industries and to consumers.
Matt Purvis: Do you anticipate any change in U.S. policy with the election of a new president, particularly for environmental and trade issues?
Lord Teverson: Yeah, interesting. Well, if they manage to leave Donald Trump out of the White House in January and he walks out and, yes, obviously Joe Biden is going to take over. And, yeah, I really welcome that in terms of environmental and climate change issues. I mean, already he has said that he will make a commitment to reentering the Paris Climate Change agreement, the absolute fundamental building block of global climate change action into the future, however imperfect it was.
So, America is going to come back to that. And a whole raft of federal environmental legislation has been weakened over the Trump presidency. And, of course, when it comes to climate change, what an individual country does, particularly the second-largest emitter, which the United States is, then that has a global effect, not just a national one. And so I think there's going to be a major change there.
The difficulty obviously in the U.S. is that you have a divided Congress, you have House of Representatives which is still Democrat-controlled and the Senate which is Republican, and a lot of Republicans are still yet to be convinced, or they think their voters are still to be convinced about climate change, so I don't think it's going to be easy.
And also we shouldn't forget that so much is also done at state level as well in the United States. But, yeah, a big, big improvement, I think. So as we move towards COP26 in Glasgow next year, in a year's time, now we're going to have the United States, China, which has actually come on board and says net zero 2060, maybe we'd like it earlier than that, but the first time they've been committed to any such target, together with the European Union as well, the largest economies in the world perhaps come together with one message. And that's absolutely necessary. Yeah, absolutely.
So, yeah, presidential results, when they finally came through, I think that's very, very good for the planet.
Matt Purvis: Turning to fisheries policy, the Committee has looked at this area closely in recent years and the fishery bill has obviously just passed through Parliament, why do you think fisheries policy is such a big issue, particularly in the EU-UK Brexit negotiations?
Lord Teverson: That's a good question. Why does 0.01% or 0.02%, however you measure it, of the United Kingdom's GDP actually turn out to be one of the three last stumbling blocks of a trade deal for the whole of the United Kingdom with the whole of the European Union?
It's a good question. And of course part of the answer of that is fishing is very emotive, it's very visual. I mean that's the other side, we were talking earlier on about how chlorinated chicken, that phrase focuses very much an issue. And I think on fisheries, it's that marine idea and the visuals that you get with fisheries that actually make it quite an emotive subject. And, I mean, I live in Cornwall and fisheries is a very important industry here as well. Particularly important for local coastal communities. And it's a very tough industry and a very dangerous one, and I think people understand that. And that's why it has quite an emotive area.
And, of course, the whole Brexit debate was one that the Brexiteers very much into taking back control ... And of course one of the areas where we didn't have control, and it's literally true, is that under the Common Fisheries policy then, outside territorial waters, 12 miles then for our economic zones, the EZs then, it was common territory for the European Union. I mean, there were a lot of rules around that at the end of the day, but basically we didn't have control over our own economic zone out to, say, the 200-mile limit. And that, therefore, has become, I guess, iconic, one of the red lines in terms of those negotiations to show that we really are a truly independent and sovereign nation. So it's because of that as well.
Also, it was a very effective part of Nigel Farage's campaign prior to the referendum and actually during it as well. And also I've dealt with fisheries issues since I was a member of the European Parliament and represented Cornwall and Plymouth, but it's also one where the fishing industry is very, very good at getting its voice heard. They don't mind being very, very vocal. They don't mind stating their opinion and being very clear about what they want. And good for them for doing that.
But, having said that, there's certain parts of the industry you've maybe heard and maybe not others. Certainly, for instance, in Scotland, the West Coast industry on that side, which looks much more to shellfish and seafood is very concerned about its future. And of course this is what we have to remember is that it's very straightforward in terms of the ask to have control over our national waters, but of course we export 80% of the fish that we catch. I think 60% altogether goes to the European Union, the rest of the EU. And so there is that big tussle, that big confrontation over access for European vessels into British waters in relation to them continuing to give us access to their markets, and that's still what has to be sorted out.
But, yeah, if people from Mars looked down on us and said, "Hang on a minute, you're not too bothered about getting rules of origin sorted out for the automotive industry, you haven't got anything much agreed in terms of financial services, which is worth £60 billion worth of exports, and yet you're haggling over fisheries?" I think they might think, "Yeah, hang on a minute. That's a little bit strange."
Matt Purvis: Lord Teverson, thank you for joining us on the podcast.
Lord Teverson: It's been a great pleasure. Just go back to one thing that you said to me about the European Parliament and the House of Lords. I remember one of the things when I joined the European Parliament, I was on a flight from Bristol to Strasbourg. And we had to go by Brussels. And from Brussels to Strasbourg, I was with some very long-serving MEPs. One of them was John Hume who was the Northern Ireland ... Unfortunately, recently, the late John Hume. A brilliant politician and one of the people that has really meant that the peace process took place. And he gave a bit of wisdom to me as a wet-behind-the-years parliamentarian about to start my career in the European Parliament. And he said, "There's one thing you should do, is to concentrate on a particular issue. That's how you get change as a parliamentarian." And that's why I concentrated first on fisheries, and then on the marine environment through that, and then the broader environment. And I have loads of interests in lots of other issues, but I concentrate on those. And that's where and how you get change as a parliamentarian.
Matt Purvis: That would be advice you'd pass onto younger Members of the House today?
Lord Teverson: Absolutely. Something that interests you, something that's important to the nation, or as a representative parliamentarian, something that's important to your constituents. It's why business people find it frustrating often in politics, because you make a decision and it changes. As a parliamentarian, it requires graft, hard work, concentration, focus over a number of years, and it's amazing what you can actually achieve.
Matt Purvis: In our second interview for Disability History Month, we talk to Crossbench member and self-described rebel, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton.
Amy Green: Baroness Campbell joined the House of Lords in 2007, and as well as being a lifelong campaigner, she co-founded and directed the National Centre for Independent Living, she served as a commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and also chaired the Social Care Institute for Excellence.
Matt Purvis: And here's what she had to say about her journey to the House of Lords, what she wants to achieve, and what still needs to happen 25 years on from the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act.
Baroness Campbell: Well, good morning. My name's Jane Campbell. I am an independent Crossbench peer in the House of Lords, but really I'm a rebel.
Amy Green: Your involvement with Westminster started long before becoming a member of the House of Lords. Am I right in thinking that you once stopped traffic to lead hundreds of wheelchair users onto Westminster Bridge?
Baroness Campbell: Well, yes, the rumours are true. In another life, when I was in my twenties, I guess you could have called me a radical disability activist. I'd just graduated, you see, from university. And after applying for about 50 jobs, I landed one with a disability charity as a researcher. But after a couple of months they told me I was unemployable because I couldn't physically use a typewriter and was promptly sacked.
So I think this provoked a deep feeling of injustice within me, which I wanted to put to good use. And luckily I came across a new fledgling disability organization run and controlled by disabled people. They wanted to do something radical about our social and economic exclusion. And I was given the job of persuading and organizing disabled people to come on demonstrations, which I was particularly good at because I'm a bit of a bossy-boots.
And it was really empowering to disabled people to demonstrate their frustration at being excluded for years from education, jobs, transport system, and public life in general. And because they and I were so tired of trying to change hearts and minds through education or lobbying politicians, nobody was noticing and nothing was changing. So really there was only one thing left to do and that was direct action.
I remember the first time, and you're quite right, it was quite thrilling. It was the 1980s and I led about just over 100 disabled people into the middle of Westminster Bridge, where we promptly put our wheelchair brakes off and sat there until the police arrived. And I have to tell you, there was much confusion. Because nobody had ever witnessed disabled people breaking the law. I mean, they thought it was just living in care homes or with mom and dad watching daytime TV. And here we are in the middle of the streets with placards saying "Rights, Not Charity." And the police did not know whether to pat us on the head and buy us an ice cream or arrest us. And so the confusion, well, it was hilarious.
But it was also really empowering for those of us who did act. And I guess from those early acts of defiance, disabled people understood that for once in their lives we had a voice and we needed to use it, otherwise nothing was going to change. No medical professional, no charity, no politician. They were all speaking on our behalf. And I guess the power of protest was that we spoke on our own behalf, and actually haven't stopped since that day.
Amy Green: So could you tell us a little bit about then your journey from that moment on Westminster Bridge to being introduced as a Crossbench Member of the House of Lords? How did that come about?
Baroness Campbell: Well, I was only about 22 when I started campaigning, and for many yours I was just busy campaigning for changes and working with other disabled people to create our civil rights movement. You know, it was very similar to the movement of women's equality or race equality. We had to work out who we were, what needed changing, how we were going to go about it. And this took time. Because for generations we'd been totally passive.
So, yeah. Well, I guess, if you think about it, non-disabled people have spoken on our behalves forever. We called it the "Does he take sugar?" Syndrome. You know, never ask a disabled person. Always ask the expert or the mother or the person with them.
So once we felt confident about ourselves, we started organizing events, writing articles. And I became very interested in lobbying politicians for anti-discrimination legislation. But at the same time I needed a job. After being told I was unemployable, instead of thinking and believing that, which most disabled people do, I was even more determined to show that I could be as capable as anyone else.
So, anyway, I managed get an administrative job with the GLC and I was living for Ken Livingstone. And within the GLC I worked my way up the ladder to become head of diversity training across all London boroughs. And I was training disabled people to become trainers, and that was our big awareness campaign.
And from there I went on to set up a charity to help disabled people to become independent. I wanted to get disabled people out of mum and dad's home or out of institution and living as independent citizens. So this charity did that. And whilst I was there, I was working on the Social Care Direct Payments Act and again came into contact with MPs and civil servants in putting together that bill, which enabled disabled people to employ their own support workers, which I do today.
But at the same time I was also collaborating with MPs on the Disability Discrimination Act. And after that became law, the enforcement body, which was the Disability Rights Commission, and I became a Commissioner of that. But it was all within disability. I had a slight itch that I actually needed to get out and get some different experience. So I applied for a job as the founding chair of the Social Care Institute for Excellence, and that was my first municipal appointment. I was appointed by the then Minister for Social Care, Jacqui Smith. And I think she had the guts to take on somebody who wasn't only a bit of a rebel, but also visually looked very, very severely disabled. Which I do, I mean, I can only move my head. And so that makes them think that I am completely incapable of working. But I'm not, because actually all you need is a brain.
So, yeah, she took me on. And the Institute was very successful. I built it and it was one of the few NGOs to survive the bonfire of the quangos. And it still exists today and it's a very, very important body that advises the government on policy and practice in social care.
And it was around that time that the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health, Nigel Crisp, he said had I ever considered applying to be a Crossbencher in the House of Lords. He said, "We need people like you." And I remember laughing. I even said, "Oh, God, they're never going to appoint somebody who's been an outspoken critic of the government for donkey's years." And not only that, I was a lawbreaker. And he said, "No, that's exactly who they want." And he sowed the seed and here I am now, 13 years a Crossbencher. And, yeah, they haven't thrown me out yet.
Amy Green: And do you think, then, that being a member has helped you achieve your goals as a campaigner?
Baroness Campbell: Yes, it was a tremendous education. I needed to take a couple of years to make that transition from being a campaigner to parliamentarian. So the first year I didn't speak that often, I just sat and learned, because I wanted to understand why it was so necessary to have all these strange rules and regulations, like speaking in the second person when you're speaking on the floor of the House, and the use of deference and terms of deference. But I began to understand, first, that it really oiled the wheels of good collaboration. And what I found with the House of Lords, that it was so much more collegiate than what I'd experienced with lobbying MPs in the House of Commons.
And I liked the atmosphere, I liked the way that we debated and I didn't find it a struggle to be heard. But you have to realize that I was a black and white campaigner for many years, when you rarely compromised on your goals and everything. It's black and white. And in the Lords it's all about negotiation, trading, small points of [inaudible] that can make an enormous difference.
And, yeah, you know, there's so many competing interests, political, economic, cultural, and so forth. But I would say it's a very good way to grow understanding of how the world fits together. It's complicated.
And so, am I achieving my goals? Well, I would say I'm always on a journey towards achieving my ideal goal. And, yes, I've seen some huge gains, but there's also been huge losses. So, yeah, it's a journey.
Amy Green: You've obviously dedicated much of your life to trying to improve the lives of disabled people, but did you have any particular ambitions for your time as a Member? Anything you wanted to achieve specifically within the House of Lords?
Baroness Campbell: Oh, I want to achieve so much. That's the problem, isn't it? I guess first and foremostly, I want to see the Disability Discrimination Act fully implemented and enforced. I mean, we're celebrating our 25th anniversary this year for the passing of the act, and there is so much more to achieve to make society truly inclusive for disabled people. I mean, you only need to look at the representation of disabled people in the labour market, in Parliament, in the media, or the arts to know that there are still many barriers in our way. So, yes, I would like to see the DDA fully implemented. There are loads of it, loads of parts that aren't. Even our transport network isn't fully accessible. There are so many buildings that we can't get into. And people are still discriminated against on a daily basis in employment, just in the street. So we've got a way to go there.
And, yeah, in addition I'd also like to see a big investment in the care and support industry. I mean, I'm only able to do my job and live because I have a decent state-provided care and support package. But I really had to fight tooth and nail for it. The majority of disabled people do not have those skills and therefore are condemned to a life of struggle or coping, but if the state invested in disabled people with their day-to-day needs then they will enable people like me to contribute to society rather than become passive recipients of benefits and at-home care. It just makes sense to me. So that investment is crucial, and we've got a long way to go there.
Matt Purvis: You mentioned earlier that it was recently the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act, and the fact that there are still barriers to disabled people today. How do you think the House of Lords fares on that? Do you think the House could do more?
Baroness Campbell: Well, it's an old building. And so you can imagine there are parts of it that are still quite inaccessible. And there's a lot to do. I'm hoping during the refurbishment that they will concentrate on making the House as accessible as it can be, but it's so much more accessible now than when I first arrived. I mean, when I first arrived, I actually couldn't use any of the bathrooms. Well, that needed to be done very quickly. Otherwise I wouldn't have been able to go to the loo all day.
But, I mean, I have to say that the Lords' administration has responded to my needs, which are quite considerable in some areas, in terms of office accommodation and other reasonable adjustments, with great enthusiasm since the very beginning. And we've worked together. But there was one battle that I had to fight tooth and nail and that wasn't a battle against a lift or a door or a toilet, it was against the House of Lords' standing order in 1707 that stated that nobody other than members, clerks, and doorkeepers were allowed to cross the bar into the Chamber floor. Now this was going to be tricky for me, because the more that my disability progresses, the more that I was going to require an assistant to be with me at all times. So I pottered on to the Procedures Committee to say, "Right, well, I'm sure about you okay about me bringing an assistant into the Chamber with me, because I'm going to need somebody to help me give my speeches when I run out of air or help me with my notes and paperwork, because I can only move my head."
And they said, "Oh, no, we can't do that, that would be breaking our historical standing order of 1707." And I just thought they were joking. But no, no they weren't. And actually quite a number of the members of the committee said, "Well, if we do it for you, we're going to have to do it for everyone." And I said, "No, that's not the idea of a reasonable adjustment. You make it so that they can participate equally with other members."
Anyway, it took me two years. Can you imagine? And I had to go to the same committee three times. But in the end I was able to do a little bit of internal lobbying with various people and in the end they saw absolute sense that this was just about equality, it wasn't about changing the procedures or the historical precedent. You know, we have to move on from those days. So that was quite funny. And that made the headlines. And I just feel that, well, by doing that we can't go backwards. This is the way.
So, yeah, that was a great moment for me. It made the national newspapers. And the Pandora's Box is open now, so I do believe that anything can be achieved.
Matt Purvis: I remember that moment myself, when you first made use of that new facility. I think it was about eight years ago now. And it goes to show how the House can change and how things that were big changes at the time become very normal to us now.
Baroness Campbell: The truth is that I wouldn't be able to participate without that facility, so they would have lost somebody with 11 years' experience of, somebody who I hope can offer the best knowledge and advice that there is on disability. So it would be such a loss. There was nothing to gain by sticking by 1707 standing orders, you know. Time to move on.
Matt Purvis: You mention that as a particular high point, I guess, from your time in the House so far. Have you got any other particularly memorable moments?
Baroness Campbell: Oh, there have been many along the way. I mean, when my portability private members' bill was totally incorporated into the Social Care Act, that was a high point. I saw the reason for my being there. And maybe just recently raising the issue of the COVID-19 vaccination priority list, I challenged it within the Lords. I mounted a small campaign out of the community and, hey, yesterday, or was it the day before, the prioritization list has changed and those who are clinically at great risk from COVID-19 have now been prioritized up the list for a vaccination.
So I'm not saying that I single-handedly did this, but because of my network amongst disabled people in the community, because of my understanding of health and social care, I was able to bring my knowledge to the table, and I think this helped Ministers to re-look at something and change it, and that's what we're all about. I mean, that is the joy of the House of Lords. We're not there to be political, we are there to revise acts, legislation, and to scrutinize it and to give our best experience and knowledge to bring it to the table.
What probably depresses me is when people say that the House of Lords is an unelected chamber and, you know, we shouldn't be there because we're not elected. Well, I, for instance, could never, ever have become an elected Member of Parliament. I haven't got the physical wherewithal or capability to do what needs to be done to become elected. So you wouldn't have me, you probably wouldn't have many of the lawyers, the clinicians, some of the people who've been working like billy-o out there and behind the scenes, day-to-day, all their area of expertise.
It's a tricky world, I think there's a lot to be reformed. My God, I would love to see the House reformed in many ways. But I wouldn't like to see it fully elected because that will just put yet another barrier in the way of disabled people participating. Because if you look in the House of Commons, how many disabled people are there? There's not a lot, I can tell you. Some may have hidden disabilities, but we are not represented in the way that we should be. And that is because it's just so difficult to become elected. Not just physically, although physical stamina is part of it. But because of all the barriers that still exist in society that make travel difficult, that make just getting around the environment difficult, it's a difficult route.
So there's a lot to do. There's a lot to do to make the Westminster bubble a fully inclusive place. But, you know, we learn doing bit by bit.
Matt Purvis: Well, thank you, Jane, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton for sharing your inspiring story with us today. It's been a real pleasure speaking to you. Thank you very much.
Baroness Campbell: Well, it's been lovely to be speaking to you, too.
Matt Purvis: And that's it for this episode of the House of Lords Podcast. We'll be back next month with more from the House of Lords. And if there's something you'd love us to explore, you can tell us by tweeting @UKHouseofLords and include the hashtag #HLCast.
Amy Green: Thank you to Baroness Campbell of Surbiton and Lord Teverson for joining us this week. If you enjoyed listening, please don't forget to subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts from.