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Lord Speaker's Corner: Lord Alderdice

13 February 2023

Lord Alderdice speaks to the Lord Speaker

Listen to the second in our new series of interviews between the Lord Speaker, Lord McFall of Alcluith, and members of the House of Lords.

 

In this second episode, the Lord Speaker asks Lord Alderdice what influenced his work as a psychiatrist and former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly. They also discuss the importance of engaging with multiple perspectives, what inspires Lord Alderdice's work on conflict and peacebuilding, plus his experience working to set up the Assembly and its surprising influences from the House of Lords.

Watch the interview

Watch a video, including subtitles, from the interview, or read on for a transcript.

Transcript

Lord Speaker:

Lord Alderdice, or John, should I say?

Lord Alderdice:            

Absolutely.

Lord Speaker:

A longtime acquaintance and friend.

Lord Alderdice:

That's right.

Lord Speaker:

Welcome to Lord Speaker's Corner.

Lord Alderdice:

Thank you very much indeed.

Lord Speaker:

You're an individual with extensive experience, both in a professional capacity and in a political capacity, and your profession is a psychiatrist, but also politically as a central player in the Northern Ireland peace process for decades, leader of your party, and a speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly on that. How have these two distinct experiences informed your approach to politics?

Lord Alderdice:

Well, John, they're very closely connected with each other, because one of the problems I had growing up as a young person in Northern Ireland when things were breaking down into violence again was... I was very troubled by the violence. I thought we must find some kind of way of living together. But the other thing was, I wanted to understand why. Why ordinary and in many cases decent people could sometimes espouse rather ugly ideas and practices. And the explanations of political science at that time, that people were rational actors operating in their best social, economic, and power interests really didn't make much sense to me, because I thought these people were behaving in ways that were harmful to themselves and the whole community.

So that's actually one of the reasons that I went into psychiatry and psychoanalysis, was to try to understand why people did non-rational and often damaging things as individuals, and then I took that into politics to understand why we did that as whole communities of people. And I discovered, as we all do, that if you start getting into politics, there are opportunities. It's challenging, but I wrote actually at that early stage to the various political parties, not to Sinn Fein, which was still very much committed to the IRA campaign, but Ulster Unionists, Democratic Unionists, SDLP, Alliance, and Alliance appealed to me for two reasons.

First of all, I believed in its principles, bringing people together, and secondly, because it was a kind of therapeutic context, I could be there and ultimately be there as the leader of the party, but still have non-confrontational, constructive relationships with the other parties and party leaders and indeed with the British and Irish prime ministers. So the two things actually were very much working together for me, and that's continued to be the case as I try to understand conflict in other places as well.

Lord Speaker:

After 35 years in politics, I think I've learned a few things. First of all, that politics and achieving change is hugely difficult. But secondly, if you're going to change and produce policies which the majority of people subscribe to, then you've got to have collaboration and consensus. Has that been mirrored in your experience?

Lord Alderdice:

Absolutely. I think it's a central theme actually, John, because coming from a sort of liberal background... As you will know, liberals get very excited about constitutions and institutions and regulations and all of these kinds of things, which are all very important. But what became clear to me and indeed to others working in the peace process was that it was all about disturbed historic relationships between communities. And if you're going to resolve the problems, you've got to address those disturbed relationships, at the individual level of course, but also at the level of the community. If you do that, then all of these other things can be addressed. But if you don't address that, no matter what else you do, it goes to pieces.

And I think perhaps one of the contributions that the House of Lords makes is that it is much more focused on this question of how people engage with the relationships with each other and with people from outside Parliament and indeed with people in other countries as well. Because when you go to other countries, people are fascinated by the House of Lords actually, and they want to sit down and talk to you and explore it. And I think we can do that in a way that doesn't threaten anybody. Everybody knows that there are limits on what we can do, but actually that exploration and engagement with people, much more than rules and votes and regulations, is the way you actually make change that works in the long run.

Lord Speaker:

Absolutely. We'll go on to other countries later, but I want to explore your involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process, because when I went to Northern Ireland, it was still the case that Sinn Fein weren't allowed to be interviewed. There was a voiceover when the principles were there that they didn't engage in any discussions or be in any room with unionists as a result, and they certainly didn't handshake any minister or opposition politician. So there seemed a hopeless situation from that. How did we get to the situation where not only were they in the one room, but they entered the Northern Ireland Assembly together? And you've a central perspective in that, being the speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Lord Alderdice:

I think there were a series of things that happened that affected the way people thought. First of all, it had gone on for quite a long time and it was clear to people on both sides from a military perspective, whether it was the British Army, the police in Northern Ireland, or indeed the IRA themselves, that while the IRA couldn't be defeated, they couldn't win, and vice versa. So then people began to say, "Well, what's the alternative? Do we just keep on doing this forever?" The analysis at that stage had been that you'd never get agreement with the people who were involved in violence, including the loyalist paramilitaries, so you just got the more moderate, reasonable people in the various parties together and reach an agreement and marginalise the extremists.

It was all very reasonable. It just didn't work, because the IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries could always do something to blow the whole thing apart, literally. And I remember one day we were sitting in a situation like this in Stormont, because the four leaders, John Hume, Ian Paisley, Jim Molyneaux, and myself, would often get together with no advisors or... nobody from the British and Irish governments and just say, "Look, what are we going to do about things?" And John said, "I think I've got to talk to the IRA." And I remember Jim Molyneaux was sitting over here and his face just went completely white. And he said, "Well, that's it. There's no hope then." Because he felt that if John did that he was engaging with people who would never agree to anything that unionists could live with, and indeed unionists would even find it difficult to continue engaging with John.

And I was very troubled by it, because I realized that if we went along the way we were going, Jim was right, there was no hope, and I wasn't prepared to let go of that. And so I said, "Well, I think we've got to test what John says to destruction, and that requires a complete change of attitudes and reactions." And I remember when I was first elected to Belfast City Council, the first person to come and say hello to me immediately after the election was Alex Maskey, who was of course the whip of Sinn Fein, indeed the whip of the IRA on the council. And he immediately put his hand out, as you say, and I thought, "What am I going to do here?" And I thought, "I've got to engage with this person as a human being," and I shook hands with him. It was not about becoming buddy pals, it wasn't about ignoring the things his organisation had been involved with. It was about saying, "Let's, as human beings, try to find if we can make a more human place for people to live and work."

And we gradually moved along, making it clear to the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries that if they wanted to engage in politics, there was a road into that, but they had to find a way of giving up the violence. That was the thing that was poisoning everything. They could absolutely, in the case of the IRA and Sinn Fein, have a vision of a united Ireland, and it was entirely legitimate to follow that through as long as it was done without threat through democratic politics. And it took a long time and it was difficult and painful and there were almost ethical problems in the whole thing. How do you engage with people like that? But ultimately the ethical question was, do I remain loyal to the past and the things that are important there, or do I remain loyal to my children and grandchildren and try to create a better future for them? And that's the direction I and many others decided to go.

Lord Speaker:

Yeah. In fact, I decided to make my first visit as Lord Speaker to the Northern Ireland Assembly. And Alex Maskey as speaker welcomed me with a very warm handshake, and he couldn't have done more for me to ensure that all the politicians were brought together to speak to me. And it was a fantastic conversation we had, and you'd have thought we were bosom buddies for decades as a result of that. So for me, it's always fascinated me just how that process has taken place. And I remember John Hume doing his negotiations with Gerry Adams and that didn't go down well in his own party either. So I think we've got to remember that these were bitter times both within and outwith parties as well.

Lord Alderdice:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Lord Speaker:

And John Hume met Gerry Adams at Clonard Monastery.

Lord Alderdice:

That's right.

Lord Speaker:

The late Father Alec Reid, the Redemptorist, who by the way was a great buddy of May Blood. So there wasn't much distance between the two communities, but I think they crossed the threshold quite a lot of nights, so May told me, to have a cup of tea, but I'm sure it would've been a bit stronger. But doing that clandestinely was really important.

Lord Alderdice:

And an important part of that too was that both... I mean, obviously Alec Reid was a religious man, but so was May Blood. She was a very committed Christian from the Protestant community.

Lord Speaker:

Exactly.

Lord Alderdice:

And I think one of the things that's important for those of us in politics to remember is that there are other aspects of society which are often very, very important. And sometimes it's people in the religious communities that are able to risk the ire of their own people because they believe they're doing something that is right and good. And even right away back as far as the early 1970s, when Protestant leaders were prepared to meet with the IRA leadership, even though it was an illegal meeting, and indeed there was a short ceasefire afterwards. So you're quite right. People like Alec Reid, May Blood, people within the churches, they played their role too, as did unions and people in business. It wasn't just about politicians.

Lord Speaker:

Exactly.

Lord Alderdice:

It wasn't just about politicians.

Lord Speaker:

Politicians could be the catalyst.

Lord Alderdice:

Yes.

Lord Speaker:

But the main participants are the community itself. In fact, I visited Dublin just a couple of months back, and I addressed the Seanad, and I was very warmly received there, met the Taoiseach. Micheal Martin gave us half an hour of his time. In fact, after half an hour, I had to say, "Taoiseach, you've got a lot of business today. Thanks very much for your time." But it was such a warm welcome. In the evening there was a reception put on for me and members of the Dail and the Seanad and others came in to see me and they asked me to make just a few remarks. And the remark I made was spontaneous, but I said, "My experience in Northern Ireland and in the island of Ireland as a whole, part of my political soul has been left there." Why I said it, I don't know. You as a psychiatrist, tell me. [Laughter]

Lord Alderdice:

Well, I think there is something interesting and fascinating about particular countries and communities around the world, and there's some places you go and they're very nice people and so on, but that's fine. There are other places you go and you have, as you say, almost left a part of yourself there and you want to go back and you want to engage. And there are people all over the world who feel that about Ireland, Ireland as a whole. They feel that they've got a part of themselves there, sometimes because they have relatives from the past. But even people without that, they come, and there's something about the warmth and hospitality of people. It's a funny thing that people who have fought for hundreds of years and done terrible things to each other are also people who have a passionate engagement with others. A very positive kind of relationship, a great sense of humor. And I think you're completely right, it's true of Ireland. It's also true of other parts of the world too. It's true of India. I find it true too, of the African bush. There are lots of parts of the world-

Lord Speaker:

Where have you left part of your political soul in the globe?

Lord Alderdice:

Well, as I say, there are parts of me that absolutely love places like India and the African bush. But the place that at the moment is strongest in its attraction for me is the old city of Jerusalem, for faith reasons, but also for political reasons. It's an absolutely central place. And if you're concerned about conflict, as I am, then this is the place where the three great Abrahamic faiths have a central concern. The soul, as you would say, of these three great faiths is there in the holy city of Jerusalem and yet unable to get on with each other. In fact, sometimes unable to get on even within the families themselves.

And so I've been spending increasing amounts of time there exploring the conflict over the holy places in Jerusalem, because I think if we don't solve that, the problems don't remain there. If there's trouble about holy places in Jerusalem, it doesn't just suddenly appear in Gaza or in the West Bank. It appears in Birmingham. It appears all over the world. People who have an identification with the Holy City because they're Christians, because they're Jews, because they're Muslims, feel very, very strongly when something happens there. And that's one of the reasons I focus on it, and the other is because for me it's a really important place too.

Lord Speaker:

Yeah. You're just back from there.

Lord Alderdice:

I am, yes.

Lord Speaker:

Tell us your latest thinking on Jerusalem.

Lord Alderdice:

I think there's two almost conflicting dimensions of it. One is that the politics, which was beginning to move in a positive direction, the coalition government, which was effectively put together by Yair Lapid, a friend and colleague I've known for many years, in fact, I knew his father in politics before that, put together this extraordinary coalition of people from the right, from the centre, and even one of the Islamist parties, together in government. But of course, when that step forward was taken, and you've seen this in Northern Ireland too, when a step forward is taken, there's almost always a reaction back against it. And there's a new government being formed, which is going to be very problematic, there's no doubt about that. One of the places where that's problematic is over the question of the Temple Mount, Haram, as the Muslims would call it, where you have a particular piece of territory that's holy, particularly to Jews and Muslims, and as each side wants to take possession of this holy place, there's a reaction against it by the other side, and I think we're going to see more difficulties there.

The other side of that is, that I see much more cooperation between the various Christian communities there, the Greek Orthodox and the Anglican communities in particular, but not just them, working more closely together on the holy places and prepared to be quite creative and imaginative. So there are very good things happening, but we shouldn't be under any illusion. Each time you take a step forward, there are those who are frightened by that, troubled by it, and they pull back. And I think we're into a place now where sadly, over the next number of months or year or two, we could see difficulties emerging, which is why it's so important to be in there trying to do what you can, not to tell people what to do, but to help them explore things in a more creative way.

Lord Speaker:

One thing that has impressed me during my time as Lord Speaker has been the soft power of the House of Lords. Now, it's very hard to describe that to people on the outside, but given that you are a member of the House of Lords, given that you're very active both in here and now outwith the House of Lords working, what benefit has being a member of the House of Lords been to you in the work that you're doing just now?

Lord Alderdice:

Well, obviously it gives you a tremendous opportunity to ask questions and put forward propositions on the areas that you're interested in. You can put down questions, written or oral questions, to ministers, and sometimes they're questions about the way the government's handling things, but sometimes they're questions that just draw out information that government can get that as an individual you can't get ahold of, and you can have debates and of course you can vote. But there are other aspects of it too. I say to new members coming into the House, "Every day can be a masterclass in the House of Lords here." As you sit and listen to other members speaking, people who are global experts on various things, as you engage with them about the things you're interested in, it opens up all sorts of possibilities, quite extraordinarily, and so that's very, very helpful.

The other thing is, to be honest, when you invite people to come to have a conversation with you, if you invite them to come to the House of Lords, 10 chances to one they'll come, because they think, "Well, that's going to be quite interesting actually." And it gives you the opportunity of engaging with people, from the UK, but from right across the world, to follow up the issues that you're concerned about, issues of conflict. And when I go to other places and I'm introduced as a member of the House of Lords, there's immediately a curiosity and an openness to hear, well, what does this person have to say? What ideas do they have? They will know a bit about what's going on.

All of these things are, as you quite rightly say, hard to quantify. You can't measure them and weigh them. But do I have any doubt about the value of them? Not at all. And one of the great things about the Lords, unlike the House of Commons, is that there's not the same sense of partisanship. There's more of a preparedness to engage, listen to what the other guy says, try to understand it, be educated by that engagement, rather than feel that your job is basically, if you're in government, to oppose the opposition, if you're in opposition, to oppose the government. There's not that same feeling in the Lords. And I hope that we don't get there, because it's one of the great values of the House and the contribution it makes to governance and politics, and indeed to the wider society here in Britain and further afield.

Lord Speaker:

You talk about a masterclass, and I appreciate that word. I remember being in a debate on Europe, Brexit, when we were going out, and someone mentioned Article 50, and the problems associated with Article 50 and the interpretation of Article 50. And up popped Lord Kerr of Kinlochard-

Lord Alderdice:

That's right.

Lord Speaker:

... and he says, "I'll tell you about Article 50, because I wrote it with this pen."

Lord Alderdice:

I know. It's absolutely extraordinary.

Lord Speaker:

Give me a memory that you have from the House as well.

Lord Alderdice:

Actually, that was a very interesting one, because he had also been our ambassador in Washington, and I remember that very well because he, as a Scot looking at things, could understand the Irish question perhaps better than some of his predecessors. And at that stage, the White House was very interested. They were inviting us from all the different parties, Alliance, DUP, Ulster Unionists, Sinn Fein, SDLP, all invited out, and indeed in those days all coming. And what John did as ambassador there was to invite everybody to come. And so you had Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein in there in the British Embassy, not just in the office, but in the ambassador's residence, for a St. Patrick's Day event.

 

And it really impacted on people. It impacted on people from Ireland that, "My goodness, here's the British Ambassador bringing us to his official residence and entertaining us." But it also impacted a lot on the Americans, who were completely astonished. They didn't realize there was that preparedness to be open and to engage. So yes, you're quite right. And there are lots of the debates in the Lords which have been very memorable, but also some of the other events. I mean, I remember one particular event, which was a lecture by Chris Patten in the Royal Gallery about the Commonwealth, and it was a tremendous lecture. It was about the role of Britain.

Lord Speaker:

He's a member of the House of Lords.

Lord Alderdice:

He's a member of the House of Lords, and indeed the Chancellor of Oxford University.

Lord Speaker:

Exactly.

Lord Alderdice:

A university that's now come out as the top university in the world for seven years in a row.

Lord Speaker:

Which you're a member of.

Lord Alderdice:

Which I'm a member of.

Lord Speaker:

So we'll get onto that in a second. [Laughter]

Lord Alderdice:

Right. So yes, there are many of those memorable occasions, but particularly contributions that have been made, particularly the way sometimes debates have gone. I remember for example, a particular debate which was about, in those days, civil partnership, for people from the LGBTQ community. That was long before the question of marriage. And I remember we were having the discussion in the debate and one of the members of the House stood up and said, "When I came in here, I was completely opposed, but I've listened to what's gone on in the debate and I'm seeing it from a different perspective. I'm seeing it from a much more human perspective now, and I need to go away and think about that." It's that kind of engagement that I find so nourishing and makes me so enthusiastic about what you can do through the place.

Lord Speaker:

In terms of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, they're two distinct chambers, but there is an umbilical cord between them. Can you examine that for me?

Lord Alderdice:

Well, they are different, and I think it's very important that they're different. We come from different perspectives. Those that get elected to the House of Commons, you've got to work very hard. Your constituency, you've got to be very committed. You've got to be there a great deal of the time, and it's very, very important that that's the case, and that because you're elected, the Commons has the final word. But in the Lords you can take a different approach to things. You can also quite honestly be more available to go and follow up some of our international concerns and interests and then bring those back into Parliament. And in the end, the two chambers don't get into deadlock and gridlock, as is the case, for example, quite often in other places where you've got two chambers with elected mandates and each of them says, "I've got the better mandate. I have the right to hold business up."

We don't do that. We sometimes ask the House of Commons to think again. We may even ask them to think again a number of times. But everybody's quite clear that in the end, if the Commons thinks its way through something, if it takes the opportunity to consider and makes its decision, the Lords will accept that. But the other thing about the Lords is, people come here because they feel that they have a contribution and want to make a contribution, perhaps because of their professional background, their academic background, their background in military service or in diplomacy or in the professions of various kinds, they come able to make that contribution. And if they were having to be elected representatives there all the time, they couldn't bring that richness in, because they would in a way be isolated into a political bubble. And I think that's one of the strengths of the Lords is, it brings that sort of experience and expertise. Not that every single member brings that, but as a House we have that.

Lord Speaker:

But I think you've articulated the situation in the House of Lords very well, in that, in your situation, when you come here, you contribute your expertise and experience. But you're suggesting a global reach for members in the House of Lords, and you also mentioned the University of Oxford. So you could tell us about that and how that informs your work in the House of Lords. You're not here all the time. You've got an expert task outwith the Lords, but you come accompanied by that experience.

Lord Alderdice:

One of the problems about conflict is, it affects people so powerfully emotionally that it's quite difficult to reflect and think about it. When you get into a fight, it's very difficult to think in a rational sort of way, and I've always believed that it's really important for us to think about these things and try to understand them. As a doctor, however much you felt upset about the fact that your patient was unwell and that they were suffering, you needed to bring your thinking parts to bear so that you could make the diagnosis and you could do what was necessary. So when I was working on issues of conflict, I decided to work from a university perspective, and I did that in various ways. And later on I thought, "I think we have learned a few things and I'd like to transmit those to the next generation. I'd like to deepen our understanding through research."

And so I went to Oxford University and set up a small centre there dealing with intractable violent political conflict. Since then, I've expanded that to work with another centre, called the Changing Character of War Centre, at Pembroke College, because we've a changing character of war and a changing character of peace building. The world is changing, and if we're going to be effective, we need to understand that change and we need to change the way that we work if we're going to get a good outcome. So that's what I spend a lot of my time doing now and then bringing that into the work of the Lords.

Lord Speaker:

So what you're saying to me is that a lot of members here have got institutional memory, which is very important. And you also mentioned about the world changing. A number of commentators have mentioned that we live in a world now of polycrisis, where previously we could have intellectual silos for different subjects looking at, but now it's much more complex and difficult to understand and fragile as a result of that. Would you say your membership of the House of Lords helps you in that thinktank process?

Lord Alderdice:

Enormously so, and not least because it gives you historical perspective. You're quite right about the polycrisis that we're experiencing now, but this House has survived through many crises. And when we think about things here, you very often have people in the House who, from their own long experience or their academic and historical understanding, are able to say, "Well now, if you're going to understand this now, you need to understand things from before."

I remember having a conversation... I used to meet quite often with Prime Minister Blair to talk about situations of conflict in various places. We were talking about the Balkans one evening and I said, "Well of course, you can't really understand what's going on in the Balkans if you don't remember what happened when Gladstone and Disraeli were in your situation as prime minister." And he said, "John, I don't really know anything about things before the Second World War." And I thought to myself, "That's why we ended up in Afghanistan." Because anybody that knew anything about the British in Afghanistan in the 1800s knows you don't go in there and win. You go in there and lose.

So this understanding of historical background, deep historical background, is one of the tremendous contributions that the Lords and its members can bring, because it's been around and they've been around for quite a long time. Doesn't mean they're always right, and it certainly doesn't mean that you don't look forward. You don't only look back, you do look forward, but you look forward with an understanding and an interpretation informed by experience, historical experience, and personal experience over many years in a lot of cases.

Lord Speaker:

And we've got one of the finest historians in the House of Lords. Peter Hennessy.

Lord Alderdice:

We have indeed.

Lord Speaker:

And I'm a perpetual student of Peter's.

Lord Alderdice:

That's right. And he came into the House quite skeptical of the place in many ways. But I think when he came in and spent time here, he not only began to appreciate the House itself, he began to make an enormous contribution to the House, as you say, and that's a contribution as a public intellectual that he makes to the wider community as well.

Lord Speaker:

You mentioned Africa. And the population of Africa, within a generation doubling, is it to about two and a half billion?

Lord Alderdice:

That's right.

Lord Speaker:

Now given there's institutional memory here, there's a global reach with the work that you are doing outside. Give us an appreciation of the contemporary situation in Africa and maybe the implications for the future.

Lord Alderdice:

Well, you're quite right. I'm just back from a couple of days in Marrakesh and Morocco with colleagues from the European Union, members of the European Parliament, and political leaders from right across Africa, not just North Africa but the southern part of Africa as well. And it's extraordinary, the difficulties and dangers that there are there. We don't hear so much about it. We're obviously focused very much on Russia and Ukraine, on the situation with China, and various other places. And of course because of our population here, India and Pakistan also takes up quite an area of interest. But as you say, the population of Africa is growing enormously quickly, which means there are a lot of young people with their own wishes and ambitions, and the more they're able to be helped with education, and education is developing a lot in Africa, but that also increases their expectations of life and of what's possible for them.

At the same time, climate change is having a huge impact on Africa. It's making it very problematic. And in addition, the continent is flooded with weapons. There are all sorts of militias with their own agendas. Some of them are just kind of tribal chieftains really. Others have very robust views, religious and otherwise. And there are dangerous conflicts there. And people not respecting the borders, because the borders probably were a bit artificial when they were created in the post-imperial times. So it's a place with huge potential and an increasing population, but with a whole raft of problems, of disease, of starvation developing in various areas, of political difficulties, of young people with expectations.

And of course, one of the reasons, quite frankly, that I think a lot of my European colleagues were interested in having this meeting, is that they knew very well that if things do not go well in Africa, those young people will arrive on our shores. And if that happens, we have to be ready for it. We have to be able to engage with them. In truth, we need many of those bright young people to do things for us, as our population gets older and theirs is younger, but how are we going to manage with that? That's not going to be easy. And so I was glad to participate. I was particularly participating on the security challenges, but there were also all sorts of other things that people were talking about and exploring. And it's important we do that with Africa.

Lord Speaker:

How do you answer the point that ‘we have enough problems of our own, we've got to pull up the drawbridge?’

Lord Alderdice:

It's absolutely true that we have problems, but when you have difficulties, very often it's helpful to turn to friends and talk to them about the difficulties, and you can sometimes find a way through the difficulties that helps you and helps them. One of the problems we have in this country is an increasingly aging population. The two of us will want to make sure that there's enough young people coming through to pay for pensions, to look after us in terms of healthcare, to make sure the economy grows and thrives. And that's not going to work if we have an older and older population and not enough young people coming through. As I've been saying, in Africa, it's the opposite way around. They don't know what to do with the young population. And we can collaborate on these things.

The reason that we in this country were able to quickly develop a vaccine to deal with COVID that helped our people and the world was because colleagues in Oxford have been dealing with the problems of epidemics and infectious diseases in Africa. Because we went out to work with people in Africa, we developed the techniques to produce vaccines much more quickly, and we all benefited from that as well as people across the world. Collaboration and cooperation is to the benefit of all of us. Getting into our silos and pulling up the drawbridge is ultimately not in our best interests, nor theirs.

Lord Speaker:

And collaboration and cooperation, would you suggest that that's a theme of the House of Lords?

Lord Alderdice:

It very much is, because the opportunity to engage with people who have a different background, different political perspective, different faith background, in some cases, that's a tremendous opportunity. And there's an atmosphere, there's a culture, in the House of Lords that helps to benefit that. When I became speaker in Northern Ireland, one of the questions for me was, how am I going to help this bunch of politicians from Northern Ireland, many of whom who have not been legislators in the past at all, they have no experience of a parliament? How am I going to help them? And I decided to come not to the House of Commons, but to the House of Lords, to get clerks from the House of Lords, to get Hansard people, to get... Even when it came to security in the training of the doorkeepers, I got the principal doorkeeper from the House of Lords to come over to Belfast and to train people. Why? I didn't want any kind of increase in confrontation within the Northern Ireland Assembly. I wanted a different kind of culture.

The funny thing I discovered was this. When I looked at the despatch boxes in the Northern Ireland assembly, they were the despatch boxes exactly the same design as in the House of Lords, different from the despatch boxes in the House of Commons. Why? Because actually, when the Northern Ireland parliament was being set up in the 1920s, it was clerks from the House of Lords that they brought over. They recognised in the 1920s what I recognized almost a hundred years later, that the culture of the Lords promotes cooperation in a way that is not the case at the other end of the building. For very good reasons. It's not a criticism of the Commons, but we do things in a different way and we make a different kind of contribution.

Lord Speaker:

Wise words for me as a Lord Speaker here where I have to take forward the programme and cultural change. And maybe lastly, John. That involves leadership. What's your definition of leadership? I want you to help me here.

Lord Alderdice:

You're absolutely right. It's very important. I remember being out in Iraq with Martin McGuinness, talking to some of the parties there, and he said, "The key thing is leadership." And I think leadership means that you've got to first of all think, "What is it I'm trying to achieve here?" So there's a thinking part to it, and then there's an emotional part to it, because you have to find a way of bringing your people along with you. So there's an engagement, there's a set of relationships. And I think the third thing is, there is a degree of courage required. Everybody won't agree with you all of the time.

                                   

I found, for example, that if I had tried to make sure that all the parties in the Assembly agreed with each other, I wouldn't have got anywhere. But I could often get them to the point where they would all accept what I was suggesting. And if it didn't work out, they could blame me, but if it did work out, then we were all able to benefit. So I think one has to be prepared not just to think about what you're doing and relate with the people that you're with, but you've got to be prepared to take your courage in your hand a bit as well, and step out, not foolishly, not thoughtlessly, but you won't necessarily find everybody supporting you as you take the step, but you can bring them along with you and that's what makes the change.

Lord Speaker:              

Absolutely. You remind me of my presence at the funeral of David Trimble, where he had those leadership qualities-

Lord Alderdice:            

He did.

Lord Speaker:              

... but he paid for it as a result. And I think sometimes we forget that, and it come home very markedly to me.

Lord Alderdice:            

You're absolutely right.

Lord Speaker:              

And I've always had a lasting respect for the work in the community of Northern Ireland. As we mentioned with May Blood, Alec Reid, yourselves and others, the Women's Coalition. Keeping that together is really important. Don't leave it to the politicians themselves at the end of the day, because the politicians don't produce the magic spark.

Lord Alderdice:            

That's quite right. We are here as part of the community, and I'm trying to work with the community, and we have a particular role, but it's not the only role and it's not the only important bunch of people. And you're absolutely right. You've mentioned a number of people who paid some price for doing what was necessary, but in the end, have the satisfaction of a life well lived.

Lord Speaker:              

Maybe a last message from you in terms of community. That's really important. In what way is the House of Lords connected with the community? In what way are we part of the community? Sometimes the criticism is that we're aloof, that we're not involved.

Lord Alderdice:            

I think one of the things that many of the NGOs and community organizations around the country have come to appreciate is, that there's often a great deal more openness for them in engaging with the House of Lords. Not least because we can sometimes make more changes that are not based on party political affiliation. We also come from many other parts of the community, and there's an openness for people to come here, physically to come here, thankfully, after COVID, to the House of Lords and meet with colleagues in all party groups and to engage with members of the House of Lords. I think there is a greater realisation of that openness, and I hope very much that we are able to continue to increase that, not just different groups in society, but the different parts of our United Kingdom, all able to be welcomed here and to work with us in the House of Lords.

Lord Speaker:              

Well, John, that was a fascinating discussion. Absolutely. And I'm really grateful for that. But I think in future I'll have you back, not for Lord Speaker's Corner, but for personal advice in your professional capacity! [Laughter]

Lord Alderdice:            

And I won't even charge you! [Laughter]

Lord Speaker:              

Very good, very good.

Lord Alderdice:            

Thank you very much.