50th anniversary of Lord Constantine, the first black life peer, taking his seat in the House of Lords

26 March 2019

Lord Fowler, the Lord Speaker, and Baroness Benjamin today welcomed to the House of Lords a bust of Lord Learie Constantine, the first black Life Peer who took his seat in the House of Lords 50 years ago today on 26 March 1969.

A lo-res image of the Lord Speaker and Baroness Benjamin with the bust of Lord Constantine is attached. To request a hi-res image please contact the House of Lords Press Office on 020 7219 8535 or email lordspressoffice@parliament.uk

The bust, which is on loan to the House of Lords from the National Portrait Gallery, will be on display in the Robing Room in the House of Lords until 22 April, when it will be moved to become part of an exhibition on the life and work of Learie Constantine in the House of Lords.

Lord Constantine became the first black person to be appointed to the House of Lords as a life peer on 26 March 1969. This followed the passing of the Life Peerages Act in 1958 which opened the House to the whole of society, with members being appointed to contribute to our parliamentary democracy based on their knowledge and experience, regardless of their gender or background.

The Life Peerages Act began a process of increasing diversity in the House of Lords. As well as the appointment of women for the first time, it facilitated the appointment of Black and Minority Ethnic members who could bring wider experience to the legislative and scrutiny work of the House. 

Commenting, as he welcomed the bust of Lord Constantine, Lord Fowler, the Lord Speaker, said:

“The appointment of Lord Constantine marked a watershed for the House of Lords, and it is right we celebrate it today on the 50th anniversary of his introduction to the House and over the coming months. His arrival as the first black life peer paved the way for the many brilliant Black and Minority Ethnic members we have in the House today.

“Learie Constantine was both a sporting icon and a man who contributed hugely to the advancement of race relations in this country. He made an outstanding contribution to cricket and then took on the even greater challenge of changing attitudes and confronting prejudice. His example is an encouragement to everyone.

Baroness Benjamin, the second Trinidadian to be appointed to the House of Lords after Lord Constantine, said:

“When I was appointed to the House of Lords, I was very pleased to know I would be following in the footsteps of Learie Constantine, who lived in the same town as me in Trinidad. He was a great pioneering Trinidadian who achieved so much on the cricket field and in his contribution to public life in the UK.

“During the Second World War, he served as a welfare officer for West Indian and West African servicemen in the North West of England and won a landmark legal case against the Imperial Hotel when it refused him and his family a room because they were black. He achieved that victory without the benefit of the Race Relations Board which he later served on and in doing so paved the way for the Windrush Generation.

“Lord Constantine was a brave and determined man who made a real difference to the lives of many people in the UK and in Trinidad. I am so pleased the House of Lords is taking this opportunity to celebrate his legacy and outstanding contribution.”

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