Jane Campbell hopes to promote social work within House of Lords

Just my luck that as soon as I realise my ambition to take up a seat in the House of Lords, the government indicates that its days really are numbered. But if the outcome is a half elected/half appointed chamber that would suit me just fine.

I know not everyone in this sector is a big fan of the Lords and some see hereditary peers as an anachronism.

However, there are talented people among them and those who are prepared to work hard and use the second chamber to press for positive change should not be afraid of the democratic process. I think in a public vote those who really have something to offer will retain their seats.

Certainly when I take my place in the Lords next month as Baroness Campbell of Surbiton I plan to use the position as a platform to raise the profile of social care.

But I accept the processes surrounding the peerage are somewhat bizarre and arcane. That hit home when I went to see the Garter King, who is in charge of heraldry, and found him ensconced in the most beautiful building, with 24 exquisite carved steps leading up to his door. Needless to say it was totally inaccessible to me and my wheelchair, so the King and I had to hold our meeting in my car, which was a bit of a novelty.

I discovered that along with the job you get a seal and scroll in a big red box. I asked my baroness friend what I should do with the box and she replied “keep it under the bed like the rest of us do”.

So once I’m kitted out with my ermine and swear allegiance to Queen and country then I’m in.

Of course I would have liked to have been an MP, but I know that I just would not have been able to engage with the arduous routine. I’m just not up to a gruelling schedule travelling up and down the country and attending 20 meetings every day. It’s a physical impossibility for me. But I figured the House of Lords might be more do-able.

You apply just like an ordinary job. And you need a lot of references to show you are not just a one trick pony.

I decided to go for it after I was involved in the lead up to the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and getting the direct payments legislation through.

I believe that was probably the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life. It really meant something.

It promoted independence for disabled people by moving away from the same old services to something genuinely different. It was about people taking control of their lives to a far greater extent.

I just love all the debating and amending that leads up to passing laws. It was the same when I worked closely with peers during the 2005 debate on euthanasia, when Lord Joffe was proposing a bill enabling doctors to prescribe drugs to people who wanted to end their lives.

What is good about having a second chamber is that it is a thoughtful and robust debating arena freed up from the party line. With the Lords being less partisan than the Commons, people are able to think things through from every possible perspective so there’s more chance to scrutinise proposals.

I hope my new role will enable me to give some added leadership to human rights, disability and social care. Equality issues remain close to my heart and I hope to continue what I started at the Social Care Institute for Excellence.

I understand the House of Lords is not everybody’s cup of tea.

But I would urge the sceptics to reserve judgement and wait and see what I do with the role. I really believe I can use it as a platform to generate enthusiasm and press for further strides towards independent living and self-determination.

I really hope the social care world will see me as their peer. I may be “in another place” as they call it. But I certainly haven’t gone away.

Dame Jane Campbell is a “people’s peer” and former chair of the Social Care Institute for Excellence

This article appeared in the 22 March issue of the magazine under the headline “Hold on…Don’t bin the Lords just yet!”


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