Baroness Deech of Cumnor Speaks to 6th form and Year 11
On Friday 5th November Baroness Deech of Cumnore delivered a talk to members of Year 11 and the 6th Form of OLA (Our Lady’s Abingdon) on the roles and functions of the House of Lords. She began by explaining her route to the House of Lord’s from her beginnings in Primary School in London, to securing a scholarship to secondary school and finally studying at Oxford.
She spoke of her many roles including Principal of St Anne’s College at Oxford University, heading the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and being a Governor of the BBC as well as the first Independent Adjudicator of Education before becoming a Life Peer in 2005.
Baroness Deech took the students through the roles of the House of Lords including being a check on the House of Commons, being a wealth of experience on a variety of issues and of course the number of cross benches in the House, of whom she is one, who have no allegiance to a particular political party. She spoke of some of the more familiar faces and bigger personalities from the House of Lord’s including the aura surrounding Baroness Thatcher and the knowledge of Professor Robert Winston. There was also some amusing analysis of photographs showing the Conservative and Liberal Demorcrat peers sitting together and not looking too happy with the situation.
She spoke about some of the legislation which they as a House had scrutinised, amended or tightened up from its initial reading in the House of Commons and made the point that because they are not up for re election they do not make decisions or agree legislation because it may be popular, they do it because it is in the best interests of the country and its citizens. Baroness Deech was also able to talk about the incredible value for money the House of Lord’s is to the UK’s democratic process with Peers having no salary and payment for days of attendance which did not cover the cost of a nights’ accommodation and a secretary to deal with the volume of phone calls and letters that required attention.
Baroness Deech then kindly volunteered to answer questions from the audience of boys and girls which covered a wealth of topics. In terms of reform of the House of Lords Baroness Deech spoke of the need to modernise facilities and possibly voting but not the makeup of the House of Lords. She reaffirmed her support of pre nuptial agreements which was a issue she spoke of with great passion given her background in family law.
When asked about the Post 16 education agenda she commented that perhaps the number of universities should be reduced to ensure a more cost effective system of further education could be put in place where students did not have to incur debt. She actually encouraged the audience to think long and hard about universities and to select courses they would enjoy and had a passion for and where they could share that passion with other likeminded students from across the country and indeed the world. She also expressed her disappointment that universities and the government were turning to business men and women to look after and run universities as she felt philosophers would be better suited to that role.
Baroness Deech also spoke very openly about the impact her own Jewish faith had had on her life and the decisions she had made. She made the point very clearly that faith has a role to play in society and within education and made the point that it could be argued recent Human Rights legislation was being used to tolerate everything except religion and used the example of the Roman Catholic Adoption Agencies as a way of illustrating this point. When asked about the role faith schools played in the education system Baroness Deech made the point that they were popular, set high standards, attained excellent results and had a strong ethos that held the entire school community together which was something lacking in other schools.
The whole event was a huge success. The students certainly left with a greater understanding of the operations of the House of Lords and a number of misconceptions were put to rest. They had the opportunity to ask Baroness Deech questions not only about potential reform of the House of Lords but also about the other roles and positions she had occupied throughout her career and who knows, her presentation may well have inspired some of the men and women in the audience to ponder a career in politics.