We are at a critical juncture in the life of our House. The last year has been exceptionally difficult and hopefully we can soon return to more, if not all of us, working at Westminster. We need to discuss how we do that, so we take account of the needs of all our members, including those with vulnerabilities and disabilities, but we return to other major challenges too. Restoration and Renewal is not only complex and costly, but requires negotiations with our colleagues in the Commons, and having discussed this in the past week with Mr Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, it is clear that the new Lord Speaker will have to work to ensure that the needs of our House are given due recognition. The agenda set out in the Ellenbogen report has still some way to go in implementation; the External Management Review is a major exercise of staff and structural changes, but crucially moving from a culture of deference and central control to one of mutual respect and more devolved decision-making. This is vital, but it is not without real challenges in implementation. It will not just happen, and it needs to be done properly. Then we have the report of the Conduct Committee, changes in the House itself is back on the agenda and far more substantial constitutional change could be down the road if relationships with Scotland and Northern Ireland continue to fray.
So while the Lord Speaker needs to address the public-facing elements of procedure on the Woolsack and dignified representation of the House in public events and with other parliaments, my experience in setting up and running the Northern Ireland Assembly taught me that the more challenging part of the job is behind the scenes working with colleagues and staff at all levels to address the major agenda I have just outlined. It also means ensuring that back-benchers in all the groups and those who are non-aligned are enabled to play their part too. With the challenges we are facing we cannot afford to lose out on the insights and contributions of any of our members or our staff. We don’t have to agree with everyone, but we do need to listen and take them seriously.
It is essential that House has the right person for the job – someone who has demonstrated a sense of personal authority, balance, and rigorous impartiality. I was and am a member of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland whose very name expresses the non-partisan commitment that was our essential contribution to the Peace Process. The three previous Lord Speakers all brought their personal style, emphasis, experience and contribution, and I would bring mine. It would not be a party agenda of any kind because the House needs a Lord Speaker who has shown themselves to be non-partisan and able to work with everyone, robust enough to face difficult challenges, and capable of ensuring that our fellow-citizens understand that our House is not a pale imitation of the Other Place, but an evolving and essential feature of the good governance of our country.
At the end of the next five years, whatever else happens, I want our House to be more confident in doing our job, and for our fellow-citizens to have more confidence in us and in what we do.