Lord Black is a Conservative peer and Deputy Chairman of Telegraph Media Group. Lord Lexden is the Conservative Party’s official historian. His website can be found here.
Next week, the House of Lords will elect a new Lord Speaker. It is a crucial appointment. The Lord Speaker has a vital role to play in the management of Parliament and the people who serve it, in protecting and enhancing the reputation of the Lords, and protecting the rights of backbenchers as we go about our most important task of all: scrutinising legislation in detail, for which the Commons lacks sufficient time.
Norman Fowler, elected last time from our Conservative benches, is no easy act to follow. He has been an exemplary Lord Speaker, driving change in many important areas and acting as our ambassador. His understanding of the importance of the House of Lords in our constitutional arrangements is visceral. We will be incredibly sorry to see him go – even though the causes of LGBT+ equality and the evisceration of HIV/AIDS by 2030, to which he will now commit himself, will be huge beneficiaries of his wisdom and energy.
The House of Lords is in some ways very lucky in that we have three excellent candidates – two from the Labour benches and one independent – from whom to choose. They would all make admirable Lord Speakers.
But for us – one the Conservative Party’s official historian, the other a former Director of Communications for CCHQ, with between us more than seventy years of service to the Party, twenty or more of them in the Lords – the towering candidate is the independent candidate, John Alderdice.
Lord Alderdice has the perfect blend of talents we need in the Lords as we move forward, following an outside review of our management and working practices, to create a more effective House.
He is above all bipartisan, which is, as Norman Fowler showed (and indeed our first two Lord Speakers, Helene Heyman and Frances D’ Souza, before him) absolutely vital in the role, but he also knows how to lead from the front when he needs to.
He has the experience from his time as the first Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly (established under the historic 1998 Belfast Agreement, to which he made a major contribution), and of building consensus among competing interests – and personalities – which is crucial in maintaining successfully our long tradition of self-regulation and our authority in the face of much outside criticism.
He is a first-class ambassador who understands the importance of communications – especially in the world of digital media – and will not be afraid to put his head over the parapet to state our case, something he will need to do frequently. He represents the nations and regions of our country at a time when the Union itself is in peril – and his appointment would send a powerful signal that our House is one for the whole of the United Kingdom.
From his experience as an energetic and effective backbencher in the Lords for a quarter of a century, he understands to his core the needs of its members and will respect and champion them, irrespective of party or position.
He supports change, which we all know is essential, but is no revolutionary. He will push forward the agenda for change to ensure that everyone who works in our House is valued and respected; he will safeguard and champion our interests where it comes to the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster which has been delayed for far too long and above all he will commit himself to rebuilding the reputation of the House, which has suffered considerable damage in recent years.
As a House – and as a vital part of the UK’s constitutional arrangements – we face many challenges ahead.
We need to push forward with change, while respecting the customs and mores of our House, and our tradition of self -regulation. We need to give full scope to the talents of our members, who make us the most extraordinarily experienced second chamber in the world.
We need to deal with the size of the Lords – but doing so in a way which can achieve consensus and recognises that an absolute prerequisite is restraint on the part of the Prime Minister in creating new peerages. We need to renew and restore our reputation as much as we need to renew and restore our buildings.
Those challenges are immense. Alderdice – a man of dignity, authority and experience – is the man to unite us all in dealing with them.