Lord Goddard: Peers should spend more time talking to young people – here’s why
Every now and then, the Peers Outreach Program provides proof that democracy in the United Kingdom is alive and well, writes Lord Goddard
It’s a damp grey Friday morning in January and I’m at the Wellacre Academy in Urmston, Greater Manchester, under the shadow of the Trafford Centre. I’m attending a meeting with students to discuss the Upper Chamber, as part of the House of Lords’ Peers Outreach Program.
The students were asked to think of a question to put to me the night before the talk. As you would expect, the usual ones pop up: ‘Do you wear a crown?’ How much do you get paid?’ ‘Have you met the Queen?’ Then a hand goes up from the back. His name is Conner Pollitt, he’s 15-years-old. He asks nervously: “After the Grenfell Tower fire, why hasn’t more action been taken to rebuild the lives of people affected by the tragedy?”
I’m taken aback. A boy who lives 200 miles away, has never been to London, never mind visited Grenfell Tower, is concerned about the terrible plight of the families still living through the horrors of that tragic night.
I do the peers outreach visits as many times as I can. I enjoy meeting young students who will be the citizens of tomorrow. I have been to the fantastic Cardinal Allen Catholic High School in Fleetwood on the North-West coast; to schools in deepest Cheshire were one pupil asked, “how do I become a Conservative MP?”; not to mention the urban inner-city academies where that would be the last question raised. However, Conner was the first student to ask about a real event, and show real emotion and concern for others.
I told him I could not answer his question; however, I would get him an answer from the government. The class gave a collective shrug of the shoulders, another politician fobbing us off.
On my return to the House of Lords, I was determined to put Conner’s question down in the House and see what happened. I sat in the queue outside the Table office to put my question down for more than two hours. The clerk helpfully tried to smarten up the wording, I said no and explained why and the clerk positively beamed at me and wished me well.
On February 27 I hope the Minister will answer Conner’s question in the House of Lords and the students of Wellacre Academy will watch it live on television. It will be proof that democracy in the United Kingdom is alive and well when a young boy whose only concern was for the welfare of other people has been be heard, and he has got a reply from the heart of government.
I am certain if peers and MPs spent more time talking to and engaging with young people, it would not only help to create a society more at ease with itself but also help make communities more tolerant of each other. Conner Pollitt is living proof it can be done.
Lord Goddard of Stockport is a Liberal Democrat Peer. His oral question on Grenfell Tower is on place on Tuesday 27 February