Lords Diary – Lord Frost
Image by: Peter Cripps / Alamy Stock Photo
From scrutiny of net-zero and the Trans-Pacific trade deal, to the pleasure of finally getting the opportunity to visit TS Eliot's family church
I have appeared many times before select committees of both Houses – not always, I admit, with huge pleasure. But I’m still excited to finally be a member of one, the Environment and Climate Change Committee. The exasperated Guardian reported me as having “wacky fringe views” on climate. But no subject needs proper debate more than net-zero, and I take comfort from the fact that one day’s fringe view is another day’s mainstream opinion – as the pandemic showed us. Watch this space.
Talking of minority opinions, the Lords has just finished considering the bill bringing into force the CPTPP – the big new Trans-Pacific trade deal. Many said that Britain, outside the European Union, would never get any trade agreements of its own, still less a huge one like this. Liam Fox and Liz Truss ignored them, pushed ahead, and here we are. As I said at Second Reading, I just wish Parliament could get a proper vote on such treaties. The European Parliament gets one and it doesn’t seem right that here, almost uniquely, leaving the EU reduces democratic scrutiny.
Commentators say the next election campaign will be dull. Don’t bet on it
For the last couple of years I have spent nearly every other weekend speaking and campaigning for the Conservative Party around the country. Most recently I was in Somerset, where we have two brilliant candidates in the shape of Faye Purbrick and Lucy Trimnell to win back the ground lost to the Liberal Democrats in Somerton and Frome last summer. I’ve learned from these events that, while people may have switched off from Westminster games, they haven’t switched off from politics. In fact, Brexit has whetted the appetite. Voters want a battle of ideas. They want those they elect to deliver what they promised. Commentators say the next election campaign will be dull. Don’t bet on it.
The other reason I enjoy these visits is that they often take me to parts of the country I don’t know well. And, indeed, in Somerset I was able to get to a place I’d always wanted to go, as a confirmed devotee of TS Eliot – East Coker. Eliot’s family left this small Somerset village for America in the 17th century. He remade the connection when he came to live in England, named the second of his Four Quartets after it, and his ashes now rest in the church. The poem was read at our wedding: “the association of man and woman, in daunsinge, signifying matrimonie”. Wonderful to see the real place at last.
I was lucky enough to be invited by Baroness Meyer to the January book launch of Survivors, her husband Christopher’s fictionalised account of her family’s lives in revolutionary Russia. Like me, Christopher spent most of his life in the Foreign Office, and we younger diplomats looked up to him as one of its most colourful figures (in all senses: he was famous for his red socks). Sadly he died just before completing the novel, but in a last act of love Catherine finished it off and got it published. At the launch we were surrounded by costumes from Netflix’s The Crown, somehow conveying along with the book the aristocratic grandeur swept away by Bolshevism. Buy it and read it. You’ll love it.
If there was something I could change about the way the Lords works, it would be the daily questions to ministers. We daily see the frustration of those who want to ask a supplementary and can’t get in despite repeated trying. Our self-regulated House has many advantages, but in this area it seems to me it gives an advantage to those of us with a loud voice and a certain kind of personality. I suspect we would get more varied perspectives, and sometimes perhaps even more knowledgeable questions, with different, more organised, arrangements. Maybe, dare I say it, we could learn something from the Commons?
Lord Frost is a Conservative peer
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