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Lords Diary: Baroness Deech

Lords Diary: Baroness Deech

Cecil Rhodes statue, Oriel College, Oxford | Alamy

4 min read

A confession – I have enjoyed lockdown. I have enough space and a garden, and have become closer to our neighbours by all joining a WhatsApp for the road.

I have been to London for the first time in more than a year to see my daughter’s new house. It’s further away from the centre but she found living in a flat with no garden a trial during lockdown. Unfortunately my electric car, of which I am self-righteously proud, has a range of only 118 miles, so it cannot get me to London and back without a recharge. And there is nowhere to charge it alongside the terrace house she will soon call home. Nor can I charge it at the House of Lords. For years and years, officials have been planning electric car charge points but they are still not in place. Demand is growing and Parliament should set an example. The national infrastructure is lacking, and range anxiety is going to sap the confidence needed to buy an electric car in the foreseeable future. Another confession – we also have a petrol car.

The big event of the week was the Liaison Committee session to review the progress of the recommendations made by the select committee on Equality and Disabled People I chaired in 2016. I found the experience tremendously enriching and informative, albeit the testimony we received from a multitude of witnesses was depressing. The laws are in place but are not enforced or they are unimplemented and overlooked. Rather predictably and sadly, most of the witnesses told us things were worse for disabled people now than they were five years ago. This was in part because their needs were not considered when Covid measures were put in place, but also because there seemed to be a lot of buck-passing from department to department, minister to minister, and overall more attention seems to have been paid to possible burdens on business than the needs and rights of disabled people. We hope the report of the Liaison Committee will jolt the relevant officials into action, not only for the sake of disabled people, but for all of us – in an ageing society most end up with a sight, hearing or mobility impairment.

On whom will the mob turn next?

I wasn’t lucky in the Private Member’s Bill ballot – I never am – so I have submitted my bill for the second round. I am trying to reform the law on splitting assets in divorce to bring it into line with most of the rest of the western world, with firmer principles and equal division of marital assets. After all there is no point in introducing “no fault” divorce if disputes over property remain as costly and unpleasant as they are.

At home in Oxford I have finally had time to take French lessons online, though I can’t see much improvement so far. I was good when I took A-level 60 years ago, but now the words don’t come when I try to speak. Eight very different classmates get together on Microsoft Teams with a teacher from Oxford University Continuing Education. We chat and he works us very hard. I am still connected with the university, which is embroiled in freedom of speech disputes. I deplore the announcement by 150 Oxford lecturers that they will boycott students at Oriel College because the college decided not to take down the statue of Cecil Rhodes, perched high above its Rhodes Building on the High Street. I was a founding trustee of the Mandela-Rhodes Foundation and since Mandela approved the linkage of his name with Rhodes that is good enough for me. Taking out one’s disapproval on totally innocent and uninvolved students seems an abuse of academic freedom, a gesture that will do nothing to advance the wellbeing of those to whom Rhodes is offensive. On whom will the mob turn next? Truly Oxford is the home of lost causes.

Baroness Deech is a Crossbench peer

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