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Parliament Week: Everyone’s voice matters

Parliament Week: Everyone’s voice matters
3 min read

Parliament Week is a great time to get involved and to talk about things that matter to you. Everyone’s voice matters. That’s what democracy is all about. Parliamentarians need to know your concerns, but also your ideas for making people’s lives safer and better.

Perhaps you are worried about social media and are concerned that it’s getting harder to know what is true and what is fake news. Perhaps you are worried about too much violence on our TV screens, both in the news, and in endless crime series. Perhaps you have a learning disability and are still making sense of the pandemic and the support and friendship you have lost in the last 18 months.

Many people wonder what the House of Lords does. Why do we have it? Do people really wear robes trimmed with ermine to go to work? The answer to that last question is a resounding, “No!” Members of the Lords are mostly experts and have years of life experience to bring to their role. Most of us are not elected, but we are appointed in different ways.

If elected MPs haven’t thought carefully enough about an issue, we ask them to think again

I am a crossbencher, which simply means that I am independent of any political party. I’ve had years of experience in mental health services, especially through my work with people with learning disabilities and autistic people. I also speak on press regulation, health and social care, international development, and medical ethics.

Our job is to scrutinise legislation. We vote sparingly, but debate issues thoroughly. If elected MPs haven’t thought carefully enough about an issue, we ask them to think again. MPs have the final word, but we want to ensure that they’ve had the best advice we can give them.

A lot of discussion these days happens virtually, often in a bubble of like-minded people. The algorithms that bring people together online seem to encourage people with the same views to reinforce existing opinions, rather than to allow any space for new ideas. The risk is that groupthink develops. That’s not really listening.

The first thing is to listen to others and ask them to listen to you, not to criticise or exclude them for not sharing your starting position. Understand a person’s point of view, and if you still disagree, prepare your opposing arguments well. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind. These are the same skills as needed in parliamentary debate.

House of Lords debates are notoriously polite and formal. Members call each other My Noble Friend - even when one disagrees profoundly. This formality, and let’s face it, the average age of members of the Lords might trick you into imagining that we might be a bit out of touch. Well, my children and grandchildren tell me in no uncertain terms if they think I got it wrong!

My very recent contributions include a debate on the detention of distressed people with learning disabilities and autistic people in psychiatric hospitals for an average of five and a half years, if social care isn’t meeting their needs. And my, hopefully authoritative, three-minute speech in the recent Assisted Dying Private Member’s Bill, which drew on my medical expertise. The debate was described by some ill-informed parts of the media as unopposed, but it was vigorously and politely opposed by around half the speakers, including myself.

This is the Lords at its best. And this Bill isn’t over yet. We need to understand why people are so worried about dying so that we can recommend the right solution.

It’s hard work, but very rewarding. Do tune in and listen to us sometime.

 

Baroness Hollins is a crossbench peer in the House of Lords. 

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