Independent crossbench peer, Jane Campbell, successfully challenged parliament on whether her personal assistant (PA) could speak on her behalf, since she is unable to make long speeches.Lady Campbell has a severe form of spinal muscular atrophy, a condition that means she uses a wheel chair and is reliant on a ventilator to breathe for much of the day. When she speaks, she says she literally runs of out puff after a few minutes and needs to take a moment to recover with a few deep breaths.
The decision by the Lords procedure committee overturns a standing order dating back to 1707, which states that “no person shall be on the floor of the House” except peers, Clerks and doorkeepers. She can now be accompanied by a PA, and that her assistant will be able to finish her speeches if needed.
How easy was it to change Parliamentary procedure?
It is not easy to overturn these ancient standing orders. It is a part of the ritual and tradition of the House of Lords. I take my hat off to this committee and my fellow peers. On the first request, there was much resistance but the House of Lords are renowned for listening to the argument and reflecting.
It was up to me to make a good case which included both justifications for the change; as well, I needed to demonstrate that this would not affect the quality of engagement that the House of Lords is internationally reputed for. This took a good deal of and careful consideration on both sides.
What did the change mean for you?
It is what I have always fought for, having complete control of your life, over the way you speak, the way you conduct yourself. If I have my PA by my side I do feel I can conquer the world, and it shows how important personal assistance is for people who cannot for whatever reason manage on their own It will also mean I am more comfortable and effective in the chamber. For example, when someone speaks I can get a PA to scribble it down for me; all Peers need this when listening to complex arguments, especially if responding.
The change sends out a message to other disabled people that even in really difficult times, changes like this can happen. It shows that there are people in this country that want us, need us and are ready to stand by that. I now feel a rounded Parliamentarian.
What do you think about that Hansard, the official record of parliamentary proceedings, would not mention if a speech was completed by your PA?
I agree. My assistant is solely my voice. This is what personal assistance is all about. It is about facilitating the person to be who they are.