Effectiveness is key to future of Lords, says leader

John Hess
Political editor, East Midlands

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image captionBaroness Stowell of Beeston is leader of the House of Lords

Effectiveness not necessarily reform is the way ahead for the House of Lords, according to its leader.

"Judge us on what we do and whether we make a difference," Baroness Stowell of Beeston told me.

Since her appointment as Leader by the prime minister last year, Tina Stowell has settled into her role.

That was despite some initial political turbulence over the role's status in cabinet and accusations that it was being devalued.

The Coalition's thwarted attempt in 2011 to reform the Lords and introduce some directly-elected peers now seems a distant memory.

"That was decided by the Commons - the democratically elected chamber of this parliament - not the Lords," she added.

image captionBaroness Stowell entered the House of Lords in January 2011 and was appointed leader last year

I detected little enthusiasm from Baroness Stowell to rush back to a reform agenda.

"What I'm concerned about is making sure this House is as effective as it can possibly be. That's as it is now. That's what we are doing.

"We make a lot of difference when we scrutinise legislation. A lot of it is detail, so it doesn't make big headlines and it doesn't excite the press lobby.

"But it does bring about some changes.

"Judge us on what we do. It's different to the Commons, and that's also important too. That's what I'm more interested in."

So who exactly is Baroness Stowell?

Tina Stowell was born in the Nottingham suburb of Beeston in 1967 and educated at a local comprehensive and FE college.

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image captionBaroness Stowell believes the House of Lords exists to scrutinise and revise legislation

She joined the civil service at 18 years old, and later worked in Downing Street during John Major's premiership.

Then came her years as the BBC's Head of Corporate Affairs.

She was appointed Baroness Stowell of Beeston in 2011, and last year the Prime Minister gave her the top job as Leader of the Lords.

But she hasn't forgotten her Nottinghamshire roots. She's been visiting local schools urging teenage girls to be as determined as she was to get to the top.

"My basic message to all of them is that I come from a similar background.

"The thing that led to my success was a real commitment to work hard. It's possible to succeed but you have got to be confident in what you can bring to any situation," she added.

'I fly the flag for Beeston'

She wasn't brought up in a particularly political family: her father was a painter and decorator; her mum worked in a factory.

However, her grandfather Frederick Stowell was a Labour councillor on the former Beeston urban district council and in the 1950s was the town's mayor.

During Tina Stowell's school years at Chilwell Comprehensive, Mrs Thatcher was in Downing Street. Yet Baroness Stowell maintains her main political inspiration was her parents' work ethic.

"I wouldn't say Margaret Thatcher was a role model. What was then more relevant to me was a sense there were opportunities for people to be successful, in whatever they were doing.

"My father was self-employed and out to work every day. That shaped my politics and made me a Conservative."

But how representative is the House of Lords these days? A survey by the Lords' library revealed that less than 2% of working peers claimed to come from the East Midlands, giving it the lowest representation of any English region.

"The Commons is where people are elected to represent a constituency and different parts of the UK," she told me.

"We are not here to represent any part of the country at all. What we are though is a wide range of people and a wide range of experiences and expertise."

There is no doubting this politician's determination to bang the drum for the Lords and her home town.

"I fly the flag for Beeston and I'm very proud to fly the flag for Beeston. I wanted to be Baroness Stowell of Beeston.

"The House of Lords is a revising chamber, we exist to scrutinise legislation and inform public policy.

"That's important because we should be giving people confidence in the laws that Parliament makes."

Baroness Stowell will be on Sunday Politics East Midlands at 11:00 GMT and on iPlayer afterwards.

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