Disabled crossbench peer Lady Campbell of Surbiton becomes first person in 305 years to be allowed to speak in the House of Lords with the aid of a personal assistant

 

A member of the House of Lords made parliamentary history by becoming the first person in 305 years to be allowed to speak with the aid of a personal assistant.

Lady Campbell of Surbiton, a crossbench peer, was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy as a baby and relies on a ventilator to breathe. She is only able to speak for a few minutes without needing time for recovery.

Speaking without the aid of an assistant during the second reading debate on the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, she said: “My Lords, I am delighted to return to the Chamber today after a long period of illness. I am even more delighted to be accompanied by my assistant,” going on to describe the overruling of Standing Order 12 as “equality in action”. Her assistant then took over as she rested, before Lady Campbell herself closed her arguments.

The Order dates from 1707, and states: “When the House is sitting, no person shall be on the floor of the House except Lords of Parliament.” But in July this year, it was agreed that a “reasonable adjustment” could be made in Lady Campbell’s case.

“It is not easy to overturn these ancient standing orders,” she said at the time. “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. There was not one objection.”

Before, she had to rely on fellow disabled peers including Baroness Wilkins and Baroness Grey-Thompson to finish speeches on her behalf.

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