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Diary of a new Life Peer

Updated Tuesday, 21 May 2024

In 2024, Carmen Smith became the youngest person ever to be appointed as a life peer in the House of Lords, as Baroness Smith of Llanfaes. Here, she recounts what being nominated and then taking up her seat was like. What did the process involve? Who did she meet along the way? And what does she hope to accomplish as a member of the House of Lords?

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House of LordsInterior of the House of Lords. Parliamentary copyright image reproduced with the permission of UK Parliament.

Biography: Carmen Smith, Baroness Smith of Llanfaes
Carmen Smith was born in Salisbury in 1996, before moving to Llanfaes, on Ynys Môn, aged seven. As a teenager, she was a young carer to her father. Smith served as Deputy President of NUS Wales before going on to work in international development, at the European Parliament, for Plaid Cymru, and for a renewable energy company. She was also a candidate in the 2019 European Parliament election. In 2024, Smith was appointed to the House of Lords as Baroness Smith of Llanfaes, becoming the youngest member of the House.

Baroness Smith of Llanfaes

Why did you want to become a member of the House of Lords?

I do not support an unelected upper chamber. But while the House of Lords exists and continues to make laws that impact people in Wales, then I believe we must be in the room and speak up.

When it comes to democracy and how we are governed, we should rip up the playbook and design something much more democratic, open, and modern.

I am a supporter of Welsh independence and hope to be part of the journey in developing a modern democracy that works for the people of Wales.

What do you hope to achieve as a member of the House of Lords?

I will work alongside my party’s MPs to fight for a fair deal for Wales and hold current and future UK governments to account.

I will be unashamed in advocating for a fairer, more sustainable, and ultimately independent future for Cymru.

As a young woman, I will work to inspire the next generation of women to take an active role in our communities and our nation.

Take us through a timeline of your journey to the House of Lords.

31 October 2023

Following the announcement by Lord Wigley, Plaid Cymru’s only member of the House of Lords, that he wished to retire, the Chief Executive of Plaid Cymru emailed all members of the National Register of Candidates to officially open nominations for the party’s next nominee(s) to the House of Lords.

Two hustings would take place, followed by a vote among party members present at the hustings.

Candidates would be elected on the basis of a system of the first position being held by a woman, the second position open, and then alternating in the same way.

The ranked choice or instant runoff proportional voting system would be used to determine a position on the list. The candidate at the top of the list would be nominated by the party leader to the House of Lords. The other names in turn would be proposed if a further vacancy occurs within the next five years. Successful nominees will re-submit themselves for internal selection five years after the initial selection process.

16 and 17 November 2023

I submitted my nomination to the Designated Officer on 16 November and the nominations closed on 17 November.

*Facts correct at time of publishing - May 2024. 

30 November and 2 December 2023

Two hustings took place – one virtual via Zoom and one held in-person at Aberystwyth University. At both hustings all candidates had an opportunity to deliver a speech. Then a broad range of questions were asked by members with each of the candidates given two minutes to answer each question. After the hustings, the members in attendance were then asked to cast their votes.

The votes were counted after the last ballot was cast at the hustings in Aberystwyth. The candidates were then informed of the overall result, which was that I was in first place on the list.

6 December 2023

The Leader of Plaid Cymru sent a letter to the Cabinet Office confirming that I was the Plaid Cymru nominee. The nomination was then sent to the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC) for vetting.

HOLAC’s role is to carry out necessary checks on all nominees. These include checking with relevant government departments and agencies and other organisations, including the Electoral Commission, as well as carrying out a media search. For political peerages, the Commission checks the propriety of nominees.

9 February 2024

The Secretary to HOLAC notified me that the vetting process had been completed and that their advice had been provided to the Prime Minister. The Commission offered their support for my nomination.

The Prime Minister agreed to the nomination (along with other nominees from other political parties) and 10 Downing Street then notified the Garter Principal King of Arms, the Clerk of the Parliaments, and Black Rod’s Office of the new political peerage list.

The political peerages list was published by the Prime Minister’s office, confirming my nomination alongside 12 other nominees.

16 February 2024

I met with Garter King of Arms at the College of Arms in London. Before anyone becomes a member of the House of Lords, a title has to be agreed and legal documents called Letters Patent and a Writ of Summons must be prepared.

I asked to be named after the small village of Llanfaes, in Ynys Môn, where I grew up on a council estate. I think it is extremely important to stay grounded in the role I’m about to take on. 

Choosing Llanfaes as my ‘territorial designation’ is an important reminder to me about where I come from. In my new role I want to shine a light on underprivileged areas — places just like Llanfaes.

6 March 2024

Before taking my seat, I spent a day visiting the House of Lords to attend several induction briefings.

I met with Black Rod, to confirm the arrangements for my introduction ceremony on 21 March, including confirming who would be introducing me, as it is required that two current members of House formally take part in the ceremony. I chose Lord Wigley and Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle. Lord Wigley is a fellow Plaid Cymru member, and Baroness Bennett is a member of the Greens.

I also requested a fake fur robe instead of real fur, in support of animal welfare. In addition, I confirmed that I would like to take the affirmation in Welsh.

I met with the Clerk of the Parliaments, as an introduction to the practices and procedures in the Chamber of the House of Lords and Grand Committee. I was given a copy of the Companion to the Standing Orders, which is the authoritative text on House of Lords procedure. This includes an explainer of the roles in the Parliament such as the Lord Speaker, the general working pattern of when the Chamber sits, the ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’ of conduct in the Chamber, the rules of debate, and voting procedure.

I also met with the Registrar of Interests to run through the rules in relation to declaring and registering any financial and other relevant interests.

And just like with most jobs, I met with the IT team to introduce me to the digital tools available to me.

13 March 2024

I received a letter notifying me that the preliminary formalities relating to my peerage were now complete. Notice of my peerage had been sent to both the London and Edinburgh Gazettes for publication as soon as possible.

18 March 2024

The Crown Office published in the London Gazette:

‘THE KING has been pleased by Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the Realm dated 13 March 2024 to confer the dignity of a Barony of the United Kingdom for life upon the following:

In the forenoon

Carmen Ria Smith, by the name, style and title of BARONESS SMITH OF LLANFAES, of Llanfaes in the County of Ynys Môn.’

21 March 2024

Joined by my family and friends, who sat in the public gallery above the Chamber, I was introduced formally to the House of Lords through the traditional introduction ceremony.

The ceremony involves one of the clerks reading out my Letters Patent, me making the Affirmation that is required by law, and signing the code of conduct.

25 March 2024

My first full sitting day as a member of the House of Lords began with Oral Questions. This was followed by attending the committee stage (day 8) of the Victims and Prisoners Bill. I also attended a Grand Committee Session on the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill.

25 April 2024

I gave my maiden speech during a debate on the topic of affordable housing. The debate motion tabled for the debate was:

Viscount Chandos to move that this House takes note of the supply of genuinely affordable housing, its impact on the economy, and the steps needed to increase supply, particularly for key workers and those on lower incomes.

In my speech, I spoke about how the housing crisis is affecting young people in particular, and drew attention to the large number of people in Wales, including children, who are in temporary or emergency accommodation. I also spoke about the intersection of housing policy (which is devolved to Wales) and social security policy (which remains the responsibility of the UK Government). I also paid tribute to my party’s other peer, Lord Wigley, and set out some of the principles that will guide me in my work as a member of the House of Lords.

My speech was about ten minutes long, and I was congratulated after it by other members in the Chamber, including Lord Wigley and the Green Party peer Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing also congratulated me, in Welsh, and responded on behalf of the UK Government to some of the concerns I raised about the housing crisis. 

Having made my maiden speech, I will be able to put my name down to speak in other debates.

It’s been almost six months since this process started, and now all of the formalities are out of the way, it’s time to get on with the job at hand.


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