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Baroness Gillian Shephard

Position: Chairman of The Association of Conservative Peers

Last Updated: Friday, June 24th, 2011

Gillian Shephard is probably one of the most unassuming politicians to have held high office in recent years.

Norfolk born and bred, she worked as a teacher, schools inspector and lecturer before entering Parliament, during which time she also served on Norfolk County Council – as Deputy Leader for five year in the 1980s – and as Chairman of her local health authority.

She sailed into the Commons as MP for South West Norfolk in 1987 and within two years had been appointed a junior minister at the Department for Social Security. After being a vocal backer of John Major during the 1990 leadership contest, he sent her to the Treasury – the first woman to hold office as a minister there – and after the 1992 election she was promoted to the Cabinet.

Unfactional and unideological, personable and approachable, she spent that entire Parliament in three Cabinet jobs, successively at the Department for Employment, Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and Department for Education and Employment – and then remained at the top table in shadow cabinet for the first two years of William Hague’s leadership.

She may have stepped down from frontline politics in 1999, but it was not until 2005 that she left the Commons and was duly awarded a peerage. The following year she was elected chairman of the Association of Conservative Peers and she remains in that role to this day.

The ACP chairman is effectively the shop steward of the Tory peers – akin to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee in the House of Commons – and the fact that she is rarely written about in the media proves that she is very good at carrying out that function with discretion.

In the last seven days she has been named as one of the Conservative peers due to serve on the Joint Committee of both Houses which will scrutinise the Government’s plans for reforming the House of Lords.

Given that during the two-day debate on Lords reform which took place in the Upper House this week, there was virtually no support from the Tory benches for a fully- or majority-elected second chamber, Baroness Shephard will be expected to represent that view during the Joint Committee’s deliberations.

This should not cause her much difficulty, since she voted herself for the Lords to remain 100% appointed when the Lords debated and divided on the issue in March 2007.

Jonathan Isaby

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