Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson has spoken of her desire to join the fight for improved rights for disabled people when she becomes one of four new crossbench peers in the House of Lords this spring.
Dame Tanni said she was “very proud” and “very excited” by the “enormous challenge” ahead of her, following the announcement of her peerage by the House of Lords Appointments Commission.
When asked which areas she will focus on in the Lords, she named three: sport, disability rights and the health service.
She said: “Something that is very important to me is getting an appropriate level of service (in the NHS).”
And she said there was still “so much to do in terms of achieving equality for disabled people”.
She appeared keen to work on disability rights issues in the Lords with other disabled peers such as Baroness Campbell, Lord Low and Baroness Masham, who all come from “incredibly different backgrounds”.
She added: “I think we are quite fortunate that there are a significant number of disabled people in the Lords.”
She is likely to be “introduced” to the Lords in April. As a crossbench peer, she said she was looking forward to being able to form her own opinions, rather than being forced to vote on party lines.
She already looks set to position herself alongside three other disabled peers, Baroness Campbell, Baroness Masham and Baroness Wilkins, in opposing continued efforts to weaken the law on assisted suicide.
Dame Tanni made it clear that she had “huge concerns” about the campaign to legalise assisted suicide and the “emotive” portrayal of disability in the media around the issue.
She said that such campaigns “reinforce the view that being a disabled person is so bad that you might want to kill yourself”.
She admits that she was not approved by the appointments commission when first interviewed in 2008, as its members felt then that she “wasn’t ready”.
She said: “I think I was really nervous the first time and it gave me the opportunity to think if it was something I would like to do if I had the opportunity.”
Following that first interview, she joined Transport for London’s board and now chairs its corporate governance committee, and also became a member of the Youth Citizenship Commission.
Even before those appointments, she was never “just an athlete”, and sat on both the Sports Council for Wales and UK Sport during her stellar career as a professional athlete, in which she won 12 Paralympic gold medals and broke 30 world records.
She is also a board member of UK Athletics and led its review of anti-doping policy in sport, and is vice-chair of the athletes committee of the organising committee for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
She studied politics at university and said she has always been fascinated by the machinery of government and parliament and “how things work”, even though she “always joked at university that I would never get involved in politics”.
But before Dame Tanni takes her place in the Lords, she has to decide on her title. She said she was “very proud” of her Welsh roots but is conscious that she has not lived in Wales for many years.
She said: “I feel quite a lot of pressure on that from people who have literally stopped me in the street. There is more expectation about what I am going to be called then what I am going to do.”
9 February 2010