The House of Lords has long encouraged a spirit of imperviousness to conventional wisdom, whether because of its members' rank and wealth, or more recently when those appointed to the upper chamber have risen so high in their various careers and callings. Baroness Cox of Queensbury, its former Deputy Speaker, is a prime example.

A nurse, educationalist and human rights campaigner, she caught Margaret Thatcher's eye in 1982 and was named as a Tory working peer. "The first baroness I ever met," recalls this feisty 73-year-old, "was when I looked in the mirror that morning". Ever since, she has used the red benches to raise neglected, inconvenient and unfashionable causes.

"I prefer to think of myself," she muses over Earl Grey and scones in the House of Lords tea room, as the "voice of the voiceless". Her latest crusade is to rally to the defence of British Muslim women, spurred on by the recent decision of the Law Society to publish "good practice" notes for solicitors on making wills compliant with sharia. This can deny women equal shares of inheritance, and exclude children born out of wedlock.

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