Sick Pay

Baroness Blower Excerpts
Monday 17th January 2022

(2 days, 10 hours ago)

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Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I can confirm to the noble Baroness that there is no intention on the Government’s part to penalise anybody for where they live. The noble Baroness has asked quite a detailed question and, if it is acceptable to her, I will go away and find out the answer and write to her with it.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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My Lords, new analysis from the TUC today estimates that a quarter of a million private sector workers were self-isolating last month with no decent sick pay or with no pay at all. Will the Minister commit to meeting with some urgency with the TUC to move forward on the ideas already expressed from these Benches?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I am always happy to meet people to learn more and find out exactly the points they are making. I want to find out exactly who in the department is best to do that, and I will come back to the noble Baroness—but a meeting will happen.

Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill

Baroness Blower Excerpts
Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, on her success in getting her amendment through. I very much hope that the Government will take the opportunity to respond positively with an amendment in lieu. However, I think it is still important to continue the debate on this amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Sikka—to which I was pleased to add my name—as evidenced by his powerful speech introducing it.

I have already spoken so my position is clear, but I want to make three brief points. First, in all humility as a new Member, I believe that this amendment is this House doing its job. We did not vote against the Bill at Second Reading, which would have killed it. This amendment effectively sends a blank sheet back to the Commons, asking it to think again, as is our constitutional right.

Secondly, the amendment makes the point that the Bill constitutes a clear abrogation of a voluntary election promise. We must keep on repeating the point; time spent doing so is not wasted. This Government have too often broken promises—every opportunity should be taken to remind people of that.

Thirdly, the pensioners who I have worked with for decades do not understand fully the workings of the legislative process. They would find it incomprehensible if I and others did not vote against this legislation when we had the opportunity to do so. When we disagree with what is being done, it is our duty as well as our right to send the Bill back to the Commons saying clearly, “Think again.”

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, I was unable to join the debate on the Bill at an earlier stage. At this late stage, I will not, of course, be giving anything like a technical speech; I leave that to my noble friends Lord Sikka and Lord Davies. However, I have received a volume of correspondence on this matter. In this brief intervention, I will summarise the arguments in that correspondence.

All of the correspondence provides evidence, albeit anecdotal, that the removal of the triple lock will cause serious and significant financial problems. As my noble friend Lord Sikka has said, even if the triple lock is withheld only for this year, the fact is that it will have an effect in years to come. I made the point as general secretary of the National Union of Teachers that teachers’ pay being held down affects their future incomes. We know that that happens.

I will summarise the arguments, but using my own words. Growing old, many of them said, is hard enough, as we have seen from the impact of Covid-19, without having to find extra money for food and energy bills. Nationwide, millions of current and future pensioners are being condemned to a life of poverty and even, possibly, early death. Of course, these remarks do not apply to those of us above pension age in your Lordships’ House. But, as we all know, we are not typical of the pensioner population, many of whom will suffer in a very serious way if we do not uphold the triple lock; many will be faced with significant hardship. The triple lock was, after all, a guarantee, a promise, a manifesto commitment—and it ill behoves any politician to break manifesto commitments.

Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Blower. I support all the amendments that have been advanced today because they all have the object of protecting the level of state pensions. I particularly support Amendment 6, moved by my noble friend Lord Sikka.

I apologise that I was out of the country last week and so missed participation in Committee. However, I hope noble Lords will allow me to develop a short point that I made at Second Reading. Because, as a Member of your Lordships’ House, I have endeavoured to restrict my participation to the issues that arise from the rights and interests of workers, I want to emphasise two reasons why the state pension is of such concern to workers. The first is that pensions are the deferred wages that workers effectively earned while they were able to work. Once retired, their capacity to earn from their labour is exhausted and pensions are essentially what sustains them. Low earnings lead to low pensions, and the pay gaps manifested in earnings are duplicated in pensions—the gender pay gap in particular, but also differentials based on ethnic origin and disability.

The impact on pensioners of the failure of pensions to keep up with the costs that they face—as noble Lords and, in particular, noble Baronesses have pointed out—will be profound. Some 25,000 of our elderly already die of the cold each year, 2 million live in poverty and 1.3 million do not get enough to eat. Life expectancy is falling in the areas with the greatest poverty.

That leads to my second point. The second reason why present pensions are also of concern to those who are currently in work is this: my noble friend Lord Sikka reminds us that the Government estimate that, by the removal of the triple lock, they will save £5.4 billion from pensioners in the year 2022-23 and some £30.5 billion over five years. That is money that, were it left in the purses and pockets of pensioners, would be spent on food, clothing, heating, rent and so on. Pensioners’ incomes are spent in their local economies. There they help to sustain the jobs of current workers, particularly in shops and local services. Make no mistake: more high street shops will close and more jobs will be lost from the failure to maintain the triple lock, and it will hit the poorest areas the hardest. The impact may be indirect but the ending of the triple lock will affect current earners as well as current pensioners.

The Minister, who is rightly respected because of her sensitivity to the plight of the less well-off, knows that well. She was kind enough to write to me and other noble Lords after Second Reading explaining her position, but her Government have no answer to the two essential points made in the debates today. The abolition of the triple lock will mean that poor pensioners and the poorest local economies in the country will be made yet poorer. Such outcomes are far from necessary, as my noble friend Lord Sikka has repeatedly demonstrated through the progress of the Bill. I therefore support his amendment and all the others that seek to salvage something from the wreckage.

COVID-19 Pandemic in Latin America

Baroness Blower Excerpts
Wednesday 20th October 2021

(3 months ago)

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Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, on securing this important debate on Latin America, which is of great interest to many across the House for a variety of reasons. As she said, Latin America has just 8.2% of the world’s population, but by February 2021 had recorded more than 650,000 deaths—more than one-quarter of the world total. I think we can be sure that the attitude of and policies pursued by Jair Bolsonaro have been responsible for the huge number of deaths in Brazil. In general, the pandemic has highlighted the inadequacy of public health systems and severe inequality in Latin American society—an aspect of the Covid pandemic in evidence, in terms of equality, in the UK as well, alas. One of the outcomes among Latin American nations may be that higher social spending on health and so on will be called for, which would be no bad thing.

Colombia reacted reasonably quickly in the initial stages of the pandemic, but prolonged lockdown eventually led to a falling away of compliance as people needed to work, as the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, said. In fact, many people have now lost gainful employment. Against the background of a high level of human rights abuses and serious opposition to proposed tax reforms, which would further entrench inequality, many Colombians have faced considerable harm at the hands of state forces in addition to the harm they faced from the pandemic. Armed groups have clearly taken advantage of the lockdown to wreak havoc in communities, with the UN observing huge increases in massacres, which were already all too common in Colombia.

It takes an enormous amount of courage to be a human rights defender, or even an active trade unionist, particularly a teacher trade unionist, in Colombia. The UN mission has called the number of deaths of human rights defenders an epidemic of violence, with 177 individuals killed in 2020. With what we hope will be the gradual subsiding of the pandemic, the focus must return to high-profile condemnation of the violence of the Colombian police and paramilitaries. Will the Minister ensure that Her Majesty’s Government will continue to call for full implementation of the peace process?

Repeated incidents of state violence call into question Colombia’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law, on which the UK-Andean trade deal is based. The Colombian unions and the TUC have called for the suspension of the deal to put pressure on the Colombian Government to address the violation of human rights and to implement in full the 2016 peace agreement so that post-Covid peace in Colombia can be a real prospect.

Lord Rogan Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Rogan) (UUP)
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My Lords, as the noble Lords, Lord Bethell and Lord Hannan of Kingsclere, have withdrawn, I now call the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley.

Colombia: Human Rights

Baroness Blower Excerpts
Monday 12th July 2021

(6 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord and will take that forward. I agree with the premise that we need to see a clear demarcation in the responsibilities of the police.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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My Lords, I refer to my interests as recorded in the register. A recent ruling from the transitional justice court named 10 Colombian army officers as responsible for murdering 120 civilians and disappearing 24 in 2007-08. These cases relate to the so-called “false positives”: the Colombian state stands accused of killing close to 6,500 civilians, dressing them as guerrillas, during the Uribe presidency. Given the hostility to the transitional justice court from certain quarters in Colombia, can the Minister repeat Britain’s support for this institution and welcome the positive engagement of former FARC commanders, who have recognised their role in crimes during the armed conflict?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am happy to confirm the Colombian Government’s long-standing commitment to assist former guerrilla fighters in their transition to civilian life following the peace agreement. We remain committed to this and since 2015 have given over £63 million of support directly to Colombia through the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund.

Palestine

Baroness Blower Excerpts
Wednesday 7th July 2021

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, on the issue of economic incentives, we believe that it is important that we progress our economic relationship with both Israel and the Palestinian Territories. We do not hesitate to express our disagreement with Israel whenever necessary. However, on the specific issue of sanctions against the State of Israel, which the noble Baroness may be alluding to, we stand very firmly opposed to such boycotts or sanctions.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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I refer your Lordships to my interests as recorded in the register. Recognition of the state of Palestine is an internationally significant concern. I would like to ask the Minister today about an urgent concern. What representations have Her Majesty’s Government made to the Government of Israel about the house evictions and demolitions in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, which appear designed to change the demography of the holy city?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness and we have been very clear on our position on the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah. It is a threat to the communities currently in Sheikh Jarrah and we urge the Government of Israel to cease such actions permanently. Indeed, these points were very much raised and discussed during my right honourable friend’s visit to Israel and the OPTs.

Commonwealth Heads of Government

Baroness Blower Excerpts
Thursday 27th May 2021

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Earl’s second question, this is of course ongoing. Dealing with discrimination is never a job done, whether at home or abroad, and we need to remain vigilant on the issue. On the specific countries, some have declared quite openly the reforms that they have undertaken. Others, because of domestic sensitivities, have sought more discreet support from us in that regard, which is why we have not named them specifically. I am sure that the noble Earl is aware of several countries that have declared progress on, for example, the important priority of LGBT issues.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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My Lords, there have been a number of Questions in your Lordships’ House about the education of girls, the answers to which usually rely on the repetition of sums of money allocated by the Government. Can the Minister give a concrete example of an action taken to move towards providing 12 years of high-quality education for girls—and indeed for boys? Could he specify a proposal that the UK Government will have on the agenda to move more quickly to achieve this goal?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I can certainly share with the noble Baroness, including in my responsibilities as Minister for South Asia, how we have invested specifically not just in school building programmes in Pakistan—a Commonwealth country—but in teaching, textbooks and support, ensuring that there is an inclusivity to the educational agenda. As I said in response to an earlier question, the issue is never done. We need to remain focused on delivering the priority on girls’ education. We have seen over £200 million spent on 11 countries and I would be happy to provide specifics of other programmes to the noble Baroness.

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

Baroness Blower Excerpts
Monday 17th May 2021

(8 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, if I could give a personal reflection—as someone who is Muslim by faith, Indian in origin from my father’s side and Pakistani in origin from my mother’s side—I assure the noble Lord that this remains a priority for myself and stress the equality and rights of every citizen across the Commonwealth, irrespective of faith, creed, sexual orientation or any other definition. It is important that we stand up for all citizens across the Commonwealth and for equal rights.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that specific actions are needed—as called for by CHOGM in 2018—to provide 12 years of quality education for girls in particular, as this will be the surest way to work towards both global social justice and greater equality? If so, what specific actions will Her Majesty’s Government support and pursue?

The UK’s Relationship with the Pacific Alliance (International Relations Committee Report)

Baroness Blower Excerpts
Monday 1st February 2021

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to join and engage in this debate, and to have the opportunity to learn from the considerable experience and expertise that your Lordships bring to it.

I have relatively little experience of the region. I have, however, had the opportunity to visit Mexico on a number of occasions, most recently when I was part of an election observation delegation that saw Andrés Manuel López Obrador elected. I was therefore interested in the phrase in the report that said that countries in the region remain

“vulnerable to political swings at future elections”.

I merely observe that either the maintenance in power of a party or a change to a different party in power, as has just happened in the US, is what we tend to think of as democracy, so “vulnerable” seems a slightly odd word to me.

I will make a couple of observations about Colombia, which I have had visited a number of times with British and other parliamentarians and trade unionists. The reason for those visits was to engage with human rights defenders who have come under considerable attack and to meet trade unionists, many of whom have been imprisoned under the catch-all legislation of rebellion. When the report talks of the UK having

“a set of shared values, whether on democracy, or the way we want to see the international system working, based on rules”,

I am pleased that the recommendations and conclusions contain the following:

“The UK should also continue in its bilateral engagement to support and help to strengthen the rule of law in these countries.”


Specifically, I was recently pleased that the Minister was able to engage with some of these issues in response to a Question. I will add to the large number of questions already put to him today. As the penholder for Colombia at the UN, the UK has a particular responsibility to play an active role in ensuring that the Colombian Government uphold their commitment to end violence against human rights defenders and trade unionists. When the Minister spoke of these matters in response to the Question, the answers were very fulsome, but I want to take the opportunity provided by this debate to ask the Minister for an update on the UK’s recent work as the penholder for Colombia and to say what assessment Her Majesty’s Government have made of recent levels of violence there.

Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Baroness Blower Excerpts
Thursday 21st January 2021

(12 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I hear what the right reverend Prelate says but, to be clear, the United Kingdom will not support, sign or ratify the TPNW. The reasons are very clear to us: it fails to offer a realistic path to global nuclear disarmament and, importantly, risks undermining the effective non-proliferation and disarmament architecture that we already have in place, in particular the work that has already been achieved with key partners on the NPT.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab) [V]
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I declare my interest as in the register. I am compelled to repeat the question from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry. Given the global importance of this treaty, will the Government consider sending in an observer capacity a delegation when the treaty parties convene later this year, whether in person or virtually? Clearly, in observer status the Government might learn something of interest.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that we are fully aware of the challenges that currently confront us on the global stage and the importance of ensuring that we see non-proliferation. There are major challenges with this treaty, including the fact that it does not look at the existing security architecture, including our obligations to NATO. It does not look at how we deal with the threats from nations such as the DPRK. My Answer was very clear about what our belief is on the treaty. If parties to that treaty engage with us bilaterally, of course, we will continue to engage with them on wide range of matters.

Colombia

Baroness Blower Excerpts
Monday 7th December 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Asked by
Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of their support for (1) human rights, and (2) the peace process, in Colombia.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness and look to working with her on this important agenda. Colombia is an FCDO human rights priority country and we raise human rights with the Colombian Government’s representatives whenever possible. Indeed, I discussed the issue at length with Ministers, relevant institutions and civil society during my virtual visit to Colombia on 13 October. We are also proud to lead on Colombia’s peace process at the UN Security Council and have contributed £60 million in support of peace, stability and security since 2015.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab) [V]
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I thank the Minister very much for his Answer, and refer to my interest as recorded in the register. The peace process is clearly vital. A recent newspaper report in Colombia, revealing details of an undercover operation by the Colombian Attorney-General’s office, apparently designed to entrap FARC peace negotiators and undermine the peace process, is alarming. The Attorney-General’s office, led by Néstor Humberto Martinez, reportedly provided five kilos of cocaine for the operation, but this and other relevant information was withheld from the courts. Was the British Ambassador—or other British authorities—made aware of those details at the time of the arrest of the FARC peace negotiator in 2018? What is the Government’s assessment of these revelations?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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As the noble Baroness will appreciate, I am not going to comment specifically on press reports. In terms of the specifics of the case, she raises important challenges that Colombia continues to face. The issue of narcotics and drugs is a major one. Colombia remains one of the largest producers of cocaine in the world—among others. The violence that we currently see affects local communities and former FARC combatants, led by the issues we have seen around drugs. We remain committed to peace accords, which the current President and his team have assured us of. On the specific matter of the case the noble Baroness raises, if there is more information to share, I will write to her.