38 Baroness Deech debates involving the Cabinet Office

Wed 20th Mar 2024
Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings part one & Committee stage & Committee stage & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings part one & Committee stage
Tue 27th Apr 2021
Thu 25th Feb 2021
Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage
Wed 30th Dec 2020
European Union (Future Relationship) Bill
Lords Chamber

3rd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & Committee negatived (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee negatived (Hansard) & Committee negatived (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading & Committee negatived
I hope the Government will accept my noble friend’s Amendment 19, because it would at least begin to repair some of the damage.
Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, the analogies in discussion around the Bill are being pushed too far. The Bill is about procurement and investment. When student unions sit in, they are not doing procurement and investment. It is only when student unions start spending their money in contravention of charity law—to which they are subject—that they may be beginning to breach the law.

The Bill is not about curbing freedom of speech—far from it. As far as the South Africa analogy goes, the point of those sanctions was to bring an end to that particular regime. The point about the BDS movement and sanctioning Israel is not just to change the regime; it is calling for the eventual end of the state—as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, knows, because in the past he has called, in print, for the dismantling of Israel.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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I have not called for the dismantling of the State of Israel. I was a Middle East Minister for the Government and conducted diplomacy with the Israeli Prime Minister in 2000, trying to repair the damage from the collapse of Camp David. I support the right of Israel to exist, as I support the right of the Palestinians to have their own state. Please do not misrepresent me.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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I am glad that the noble Lord has changed his mind—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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I have it in print, from many years ago, but I am glad that it is no longer the case. I can share it with the noble Lord. The analogy should not be pushed that far.

I also note that a group called Muslim Vote, which has put 18 demands to Sir Keir Starmer, has as the 17th demand the throwing out of the Bill, which I think shows what the group understands the point of the Bill to be: simply that it might stand in the way of whatever its aims are in relation to Gaza.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, part of the concern about the Bill is not its narrow scope but that it is extremely broad in its scope. Indeed, it would have a chill effect on decisions made across the country by decision-makers, fully consistent with their human rights obligations. I therefore support the thrust of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Collins.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, suggests that it is not possible to define human rights. I think her Front Bench and previous Front Benches, going back a very long time, will disagree with her; the FCDO publishes annual human rights reports. Her disagreement is not necessarily with the Bill but with the Government.

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I would be very interested, having heard what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has put forward, to see how the Government could actually defeat his argument using the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism as their reference point.
Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, as we speak, the double standards are in operation on many campuses in this country, where there are sit-ins in relation to one country but not, for example, in relation to Russia. As a footnote, I would like to substantiate, in case there is any doubt, what I said earlier in relation to the reference by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, to Israel. In his article in the Guardian in 1976, when he was a young man, he says it twice. It concludes:

“The present Zionist state is by definition racist and will have to be dismantled”.


I just clarify that that was his article in the Guardian.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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Since this has been raised—and I am not sure who I am intervening on—that was a long time ago. I do not withdraw the fact that there are many features of the State of Israel of which I am critical, not least in its dual citizenship law, where certain citizens are regarded as full citizens and others are not. That is a racist thing to be practising—but the noble Baroness suggested that I was questioning the right of Israel to exist. I have not done that, and I do not believe that, and she should not suggest it.

Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Wednesday 17th April 2024

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, I rise to support these amendments and simply emphasise that the whole issue of climate change and environmental degradation is now a very major one, which divides generations. My children care about it much more passionately than my generation does. In the United States on the hard right, there is still a very powerful climate change denial lobby pushing against the inclusion of environmental sustainability and development goals in company statements and so on. So I think it would be wise to widen this part of the schedule, not just to deal with environmental misconduct but to accept some of the language in the various amendments that we have seen. Again, this goes back to the Government. They are thinking of the long term and about long-term planning and public opinion. It would be wise to see what can be done to adjust the language to accommodate the very real concerns which have been expressed.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, environmental matters are of course very serious, but the question is whether boycotts work. The speech by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, shows the determination on the part of some in this House to boycott Israel come what may. However, if you look at the list of the most polluting and environmentally damaged countries in the world, Israel does not feature, and the degradation in Gaza, which is true, started long before the current invasion—it goes back to when Israel quit Gaza in 2005. Now, the issue is boycotts. People are looking for ways to boycott Israel. I have not noticed any suggestion of boycotting, say, China, for its polluting activities.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I did not advocate a boycott; that was not my purpose. I was talking about the destruction of the environment in Gaza and the West Bank, and that is not disputable.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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The environment is bad in Gaza, but this Bill is about boycotts.

Now, no less a moral authority than Helen Suzman said that boycotts do not work. In 1987, she said:

“If there were any chance that sanctions would dismantle apartheid, I would be the first to support them. But reducing South Africa to a wasteland would lead not to a nonracial democracy but to more oppression and misery”.


A boycott, in particular a boycott of the so-called Occupied Territories, would not actually change the international scene as far as a two-state solution goes. The only people who would be hurt are the impoverished Palestinians working in the businesses in the Occupied Territories. This was proven by the SodaStream case. SodaStream closed down because it was thought unacceptable to deal with it because it worked in the Occupied Territories. Hundreds of Palestinians lost their jobs; SodaStream moved to Israel. We have to drop the illusion that a boycott of Israel, or indeed any other country, will achieve anything meaningful, let alone when it is carried out by a local authority as opposed to the Government. Environmental damage is indeed a problem, but I am not sure this Bill is the way to tackle it.

Lord Pickles Portrait Lord Pickles (Con)
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My Lords, I shall speak on Amendment 15, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I take a slightly different view from what has just been said. I think the Committee owes the noble Lord, Lord Hain, some thanks; he has managed to put together what it is like in extremis—how this Bill will be dealt with when it is faced with war. Now, I cannot recall a single war in the history of our planet that did not harm the environment.

I suppose that when we put this thing together, on the facts that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, gave, we are probably going to have to think about how much of the damage was caused by the Gazans. How much of a discount should there be for the amount of damage the Gazans caused? In particular, one of Hamas’s first acts after murdering children was to cut off the electricity and the water supply, and it continued to ensure that anybody that came to try to put back the electricity or restore the water supply faced violence. The pipes that would have been used to improve sanitation and have the flow of clean water were stolen and used to fire rockets into Israel. Some 25% of those rockets fell short, killing Gazans, leaving ordnance around Gaza, particularly in the north.

All the concrete that was there to build roads, hotels and social facilities was stolen by Hamas to build the tunnels. The tunnels in themselves were a great environmental risk, because they were not built to building regulations. They were quite close to the surface; they were beneath and beside houses; they affected the foundations, which meant that any disturbance, whether it be earthquakes or the dropping of bombs, made those houses so much more unsafe and susceptible to collapse.

There is the use of flying incendiary bombs, released by supporters of Hamas across into Israel, designed to burn crops. Burning crops causes all kinds of problems. It seems illogical that Hamas should have done that, but it did it in order to make life difficult for Gazans. That is why it is sitting on so much of the food supply; that is why there are lorries waiting to deliver aid into Gaza, but Hamas will not allow it.

I take exception to the quote relating to the Red Cross; if the Red Cross can go in to make that kind of assessment, it should be able to see the hostages. The Red Cross has made no attempt to meet with the hostages.

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Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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My Lords, in responding to the debate I invite everybody who heard what I said, and those who did not hear what I said, to read it in Hansard tomorrow. Did anybody hear me advocate the BDS cause? Did anybody hear me advocate a boycott of the State of Israel? I did not and I never have in any speech in this House or elsewhere. If there is criticism to be made of what I said, I invite noble Lords and Baronesses to focus on what I said rather than what they think I might have said, or what others have said. I think that is fair, frankly, in terms of debate in this House.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech—many in this House have considerable respect for the role that she plays—that I think she spoiled her argument by bringing in the South African comparison. She quoted Helen Suzman, who played a valiant role in the anti-apartheid struggle—a lone white role in many respects. At the time the noble Baroness quoted her, it was illegal to advocate a boycott or any kind of sanctions against the apartheid state. Indeed, she opposed boycott campaigns against all-white sports tours I organised, but if she had supported them and advocated sanctions, she could have been imprisoned under apartheid law. I would prefer to quote Nelson Mandela, who said that sanctions were very effective in bringing apartheid to its knees, along with other factors, so the noble Baroness spoiled her argument by quoting that.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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I will be brief because the night is late, and I am provincial and have to get a train. I have done a lot of research into what allegedly changed South Africa, and the majority of the writings were that it was not sanctions. What changed life there was having two leaders of moral stature who were prepared to talk to each other, which we do not have in the Middle East. As far as the noble Lord’s advocacy of boycott goes, I cannot recall when—I think it was way back in March when we started to talk about this Bill—but the noble Lord himself raised the issue of South Africa, and how things had changed there because of a boycott. The inevitable conclusion to be drawn, though I resist the parallel, is that something like that would work in the case of Israel. I do not think it would, as they are not at all similar, but the night is late, and this Bill is not supposed to be about it.

Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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I agree that they are not that similar, and I have never suggested that they are. The reason I brought in the South Africa comparison, and majored on it, is that legal opinion says that this Bill would have made the anti-apartheid campaigns of the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s illegal. That is why I brought the argument into play. It is not to advocate a boycott, disinvestment or sanctions policy against Israel, which I have never done in this House or elsewhere. If noble Lords are going to disagree with me, as they are entitled to do, then they should make the case on the arguments as they stand.

Since the noble Baroness has intervened again on this, I am sure she has read widely on it, and I am not going to disagree with that, but Nelson Mandela did not agree with her. He said that sanctions were critical. They were not the only thing, and I did not say that they were. The internal contradictions of the system, the fact that the economy was almost on the point of collapse by the time that President de Klerk released Nelson Mandela, that the country was on the brink of civil war and facing the abyss in that respect, was why the people who had imprisoned him for 27 years and oppressed his people were forced to negotiate with him, both for his freedom and for that of his people. It was an accumulation of factors, but sanctions were certainly very effective. The noble Baroness spoils her case about Israel by seeking to deny that.

The noble Lord, Lord Pickles, made a strong point that there are others culpable for the environmental destruction, and I have never denied that. He made some important points about the culpability of Hamas as well.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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On the Warwick University point, for clarification, the other important thing that happened there was that Warwick University academics refused to sit on a panel discussing the issue of Israel, and so on. That was led by academics. It would not be affected by the Bill. The Minister can say, “Oh, that’s okay, it won’t be affected by this Bill” but that has had a much more damaging impact on the debate around Israel in Warwick University than anything that a few people at the student union did and that the university authorities did not act upon. What the university did not do was support those Jewish students and the organisation that organised that debate, and it let the academics carry on. The question of what the Bill will and will not do, and who will be held responsible, is what we are trying to clarify in this Committee.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, I did not come prepared with examples about universities—my memory is not that good. However, there have been very many occasions where violence used by anti-Israel students has forced the university to cancel speakers or to charge Israeli and Jewish societies for their own security when an Israeli or a pro-Israeli speaker comes. There are manifold examples of this, and I have dealt with it over the years. If noble Lords do not know about this, they really should.

The comments that have been made by the noble Lords, Lord Mann and Lord Wallace, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, take us to the heart of the Bill and why the drafting is so difficult. What the Bill really means to do is clamp down on anti-Semitism in local authorities and universities, but it cannot say so in direct terms; therefore, it goes much more broadly than it needs to, because it is academically dancing around the subject. If I could rip it up and start again, I would have a couple of clauses saying that anti-Israel activity—anti-Zionist activity, if you want to call it that, or anti-Semitic activity—is prohibited in universities and public authorities, because there are no examples of universities and public authorities acting against Australia, to give a fanciful example. Is anyone banning Australian wine because of what happened to the Aborigines? Is anyone banning New Zealand lamb because of the way the Māoris were treated? Is anyone, anywhere, ceasing to use Chinese products? I need hardly go on.

Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con)
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My Lords, I will add to this element of the debate, if I may, because I think it is relevant. The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, mentioned at Second Reading that he was on the council of Southampton University. I too am an alumnus of Southampton University.

In March 2015, the university procured the services of a speaker to host a debate questioning the right of Israel to exist. I do not know whether that would be caught by the Bill. I would hope that it is, but I suspect that it is not. I wrote to the vice-chancellor at the time—I had been a very modest donor to the university—and asked, going to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, whether there had been any conference at Southampton University questioning the right to exist of any other country. He wrote back and said there had not. Eventually, the conference was cancelled—it received reprobation from the Communities Secretary at the time, now my noble friend Lord Pickles —only because the university claimed it could not go ahead on health and safety grounds. But that was a very thin excuse, and for a university to host a conference dedicated to questioning the right of the State of Israel to exist, and to procure the services of people to run it, is, I hope noble Lords would agree, what we should be addressing.

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I am not sure that I said exactly that. However, there obviously is a problem in campuses and elsewhere with BDS, and that is what this Bill is about. I shall move on to Amendment 9.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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If I can help the Minister, what we need to silence is hate speech. The law is reasonably clear. It is not wholly clear—there is a blur between unpopular views and hate speech—but it has been settled for a long time that hate speech is not allowed. My test for this is when you hear something and it uses the word “Zionist” or “Jew”, if you remove that word and replace it with, let us say, “black” or “Asian”, it is then usually pretty clear that what you are dealing with is hate speech or racist speech.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention. These are difficult issues.

I turn briefly to Amendment 9, which would ensure that the prohibition in Clause 1 applied to decisions relating to the procurement of food prepared in line with religious practices, such as kosher and halal foods. The ban established by the Bill applies to all procurement decisions, including the procurement of food where this is part of a public function. Therefore, if a public authority made a decision not to procure kosher food and that decision was influenced by moral or political disapproval of the conduct of the State of Israel, the Bill would already prohibit this. However, I reassure noble Lords that nothing in the Bill would stop a public authority providing food that accommodated the religious beliefs of its employees or its service users. For example, it would not stop a public authority specifying in a tender that it was procuring halal products. For these reasons, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, I congratulate the Government on showing moral courage in pursuing the Bill’s aim despite all the baseless accusations thrown at it. It is supported by the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies.

In a broader context, the Bill is a timely and necessary stand against anti-Semitism. In a narrower context, the Bill does not harm free speech or protest, as has been alleged, because it does not prevent individuals expressing their opinions. It is directed against damaging action, procurement and investment. There are plenty of exceptions: for example, environmental misconduct and modern slavery. The BDS movement, which is the target of the Bill, has been ineffective—thankfully—but serves to fuel hatred in periods such as this one when there are peaks of anti-Semitic incidents in the public realm.

I would set aside the parallel with South Africa. In South Africa, action was to achieve—one might say—regime change and internal matters. At the heart of BDS, as expressed by some of its leaders, is the end of Israel as a state. The true nature of the ill that the Bill combats can be seen from the briefings sent against it by opponents. They focus, of course, on Israel, or they interpret it as prohibiting action designed to prevent climate change, which is not the case, as it is state activity that the Bill is targeting. It is not targeting freedom of speech, which is not within the ambit of the Bill, which is about action. Indeed, one might even argue that there are too many exceptions and loopholes. After all, when you consider how much free speech there is about Israel and Palestine, there is hardly any topic that is more discussed. Incidentally, I must congratulate the universities pension scheme for keeping its investments in Israel, despite protests by the University and College Union, which has a track record of being against Jews and Israel.

The most unpleasant opposition to the Bill came from a group of churches—not, I should say, the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church, but what might be called smaller communities. They include Embrace the Middle East, the Iona Community, the Methodist Church, Quakers in Britain, Sabeel-Kairos and a few others. They call on right reverend Prelates in this House to oppose the Bill in its entirety, because it would, in their view, prevent local councils and other bodies considering ethical issues in the conduct of a foreign state when making procurement or investment decisions. They then go on to say that Israel should not be singled out for special protection against boycott campaigns, giving it unique rights in UK law.

This would be ironic if it were not so uninformed. For centuries, the church has singled out Jews for special treatment. It is entirely because Israel is being singled out for boycott that the Bill is before us. There are no boycotts and no collective church action in relation to Saudi Arabian oil, or Chinese products, which are probably in use by many public bodies and churches. There are no protests or marches against Iran and its horrendous abuse of women and use of the death penalty; no persecution of Chinese students on campus because of their Government’s actions; and no marches against Syria, where the conflict has killed and displaced millions. Note that tens of thousands, maybe millions, of Christians have been persecuted and killed in Nigeria and in the Congo. There is no concern about goods coming from occupied northern Cyprus. The religious hostility to Israel goes back long before the current hostilities in the Middle East. Some of it is virulently anti-Zionist and anti-Israel, denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel in theological terms, and advocates supersession of Christianity over Judaism.

The actions of these religious bodies in supporting boycott bring to mind the action of the church over many centuries in restricting Jewish trades and professions and isolating Jewish communities. It is high time that this focus on Israel by these churches should lead to their considering their own historic responsibility for the perilous situation of the world Jewish community and its desperate search for safety in one tiny country. It looks like anti-Semitism, no matter how much the BDS supporters claim to be targeting only Israel and not Jews, because the thin line between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel has been worn down almost to non-existence by virtue of the protests we have seen on our streets and in our universities in recent weeks. I am sure the right reverend Prelates in this House will have no hesitation in rejecting the call from these minor churches. By so rejecting them, they would place the Church of England in a position to foster good relations, work towards peace, and distance itself from the anti-Jewish actions of the past.

Christian BDS supporters should be embarrassed by those who are campaigning with them: for example, Ayatollah Khomeini and Hamas. The BDS campaign is negative and, fortunately, has not harmed Israel’s activities and economy. Churches should instead help Palestinians build democratic institutions and invest in their economy, and urge them to accept peace offers. Christian-Jewish understanding would be gravely weakened if churches insisted on continuing to boycott.

This Bill is a moral guide. It will do something to tone down the loathing of Israel we see expressed all around us, targeting Jewish communities—hence, the blurring of the line between anti-government sentiment and anti-Jewish sentiment. Russian and Chinese residents here have never had to face the same hatred. Jewish people need one safe haven. This House should consider the responsibility of the way that Britain ended the mandate all those years ago, leading in part to some of the trouble we see today.

The boycott proponents and the hate-filled marches remind us of why the Bill is still necessary. Boycotts do nothing to assist Palestinians; they simply ally the boycotters with the anti-Semites and the authorities who, over the centuries, have tried to impound and constrain Jewish communities, not least in the many Middle East countries from which the Jews were expelled in the 20th century. The Government have my whole- hearted support, and I wish this Bill—with amendments, no doubt—a safe and swift passage.

Freedom of Information

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Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Asked by
Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the speed and scope of the operation of the Freedom of Information scheme.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Baroness Neville- Rolfe) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government have no current plans to alter the law on freedom of information.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, there are so many problems with the system that I am now asking the Minister to commence a complete overhaul. My experience with the Department for Levelling Up is that it is not a department that levels with you. I have spent 11 months chasing a small request about the Holocaust memorial and have been met with nothing but delay and evasion. The £600 limit has stayed unchanged for years, limiting hours. There is the need for a reference by an MP. Time limits are not enforced. If you complain about delay, the department is given another 40 days to reply. There is no time limit on the allocation of investigations by the ICO; hence there is limitless hold-up in being able to refer to the tribunal. Does the Minister agree that the system is not fit for purpose and needs review?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, while I am very sympathetic to the noble Baroness’s dilemma in this issue, we have to draw a balance between the rights of individuals, the burden imposed on our public authorities and the Civil Service and, of course, the objective of improving and increasing transparency and accountability. She has had a difficult experience, first, with a complaint that turned out to be too broad and was therefore disallowed under Section 12— and the Information Commissioner upheld that—and I understand that she has now complained again and that the ICO has started its inquiry into that complaint. These are difficult issues. I would say that the number of requests received for information under freedom of information has been going up. In Q3 of 2023, there were 18,555—that is the highest ever—in spite of the progress we have made with making more information available every quarter as part of our transparency returns.

Ministerial Code

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Tuesday 27th April 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Baroness opposite did, my noble friend raises an important point. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, has made a number of thoughtful recommendations about the role of the independent adviser. I know that the Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Secretary, as part of the process of identifying a candidate, to look at how the remit might be amended. We will announce any changes alongside the appointment.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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Is the Minister as baffled as I am that the state does not pay more for the regular refurbishment of the residential parts of that most iconic building, 10 Downing Street? Vice-chancellors and trade union chiefs get far bigger sums spent on their official residences. The Guardian reported that £117,000 was spent on the house of the Speaker of the Commons within a few months of him taking up the post. Will the Minister press for the rules to be changed? Catering services ought to be offered, too.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, many have expressed views similar to those of the noble Baroness. Other countries have slightly different practices on this, but, as I said in response to an earlier question, I am interested in practices in this country. Chequers and Dorneywood are operated in long-standing ways, reducing the need for subsidy from the public purse. These matters are complex, and policy development is ongoing. The Government did engage with the leader of the Opposition’s office on such proposals in July.

Gender-balanced Parliament and Male Primogeniture

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Tuesday 20th April 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I am sure my friends and I will read the views of my noble friend, and indeed all others who have spoken, with due respect. However, I believe that, at the height of this pandemic, and given the need we have to recover, it may well be that some people in the country have other priorities.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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Whether or not hereditary peerages remain, it is time to get some sex equality into this House. The husbands of noble Baronesses get second-class treatment, and this is highly symbolic. Only a few days ago, the entire nation noted the essential support given by Prince Philip to his wife, but the support given by the husbands of noble Baronesses is ignored compared with the recognition, by the title “Lady”, of the wives of noble Lords. Does the Minister agree that our husbands should be given a title equivalent to that granted to the wives, or that the latter should lose theirs?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness touches on another issue which has its own sensitivities. Reform of courtesy titles in the honours system as well as the peerage system—this is not a matter of heredity—may not be straightforward, but there is a need to consider how to deal with existing entitlements.

Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

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Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 25th February 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, whose constituent I used to be when I lived in Vauxhall. As three previous speakers mentioned their Tottenham connection, I should mention that, rather than fight the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, I stood as the candidate in Tottenham. I fought Tottenham, and Tottenham fought back.

If I may, I will rattle through my congratulations. First, I congratulate the Attorney-General, whose forthcoming happy event has given rise to this debate. Secondly, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister, whose good sense, patience and quiet determination have brought about this change. Thirdly, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Noakes, whose brilliant leadership and eloquence have infused this whole debate and raised its tone.

Fourthly, I congratulate all the speakers at Second Reading, in which I did not take part. They showed what is best about this House—how it can be a revising Chamber where party allegiances are secondary to the determination to get things right, and thank heavens they did get things right. It would have been deplorable if we, as a revising Chamber, could not even revise a Bill whose original wording did not make sense.

Why does it matter? I was taught as a child “Sticks and stones may hurt your bones but words will never hurt you”, but this is not about insults. It is not even primarily about the rights of women and transgender people; it is about the control of language. Totalitarians of all stripes know that controlling language is a crucial step in gaining control of society. If you determine the vocabulary, you often determine how people think. Orwell spelled it out in Nineteen Eighty-Four. He said that

“the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought. In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”

That, of course, is part of what is happening.

Incidentally, I do not think that the agenda being pursued by those seeking to control our vocabulary is driven by any sympathy for transgender people. On the contrary, it seeks to use trans people as shock troops in pursuit of an extreme form of egalitarianism which aims not to give equal rights to all of us, despite our manifest and manifold differences, but instead to deny the existence of those differences.

Happily, today that agenda has been rolled back. I hope that we have sent a message to those in the Cabinet Office and those who draft legislation in the future that will be as clear and robust as a message that was sent—as I discovered when I was responsible for Customs and Excise—by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise back in 1865 to a hapless clerk whose wording they did not like. They wrote:

“The Commission observe that you make use of many affected phrases and incongruous words ... all of which you use in a sense the words do not bear. I am ordered to acquaint you that if you hereafter continue in that ... way of writing and to murder the language in such a manner, you will be discharged for a fool.”


I hope that that message has hit home loud and clear today from this Chamber.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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My Lords—or, taking a cue from the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, how long will it be before I ought to say “My peers”?—these amendments are less about maternity leave, although even that word is now suspect, than they are about the proper use of language to reflect and protect those to whom it refers, some of whom have a special status within the law. If I can cut straight to the solution, it is this. The Interpretation Act 1978 says that

“words importing the feminine gender include the masculine”,

so if the words “mother” or “woman” are used in this Bill, which incidentally and memorably Joshua Rozenberg has referred to as the “Suella Braverperson Bill”, an individual trans person—a man who had given birth— would be covered by the words “woman” or “mother” in the same way that allowances granted to men in other areas of the law include women in their remit. So there is no reason why “woman” should not be used, although I accept that there is a consensus around “mother”.

As drafted, the word “person”—as distinct from “woman”—in this Bill could only be of application to a person born a woman who transitions, gives birth, is a Minister, seeks maternity leave and is bothered about terminology. This number is too small to count. Set against that the worldwide population of women who feel that obliteration of their being is offensive. Human rights organisations have called for the retention of gender-specific language in law because, by neutralising the language, the actual issue is also neutralised. The international NGO Plan International, writing about the needs of girls and women, calls for their protection to be maintained by using the right terminology. It may not be true of women in this House or country, but the status of many women around the world as mothers and child-bearers is all-important and must not be overlooked.

Going wider than the Bill, the use of neutral language is confusing, as has been said, for those who have little command of the English language. In health situations, one risks not reaching them by using phrases such as “persons with cervices”, “menstruators” and “persons with vaginas”. How would noble persons, otherwise known as noble Lords, like to be referred to in health communications as “persons with prostates” or “sperm producers”? As for the threat to free speech, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, that it certainly exists: if you try talking at UCL, KCL, Warwick and many other universities, including Cambridge, about Zionism, Israel, Jews, genetics or social mobility, you will be shut down.

Existing law is entirely in favour of retaining the words “mother” or “woman”. The McConnell case was about a man who started IVF treatment just six days after obtaining his gender recognition certificate, which was granted because he had made a declaration that he intended to continue to live as a man until death. He had not had a hysterectomy in part because, reportedly, he had not ruled out the possibility of having children. Section 12 of the Gender Recognition Act says that the status of a person as

“the father or mother of a child”

is not affected by the acquisition of a gender under that Act—so the court ruled that it was correct to list the man as the mother of his baby on the birth certificate, having regard to the rights and welfare of the child. As such, in this Bill we can speak of “mother” without in any way limiting the status of a trans person in a new gender.

Other laws confirm this. Section 33 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 defines a mother as:

“The woman who is carrying or has carried a child”.


The Equality Act 2010 refers repeatedly to “man” and “woman”, “male” and “female”. In Section 13, it says that a “protected characteristic” includes a woman who is breastfeeding and that, when a man is treated differently and might regard that as discrimination,

“no account is to be taken of special treatment afforded to a woman in connection with pregnancy or childbirth.”

Section 60 of the Immigration Act 2016 prevents the “detention of pregnant women”. Regulation 12 of the Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019 refers to

“a child born to a woman during her civil partnership with a man.”

As such, by supporting these amendments, let us reinforce clarity, precision and dignity in language, preserve the special status of women in childbearing and motherhood, follow precedent and simply show some common sense. I thank the noble person, Lord True, for all that he has done in this respect, and I hope that he does not get trolled. I commend these amendments to your persons’ House.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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I am not sure whether the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, is able to join us.

EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Friday 8th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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My Lords, there are many gaps and unknowns in this welcome treaty. It is essential that Parliament be kept up to date with every meeting under it, every change, challenge, dispute and new agreement. I have in mind, inter alia: the partnership council and its 18 specialised committees; the parliamentary partnership assembly; the civil society forum; the panels of experts on non-regression and the level playing field; the arbitration panel on rebalancing; and the bodies settling professional qualifications and financial services. The membership, agenda and minutes of all these bodies should be made available, and Parliament needs to be updated constantly. The European Affairs Committee will be insufficient if it is fed decisions ex post facto. The House needs staff to ensure constant monitoring, and we should be given the opportunity to debate in good time before decisions are reached.

In addition to its flagrant breach of human rights when the EU made its agreement with China, we must also worry about the European Court of Justice, which we are fortunately escaping: a court whose judges’ qualifications, tenure, perks and re-nomination rules would be unacceptable in this country as lacking judicial independence. A court that does not know the difference between gene editing and genetic modification, that keeps expenses secret and bans the Jewish and Muslim methods of killing animals, has capped its ignominy by sacking Eleanor Sharpston, an advocate-general of the court, one of the UK’s most distinguished lawyers, whose post was not linked to her British nationality and whose contract should run until this October. She is going to the European Court of Human Rights about it. The point is that the European General Court ruled that a collective decision by member states was not subject to judicial review, meaning that the states of the EU could sack any judge and not be challenged. Fellow lawyers here should be protesting about this meltdown of judicial independence, as should all lawyers, and we must welcome the end of any control by such an improper court.

European Union (Future Relationship) Bill

Baroness Deech Excerpts
3rd reading & 2nd reading & Committee negatived & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee negatived (Hansard) & Committee negatived (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 30th December 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020 View all European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 30 December 2020 - (30 Dec 2020)
Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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My Lords, this is a grand and historic day for democracy because, after four years of unprecedented resistance by parliamentarians to the will of the people, as expressed through three votes—the referendum and two elections—it has come to pass. We should congratulate the draftsmen and draftswomen and the determination and skill of the negotiators on reaching an agreement up against a deadline and on upholding the goal of sovereignty in the face of huge resistance and chicanery, not least in this place. It was clear that Mrs von der Leyen had never understood it when she defined sovereignty as being able to work, travel, study and do business in 27 countries—as if sovereignty was an Interrail ticket—and said that in a time of crisis it was about, as she put it, pulling each other up instead of trying to get back on your feet alone, which is precisely what the EU states have not done during the Covid crisis.

We have had a lucky escape. Had the UK stayed in an EU pursuing further integration, we would have been faced with more euro crises, more bailouts of states stricken with Covid, a common defence policy and European forces under the command of the EU. In its pursuit of federalism, the EU has given rise to the repression of minorities and to extremist politics. The former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said in his first Reith lecture that the EU embodies financial valuing over human valuing. It is a union that pursues economic benefits but does not share fundamental values, whether over foreign policy, religion, immigration, freedom of speech or the rule of law, where the UK has clear beliefs.

For example, this month your Lordships voted by a large majority to revoke trade deals with countries found guilty of genocide. Meanwhile, the EU is finalising the EU-China comprehensive agreement on investment. The EU has asked nothing new of China; there are no preconditions relating to the abuse of the Uighurs, or even of Hong Kong. So where is the EU’s commitment to human rights, so often proclaimed? It has even thrown the British judge off the court, which was not called for and not because it was dependent on our being in the EU. As Voltaire said of the English,

“They are not only jealous of their own liberty, but even of that of other nations.”


Never again must we tie our fate to countries whose history, laws and customs are so antipathetic to our own. We can now pursue the rule of law and human rights without hindrance.