Baroness Deech debates involving the Cabinet Office during the 2019 Parliament

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
Thu 10th Sep 2020
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
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

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(1 month, 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

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Tuesday 27th April 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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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

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Tuesday 20th April 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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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

Baroness Deech Excerpts
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, 1 month 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, 2 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.

House of Lords: Number of Members

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Wednesday 16th September 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Senior Deputy Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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I call the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno. Lord Roberts? I call the noble Baroness, Lady Deech.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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It seems to me that legislation to cap our numbers is being blocked in a way that does us no credit. Will the Minister urge the party groupings each to find a consensual way to limit their own numbers? The House of Lords Appointments Commission needs power to vet the suitability of proposed Peers or to cap the numbers. I hope that he agrees. If ever there was a case for getting rid of royal prerogative, this is it. I suspect that the Government think that only by shovelling us into a less comfortable venue during refurbishment, or by going entirely virtual for the duration, will we find a large number of retirements. That is not the way to do it. How does he propose that we do it?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I cannot follow the noble Baroness on many of the things that she has said, other than I hope that one day we might get back to not being a virtual House—that I do agree with. I repeat that there are difficulties in relation to this House: it is unelected, Members sit for life and the House cannot be dissolved. That raises issues for reflection on a cap, as the previous Prime Minister implied.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 10th September 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 View all Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 126-III Third marshalled list for Grand Committee - (10 Sep 2020)
Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I support everything that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, has said and, therefore, I oppose this amendment, because it is clear to everyone that 800 MPs in this or any other legislature in the world is too great a number for ease of debate, expense, space, collegiality and concentrated expertise. Indeed, 650 Members of Parliament was thought to be too many, and it seems that that number has been chosen over 600 to avoid too many MPs losing their seats. If that is the case, 800 is certainly too large for this House as well, even though a substantial proportion rarely show up or participate. Even when we have been operating virtually and many of the barriers to physical arrival in the House have been removed, only about 550 have participated in votes. One is grateful to those who absent themselves because it relieves the pressure on facilities but, at the same time, one asks what they are doing accepting a peerage if they do not want to join in the work of the House.

In opposing this amendment, I call for a renewed effort to reduce the size of the House to a number comparable with the Commons. The fact that our efforts so far have turned out to be in vain is not our fault. This House, sadly, seems to be as unpopular as it has ever been, partly because of its size and partly because of unexpected appointments. It might have been more explicable if a practice recommended by the Lord Speaker’s committee of appending a notice to the announcement to a new appointment of how that person qualifies and expects to serve had been adopted. It is unpopular, too, because it has vigorously and repeatedly rejected the clear will of the electorate, expressed first in a referendum and then confirmed by two subsequent general elections, that they do not want to stay in the European Union. But I wish there was more understanding of our role as scrutineers of legislation and, on occasion, as the moral conscience of the nation—an issue that is likely to come up shortly.

On the issue of size, your Lordships know very well the sensible measures for reduction put forward by the Lord Speaker’s committee. We were progressing quite nicely with reduction until the addition of the new appointments made by this and previous Prime Ministers in the last few years. Despite the pledges made, it seems that Prime Ministers cannot resist the temptation of handing peerages to supporters and donors. There is no way that the House can defy the Writ of Summons calling them to Westminster. The size and composition of this House are also hemmed in by the presence of 26 Bishops and the hereditaries—elements that work to block a better gender balance. Therefore, we have to take matters into our own hands and ask the party groupings again to consider how each may reduce its share of membership. Some will have to be thrown off the life raft in order that more may survive. Rejection of this amendment is a spur to action, and I call on it to serve as such.

Lord Morris of Aberavon Portrait Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on the size of the House of Lords are not quite relevant, with respect. When we discussed this before, I said—I was a lonely voice—that our efforts to reduce the size of the House of Lords were bound to fail because of the grim truth that no one could restrain future Prime Ministers. It is the like the puzzle you had as a schoolboy doing your 11 plus or the equivalent—filling the bath at one side and emptying it on the other; there is no means of controlling the end product. That is what I would say on the relevance.

The noble Lord, Lord Norton, whom we all respect for his contributions in this field, has put his case very strongly. There is no magic number of 650. Nobody has explained to me why it should be 650 and not 651 or 649, or whatever number is justified. There is no case in my view for reducing the present membership of the House of Commons. That is why I support the principle, whatever the details of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Norton.

Being an MP is now much more demanding. In 41 years of representing my own constituency, things were fairly level. There were other problems, mainly industrial problems, but now the task of the MP has become much more difficult. There is an expectation, with the development of email, of instant action on behalf of a demanding constituent. I tried to pursue two professions—of being a Member in the House of Commons and practising at the criminal Bar—and I hope that I succeeded. I doubt that in the present circumstances, such are the demands on a modern Member of Parliament, one could have done the same thing for 41 years.

This is an important amendment. I support it on the principle that the greater the number of MPs, the lesser the chance of wrecking the physical make-up of the membership in Wales. Under the present proposals, the county that I represented in part would again be subject to a huge wrecking operation to justify an equality of numbers for each of the new constituencies. Therefore, the principle of the greater number helps me in my argument of trying to preserve representation that offers some degree of continuity. I used to speak for constituents; those were the people I represented. They value continuity, value the membership of the House of Commons and value the fact that they know who their Member of Parliament is. In my part of the world that may be more important than in a major industrial area, where perhaps there is more anonymity. In our area, it is important that constituents know who to go to when there is trouble.

I support this amendment very much, because it tries to meet present needs, and a reduction in the House of Commons to 650 is no more justified than the original proposal to reduce it 600.

House of Lords: Relocation

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Tuesday 14th July 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I have put on record what my right honourable friend Michael Gove said. The noble Lord speaks from outside this Chamber, which is perfectly reasonable. In this current emergency, your Lordships have been scattered to the four corners of the kingdom. There has been no parallel since 1665 when the House took itself to Oxford to avoid the plague. Speaking as a Minister, I do not feel either today or on other occasions that the intense and proper scrutiny from your Lordships has been weakened. I reject any contention that this Government want at any time to weaken parliamentary scrutiny.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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Does the Minister agree that the proposed move would be a constitutional emasculation and a gesture of disrespect, and would work only if the Commons moved as well? In terms of spreading governance to the north, this is not likely to work any better than the BBC’s partial move to Salford. If it happened, the move would result only in far more virtual working. Moreover, since the Writ of Summons from the Queen commands noble Lords to meet in Westminster, does the Minister realise that any move will involve the royal prerogative and legislation, drawing the Crown into this? I hope the Minister agrees that the response of the House should be to press on with reform. Does he agree that this House, given the virtues of virtual working, could contribute to a quicker and cheaper refurbishment not by moving anywhere but by offering to work virtually during the refurbishment period?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I and the Government welcome any constructive suggestions from Members of your Lordships’ House on how to achieve these objectives. The experience of virtual working will have been read and noted by all of us in different ways and with different implications. I return to the fact that this is a House of Parliament—it needs to be treated with respect and to have the last say.