Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [HL]

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Excerpts
Monday 5th September 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Moved by
Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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That the order of commitment of 27 June committing the bill to a Grand Committee be discharged and the bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House, and that the instruction to the Grand Committee of 27 June shall also be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House.

Motion agreed.

Restoration and Renewal

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Excerpts
Wednesday 13th July 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Moved by
Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal
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That this House

(1) reaffirms its commitment to preserving the Palace of Westminster for future generations and ensuring the safety of all those who work in and visit the Palace, now and in the future;

(2) notwithstanding the Resolution of 31 January 2018, welcomes the report from the House of Commons and House of Lords Commissions proposing a new mandate for the Restoration and Renewal works and a new governance structure to support them;

(3) accordingly endorses the recommendations set out in the Commissions’ report; and

(4) in consequence, approves the establishment of a joint department of the two Houses, under the terms of the Parliament (Joint Departments) Act 2007.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) (Con)
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My Lords, on behalf of the House of Lords Commission, I ask the House to endorse the Joint Commission report for a new mandate for the restoration and renewal programme, and to approve the Motion before the House today. Before I turn to it, I should like briefly to comment on the amendment to the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. He rightly highlights that sitting behind this Motion and the new mandate is the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019. That Act was the product of careful consideration and scrutiny by both Houses, and the noble Lord played an active part in our discussions. Your Lordships will recall that Section 2 of the Act sets out a number of important considerations to which we wanted the sponsor body to have regard in exercising its functions. I want to make it clear that those considerations will not be amended by the proposed secondary legislation.

The noble Lord has picked out three in particular, relating to the important points of the accessibility of the Palace and any temporary location; public engagement during the works; and the need to ensure that benefits from the works are available throughout the United Kingdom. Regardless of this amendment, the Motion before us does not override those requirements of the 2019 Act. The full list of matters that the client function must have regard to remains in place. The new parameters from the commissions are supplementary to the provisions in the Act; they do not replace them. This point is set out in paragraph 22 of the report, and I reiterate it now for the benefit of your Lordships’ House. I hope that, with those reassurances, the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment at the appropriate point.

Before I move on to the substantive Motion, I put on record our thanks to the sponsor body—to Sarah Johnson and her team—for the considerable work that they have done to date, and to the sponsor board, particularly those from your Lordships’ House who have given time and effort in their active participation as members of it. I look forward to hearing contributions from several of them today.

The commissions have reiterated their shared commitment to preserve the Palace of Westminster for future generations. It is our collective duty as custodians, and our responsibility to all who work in and visit it. It is a duty that we do not take lightly, which I hope will be demonstrated in what I set out today. Noble Lords may ask why a new mandate is needed when we and the other place in 2019 passed the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act, and gave effect to decisions made by both Houses in 2018, when a set of resolutions was approved about the governance and delivery of the programme. The answer is that we are in a very different situation today than we were then.

When we made our decisions in 2018, the best guesstimate we had was a programme costing £3.5 billion, with a decant period of around six years. Those were the figures in the independent options appraisal, provided in 2014. Those figures were only ever indicative estimates and not based on extensive surveys or design work, but they were the figures before your Lordships’ House at the time.

A lot of work has been undertaken since. Detailed surveys of the condition of the Palace have begun and more will be undertaken over the coming months. Detailed work has also taken place establishing the requirements of the two Houses, both for the end-state Palace and for a potential decant period. As a result of this work, earlier this year the sponsor body published initial estimates of its essential scheme option. It estimated the cost of R&R to be between £7 billion and £13 billion; that the work would take between 19 and 28 years to deliver, with a full decant of the Palace of between 12 and 20 years; and that the work would not begin until 2027 at the earliest. This is a very different proposition from that presented back in 2018.

Of course, two years after the outbreak of the Covid pandemic we are facing an incredibly challenging fiscal environment. We are responsible to the British taxpayer for the effective use of public money but at the same time we are responsible to the British public for safeguarding this historic building for future generations. We are merely its custodians, entrusted with this building for the time being. It falls on us to make decisions that will affect future generations of both parliamentarians and the public. These duties must be weighed carefully.

In 2018, it was thought that an independent body was best placed to act on behalf of Parliament, to set the priorities and to guide this project, but once up and running this operational model has not worked as effectively as we hoped. In the light of this experience, an independent advice and assurance panel was set up to advise on a new approach to the works and governance. The panel consisted of individuals with proven track records in major projects, picked specifically for their expertise. They have provided an excellent report on the current situation and proposed the next steps that both commissions should take to best fulfil the duties which fall upon us.

The governance structure envisaged in the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019 drew upon precedent from other large-scale programmes. However, as the panel points out, Parliament presents a complex and varying array of stakeholders that is without parallel in other large-scale programmes. A programme of this scale will span multiple Parliaments, bringing with it further complexity.

Although the panel found that the concept of an independent sponsor body was reasonable in theory, it recognised that valid concerns were raised about how it worked in practice. In particular, the sponsor body was seen as operating in a way that was too distant from those who use this building the most. That perception was strengthened by concerns that there had been insufficient engagement by the sponsor body with Members of your Lordships’ House, as well as Members of the other place, and that insufficient engagement was a mutual failing.

The arm’s-length nature of the sponsor function has caused issues as the programme has developed. In the light of the fact that we as parliamentarians are accountable for the decisions—whether for money spent or choices that determine the future of the Palace—the commissions have concluded that to continue in this way is not the best approach to make this project a success.

The proposal before noble Lords today is that the governance of the programme is brought back into Parliament and integrated into the existing governance framework within which we operate. Both commissions agreed that this is best the way to ensure that the programme responds to our needs and changing political circumstances and requirements. The governance structure must, in the words of the panel, be able to

“anticipate and adapt to changing demands”.

It must be one that is resilient and enduring. By bringing the governance closer to where ultimate accountability for decision-making lies, we can achieve that aim.

Today presents an opportunity to reset the direction of the programme, and it is one which we in the commissions are determined to seize. We all accept that we need to step up our engagement and leadership in this area. The proposals before your Lordships’ House today are for a revised governance structure and a new approach to the works, prioritising safety and ensuring that works can start sooner. I will briefly address each of these points.

The Motion today would result in integrating the governance of the programme into existing parliamentary structures through the two commissions; a structure that will be responsive to the requirements of Parliament, and one that is engaged with and accountable to it. The new structure will see the sponsor body abolished and its functions under the restoration and renewal Act transferred to the two corporate officers, the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Clerk of the House of Commons, who will become the statutory duty holders.

The proposed new in-house governance will consist of two tiers: a client board and a programme board. The client board—in effect the two commissions acting jointly—will advise the corporate officers on the overarching strategic direction and make recommendations to the two Houses, which will remain the ultimate decision-makers for this programme. The new programme board will act with delegated authority from the client board and bring together parliamentarians, officials and external members with relevant programme expertise. The programme board will be the main forum for the programme. It will meet to resolve critical strategic choices and priorities, select options and resolve trade-offs and disagreements as needed to finalise the strategic case, which will ultimately be brought forward for both Houses to decide on.

The staff of the sponsor body—around 35 people—will be brought in-house to form a new joint department, accountable to the corporate officers, delivering the strategic case and working in tandem with strategic estates and other departments. This new joint department will be known as the client team.

I emphasise that there is no intention to change the role of the delivery authority, whose purpose is to develop proposals and ultimately deliver the works on the Palace. It will remain an independent body, bringing extremely valuable technical and commercial expertise and experience to the programme. We will have a closer and more direct working relationship with it following these changes. I take this opportunity to thank the delivery authority for all its hard work.

The independent panel has sought to meet the core challenge that this programme faces: the need to make decisions today for a project that will not be completed for decades. We are being asked to judge on the basis of our current needs and requirements, and current economic and political circumstance, what should be provided to our successors, who may face a quite different world and have different expectations and ways of working. However, unless we make a decision about our destination and engage constructively with it, this project will never get off the ground.

The independent panel’s proposal, which both commissions endorse, is to accept that challenge head-on and determine a long-term vision for the programme, which will enable the development of a strategic business case, but at the same time to accept that the delivery strategy for the works is not entirely fixed and will be reviewed periodically, enabling us to take account of changes when necessary and adjust course when developments require. This is the right path for us to take: planning for uncertainty but not allowing that uncertainty to deter progress.

In line with our primary commitment to safety, your Lordships’ House is being asked to endorse a revised approach to the works which puts safety first. Four areas will be the initial priority for the works: fire and safety, building services, asbestos and building fabric conservation. I hope noble Lords will agree that these are sensible and urgent priorities to focus on. The joint commission report sets out parameters to guide the works in this development phase, calling for a wider range of options and different levels of ambition to be considered, to ensure maximum value for money. This will include consideration of approaches that might minimise the period during which the Houses have to vacate the Palace.

In line with our commitment to maintaining the safety of all who work in and visit the Palace, we support the recommendation of the independent panel to take a pragmatic approach that allows for safety-critical restoration works to be commissioned and undertaken before the strategic case has been approved. While the 2019 Act allows for restoration works to be undertaken only once the proposals have been formally approved, that does not stop our teams doing essential maintenance and repair and other safety-critical work before the main Palace restoration works begin. The commissions are keen for restoration works to start sooner and deliver greater value for money through better integration with other critical works happening across the estate.

The Motion before your Lordships’ House is to endorse the recommendations of the joint commission. Secondary legislation will be required in due course to give effect to some of these decisions. Options will be reviewed and a strategic case will be presented to both Houses by the end of 2023. Today, no decision is being asked for on either the costs or specific delivery approaches of R&R. Members of both Houses will be consulted on proposals and will have opportunities to engage with these matters in due course.

On the issue of decant, your Lordships’ House is not being asked for a decision today on how, where, when or for how long the House will be temporarily accommodated during the R&R works. That is a decision for another day. I ask noble Lords also to note that there is no proposal for or against any specific option for temporary accommodation during the works presented in the commissions’ report. Let us take that decision at the right time, when we are informed by the strategic case.

In conclusion, the commissions propose a new way forward, one which allows us to balance our requirements as a working legislature with our responsibility to take fiscally prudent decisions and our stewardship of this historic building.

It is incumbent on us, in both Houses, to show leadership and take difficult decisions. Both Houses and commissions must, going forward, stand by the decisions we make, and make them work. I look forward to working with noble Lords from across the House to do just that. I beg to move.

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for taking part in today’s debate and those who have engaged with the R&R teams over the course of recent weeks. I entirely recognise and understand the frustrations expressed by everyone in this debate. Those of us who have been involved in this—the noble Lords, Lord Newby, Lord Best, Lord Fowler and Lord Carter, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Smith and Lady Doocey—all share them. I am not going to pretend that we are not all in the same place. There is no denying, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, have alluded to, that we have had problems between the two commissions. Again, there is nothing I can say to dispute that; it has been absolutely true up until now. We have not been a good client, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, rightly pointed out.

Let us try to take this opportunity to reset. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said, the commissions have demonstrated more collaborative working, as the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, also outlined. Amazingly, we finally have joint meetings, which we have been trying to get for months—years, in fact. We have published a joint report, and I think we have acceptance of our joint responsibility to safeguard the Palace.

I am not promising—and it would be foolish of me to do so—that there will not be further frustrations and bumps in the road, but I believe we have reached a more constructive place. Unfortunately, that is now going to be on the record so let us hope that it proves to be true and that we can move forward from here. I am grateful that, despite noble Lords’ misgivings and clear frustrations, the overwhelming view from the debate is that we need to move forward and this is the way to do it. Whether we ever wanted to get here, we are here, and we are trying to work together.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, that the make-up of the programme board is now going to be critical. I echo the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that we have to have people on the board now who want to take the project forward. That must be at the forefront of the minds of all those involved in taking it forward. I hope that is how we will move forward from here.

I shall respond to a few questions that came up during the debate. The noble Baronesses, Lady Wheeler and Lady Smith, talked about the PAC report. I am sure noble Lords know that the accounting officers for the two Houses have responded to the recommendations addressed to the PAC. That response has now been published and is available for people to look at. There is a recognition that important lessons need to be learned that the House authorities are taking on board, including around issues of transparency. Indeed, we believe that the joint commission report is one part of the evidence showing that we are taking those issues on board, and we want to engage further. Obviously, reflections on the PAC report will be taken into account.

The noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, asked about contingency planning. I assure him that we have a set of business resilience plans in the event of fire, flood or other emergencies that might disrupt the Parliamentary Estate. The aim of the plan is to ensure the continuity of essential parliamentary business with minimal delay, and I can confirm, having been involved, that the contingency plans are regularly reviewed and updated.

The noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, referred to health and safety. That is an extremely important issue which has been highlighted in the joint commission report as a priority. The two clerks, the corporate officers, are the responsible officers and take their responsibilities enormously seriously. For instance, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 expressly identifies the two corporate officers as responsible persons for areas occupied by their respective Houses, and they have a duty to ensure that appropriate fire precautions are in place, risk assessments have been carried out and appropriate fire safety arrangements have been made. Again, I can say from personal experience that we have regular conversations with the authorities to make sure that our duties are being upheld.

The noble Earl, Lord Devon, and my noble friend Lord Inglewood asked about our heritage obligations. We abide by the relevant legislation. We follow planning legislation and go through all statutory consent required for a grade 1 listed building.

The noble Lord, Lord Mann, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked who had corporate responsibility if anything went wrong. John Benger, the Clerk of the Commons, told the PAC in the evidence session that he gave that

“if there is a catastrophic failure and if life is jeopardised, it is our legal responsibility”—

that is, the Clerk of the Commons and the Clerk of the Parliaments. He emphasised:

“It is no one else’s.”

So that is where the responsibility lies, which is why, again, we work closely with the House authorities to try to ensure that we uphold our responsibilities.

The noble Lord, Lord Vaux, is right when he says that our decision today is not about prejudging what may be in the strategic case. A number of noble Lords talked about a whole range of issues that they might like to see in the strategic case that is put to both Houses, but that is not what we are talking about today.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, my noble friend Lord McLoughlin and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones, Lady Deech and Lady Andrews, all talked about decant. That is not a decision for today but, although I cannot make promises to noble Lords, the House of Lords Commission has been clear—I am being honest here—that, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, we cannot quite see how it cannot happen. Still, let us see the strategic case that comes forward, and then it will be up to this House and the Commons to make their decision on the back of it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and my noble friends Lord Colgrain and Lady Rawlings talked about the money already spent by the sponsor body and delivery authority. It is not right to look at this as money wasted. A significant amount of work has been done and is required to prepare for, design and develop the plans for R&R, irrespective of the approach we choose. For instance, spending has included design schemes to RIBA standards, detailed programme planning, decant scoping, public engagement and plans for heritage collections. I would just say that the money spent to date has not been wasted; it has been spent on work that we will still need to build on no matter where the programme goes from here.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked about milestones and next steps. Assuming that we approve this Motion, the plan is to establish the client board, with the first meeting planned for October; to agree the terms of reference of the programme board, including composition and membership, at the client board first meeting, which is of the joint commission in September; and the recruitment of external members with required major programme expertise over the course of the autumn. Until the programme board is set up, the client board—which is the two commissions—will act in its place to ensure that there is no loss of momentum.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, asked about surveys. Intrusive surveys will commence next Friday, as soon as the House has risen for recess. Over 150 sites will be surveyed over the summer and the programme of surveys will continue into 2023. The aim is that the strategic case will be presented to both Houses by the end of 2023.

Finally, I return to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. I recognise and welcome his sustained, principled commitment to these issues and the passion with which he spoke in his contribution. It is right that we consider the importance of sharing the benefits of the restoration and renewal programme. That of course means taking into account the importance of making the building accessible and ensuring that the public are welcomed in, that engagement with Parliament and democratic processes are fostered and that opportunities presented by this tremendous programme of works are shared across the United Kingdom through programmes such as the one my noble friend Lord Lingfield mentioned.

As I said in opening, I hope I have been able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and all Members of the House—a number of whom spoke in support of his amendment—that the changes proposed today do not alter the statutory framework in that regard; nor will the regulations that we propose to bring forward to give effect to the proposals we are considering today. As set out in paragraph 22 of the joint commission’s joint report, the programme will

“continue to have a mandate to consider these areas and how best to address them”.

That commitment remains.

Anyone who has either been in or will read about this debate will recognise the deep affection that every noble Lord has expressed for this incredible, historic building. I understand the strength of feeling about the importance of ensuring that this new way forward is robust and takes us on. The task before us today is to ensure that the project has the structures and processes in place to allow us to deliver the best possible options for this House and the other place.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, rightly observed, whatever your views, I am afraid this is the only show in town so I hope noble Lords—despite misgivings and frustrations—can support the Motion. The Commons managed to pass it without amendment, which we should take as a good sign so that we can start to move forward together.

CHOGM, G7 and NATO Summits

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Excerpts
Monday 4th July 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement about the NATO, G7 and Commonwealth summits, held in Madrid, Schloss Elmau and Kigali respectively.

In the space of seven days, I have had the opportunity to work alongside more than 80 Governments—nearly half the entire membership of the United Nations—and to hold bilateral talks with more than 25 leaders, ranging from the new Presidents of South Korea and Zambia to the Prime Ministers of Japan and Jamaica, demonstrating the global reach of British diplomacy and the value of our presence at the world’s top tables.

Our immediate priority is to join with our allies to ensure that Ukraine prevails in her brave struggle against Putin’s aggression. At the Madrid summit, NATO exceeded all expectations in the unity and single-minded resolve of the alliance to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, and to explode the myth that western democracies lack the staying power for a prolonged crisis.

All of us understand that if Putin is not stopped in Ukraine, he will find new targets for his revanchist attacks. We are defending not some abstract ideal but the first principle of a peaceful world, which is that large and powerful countries cannot be allowed to dismember their neighbours, and that if this was ever permitted, no nation anywhere would be safe. Therefore our goal must be for our Ukrainian friends to win, by which I mean that Ukraine must have the strength to finish this war on the terms that President Zelensky has described.

When Putin claimed that by invading his neighbour he would force NATO away from Russia, he could not have been proved more spectacularly wrong because the single most welcome outcome of the Madrid summit was the alliance’s agreement to admit Finland and Sweden. I hope I speak for the whole House when I say that Britain will be proud to stand alongside these fellow democracies and reaffirm our unshakeable pledge to come to their aid and defend them if ever necessary, just as they would for us. We were glad to smooth their path into NATO by giving both nations the security assurances they needed to apply for membership, and when I met Prime Minister Andersson of Sweden and President Niinistö of Finland last Wednesday, I told them I was certain that NATO would be stronger and safer for their accession.

Before Putin’s onslaught, both countries had prized their neutrality, even through all the crises of the Cold War, and it is a measure of how seriously they take today’s threat that opinion in Sweden and Finland has been transformed. It speaks volumes about Putin’s folly that one permanent consequence of his attack on Ukraine will be a doubling of the length of NATO’s border with Russia. If anyone needed proof that NATO is purely defensive, the fact that two quintessentially peaceable countries have chosen to join it demonstrates the true nature of our alliance.

Now is the time to intensify our help for Ukraine, because Putin’s Donbass offensive is slowing down and his overstretched army is suffering heavy casualties. Ukraine’s success in forcing the Russians off Snake Island by sheer weight of firepower shows how difficult the invader will find it to hold the territory he has overrun. We need to equip our friends now to take advantage of the moment when Putin will have to pause and regroup, so Britain will supply Ukraine with another £1 billion of military aid, including air defences, drones and electronic warfare equipment, bringing our total military, humanitarian and economic support since 24 February to nearly £4 billion.

To guarantee the security of our allies on the eastern flank, NATO agreed in Madrid to bolster its high-readiness forces, and we in the UK will offer even more British forces to the alliance, including almost all of our surface fleet. We have already doubled our deployment in Estonia, and we will upgrade our national headquarters to be led by a brigadier and help our Estonian friends to establish their own divisional headquarters. If you follow the trajectory of our programmes to modernise our Armed Forces, Mr Speaker, you will draw the logical conclusion that the UK will likely be spending 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of this decade.

Earlier, at the G7 summit, the first full day of talks coincided with a Russian missile destroying a Ukrainian shopping centre, killing at least 18 people. This barbaric attack on an obviously civilian target strengthened the resolve of my fellow leaders to provide Ukraine with more financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic backing for, and I quote the communiqué,

‘as long as it takes’.

That is exactly the term later echoed by NATO. The G7 has pledged nearly $30 billion of financial support for Ukraine this year, and we will tighten our sanctions on Russia. The UK will join America, Japan and Canada to ban the import of Russian gold, which previously raised more export revenues than anything else except hydrocarbons.

The G7 will devise more options for ensuring that nearly 25 million tonnes of grain, trapped inside Ukraine by Putin’s blockade, reaches the countries that rely on these supplies. Just as the world economy was recovering from the pandemic, Putin’s war has caused a surge in global food and energy prices, raising the cost of living everywhere, including here at home. The G7 agreed to

‘take immediate action to secure energy supply and reduce price surges…including by exploring additional measures such as price caps.’

We will help our partners in the developing world to meet their climate targets and transform millions of lives by constructing new infrastructure according to the highest standards of transparency and environmental protection. Through our Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, an idea launched by the UK at the Carbis Bay summit last year, we will mobilise up to $600 billion of public and private investment over the next five years.

Many beneficiary nations will be members of the Commonwealth, and I was very pleased to attend the Kigali summit of this unique association of 56 states, encompassing a third of humanity. More countries are eager to join, and we were pleased to welcome two new members, Gabon and Togo.

It is an amazing fact that our familiar legal and administrative systems, combined with the English language, knock 21% off the cost of trade between Commonwealth members. It is because the Commonwealth unites that advantage with some of the fastest-growing markets in the world that we are using the sovereignty that the UK has regained to sign free trade or economic partnership agreements with as many Commonwealth countries as possible. We have done 33 so far, including with Australia and New Zealand, and we are aiming for one with India by Diwali in October.

It is true that not every member of the Commonwealth sees Putin’s aggression as we do, or exactly as we do, so it was vital to have the opportunity to counter the myths and to point out that food prices are rising because Putin has blockaded one of the world’s biggest food producers. If large countries were free to destroy their neighbours then no Commonwealth member, however distant from Ukraine, would be genuinely secure.

The fact that, in a week, the UK was able to deal on friendly terms with scores of countries in three organisations shows the extraordinary diplomatic assets our country possesses. As we stand up for what is right in Ukraine and advance the values and interests of the British people, I commend this Statement to the House.”

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Lord Newby Portrait Lord Newby (LD)
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My Lords, this Statement is probably unique, combining as it does three consecutive meetings of groups of the world’s leading democracies. As the Prime Minister says, the NATO summit showed a commendable unity in expressing its support to Ukraine. However, as this weekend’s Russian gains on the battlefield have shown, mere promises of more armaments are of little help to the Ukrainian soldiers on the front line. Speed is now of the essence in actually delivering them. Can the noble Baroness say how quickly it will be possible for the UK to get the additional weaponry which we have committed to Ukraine into Ukrainian hands, and into front-line operations?

Clearly, a major challenge in the provision of the latest weaponry is to train the Ukrainians in its deployment. The UK is obviously providing training to Ukrainian personnel in the use of the weapons which we supply, but I believe we have also offered to provide more basic training to very much larger numbers of Ukrainian recruits. Could the noble Baroness update the House on the state of discussions on this proposal, and whether—and if so when—we might expect to see significant numbers of Ukrainians coming to the UK for their military training?

The Statement says that, as part of our increased commitments to NATO, we will offer

“almost all of our surface fleet”

to the alliance. What does this mean for where ships will be deployed? Specifically, does it mean that we will no longer deploy our carriers into the South China Sea, but keep them within the European theatre?

More generally on our defence budget, the Prime Minister says that the UK is likely to spend up to 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade. Does the noble Baroness agree with the figures produced by the House of Commons Library last week, which show that the Ministry of Defence budget is actually being cut as a result of our soaring inflation, and is on course to have a 5.6% real-terms cut in day-to-day expenditure by 2024-25? Such a cut is, of course, in breach of the Conservative general election manifesto promise to increase the defence budget in line with inflation. When will the Ministry of Defence receive the funding to reverse that real-terms cut?

What thought has been given to where any extra resources might be allocated? The noble Baroness will be well aware of concern across the House on the precipitate fall in the number of soldiers in the Army. Do the Government intend to reverse these cuts, as they increase overall military spending?

On the crucial area of energy supply, the G7 committed to exploring oil and gas price caps. Which country is taking this proposal forward? In particular, what role is the UK playing in developing this potentially important option?

The G7 is committed to countering Chinese influence globally by spending £600 billion of public and private investment over the next five years. What part is the UK playing in achieving this? Specifically, how much public investment do the UK Government plan to allocate to this programme?

The Prime Minister bookended his Statement by extolling the reach and depth of British diplomacy. Although it is true that our membership of NATO, the G7 and the Commonwealth means that we were in the same room as half of the membership of the UN, being present is not the same as being influential. To be influential and effective, your opposite numbers must trust you to keep your word and stick to your agreements, but, under this Prime Minister, they simply cannot do so.

In the extraordinary article by the German and Irish Foreign Ministers in yesterday’s Observer, they state of the Irish protocol:

“Instead of the path of partnership and dialogue, the British government has chosen unilateralism. There is no legal or political justification for unilaterally breaking an international agreement entered into only two years ago.”


Every Government in the world will have seen these words and will be making their calculations. If we break our international agreements once, what is to stop us doing so again? With this Prime Minister, whose word counts for nothing and for whom facts are expendable, our stock internationally is low and falling. All the warm words in today’s Statement cannot begin to reverse this fundamental failing.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness and noble Lord for their comments. I will pick up on a number of their questions. On the noble Baroness’s point, we have of course worked very well with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland; we have done so for a long time and will continue to do so, because we all want to do everything we can to strengthen the Commonwealth Secretariat and deliver for Commonwealth members. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Ahmad will be able to update the House, as the noble Baroness suggested.

On the noble Lord’s questions on the G7, as he rightly said, the G7 communiqué said that to reduce price surges it is considering additional measures such as price caps to stabilise energy markets. Leaders have tasked the relevant Ministers to evaluate the feasibility and efficiency of these measures urgently so that action will be taken.

On the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, this is a G7 initiative to narrow the investment gap for sustainable, inclusive, climate-resilient and quality infrastructure in emerging markets in developing countries. Through the G7, we will mobilise the private sector for accelerated action and support just energy transition partnerships. We launched the first of these JETPs with South Africa at COP 26, and we are currently working towards future partnerships with India, Indonesia, Senegal and Vietnam.

The noble Baroness rightly highlighted the grave concern about the food supply. As she and all noble Lords will know, 25 million tonnes of corn and wheat cannot be exported due to Putin’s blockade. As the noble Baroness said, more than 275 million people worldwide were already facing acute hunger at the start of 2022, and that is now expected to increase by 47 million if the conflict continues. So, at CHOGM, we committed an additional £372 million, for instance, for countries most impacted by rising global food prices, including £130 million this financial year for the World Food Programme, which she mentioned, to fund its life-saving work around the world, including in Commonwealth countries. We committed £133 million for research and development partnerships with world-leading agricultural and scientific organisations to develop and implement technologies to improve food security, such as new drought-resistant crops. We also announced £52 million for the UN’s global emergency response fund and £37 million for the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness mentioned defence spending. At the NATO summit, the Prime Minister outlined how we will need to invest for the long term in vital capabilities like future combat air and AUKUS. These investments mean that we are on track to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade. Noble Lords will know that UK defence spending is projected to reach 2.3% of GDP this year due to the UK defence industry investment and the £2.3 billion of extraordinary support for Ukraine. We are increasing defence spending by over £24 billion over the next four years—the biggest investment in our Armed Forces since the Cold War.

The noble Lord asked about UK forces in NATO. As he rightly said, we announced our commitments to the NATO force model: we will make available RAF Typhoon and F35B Lightning fighter jets, royal naval vessels—including Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers—and brigade-size land forces to NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe. We will significantly increase our availability, which will include the majority of our maritime forces. Either the noble Lord or the noble Baroness referred to our announcement of the expansion of our national headquarters in Estonia to ensure that we can provide rapid reinforcements with our high-readiness forces if needed.

The noble Lord asked about the new military support for Ukraine, and of course we will work with the Ukrainians to get that aid and support to them as soon as possible. But I point out how much we have done already: we are proud to have provided the equipment and help that Ukraine asked for. We have already committed over £750 million-worth of equipment, including Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles, new anti-ship missiles, 120 armoured vehicles, more than 6,900 NLAWs and more than 200 Javelin anti-tank missiles.

The noble Lord asked about the training of Ukrainian armed forces. We announced a new training offer, spearheaded by the UK, with a plan to train 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers every 120 days. Each soldier will spend three weeks on the training courses, receiving medical training, for example, and learning skills in cybersecurity and countering explosive attacks. Of course, this is on top of the 22,000 Ukrainian troops whom we have already trained under Operation Orbital since 2015, so it builds on the work that we have done.

The noble Lord and noble Baroness both asked about the Army in particular. We are creating an Army ready to fight the wars of the future, making it more lethal, agile and expeditionary. We are delivering the most significant modernisation of the Army in a generation. It will continue to recruit the talent that it needs to maintain a competitive advantage now and in the future, and it will continue to be one of the most technically advanced forces in the world. The Future Soldier transformation programme offers the best combination of people and equipment within the resources that we have. Under the Future Soldier transformation, the Army will have a whole force of over 100,000 troops.

As these three international meetings showed, we will continue to play a central role on the global stage and play our part in trying to help all our allies, particularly in light of the events in Ukraine.

Lord McDonald of Salford Portrait Lord McDonald of Salford (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the Leader for repeating the Statement. I have two questions. First, all these summits agreed that there needs to be an increase in defence spending; this was said most loudly in NATO, but it also came from the other two summits. Given that the British economy is growing so slowly, where will cuts be made to other expenditure to fund that increase? Will the Government lead the necessary national debate, as we get our minds around that consequence? Secondly, as the Minister outlined, we have been very generous to Ukraine; that has come from British inventory, so can she update the House on plans to fill the gaps that are now appearing in our inventory?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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As I said, the investments that we have made and outlined mean we will be on track to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of the decade. Future spending decisions will be for the next spending review, and no doubt there will be many discussions about that in the run-up to it. In relation to our inventory, the Ministry of Defence is working hard to ensure that we have the right amount of munitions, weapons et cetera that we need.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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My Lords, we on these Benches support Her Majesty’s Government in their response to President Putin’s invasion, as I am sure will our General Synod which is debating the matter this weekend. Aggression must not be rewarded. My right reverend friend the Bishop of St Albans has previously assured this House that the Church stands ready to use its reach and connections to pave the way to a solution, and we also stand ready to use our extensive links to humanitarian organisations. May I therefore ask the Minister to expand on what is being done to ensure UK aid support reaches all those who need it, particularly through the informal volunteer groups, which have so far received only 0.24%—less than £1 in every £400—of direct donations, and to consider how faith organisations, including the Church, can pay their full part?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I thank the right reverend Prelate for his comments, and I pay tribute to the Church and other faith organisations for all the help and support that they provide in a whole array—both in the UK to refugees coming over here but also within the region. We will continue to work very closely with faith groups, but also civil society more broadly, to provide the support that communities around the world need. We are a world leader in development, having spent more than £11 billion on ODA in 2021. In 2021, we were the third-largest ODA donor in the G7 and the fourth-largest overall donor by volume, and we remain very proud of our work in this area.

Lord Sentamu Portrait Lord Sentamu (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for the Statement, which has a lot of hope and a lot of challenges in it. I chair the board of Christian Aid, which has been working hard in Ukraine ensuring that incubators are provided, because two hospitals were destroyed, and there have been a lot of miscarriages and premature births taking place. We thank the Government for the disaster aid that has raised a lot of money, and through your offices, again, we have been able to help out.

On defence, during our debate on the humble Address I brought up the issue—as everybody is wanting to look at more lethal weapons—of the whole growth of unregulated, autonomous robots. These are very good at not being controlled by a person but have been set within themselves, and their destruction is unbelievable. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to create a treaty which will limit the way that these weapons are developed?

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde (Con)
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It is the noble and right reverend Lord.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I thank the noble and right reverend Lord for his comments—I apologise: it is a new one on me and I did not want to make a mistake. He is absolutely right that we all need to work internationally to tackle the many problems, a number of which he alluded to, to ensure that we have a safer and more peaceful world.

Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Portrait Lord Campbell of Pittenweem (LD)
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My Lords, does the Leader of the House accept that there are two damaging ambiguities in this Statement which undermine its credibility? The first is a passage that says:

“our goal must be for our Ukrainian friends to win, by which I mean that Ukraine must have the strength to finish this war on the terms that President Zelensky has described.”


Is that the United Kingdom indicating that it would provide support if an attempt is made to expel Russia from Crimea, with all the consequences which that would raise? The second is where the Statement says—“you” having introduced the Speaker into the exchanges—

“you will draw the logical conclusion that the UK will likely be spending 2.5% of GDP on defence by the end of this decade.”


But 2.5% of which GDP—of the GDP of today, or the GDP of 2030? Surely, we are entitled to detail of that kind.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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As I have said, future decisions are for the spending review, but the Prime Minister has said that he expects it to set out a trajectory towards 2.5% by the end of the decade. In relation to the noble Lord’s first comment, President Zelensky made clear during the Prime Minister’s recent visit to Kyiv that Ukraine has no interest in surrendering sovereignty, and we want to support it to finish the war on the terms he describes.

Lord Howell of Guildford Portrait Lord Howell of Guildford (Con)
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My Lords, my apologies for arriving a minute late to my noble friend’s Statement; it came up a fraction sooner than I expected and quicker than I could run to get here. I wish, if I may, to ask a question, but first of all I agree with those who welcome the orderly transfer of the secretary-generalship of the Commonwealth. As I said in the debate which we had on Thursday on this subject, I think that is the right way for it to go: it gives the present secretary-general a chance, as it were, to wind up and complete her term of office—I know that she has some more leadership ideas for facing Commonwealth difficulties to share with us, so that is a good thing.

My question is this. Did I hear in reports, but not in this Statement, that at the G7 the Ministers and the Heads of Government entertained the idea of trying to create a counter to the belt and road initiative of the Chinese, which now involves memoranda of understanding with 141 countries, and two-thirds of the Commonwealth as well? This is a huge entanglement by China. I know that most of the first two gatherings were about Ukraine, but it is relevant because it is of course China’s neutral stance that is influencing half the world not to support us in challenging the Russian atrocities, but instead apparently to condone them. As long as that goes on, and half the world is not with us against the Russian horrors, and against their attack on humanity and international law, then Putin is going to get some encouragement to continue, so I would like to know whether there is anything in the brief on that particular subject.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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What my noble friend is asking about is the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, which I mentioned in response to the noble Lord, Lord Newby, which is the G7 initiative to narrow the investment gap for sustainable, inclusive, climate-resilient and quality infrastructure in emerging markets and developing countries. We, through the G7, intend to mobilise the private sector for accelerated action and support just energy transition partnerships. As I mentioned, one has already been set up with South Africa, and we are currently working towards further partnerships with India, Indonesia, Senegal and Vietnam. It is that initiative that the G7 will be developing within that space.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, my question follows on from that, on the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment. Will the Leader of the House agree with me that it is crucial that this money avoids the errors that have happened so often in the past, where money has gone into the priorities of investors rather than the needs of the poorest in society? Will she agree that this money needs to take a rights-based, gender-sensitive approach, delivering a just transition rather than ensuring that the rich in some countries get richer and the global north benefits—particularly in ensuring that the global south does not get laid on with even further levels of debt burden when it is already carrying levels of debt that it is unable to afford?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I certainly agree with the noble Baroness that we need to make sure that this initiative delivers for the poorest countries in the world, and that we work in a collaborative and effective way. That is what is happening in the development of this partnership. As I have said, we already have the first one announced, we are working towards several more, and we will support partners in developing countries and emerging markets in a fair and sustainable way.

Lord Hylton Portrait Lord Hylton (CB)
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My Lords, will the Government emphasise that we have no quarrel with the people of Russia, but only with their misguided leaders? As regards Ukraine, will they try their hardest to keep open all channels of communication, whether diplomatic or other? Finally, will they identify and use all possible intermediaries to end the war and open the way towards a verified and durable peace?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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We have said before—I certainly have at the Dispatch Box—that we have no quarrel with the Russian people. I am happy to restate that. We will support our Ukrainian friends so that they do not have to suffer in the way that they have, and we will work with President Zelensky to achieve the outcome he wants.

Lord Marlesford Portrait Lord Marlesford (Con)
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My Lords, President Putin has more than once suggested that he stands ready, if he thinks it necessary, to use nuclear weapons in pursuit of the Ukrainian war. Has it been made clear to him that the first use of any such weapons, whether tactical or strategic, is out of bounds, and that any nation taking that step would meet retribution—which in the case of Russia could be terminal?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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My Lords, we are already in a very fraught situation and I do not think that speculating on such things helps at this point. What we want to do is work with our allies to support the Ukrainians and continue to point out the fallacy and wrongness of what President Putin is currently doing.

Lord Ashton of Hyde Portrait Lord Ashton of Hyde (Con)
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My Lords, as we have had a question from my noble friend Lord Howell, we should allow the noble Lord, Lord Browne, eventually to come in. I withdraw my comments, with the leave of the House.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, I apologise too for being late for the beginning of the Statement. I had expected it to be later in the evening and my office is in Millbank House. Anyway, I can assure the noble Baroness—to whom I apologise profusely—that I have read the Statement, because I have a very specific question and wanted to see whether there was any reference to it in the Statement, but there is not. As part of the US increasing its military presence across Europe, two more squadrons of F-35 stealth jets will be stationed at RAF Lakenheath, which is leased to the US air force. Can the noble Baroness reassure me that these will not be the dual-capable variant of the stealth aircraft, and that we will not, some time in the future, face the challenge of the United States wanting to base nuclear weapons in the UK once again?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I think the noble Lord will not be surprised to hear that I do not have that level of detail. I ask him not to take that as any answer; I am afraid I simply do not know. If I could write to him, it would be for the best. I am happy to share the letter, in the Library, with other noble Lords.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise for being one minute and 30 seconds late, but may I return to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem? There is the figure of 2.5% of GDP by the end of this decade; we are investing troops in Estonia and there is the possibility of a European war that could escalate beyond this continent. Can we please keep these figures carefully in mind? Could my noble friend assure me that we have the ammunition—having rightly given so much to the Ukrainians—to sustain action for significantly longer than indicated in the rather authoritative article in today’s Times?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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Certainly; that is a priority of the Ministry of Defence. We have been clear that we need to invest for the long term, and that is what we will continue to do. That is why we have increased defence spending by over £24 billion over the next four years and have said that we will be making further investments to reach 2.5% of GDP being spent on defence by the end of the decade.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, I think I heard the Leader of the House refer to agricultural investment; as a consequence of the war in Ukraine and the difficulties we all now face, it is right to consider this with a global approach. Moving on, recognising Togo and Gabon as aspirant members of the Commonwealth should, I hope, send a very convincing message to all our friends in La Francophonie that we in the Commonwealth would welcome an in-depth discussion with them. La Francophonie has tremendous opportunity for the UK. On that point—the Leader of the House may not be aware of this—was any attention paid to the situation with regard to Cameroon, which is exercising the minds of many?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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Yes, we were very pleased to agree the accession of Togo and Gabon. I do not believe that Cameroon was mentioned, but if that was the case, I will happily refer back to the noble Viscount. As for agriculture, he is absolutely right: as well as the various additional funds I mentioned, we also announced £17.7 million of funding through the FCDO’s green growth centre of expertise to improve the effective use of fertilisers and increase food production in countries including Rwanda, Kenya and Ghana.

Lord Bilimoria Portrait Lord Bilimoria (CB)
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My Lords, would it be possible to speak? I was a latecomer as well.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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Did the noble Lord hear any of the Statement?

Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Excerpts
Thursday 26th May 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

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Moved by
Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty to offer the heartfelt good wishes and loyal devotion of the House on the occasion of the Seventieth Anniversary of Her Accession to the Throne, expressing its deep gratitude for Her Majesty’s lifelong unstinting service, leadership and commitment to the United Kingdom, Dependencies and Territories, Her other Realms, and the Commonwealth.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) (Con)
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My Lords, this is a formal occasion for us, as the upper House, to pay tribute to our sovereign. But for many noble Lords, including me, this is also a personal occasion—a chance to pay tribute to an inspirational woman who has dedicated her life to public service. I know that many noble Lords enjoy a personal relationship with Her Majesty the Queen, and I look forward to hearing all contributions to the debate today.

The Queen has been an enduring presence in our national story over the past 70 years. The United Kingdom of today looks markedly different from that of 1952, when she ascended the Throne, and yet Her Majesty has remained a constant presence in our lives, upholding the best of tradition while progressing and moving with the times.

The Queen has given seven decades of dedicated service. Just as she proclaimed she would at the age of 21, she has devoted her life to the United Kingdom, the realms and the Commonwealth. Her ongoing commitment to public service is beyond question, and we are all immensely grateful for it.

We in this House have a special relationship with the sovereign, because the Crown is an integral part of the Parliament to which we all belong. During her reign, the Queen has given Royal Assent to some 3,833 public Bills. The sovereign also has the right to consult, encourage and warn the Government of the day, and the 14 Prime Ministers who have served through her reign have all benefited greatly from the Queen’s enormous experience. Your Lordships’ House is often credited with providing the institutional memory of our country’s governance—the Chamber is indeed filled with years of wisdom—but even the aggregate experience amassed in the Chamber today, substantial though it is, cannot match that which the Queen brings to her role.

Her Majesty is unique in many obvious ways—in being the monarch, our longest ever reigning monarch and the first to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee. But, also uniquely, she has met more international leaders than any living person on this planet, from Nelson Mandela to the Dalai Lama and from Charles de Gaulle to Ronald Reagan. The Queen has been both a witness to, and an active participant in, the past 70 years of world history.

During that time she has performed her role as the head of the Commonwealth with great energy, driving forward this remarkable organisation, which spans 54 independent and equal countries and nearly a third of the world’s population. From Australia to Antigua, Canada to Cameroon, the Commonwealth is a unique association, spanning almost every region and religion. Her Majesty is also Head of State for the 14 Commonwealth realms, where her jubilee will be celebrated just as it is here in the United Kingdom.

Another institution that the Queen heads is, of course, our Armed Forces. It is to her that our military personnel swear allegiance, but she also has a strong personal connection as wife, mother and grandmother of individuals who have served. Indeed, the Queen herself joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service during the Second World War, training as a driver and mechanic and becoming the first female member of the Royal Family to join the armed services as a full-time active member.

This is just one early example of her remarkable ability to move with the times, something she has done consistently over the past seven decades. More recently, in 2020, as vast swathes of the country were working via Zoom, I was present, along with the Queen, at the first ever virtual Privy Council meeting in our history. Just this week, we saw the addition of a motorised golf buggy to the royal fleet, used to give Her Majesty a grand tour of the Chelsea Flower Show.

The Queen’s reign would not have been the same without Prince Philip by her side. In Her Majesty’s own words, he was her “strength and stay”. As noble Lords know, they enjoyed many happy occasions with their family at Sandringham, and it is the place Prince Philip chose to spend his time once he stepped back from public life. I can well understand their affection for the estate, as my husband is MP for North West Norfolk and fortunate that Sandringham is in his constituency. Over the last couple of years, we too have spent many happy hours, as visitors, enjoying the grounds and the many events that take place there.

The Queen’s extraordinary range of knowledge on just about any subject has always been impressive, and this is ever evident at state dinners and diplomatic receptions, some of which I have been fortunate to attend. She is naturally inquisitive, interested in everyone and everything, ensuring she gets the best out of any situation. I first had an audience with Her Majesty upon being appointed a Government Whip and Baroness in Waiting. In our first meeting, our conversation spanned international football, the domestic issues of the day and, of course, most importantly, her horses’ prospects at Royal Ascot.

The Queen has always loved horses; she has a real affinity with them. When I was just five years old, a man fired several blank rounds in quick succession at the Queen during the Trooping the Colour parade, startling all the horses around. She was able to keep control of her horse with characteristic calmness and a pat on the neck and, undeterred by the rather serious incident that had taken place, continued with the parade. Her knowledge of horses goes far beyond skilful handling. One of her home-bred mares, Balmoral Leia, won the highland pony title at the Royal Windsor Horse Show just a couple of weeks ago.

The Queen takes people as they are. While always conscious of the dignity of the Crown, she possesses a remarkable lightness of manner. She appears just as comfortable presiding over state dinners as she is rambling around the countryside in well-worn waterproofs. Indeed, the sight of Her Majesty driving herself to church is as familiar to us all as her travelling in the state coach—but at least these are two of the more traditional methods of transportation. Noble Lords will no doubt recall the Queen’s cameo, alongside James Bond, in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games, in which the Queen’s journey from Buckingham Palace culminated, as far as viewers were concerned, in a royal parachute jump. We found out later that she had orchestrated this without anyone in her family knowing, so they must have been even more surprised at the scene than we were.

The Queen certainly has a wry sense of humour. Noble Lords may have heard the story of the lady in Norfolk who, on encountering Her Majesty entering a shop, told her, “You look just like the Queen”, to which she replied, “How reassuring”. That encounter is a reminder of the Queen’s own words in her 1991 Christmas message:

“Let us not take ourselves too seriously. None of us has a monopoly on wisdom.”


We are celebrating this remarkable jubilee not simply because of the unprecedented duration of the Queen’s reign but because of the deep affection and respect that she commands in the hearts of the people of this country—affection and respect unmatched by any monarch in our time. We remain deeply thankful to Her Majesty for all she does for the nation and look forward to her jubilee celebrations next week.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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My Lords, the many, varied and heartfelt tributes that we have heard today bear witness to the Queen’s extraordinary service throughout her 70 years on the Throne and the genuine affection in which she is held. For my part, I have found this an uplifting debate to be involved in, which I cannot always say is the case regarding my position at this Dispatch Box. However, I hope that all noble Lords will agree that we have heard some wonderful stories and some heartfelt tributes to Her Majesty. Contributions from all sides of the House demonstrate the real gratitude of this House for all that Her Majesty does and continues to do for the nation. Therefore, on behalf of us all, I send our sincere thanks and good wishes to the Queen, and we are all looking forward to celebrating her Platinum Jubilee next week.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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My Lords, I add my warmest congratulations to Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of her accession to the Throne. The tributes we have heard today from all sides of the House show the gratitude that this House and the nation owe her for her extraordinary service throughout her reign. It is therefore my honour to put the Question today. The Question is that the Motion for an humble Address be agreed to.

Sue Gray Report

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Excerpts
Wednesday 25th May 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, I will make a Statement, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to Sue Gray for her report today, and I want to thank her for the work that she has done. I also thank the Metropolitan Police for completing its investigation.

I want to begin today by renewing my apology to the House and to the whole country for the short lunchtime gathering on 19 June 2020 in the Cabinet Room, during which I stood at my place at the Cabinet table and for which I received a fixed penalty notice. I also want to say, above all, that I take full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch. Sue Gray’s report has emphasised that it is up to the political leadership in No. 10 to take ultimate responsibility, and, of course, I do. But since these investigations have now come to an end, this is my first opportunity to set out some of the context, and to explain both my understanding of what happened and what I have previously said to the House.

It is important to set out that over a period of about 600 days, gatherings on a total of eight dates have been found to be in breach of the regulations in a building that is 5,300 metres square across five floors, excluding the flats. Hundreds of staff are entitled to work there, and the Cabinet Office, which has thousands of officials, is now the biggest that it has been at any point in its 100-year history. That is, in itself, one of the reasons why the Government are now looking for change and reform.

Those staff working in Downing Street were permitted to continue attending their office for the purpose of work, and the exemption under the regulations applied to their work because of the nature of their jobs, reporting directly to the Prime Minister. These people were working extremely long hours, doing their best to give this country the ability to fight the pandemic. The exemption under which those staff were present in Downing Street includes circumstances where officials and advisers were leaving the Government, and it was appropriate to recognise them and to thank them for the work that they have done. I briefly attended such gatherings to thank them for their service—which I believe is one of the essential duties of leadership, and is particularly important when people need to feel that their contributions have been appreciated—and to keep morale as high as possible.

It is clear from what Sue Gray has had to say that some of these gatherings then went on far longer than was necessary. They were clearly in breach of the rules, and they fell foul of the rules. I have to tell the House, because the House will need to know this—again, this is not to mitigate or to extenuate—that I had no knowledge of subsequent proceedings, because I simply was not there, and I have been as surprised and disappointed as anyone else in this House as the revelations have unfolded. Frankly, I have been appalled by some of the behaviour, particularly in the treatment of the security and the cleaning staff, and I would like to apologise to those members of staff, and I expect anyone who behaved in that way to apologise to them as well.

I am happy to set on the record now that when I came to this House and said in all sincerity that the rules and guidance had been followed at all times, it was what I believed to be true. It was certainly the case when I was present at gatherings to wish staff farewell—the House will note that my attendance at these moments, brief as it was, has not been found to be outside the rules—but clearly this was not the case for some of those gatherings after I had left, and at other gatherings when I was not even in the building. So I would like to correct the record—to take this opportunity, not in any sense to absolve myself of responsibility, which I take and have always taken, but simply to explain why I spoke as I did in this House.

In response to her interim report, Sue Gray acknowledges that very significant changes have already been enacted. She writes—and I quote:

‘I am pleased progress is being made in addressing the issues I raised.’


She adds:

‘Since my update there have been changes to the organisation and management of Downing Street and the Cabinet Office with the aim of creating clearer lines of leadership and accountability and now these need the chance and time to bed in.’


No. 10 now has its own Permanent Secretary, charged with applying the highest standards of governance. There are now easier ways for staff to voice any worries, and Sue Gray welcomes the fact that

‘steps have since been taken to introduce more easily accessible means by which to raise concerns electronically, in person or online, including directly with the Permanent Secretary’.

The entire senior management has changed. There is a new chief of staff—an elected Member of this House who commands the status of a Cabinet Minister. There is a new director of communications, a new Principal Private Secretary and a number of other key appointments in my office. I am confident that, with the changes and new structures that are now in place, we are humbled by the experience and we have learned our lesson.

I want to conclude by saying that I am humbled and I have learned lessons. Whatever the failings of No. 10 and the Cabinet Office throughout this very difficult period, for which I take full responsibility, I continue to believe that the civil servants and advisers in question—hundreds of them, thousands of them, some of whom are the very people who have received fines—are good, hard-working people, motivated by the highest calling to do the very best for our country. I will always be proud of what they achieved, including procuring essential life-saving personal protective equipment, creating the biggest testing programme in Europe and helping to enable the development and distribution of the vaccine that got this country through the worst pandemic of a century.

Now we must get our country through the aftershocks of Covid with every ounce of ingenuity, compassion and hard work. I hope that today, as well as learning the lessons from Sue Gray’s report, which I am glad I commissioned—I am grateful to her—we will be able to move on and focus on the priorities of the British people: standing firm against Russian aggression; easing the hardship caused by the rising costs that people are facing; and fulfilling our pledges to generate a high-wage, high-skill, high-employment economy that will unite and level up across the whole of our United Kingdom. That is my mission, that is our mission, that is the mission of the whole Government, and we will work night and day to deliver it. I commend this Statement to the House.”

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Newby Portrait Lord Newby (LD)
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My Lords, finally we have the Gray report. The country owes Sue Gray a tremendous debt of gratitude for undertaking her task fearlessly and thoroughly. It was typically dishonourable of the Prime Minister to try and persuade her at the 11th hour not to publish it at all, and typically courageous of her to do so. Will the Government at least release the minutes of her meeting with the Prime Minister, so that we can be clear exactly what took place?

On one level, today’s report does not tell us anything new. We already knew that there have been multiple parties in Downing Street, and that the culture was the opposite of that which the Government were enjoining on the rest of the population. We already knew that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary, far from instilling a culture in tune with both their messaging and the legislation, were encouraging what was going on. And we already knew that, by denying what had happened, the Prime Minister was misleading both Parliament and the country. What the report does is provide the gory details—and gory they are.

The Prime Minister’s defence today is that Downing Street is a large, busy building; that it was appropriate to have farewell parties, that he did not stay long at the parties, and that he had no idea what happened after he had left. If this were any other large organisation, in either the public or private sector, these risibly feeble excuses would have meant that heads at the top would roll. That they have not is a major indictment of the Prime Minister, his Government and the Conservative Party.

By refusing to resign, the Prime Minister has weakened his own standing, that of his party, that of the country, and that of politics and politicians more generally. It is clearly of huge importance that this loss of reputation and standing be reversed. In the first instance, this can only happen if the Prime Minister is replaced, and this can only happen if he is ejected by his Commons colleagues or the electorate. As far as his Commons colleagues are concerned, it seems that there is in reality virtually nothing which the Prime Minister could do which would impel them to act. This is most strange, as the only reason the Prime Minister became leader of his party was that many people who knew him to be a charlatan and a liar held their noses, because they thought he was an election winner.

If they have been out on the doorstep recently, they will have found that this situation no longer obtains. Yet, with one or two notable exceptions, they sit on their hands. They are therefore all complicit in the duplicities of this Government. If his MPs do not act, the Prime Minister will be removed only by the electorate. Recent elections have shown what voters already think of him, and with every electoral contest, whether by-election, local elections or the next election itself, there will now be a reckoning for the Conservative Party. The sadness is that, until the general election comes, we will be stuck with this morally bankrupt and rudderless Government.

But if the Prime Minister comes badly out of this saga, so too, I fear, do the Metropolitan Police. They turned a blind eye to the parties when they first happened. Under intense public pressure, they initiated an investigation, but the fines which they imposed, concentrated as they were on junior and female staff who co-operated fully with them, compared to other more senior people who clearly did not, look arbitrary and incomplete.

They failed to explain themselves, so they cannot rebut the inevitable suspicion, widely felt across the country, that the policy on fines was driven not by a strict interpretation of the law but by a political impulse to let the Prime Minister off lightly. They are now facing legal challenges into the way they behaved. They should pre-empt these now by coming clean on the rationale for their partygate policies.

The Prime Minister, understandably, wishes to draw a line under this sorry saga and in his mind he has probably already done so. But the public have not, and there will be a reckoning.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I will attempt to address some of the points raised by the noble Lords. It is absolutely right, of course, that the Prime Minister has made a full and unreserved apology for what happened in No. 10. As noble Lords will have heard in his Statement, he repeatedly said that he takes full responsibility for everything that took place. He has acknowledged people’s hurt and anger, which I think we have heard from the comments, totally fairly, from the two noble Lords, and which I think a lot of us feel having also seen the report. He has offered a full and unreserved apology, and he has accepted that more time should have been taken to establish the full facts at the very beginning.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about the meeting with Sue Gray that has been reported. The Prime Minister had a procedural update on timings and publication arrangements, prompted by No. 10 following a discussion at an official-level meeting, but the findings and content of the report were not discussed and the report has been published in full in exactly the form it was received.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly mentioned the references to the security staff and the cleaning staff, and the Prime Minister has strongly condemned that behaviour. He said during Questions in the other place that he was going to apologise personally to those affected—I think at that point he had not had the names; I am sure he will. I believe that some of those conversations have already happened. Everyone is unhappy at and horrified by what they read. He said quite strongly that he was going to take action himself, but that he also expected those who were involved in these situations to do so as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked what has happened since. The Prime Minister has taken steps since the publication of the report to address some of the specific shortcomings identified, and a number of them were mentioned in the report. For instance, there is a new Permanent Secretary charged with applying the high standards of government, and there are now easier ways for staff to raise concerns. Things are being done, and that was one of the things that Sue Gray has acknowledged and welcomed. She has said that change needs to be embedded now, so that these things can really take hold.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, I admire and sympathise with my noble friend the Leader of the House. I am very sorry this has been taken so late and that I am the sole voice from the Government Benches to be able to comment. To me, and I hope my noble friend would agree, this report teaches us all to admire and respect the quiet dignity and the impeccable integrity of Theresa May. We should look to her for a real example of how a Prime Minister should behave.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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My noble friend is absolutely right, and I had the privilege to serve under Theresa May when she was Prime Minister.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement, which cannot have been a very pleasant thing to do. The House knows that the Committee on Standards in another place will in due course reach a view on whether the Prime Minister misled the House. I would only ask the noble Baroness whether she thinks that noble Lords on the Government Benches can be proud of the Government in this matter and the behaviour of the Prime Minister.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I think I have made it clear that none of us is proud of what happened and what has been outlined in the report, and that is why the Prime Minister has made a full and unreserved apology.

Baroness Andrews Portrait Baroness Andrews (Lab)
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My Lords, one of the reasons I regret that the House is empty this evening is that noble Lords were not able to hear the speeches of my noble friend on the Front Bench and the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, because they were both forensic and demonstrated the values we would expect in public service. One of the questions my noble friend asked was about what the Prime Minister understands by “full responsibility”. Does he accept that it means taking responsibility for the culture and behaviour of the entire management of what he is responsible for in the Cabinet Office?

What I heard this afternoon was not a full apology or the taking of full responsibility but a series of excuses. One of the most egregious was that, at the time, it was legitimate for Downing Street as a whole to have those parties to say goodbye to civil servants—when nurses, doctors and people throughout the health and care service simply would never have contemplated doing that, no matter how many of their colleagues left, as people became ill or were threatened by Covid. Can the noble Baroness explain to this House what she understands the nature of “full responsibility” for a Prime Minister, as leader of the Government, to mean?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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As I have said, the Prime Minister has taken responsibility. He has apologised and committed to making changes to address many of the issues raised and, as I mentioned in response to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, a number of those have been set out in the Statement. I reiterate again that Sue Gray recognises that and has said she is pleased that progress is being made in addressing the issues. That is not to say that there is not further work to do, but action has been taken, and it has been taken speedily.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, the seven Nolan principles of public office have been raised already this evening, but it is worth going through them: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership. Would the Leader of the House claim that the Prime Minister, today and in the behaviour outlined in Sue Gray’s report, has lived up to those seven principles?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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All Ministers of the Crown are expected to maintain high standards of behaviour and to behave in a way that upholds the highest standards of propriety. The Prime Minister has accepted that his behaviour, on occasion, did not meet those standards, and for that he has wholeheartedly apologised.

Baroness Hoey Portrait Baroness Hoey (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, the public were clearly very angry when they first heard about what had been going on in Whitehall. But now we have had the Sue Gray report—I commend her diligence—a full apology from the Prime Minister and the Metropolitan Police report, and we have seen changes in Downing Street. Outside this place and perhaps some elements of the media, I think many elements of the public—probably the majority now—really do want to draw a line under all this so that we can get on with the issues that are really affecting the country. But does the noble Baroness agree with me that there will be some people who will never give up criticising the Prime Minister because they do not like the fact that he took us out of the European Union, and that this still underpins a huge amount, particularly in some elements of the media? We all think what happened in Downing Street was shocking, but the apology has happened—let us move on.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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As I say, the Prime Minister himself has acknowledged that there is a lot of anger and upset among the population about what happened in No. 10. He has accepted that, which is why he has apologised wholeheartedly. The noble Baroness may be right that there are still divisions over Brexit, but I think we are all trying to move on now and come together. She is absolutely right: we now need to address the real issues facing people every day, particularly the cost of living—of which noble Lords will hear more very shortly.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab)
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My Lords, I am sorry to come back to this point about what taking responsibility means, but I do not think we have quite heard an adequate description of what the noble Baroness thinks the Prime Minister has actually done to take responsibility. It is one thing to say, “I take full responsibility”, but another thing to have taken full responsibility through what you do.

This may sound rather trivial, but when you are dealing with small children, as some of us in this House have at various times in our lives, they have to learn that saying sorry is not enough. If you know that what you did was wrong, saying sorry is not enough. Little children really struggle to understand that, but by the time we grow into adulthood we have to understand that saying sorry is not enough and that if we cannot put right the wrong that we have done, or that we have caused to other people, we have to take ourselves out of the picture. I am not saying that the answer is therefore that the Prime Minister has to resign—I might think that; I might not—but it is important that we understand what the Prime Minister has actually done and what he intends to do to put right the damage not only to the reputation of many people who have served him but to his Government and to the country.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I repeat again that he has taken responsibility. The Statement says that he himself has learned lessons. I have pointed out some of the practical things that have already happened on the back of the interim Sue Gray report on some of the issues she identified around leadership and other elements and structures in No. 10. That is in place. As I mentioned, there are now more ways for staff to raise concerns. There are practical things that have been done in No. 10 and the Cabinet Office to help address what has been said. He has taken and is taking steps. There may well be more to come, but tangible action has already been taken as a result of the interim Sue Gray report.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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The Prime Minister today told the other place that it was “appropriate” to hold gatherings to thank Downing Street staff for their service. I go to a tweet from Adil Ray OBE, the actor and writer, who, with understandable and rightful anger, noted that at exactly the same time you were told to

“go straight home on your own or watch on zoom when your loved ones were leaving this Earth.”

Does the Leader of the House really believe that at that point in time it was appropriate to hold those Downing Street gatherings?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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Like everyone, I feel incredibly sorry for everyone who was touched in such a horrific way by Covid. We all have immense sympathy but, as I have said and can only repeat, the Prime Minister has made a full and unreserved apology for what happened in No. 10 and taken steps to start to tackle some of the issues involved.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab)
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My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether the changes the Prime Minister has made in No. 10, and in other aspects of the way the Government work, include changes to himself?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I am not the Prime Minister. He has said what he has said. I am sorry if the noble Baroness does not accept that, but he has offered an apology. He has said that he has learned lessons, and I believe that.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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Can the noble Baroness advise me? Around the time of some of the earlier parties, I developed some condition and had to go and see a doctor. That doctor wept in front of me. I did not know him. He was wearing PPE and a mask, and he was exhausted and at the end of his tether. When he asks me whether the sort of exhaustion and isolation he was facing and the things he was experiencing, seeing people dying of Covid, are equivalent to the sort of hard work that the Prime Minister this afternoon seemed to imply slightly justified people having parties, can the Leader of the House advise me on how I should rationalise those two sorts of hard work for the benefit of the doctor, whom I will no doubt see again at some stage?

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I would certainly thank the doctor that you saw for the incredible work and service he provided and all the hard work that people across the NHS provided. The Prime Minister and civil servants within No. 10 and the Cabinet Office, and indeed across government, were also working very hard, obviously doing completely different things but helping to ensure that we had help for the homeless, to help provide shielding packages and to ensure that the doctor you saw had the PPE that he needed. But that is absolutely not to say that the doctor you met —and I am sure many other people around the country—faced similar circumstances, and the Prime Minister has acknowledged the anger that someone like that doctor might well feel.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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To return to the previous question I put to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, I will simplify this down. The Prime Minister said today that it was appropriate to hold these gatherings to thank Downing Street staff for their service. Does the noble Baroness the Leader agree that it was appropriate to hold those gatherings?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I have already answered that question.

Baroness Andrews Portrait Baroness Andrews (Lab)
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I am going to ask the noble Baroness something else my noble friend asked her, about the fact that the cleaners and security staff at No. 10 seemed to know the rules governing behaviour over Covid. As she said, one of the most impressive things about Sue Gray’s excellent, measured and professional report is that, before she describes each of the events, she sets out, quoting verbatim, what the rules actually were at the time of each of the different stages of Covid. The Prime Minister was on television practically every week reading out those regulations, telling people what they involved and what they could and could not do. Yet he has systematically said that he did not quite understand them himself in terms of what his own staff were doing and what he and they were allowed to do. But the cleaners and the security staff seemed to understand. What was it that the Prime Minister did not understand?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I can only repeat what was said in the Statement. The Prime Minister said that he understood that the rules and guidance had been followed at all times. That is what he believed was true, but he accepts now, in the light of the report, that his understanding of the situations that were happening, some of which carried on and happened without his knowledge, was wrong. He has corrected the record in that regard and once again apologised.

House adjourned at 9.42 pm.

Senior Deputy Speaker

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Excerpts
Tuesday 10th May 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Moved by
Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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That Lord Gardiner of Kimble be appointed as Senior Deputy Speaker (Chairman of Committees) for this Session.

Motion agreed nemine dissentiente.

Queen’s Speech

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Tuesday 10th May 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and I join them in congratulating my noble friends Lord Sherbourne and Lady Fraser on their excellent speeches. Like all of them, I thank His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales for delivering the gracious Speech and send our warmest wishes to Her Majesty the Queen. The whole House knows the reluctance with which Her Majesty made today’s decision, and her extraordinary service to this nation continues to inspire us. We look forward to the jubilee celebrations in the next few weeks and, together with the Commonwealth Games, we should have a great few months. I am sure we will all enjoy them, as we will actually have time to leave your Lordships’ House, I hope, on some early evenings.

I am honoured to stand here again today as Leader of the House ready for a new Session of Parliament. Your Lordships’ House plays a vital role in shaping the laws of the country. As the noble Baroness said, in the last Session this House debated and passed 34 government Bills and 13 Private Members’ Bills, sitting for over 1,500 hours, which I know took a lot out of all of us. As the noble Baroness rightly said, the early hours involved impressive levels of stamina and commitment. I thank your Lordships for everything they did over the last Session.

Looking ahead to the new Session, we have important legislation to scrutinise. I have no doubt that this ambitious programme will, as ever, benefit from your Lordships’ wisdom and expertise, and that your Lordships will help to ensure that the legislation can be as effective as possible.

At State Opening in May 2019, I remarked that we were grappling

“with the most significant peacetime event in our nation’s history”.—[Official Report, 14/10/19; col. 17.]

However, the challenge of Brexit was followed not by a benign period but by the immense disruption and profound impact of Covid. Now, as we move past the pandemic, war has broken out in Europe with Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. I am sure noble Lords will agree that we are, I am afraid, once again in turbulent times.

The past year has been challenging for our parliamentary community in many ways. I will take a moment to particularly remember Sir David Amess MP, who died serving his constituents. A veteran parliamentarian of almost four decades, he was admired across both Houses for his good humour, kindness and dedication to public service. I also remember colleagues from across both Houses whom we have sadly lost over the last 12 months.

This year also marks five years since the Westminster Bridge attack, of which I and many noble Lords have first-hand memories. We remember PC Keith Palmer, who tragically lost his life in the line of duty, protecting all of us and Parliament.

Last summer, over 1,000 of our Armed Forces personnel were deployed on Operation Pitting, airlifting 15,000 people from Afghanistan to safety on more than 100 flights—the largest British evacuation since the Second World War. I know that the whole House will want to acknowledge the bravery of those men and women. We were glad to see many of those soldiers on parade here in November. We pay tribute to all those who serve, and have served, in our gallant Armed Forces. Defence of the realm is the first duty of government, and we will continue to invest in our Armed Forces and maintain NATO’s collective defence in light of the significant security challenges we face. In the face of Putin’s aggression, we are proud that the UK has led on sanctions, humanitarian aid and, of course, in providing defensive weapons to the brave Ukrainian armed forces defending their country—over 20,000 of whom have been trained by British troops since 2015. Slava Ukraini.

The last State Opening took place amid Covid precautions and, as a result, was a much pared-back affair. It was slightly shocking when I came in today and saw so many of your Lordships here. It is fantastic to see all noble Lords and, once again, for us to be such an integral part of such an important day here in Parliament and for the country. On behalf of your Lordships, I congratulate Black Rod, her staff and the doorkeepers on making today’s ceremony such a success and I thank the police service for working tirelessly today and in advance of State Opening. I thank the House staff for their enduring professionalism in ensuring that your Lordships’ House runs smoothly all year round and particularly for their efforts over the last Session. I know that we have asked a lot of them over the last few months and they rose to every challenge we gave them—we all thank them very much for that.

My thanks also go to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, their respective Chief Whips and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for their ongoing co-operation and good spirits—most of the time, I think we can say—through the usual channels. The Chief Whip and I genuinely appreciate the constructive and positive relationships we have; we know that we have stretched them at points, but we look forward to working closely together again over the coming Session.

Finally, I am delighted to add my congratulations to my noble friends Lord Sherbourne and Lady Fraser, who have so ably proposed and seconded the Motion for the humble Address. There are few Peers as universally liked and respected across the House as my noble friend Lord Sherbourne. He is a rare and wonderful mix of enjoying a good gossip while being a soul of discretion. He sees the best in people, except of course if they drop litter—the subject of several speeches in this House and at least one letter to the Times. Prior to taking his seat in your Lordships’ House, my noble friend had a distinguished career. He must have worked for more Conservative leaders than anyone else alive: Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Michael Howard. Anyone who can work for both Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher, and command the confidence of both, has a unique quality or an extraordinary range of political flexibility. I have been told that it is perhaps the same flexibility—and I have seen this—that leads him to say, when out at lunch, “As you know, I never eat puddings”, yet somehow immediately order one and enjoy it very much. So amicable is my noble friend that even Ted Heath, who was not noted for his forgiveness, kept cordial relations with him through thick and thin. I understand that he did not even complain when my noble friend lost his briefcase in a New York limo, containing the only copy of a speech that Ted Heath was about to deliver. I think the cordial relations remained because it was discovered in the nick of time.

It seems that my noble friend has an issue with speeches. On another occasion he was woken by a phone call from Mrs Thatcher saying, “This speech simply will not do”. That was a problem, as she was due to deliver it later that day, so he rushed to No. 10 to work up a new version. “Job done”, he thought, “Excellent”, and they got in the car to Battersea heliport. Unfortunately, her car stopped mid-journey when she discovered he had left the final pages of her peroration in the study. Cue a bit of a fracas and a rush back to No. 10, but once again all was well.

I also congratulate my noble friend Lady Fraser. As the first professional choreologist in your Lordships’ House, I am sure everyone will agree that her speech was as eloquent as, no doubt, her choreographic work is. Noble Lords will know of the important work—I think my noble friend mentioned it—that she does as CEO of Cerebral Palsy Scotland, a fantastic organisation that helps those with cerebral palsy build skills, knowledge, confidence and relationships. As the noble Lord said, my noble friend Lady Fraser demonstrated her compassion and expertise in your Lordships’ House during the passage of the Health and Care Act.

I have heard my noble friend describe herself as a unionist by descent, given that her great-grandfather sat in the other place as a Unionist MP. At her home in Dunbartonshire before the 2014 independence referendum, she installed a couple of wildlife cameras in the grounds, no doubt hoping to catch glimpses of hedgehog or roe deer. She did not record much animal life, but at the height of the Scottish referendum campaign, she was able to amuse friends with videos of “Yes” supporters ripping down and driving off with the “No” banners she had put up in various hapless ways. In resilient fashion, when the cameras found the banners scattered around, she put them back up. Resilient to the end is my noble friend.

Naturally, for someone with a Glasgow postcode, the usual question is “Rangers or Celtic?”, but not for my noble friend Lady Fraser. Leicester City is her secret pleasure, a fact I know the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, will be delighted to hear—another fan in the House.

There have been a number of changes on the Government Benches over the past year. I am incredibly grateful to my current Front Bench team for their hard work and support, and I put on record my thanks to those who have stepped down over the last 12 months: my noble friends Lord Bethell, Lord Agnew, Lord Frost, Lord Wolfson and Lady Berridge. Fortunately, we continue to benefit from their involvement in the work of the House from the Back Benches. Meanwhile, we have welcomed to our Front Bench team my noble friends Lord Harrington, Lord Kamall and Lord Offord, as well as many Peers across the Benches of the House. As my noble friend said, we look forward in this Session to everybody being able to participate here in person, in our usual manner.

The legislative programme set out in the Queen’s Speech represents a comprehensive and ambitious agenda. We will focus on growing and strengthening the economy to help address the cost of living pressures, mentioned by all contributors today, that are being felt by people across our country. We will level up opportunity in all parts of the UK. We want to ensure that everyone, no matter where they live, shares in our joint success. The levelling up and regeneration Bill will empower local leaders to drive growth and prosperity in their communities, while the transport Bill will improve connectivity across the length and breadth of our country. We will support households and help more people into work. We will drive the transition to cheaper, cleaner and more secure energy. We will raise school standards and improve the quality of education across the country, and, of course, we will continue to tackle the Covid backlogs in the NHS to ensure that everyone can access the healthcare they need.

Outside the EU, we will harness the benefits of Brexit to generate growth. We will cut unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy through the Brexit freedoms Bill, reforms in the procurement Bill will help to support small businesses, while the implementation of our first free trade agreement since leaving the European Union will open up new trading opportunities for British businesses. I know we all support the continued success and integrity of the whole of the United Kingdom—this is, of course, of paramount importance to the Government—including the economic bonds between all four nations. We will continue to prioritise support for the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.

We will make our streets safer with public order and national security Bills, we will tackle the scourge of modern slavery, an issue I know that your Lordships hold dear, and we will further strengthen powers to tackle economic crime. We will push ahead with the Online Safety Bill, making the UK the safest place in the world to be online, while defending free speech.

This Government will continue to provide the leadership needed in these most challenging times. At home, we will introduce a Bill of Rights, prevent public bodies engaging in boycotts that undermine community cohesion, ban conversion therapy and push ahead with the higher education Bill, protecting freedom of debate on university campuses. Abroad, we will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine and defend democracy and freedom across the world.

This is a Government elected with a clear vision for the future of our country. We face challenging times at home and abroad, and we remain determined to deliver for the British people. I support the Motion.

Debate adjourned until tomorrow.

Royal Commission

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Excerpts
Thursday 28th April 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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The Lords Commissioners were: Baroness Evans of Bowes Park, Lord McFall of Alcluith, Lord Newby, Lord Judge and Baroness Smith of Basildon.
Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) (Con)
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My Lords, it not being convenient for Her Majesty personally to be present here this day, she has been pleased to cause a Commission under the Great Seal to be prepared for proroguing this present Parliament.

When the Commons were present at the Bar, the Lord Privy Seal continued:

Prorogation: Her Majesty’s Speech

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Thursday 28th April 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.
Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) (Con)
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My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, by virtue of Her Majesty’s Commission which has been now read, we do, in Her Majesty’s name, and in obedience to Her Majesty’s Commands, prorogue this Parliament to the 10th day of May, to be then here holden, and this Parliament is accordingly prorogued to Tuesday, the 10th day of May.

Parliament was prorogued at 12.49 pm.

Easter Recess: Government Update

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Excerpts
Monday 25th April 2022

(1 year, 12 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Newby Portrait Lord Newby (LD)
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My Lords, this almost entirely vacuous Statement is in three unconnected parts. The first deals with “Partygate” and is really desperate stuff.

“I paid the fine immediately”


said the Prime Minister, as though this was somehow praiseworthy rather than a legal requirement.

“As soon as I received the notice, I acknowledged the hurt and the anger”


said the Prime Minister, as if, until he received the fine, he was not aware of what the country has been feeling for many months.

“It didn’t occur to me, then or subsequently”,


said the Prime Minister,

“that a gathering in the Cabinet Room could amount to a breach of the rules”,

as though this inadvertent thoughtlessness or straightforward ignorance was an excuse for breaking the law. We are told that there may be more prime-ministerial fines; we read that the Gray report will be excoriating about his behaviour; and we now have the prospect of a long wait until the Commons Privileges Committee decides whether he has misled the Commons. For the Prime Minister, this is death by a thousand cuts; but for the country, it is a continuing shame and embarrassment.

Over recent days, a number of Cabinet Ministers have explained that they support the Prime Minister and have set out their reasons for doing so. I was out of the country for a week, until yesterday evening, and so may have missed any such Statement from the Leader of the House, so I wonder whether she will take this opportunity to inform the House whether she believes that the Prime Minister’s law breaking is as irrelevant as many of her colleagues do, and whether the Prime Minister still has her full support.

The second part of the Statement is about Ukraine. While the Prime Minister’s travelogue, complete with random comments about people bumped into on the streets of Kyiv, is interesting, he has literally nothing new to say. We obviously support the assistance which the UK is now giving Ukraine and share the Prime Minister’s admiration for the courage and heroism of the Ukrainian people. We agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that sanctions could be tightened in some respects.

We also agree with the noble Baroness that the asylum process is as dysfunctional as her examples proved. It beggars belief that the rules are so bureaucratic and inhumane—and that they still have not been made less bureaucratic and humane. I also look forward to hearing the noble Baroness the Leader’s figures for the number of people who have applied, have been accepted and have arrived through the asylum process.

But a lesson from this crisis that the Prime Minister has yet to draw publicly, I think, is that it is a mistake to appease tyrants like Putin, as successive British Governments did over the last decade. It is right that the UK is now prepared to offer long-term support to Ukraine to protect it from any future invasion, but the lesson here surely is that, if we had given the country more support at an earlier stage, there would not have been such an invasion in the first place.

Thirdly, the Statement makes passing reference to the most serious domestic issue facing the country: the cost of living crisis. It says that the Government are “tackling” the long-term impact on energy prices and cites as one of their main achievements that

“we are helping families to insulate their homes”.

The Government should indeed be helping people to insulate their homes, but they scrapped the green homes grant last year and, in the Chancellor’s recent Spring Statement, there was literally nothing new to insulate so much as one single additional home. This is a typical case of prime ministerial hyperbole. It would be great if what he claimed were actually true, but it is not.

Finally, the Prime Minister says that his job is

“to make the British people safer, more secure and more prosperous”.

That should indeed be his job. However, as we now see on a daily basis, Brexit is making the country less prosperous and less secure—and it remains his proudest boast.

So the Prime Minister’s record is to diminish the office that he holds, diminish the standing of Great Britain across the world and fail the British people on the core requirements of government. As I believe he will discover in next week’s elections, the British people have had enough of it. For all our sakes, the sooner he goes, the better.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness and noble Lord for their comments. I wholeheartedly endorse the noble Baroness’s praise of the Ukrainian people and President Zelensky for the incredible courage that they are showing in their courageous fight. I obviously cite our continued support for them—I will cover a couple of points shortly.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about the fines and the Prime Minister’s approach. As he made very clear last week, the Prime Minister offered a full and unreserved apology, quite rightly, and he made clear that he fully respects the outcome of the police investigation, which is still under way. He has paid his fine, and anyone who either watched last week’s Statement or read Hansard saw that he was contrite in his apology, quite rightly.

On Ukraine, the noble Lord said that we did not do enough. To be fair, there has been an acknowledgement that there were other things that we could have done. But I point to one of the key things that we did, which is important and has been much appreciated: Operation Orbital, which we started back in 2015 and which meant that we trained 22,000 members of the Ukrainian armed forces. The commitment and solidarity that we have shown with the Ukrainian people, and the leading role that we have played in terms of providing support to the Ukrainians now, are important and have been recognised. We will continue to do this. As the noble Baroness alluded to, the Defence Secretary made a Statement today to highlight further support that we are giving, and I am sure that we will discuss that further in the House later this week.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness talked about sanctions. So far, we have sanctioned more than £900 billion of global assets from banks and sanctioned oligarchs and their families with a net worth of approximately £200 billion. Last week, we announced a new wave of 26 sanctions on key leaders in the Russian army. We are fast-tracking a further 19 individuals and entities in alignment with global partners from the G7 and the EU. We have also announced further trade sanctions, expanding the list of products facing import bans and increasing tariffs. These include bans on silver, wood products and high-end products from Russia. We will also increase tariffs by 35 percentage points on around £130 million-worth of products from Russia and Belarus, including diamonds and rubber. I believe we are doing two SIs this week in Grand Committee on further measures around sanctions that have been agreed, so there will be further action in this area, as the noble Baroness said, before we prorogue.

In relation to refugees, I will give a few figures that I have to hand. As of 4 pm on 20 April, 107,200 visa applications had been received under both schemes and 71,800 visas issued. For the Ukrainian family scheme, 41,200 applications had been received and 32,500 visas issued. Under the Ukraine sponsorship scheme, 65,900 applications had been received and 39,300 visas issued. As of 18 April, 21,600 Ukrainians had arrived in the UK through the schemes. We are taking steps to simplify and speed up the process, including removing the need for Ukrainian passport holders to attend an in-person appointment. We have 500 staff working seven days a week to process applications and I am sure that my noble friend Lord Harrington will have taken note of the cases that the noble Baroness raised. I shall certainly draw his attention to them and I hope that noble Lords have found him very willing to engage with them, as the Minister involved. I will speak to him once again about whether there is further engagement that can be done, on top of what I have mentioned just now.

In relation to the cost of living, we are taking action worth over £22 billion in 2022-23 to deal with the cost of energy. Of course, we are constantly reviewing the measures to tackle cost of living issues facing families across the country. One thing I will point to is fuel duty, which the noble Baroness mentioned. Of course, we have cut that by 5p for 12 months, saving the average motorist £100 a year, but we are well aware and cognisant of the issues that families are facing across the country. We are continuing to work on that and will continue to take measures as and when they are appropriate.

The noble Baroness asked about onshore wind and the energy strategy. Within the energy strategy, what we have said on onshore wind is that we will consult on developing partnerships with supportive communities that wish to host onshore wind infrastructure in return for guaranteed lower energy bills—so there was an element of onshore wind included in the Statement. In relation to the economic crime Bill, as she rightly says I cannot go too far, but I can reassure her that it is a priority in terms of action that we will take going forward.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I am not surprised that the Leader of the House did not repeat the Statement orally: who would want to repeat such a Statement? I make no comment on the fact that Covid regulations were broken, because we know that the Privileges Committee in another place will reach a view on this and we will discover in the autumn what its judgment is and what will follow accordingly.

I shall raise one point about Ukraine, because the Prime Minister said in the course of his Statement that

“our long-term goal must be to strengthen and fortify Ukraine to the point where Russia will never dare to invade again.”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/4/22; col. 49.]

Other Members in the Chamber tonight were present at a meeting earlier today of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, in which very interesting evidence was given to us about the current situation of a war that has lasted longer than anyone probably thought it would. What kind of condition Ukraine will be in at the end of hostilities is by no means clear. I put it to the Leader of the House that it would be very helpful if the Government could find time, in government time in the next Session, to explore the important issues that are already beginning to be raised, such as: what are the West’s war aims, to put it bluntly, in the current situation? I very much hope that the Government will see to it that we have such a debate in the next Session.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I thank the noble Viscount and will make a couple of broader comments. There will be a NATO summit in June, at which NATO will agree a new strategic concept to set the direction of the alliance for the next decade and long-term changes to our deterrence and defence posture in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There is action at that level looking towards the future.

The noble Viscount will be aware that the international community has committed to widening its package of military support for Ukraine and exploring new ways of sustaining the Ukrainian armed forces over the longer term. I can reassure him that many conversations are going on internationally, and with President Zelensky and his Administration, to make sure we all come together and work to help rebuild Ukraine and provide it with the support it wants and is asking for. We are very cognisant of wanting to make sure we deliver what it needs at each given point. We hope that military hostilities will finish, but focus is on that element and the support we can provide there at the moment. However, we will of course move to reconstruction and helping ensure that Ukraine can get back on its feet as quickly as possible following—we hope—the end of hostilities.

Lord Butler of Brockwell Portrait Lord Butler of Brockwell (CB)
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My Lords, I will refer to the first part of the Prime Minister’s Statement. It will be understood how distressing it has been for those of us for whom it was the greatest privilege of our lives to work in 10 Downing Street in support of the Heads of our Governments to hear the accounts of what went on there during the regulations over Covid. I revert to a question I raised with the Leader in her initial Statement about Sue Gray’s preliminary report. In the reset of 10 Downing Street, who will have overall responsibility for staff management, both civil servants and special advisers? Despite their titles, I do not think it will be the chief of staff or even the deputy chief of staff, but it really will have to be somebody if any recurrence is to be prevented of behaviour which has been so damaging to the Government.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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Samantha Jones, the permanent secretary and chief operating officer, will be in charge of civil servants in No. 10. As the noble Lord will know, the Ministerial Code states:

“The responsibility for the management and conduct of special advisers, including discipline, rests with the Minister who made the appointment.”


There is experience within No. 10 to draw on. There is specialist HR experience from the Cabinet Office’s spad HR team to support that role. I believe the chief of staff and the deputy chief of staff will also play a role in that regard.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, almost six months to the day before the Russians invaded Ukraine, the United States—and, by extension, its NATO allies—left Afghanistan. We have talked a lot already about the Ukrainian refugee scheme. In the other place, John Baron MP, chair of the APPG for the British Council, raised the issue of British Council staff who were told that they would have the opportunity to come to the United Kingdom. They are still stuck in Afghanistan. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to ensure that the commitments they made in August are met, that the ACRS is fit for purpose and that people who have worked for the British Council actually know when they can begin to apply? Looking at Ukraine and seeing what offers the UK has made to Ukrainians, they feel that they are being ignored.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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They are certainly not being ignored. My understanding is that they can access the schemes, but I will have to write to the noble Baroness because this has been largely focused on Ukraine. I think an answer was given, but I do not have the words to hand and do not want to mislead her. However, I am very happy to put on record what was said in response to that in the Commons.

Baroness Wheatcroft Portrait Baroness Wheatcroft (CB)
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My Lords, the Prime Minister has apologised for the fact that he was fined. However, he still seems to be of the view that an event that took place in the Cabinet Office before an important meeting could not have been a breach of the rules. You would have thought the cake and the presence of his partner might have given the game away, but he maintains that he could not believe it could be a breach of the rules.

Does the Leader of the House agree with me that if the party had been in the private flat at No. 10, such ambiguity would not be possible? A party in the flat at No. 10, if it had been attended by the Prime Minister, would be—even in his view—a clear breach of the rules and if that were the case, and was found to be the case, we would not need to wait for the result of the Sue Gray report or the committee’s investigation: it would, inevitably, be a case for resignation.

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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The noble Baroness’s question involved a lot of “ifs”, and I am afraid I am not going to speculate. The police investigation is under way. What I can say on the basis of what has happened is that the Prime Minister has offered a full and unreserved apology, he has made it clear that he respects the outcome of the police investigation—as I said, that is still under way—and he has paid the fine that has been issued to him and has apologised fully.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, the Leader of the House gave us the latest figures on applications and approvals for the Homes for Ukraine scheme, but I am not sure if she has seen a report from Brighton emerging today. In what is sadly an inevitable next step, a placement has broken down, the Ukrainian in question having been faced with a demand from the host to support the payment of utility bills.

Brighton council is highlighting that there is no mechanism underneath this hastily designed scheme whereby a person whose placement has broken down can be placed somewhere else. So, a Ukrainian refugee who came to this country seeking refuge was told, “Here is the scheme and here’s how it works”, and they are now being thrown into the hands of a charity. A local church is providing a home for a few days, but the problem is inevitably going to land in the council’s lap. However, it would appear that there is no provision under the scheme for a placement to be transferred or a person to be replaced. Will this be looked at and dealt with as a matter of urgency, because it is obviously likely to occur again?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness. I was not aware of the case but obviously, she has now raised it. If she would like to send me further details or contact my noble friend Lord Harrington directly, I am very happy to facilitate that or ensure that this issue is raised with him.

As she rightly says, it is a new scheme and I suspect that other issues may arise that will need to be addressed, but as soon as intelligence is gathered, we can deal with them. As I say, if she would like to send me more details, I am very happy to pass them on, or she can speak to my noble friend directly. We have in this House a Minister responsible for such things, so we will certainly take on board these issues, which, as she rightly says, need to be addressed.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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If I may I will raise another issue in this rather scattergun Statement; I believe this is within the rules. In the other place, reference was made to what the Prime Minister described as “Russia’s barbaric onslaught” on Ukraine. The Labour Member for Rhondda raised the issue of the reported involvement of mercenaries—particularly one mercenary company, Wagner—in some of the most horrific events there. He also referred to what is usually known as the United Nations Mercenary Convention, more formally known as the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries. The Prime Minister said that he would study the proposal because the UK has not signed up to this UN convention and has not been a proponent of it. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Government are seriously looking at this, and will she ensure that we hear in this House—in some way or another—the outcome of that study?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I am sure that if the Prime Minister said he would study it, he will. What I can say is that we are continuing to gather evidence to assist ongoing investigations into crimes committed in Ukraine, such as the ICC investigation. We have led 41 states to refer atrocities to the ICC and we are providing additional funding to it. UK military and police are providing technical assistance to the investigations. The Metropolitan Police War Crimes Unit has commenced the collection of evidence, and we are working very closely with the Ukrainian Government. We have also appointed a former ICC judge, Sir Howard Morrison, as an independent adviser to the Ukrainian prosecutor-general, and we have welcomed the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism report, which is the first independent report to identify evidence of potential Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

I reassure the noble Baroness that we are leading action in this area and we will continue to do so, because we want to ensure that all perpetrators are brought to justice for crimes that have been committed in Ukraine.