Business of the House

Debate between Baroness Evans of Bowes Park and Baroness Smith of Basildon
Thursday 17th March 2022

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park)
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That Standing Order 38(1) (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Tuesday 22 March, Tuesday 29 March, and Tuesday 5 April to enable public bills, measures and delegated legislation to be taken before oral questions on each of those days.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness could say a bit more about the Motion before the House. My understanding is that that Motion, which we are not opposing, means that on three Tuesdays the House should sit at 11 am, for long sittings. I point out to your Lordships’ House that the House is now sitting longer and later than at any other time I can recall, either in my time in this place or beforehand.

As an official Opposition, we do not stand in the way of the Government managing their business and getting their business through—but there is a limit to what we can be expected to do. It says in Today’s Lists, “The House may sit late”. The Minister is shaking her head, so I hope she will be able to confirm that that is not the case. Too often this House has been asked to sit far later than is reasonable for good governance and good legislation.

If we are to start at 11 am on those three days, I would like an assurance from the noble Baroness that we will not sit past 10 o’clock. We do not oppose reasonable attempts by the Government to get their business through, but this macho style of government, whereby we have been here until 2 o’clock and 3 o’clock in the morning, and have regularly sat past midnight, is not the best way for us as a House to play our role as effective scrutineers of legislation in the appropriate way. I say that not in a party-political way, but in the interests of this House doing its job properly. Looking at the timings for the Report stage of the Elections Bill, we see that we have already been asked to get that through in three consecutive days. That, too, seems unreasonable to me.

All I would say to the noble Baroness is that although we do not oppose the Motion, we would like an assurance that the House will not be having regular late-night sittings to deal with what is really an overcrowded government timetable.

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) (Con)
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I thank noble Lords. May I first say to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that I certainly am making those representations and having conversations, and I think the message is getting through, not least because I have to attend Cabinet having had about three hours’ sleep myself? I am making sure that people understand the pressure being put on this House. I assure the noble Lord that I am putting those representations forward, and that I very much hope we will not be in this position next Session.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, I apologise: a new Today’s Lists has been published, which says that we will finish around 7 o’clock. I think the hope is that if we are in the middle of a group, we will finish that group, but that that will be around 7 o’clock. Obviously, the Front Benches and the Whips will work together to that end, so I can certainly say that. Noble Lords will also see that a Statement is to be repeated, which is not on the Today’s Lists published first thing this morning, so they may want to check on that.



In relation to starting at 11 am, we did indeed talk to the House authorities because of course we understand. I have passed on to Simon my thanks to the staff for all the work they are doing on our behalf; he has passed them on to the team. We did discuss the timings to make sure that they were doable. There are a few adjustments that the administration will be making to ensure that we are able to deliver the sittings. I am very grateful and I am sure that I speak on behalf of the whole House in thanking the Clerk of the Parliaments and his entire team for everything they are doing to support our workload.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Hodgson on the point he made, and I guess we all need to reflect on that. Of course, when we start at 11 am, we will not be wanting to go on. I cannot—and will not—make a categorical promise because I may break it. I do not want to. But I am very grateful to the usual channels for the engagement we have had in working together, and I know that we all feel the same way and want to work together to make sure that we get through the business we need to, but without putting further undue pressure on noble Lords.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Leader for her response. I think it is right that she takes this back to Cabinet and makes the point that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, made in very strong terms. But I do just press her on the point about late nights. It is not just about not finishing late when we start early at 11 am; we are sitting longer and later—far more hours than they do down the other end of the building, as some of us will recall—but on the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, made, when we have important issues, this House is not at its best with just a few Members left to contribute to the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, said that we should be briefer, perhaps, and more succinct in some of the comments we make, but it is important that crucial issues are not discussed late at night. Up to 10 pm is in the Companion but beyond that I do not think we are at our best.

G20 and COP 26 World Leaders Summit

Debate between Baroness Evans of Bowes Park and Baroness Smith of Basildon
Wednesday 3rd November 2021

(6 months, 3 weeks 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, I shall now repeat a Statement made today in another place:

“Mr Speaker, with your permission I will make a Statement about the G20 summit in Rome and update the House on COP 26 in Glasgow. Almost 30 years ago, the world acknowledged the gathering danger of climate change and agreed to do what would once have been inconceivable and regulate the atmosphere of the planet itself by curbing greenhouse gas emissions. And one declaration succeeded another until, in Paris in 2015, we all agreed to seek to restrain the rise in world temperatures to 1.5 degrees centigrade. Now, after all the targets and the promises—and after yet more warnings from our scientists about the peril staring us in the face—we come to the reckoning.

This is the moment when we must turn words into action. If we fail, then Paris will have failed and every summit going back to Rio de Janeiro in 1992 will have failed, because we will have allowed our shared aim of 1.5 degrees to escape our grasp. Even half a degree of extra warming would have tragic consequences. If global temperatures were to rise by 2 degrees, our scientists forecast that we will lose virtually all the world’s coral reefs. The Great Barrier Reef and countless other living marvels would dissolve into an ever warmer and ever more acidic ocean, returning the terrible verdict that human beings lacked the will to preserve the wonders of the natural world.

And in the end it is a question of will. We have the technology to do what is necessary: all that remains in question is our resolve. The G20 summit convened by our Italian friends and COP 26 partners last weekend provided encouraging evidence that the political will exists, which is vital for the simple reason that the G20 accounts for 80% of the world economy and 75% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Britain was the first G20 nation to promise in law to wipe out our contribution to climate change by achieving net zero, and as recently as 2019 only one other member had made a comparable pledge. Today 18 countries in the G20 have made specific commitments to achieve net zero, and in the Rome declaration last Sunday every member acknowledged

‘the key relevance of achieving global net zero greenhouse gas emissions or carbon neutrality by or around mid-century’.

To that end, the G20, including China, agreed to stop financing new international unabated coal projects by the end of this year—a vital step towards consigning coal to history. And every member repeated their commitment to the Paris target of 1.5 degrees.

In a spirit of co-operation, the summit reached other important agreements. The G20 will levy a minimum corporation tax rate of 15%, ensuring that multinational companies make a fair contribution wherever they operate. Over 130 countries and jurisdictions have now joined this arrangement, showing what we can achieve together when the will exists.

The G20 adopted a target of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population against Covid by the middle of next year, and the UK is on track to provide 100 million doses to this effort. By the end of this year, we will have donated 30 million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, and at least another 20 million will follow next year, along with 20 million doses of the Janssen vaccine ordered by the Government. And the G20 resolved to work together to ease the supply chain disruptions which have affected every member, as demand recovers and the world economy rises back to its feet.

I pay tribute to Prime Minister Mario Draghi for his expert handling of the summit. But everyone will accept that far more needs to be done to spare humanity from catastrophic climate change, and in the meantime global warming is already contributing to droughts, brushfires and hurricanes, summoning an awful vision of what lies ahead if we fail to act in the time that remains. So the biggest summit that the United Kingdom has ever hosted is now under way in Glasgow, bringing together 120 world leaders with the aim of translating aspirations into action to keep the ambition of 1.5 degrees alive. I am grateful to Glasgow City Council, Police Scotland, the police across the whole of the UK, and our public health bodies for making this occasion possible and for all their hard work.

For millions across the world, the outcome is literally a matter of life or death. For some island states in the Pacific and the Caribbean it is a question of national survival. The negotiations in Glasgow have almost two weeks to run but we can take heart from what has been achieved so far. Nations which together comprise 90% of the world economy are now committed to net zero, up from 30% when the UK took the reins of COP. Yesterday alone, the United States and over 100 other countries agreed to cut their emissions of methane—one of the most destructive greenhouse gases—by 30% by 2030. And 122 countries, with over 85% of the world’s forests, agreed to end and reverse deforestation by the same deadline, backed by the greatest-ever commitment of public funds to this cause, which I hope will trigger even more from the private sector.

India has agreed to transform her energy system to derive half of her power from renewable sources, keeping a billion tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere. The UK has doubled our commitment to international climate finance to £11.6 billion and we will contribute another £1 billion if the economy grows as forecast. We have launched our clean green initiative, which will help the developing world to build new infrastructure in an environmentally friendly way, and we will invest £3 billion of public money to unlock billions more from the private sector.

The UK has asked the world for action on coal, cars, cash and trees, and we have begun to make progress—substantial, palpable progress—on three out of four. But the negotiations in Glasgow have a long way to go and far more must be done. Whether we can summon the collective wisdom and will to save ourselves from an avoidable danger still hangs in the balance, and we will press on with the hard work until the last hour. I commend this Statement to the House.”

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement to the House. Ten months ago, in his new year message, the Prime Minister, with his usual optimistic rhetoric, declared that with the G7, COP and other global summits ahead of us, 2021 would be

“an amazing moment for this country.”

Yet as the winter nights draw in, I am sure that I am not the only one who feels that perhaps Mr Johnson overpromised and has not made the most of the available opportunities. As world leaders leave Glasgow, we all want COP 26 to be a success. You could say that we need it to be a success. The G20 could have been a springboard for the agreement that we need.

The noble Baroness is right, therefore, to tell the House that two weeks of COP remain, but Ministers cannot rely on warm words alone to deliver the outcome that we all need. On the climate crisis, Covid recovery and much more, it increasingly feels as if the Government are exposed and do not have a plan, despite their promises and commitments. While I appreciate the Minister’s frankness in saying that there is far more to be done, I implore the Prime Minister to use this moment—it is just a brief moment of opportunity—to show real leadership and, more importantly, the direction that is needed.

The Rome G20 started in much the same way as the G7 earlier this year, with Mr Johnson yet again, unfortunately, distracted by ongoing issues relating to the botched Brexit deal. The small steps agreed in Sunday’s communiqué are welcome, and I cannot emphasise enough that we want COP to succeed. Judging, however, by the Statement—if I have understood correctly from listening carefully to the noble Baroness—it is not entirely clear that even the Prime Minister is sure about what was agreed in Rome. Page 1 of my copy of the Statement says:

“We all agreed to seek to restrain the rise in world temperatures to 1.5 degrees centigrade”.


On page 2 it has been downgraded from an agreement to a “shared aim”. By page 3 it is back to “a commitment” on a target, while by page 4 it is downgraded again to an “aspiration” or an “ambition”. Either the Prime Minister is confused or he has someone writing his Statement with a thesaurus to hand.

Together, the G20 nations represent 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As the noble Baroness understands, the world is reliant on their actions towards net zero. If they fail, it will be the small developing countries that pay the price. That is why we need a plan for implementation, whatever the word used for it. I did not hear a plan, strategy or road map today. Where is the plan?

Can the noble Baroness confirm whether the Prime Minister personally advocated for a 2050 net-zero date in the communiqué, or was he satisfied with the inclusion of “around mid-century”? Given the Government’s own record on new coal mines and oil exploration in the UK, did our domestic policy undermine our ability to negotiate a stronger line? The noble Baroness may recall that the FCDO previously announced a climate diplomacy fund to prepare for the summit. Can she update the House on how that money has been spent? I am happy for her to write to me if she is unable to answer today.

On international development, we are grateful to the G20 for reiterating that the consequences of climate change are already being felt by the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. But, as much as I welcome the acknowledgement in the Prime Minister’s Statement of the impact on important coral reefs, I would like to have heard more about the devastating and deadly human impact of our collective failure to act. But given the Government’s attitude to development aid and the cuts made, perhaps we should not be surprised. I wonder whether other countries raised this with Mr Johnson, especially those that have seen the pandemic as a reason to increase international aid.

On a similar note—again, I am happy for the noble Baroness to write to me if she cannot answer this—she will be aware that the Chancellor recently announced that the IMF’s special drawing rights will now be reclassified as international aid. This might sound like an accounting dodge, but it is important: it means that millions of pounds of support to developing countries will be lost. Given that the UK is the only major donor to do this, can she explain why the Government have taken this route?

On Covid vaccinations, for much of the developing world, the threat from the climate crisis is rivalled only by Covid-19. According to Amnesty International, while 63% of people in G20 countries are vaccinated, the figure in low- and lower-middle income countries is just 10%. We welcome the G20’s commitment, as previously agreed by the World Health Organization, to vaccinating 70% of the world’s population by the middle of next year. But, again, we come back to the plan: there is a lack of clarity about how this will be achieved.

I do not know whether the noble Baroness has had the opportunity to read the 10-point plan to produce and distribute vaccinations globally produced by the Labour Party. She might find it helpful. But can she outline for us the Government’s plan which backs up the commitments made?

On a note of optimism, the rubber-stamping of the global minimum corporation tax could pave the way for a fairer global tax system. But we come back to the issue of the plan: this is still a long way from implementation. Can the noble Baroness confirm whether the legislation has been drafted to give effect to this commitment? What steps are our representatives taking to develop the accompanying global framework at the OECD? The proposal represents an opportunity to build a new economy in the aftermath of the pandemic, but we also must take a lead in responding to the more immediate threats of rising inflation and the shortages we have seen. The noble Baroness may recall—although she may not be aware—that in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, the Labour Government, led by Gordon Brown, put forward a global plan to limit the damage and pave the way for recovery. That is the kind of leadership the UK needs and should provide again.

It is all very well, and is to be admired, for the Government to have aims, ambitions, and targets, and to work with others to secure commitments. But, coming back to my central point, unless there is a plan or detailed strategy to turn those commitments into reality, it is just warm words. If the Leader answers just one question today, can she tell us: where is the plan?

Lord Newby Portrait Lord Newby (LD)
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My Lords, I too thank the Leader for repeating the Statement. Before I move on to COP 26, perhaps I might ask her a couple of questions about the G20 announcements.

First, the PM highlights the target of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population against Covid by the middle of next year. He then boasts about the fact that the UK is providing 100 million doses towards this effort, of which 70 million will have been donated by the end of 2022. Can the noble Baroness confirm that to date only 5 million doses have been delivered? Does she accept that, given the overall numbers required to meet the target, which the PM supports, run into several billions, just under 70 million doses from the UK by the middle of next year is simply inadequate? The WHO estimates that some 82 countries are at risk of missing the target, so will the UK be more ambitious and commit to increasing the number of vaccines it provides, so the target might stand a chance of being met?

The Prime Minister highlights the resolve of the G20 to work together to ease supply chain disruption. The declaration from Rome simply makes that statement with no hint of what the leaders intend to do about the problem. Can the noble Baroness explain what international action is planned and whether the Government intend to make any proposals to their G20 partners on how to resolve these problems? In relation to supply problems in the UK, could she update the House on the number of HGV drivers from the EU who have taken up the Government’s offer to work in the UK for the next two months? I think the last published figure was 27. Has it increased? On the assumption that we have not seen any significant increase in driver numbers, what assurances can she give that there will not be further disruption to the supply of presents and food in the run-up to Christmas?

On COP 26 and climate change, the agreements announced in Glasgow on deforestation and methane are very welcome. But does the noble Baroness accept that without the active participation of China in such programmes, and the general unwillingness of China to set targets commensurate with meeting the 1.5 degree target, the chances of hitting that target are remote. To date, the Government do not appear to have any strategy, working with like-minded international partners, of putting effective pressure on China. Does the noble Baroness accept that unless such pressure is brought to bear and there is further movement from China, COP 26 cannot result in a successful outcome?

Today’s announcement on sustainable finance is potentially extremely significant, because if it becomes more difficult for firms in the coal- and carbon-intensive manufacturing sectors to finance new projects, many of these projects simply will not happen. More generally, the announcement by many global firms and financial institutions that they will align their investment and lending with the Paris climate goals could, if executed, do more than anything else to reorient the world economy towards a net-zero model. But the track record of companies which have made such commitments in the past is not encouraging. In a number of high-profile cases, banks which have promised, for example, to divest themselves of fossil fuel investments have broken the rules which they set for themselves; and they have not applied the rules at all to some asset classes. What legal requirements do the Government plan to place on companies and financial institutions listed in London, or based in the UK, to set net-zero plans? What sanctions will apply if they either fail to set them in the first place or, having set them, simply fail to implement them?

At the weekend the Prime Minister said that the score was 5-1 against the chances of Glasgow succeeding. Yesterday he claimed that the forces of climate action had pulled back a goal, or possibly two. The fact this Government have allowed the score to get to 5-1 against is a telling indictment of the casual way they have approached this summit. Failure over the next few days to change the scoreline further would be a disaster not just for the Government but for the planet.

Tributes: Sir David Amess MP

Debate between Baroness Evans of Bowes Park and Baroness Smith of Basildon
Monday 18th October 2021

(7 months, 1 week 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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Like all noble Lords, I was shocked, shaken and saddened by the tragic death of Sir David Amess on Friday. He was killed while holding a constituency surgery in a place of sanctuary, serving the residents of Southend West as he had done proudly since 1997. As the Lord Speaker said, Sir David was a veteran parliamentarian of almost four decades who was admired and respected across both Houses of Parliament. Only three other sitting MPs have served the House of Commons and their constituents longer than Sir David had.

A working-class boy from the east end of London, Sir David was first elected in Basildon, in 1983. It was a bellwether seat for the 1992 general election which he held on to with the backing of Essex men—and women—providing the pivotal moment of the night that Sir John Major won an unexpected majority. At the 1997 general election, Sir David moved to the neighbouring constituency of Southend West, and our very own Lady Smith followed him as the MP for Basildon. She tells me that she soon discovered that one of Sir David’s traditions was giving students a spelling test on primary school visits. Apparently, he had a preoccupation with two words in particular, and the local schools had posters of them plastered all over the walls to ensure that their students were ready to impress their visiting MP. I understand that there is a certain cohort, educated in south Essex, who have Sir David to thank for being able to spell “yacht” and “unnecessary” correctly.

In his new seat, Sir David continued his tradition of campaigning in a motorhome, playing his song, which I assure noble Lords I will not attempt to sing but which went:

“Vote, vote, vote, for David Amess,

David is the man for you.

If you want to be true blue, and to air your points of view,

Then David Amess is the only man for you.”

Although his campaign style was compared to that of an ice-cream vendor, it was authentically Sir David, and it worked.

Throughout his parliamentary career, he was well known as a dedicated Brexiteer, a doughty animal rights campaigner, a devout Roman Catholic and a devoted constituency champion. It is true to say that he achieved more on the Beck Benches than many of us Ministers manage to achieve in government; he piloted numerous Private Member’s Bills into law, such as those on cruel tethering and warm homes, helped to ensure that the bravery of Raoul Wallenberg was recognised with a memorial statue, and organised 200 inspirational students from the Music Man Project to perform at the Royal Albert Hall and again at the London Palladium.

There cannot be anyone in this House who is not aware of Sir David’s campaign to make Southend a city, a campaign that he pursued doggedly and determinedly, but with the humour and warmth that characterised his approach, because above all, he was a kind, generous and decent human being. I am delighted to tell the House, if noble Lords did not know already, that the Prime Minister has confirmed that Her Majesty the Queen has agreed that Southend will be accorded the city status that it so clearly deserves.

I was not lucky enough to have known Sir David well personally. However, from the stories that I have read from colleagues, friends and strangers over the weekend, it is clear that he was a wonderful man who touched the lives of many. So many colleagues have commented on his love of being a parliamentarian. Whether in the House or in his beloved constituency, he had as much joy and enthusiasm in his fourth decade in the job as he did in his first, and that enthusiasm was infectious to all with whom he served. A former colleague of mine from Policy Exchange, who began his career working for Sir David, shared what many have commented was an accurate reflection of his character: not being bothered about missing or even returning a call from David Cameron, the then Prime Minister, yet turning his office upside down to find a missing local charity invitation for a duck race, and moving heaven and earth at all hours of the day for constituents in need.

My husband, James, joined the House of Commons following the last election, and experienced Sir David’s generosity of friendship first-hand. They spent some time together recently, during lockdown, discussing Sir David’s new book, Ayes & Ears, as part of his virtual book tour. Said with great humour and a big smile, it is fair to say that Sir David’s opening line of “Now then, James, someone told me that you sleep with a member of the Cabinet” was not the introduction that James was expecting. In his book, Sir David asked how someone like him, born into relative poverty and with no great political helping hand, became a Conservative Member of Parliament.

The many thousands of people that he helped, and the causes that he supported, will be for ever grateful that he made that journey from those humble beginnings in Plaistow. As would be expected from Sir David, the proceeds office book will go to three charities whose causes he consistently championed: Endometriosis UK, Prost8 and the Music Man Project.

I stand here today not just as the Leader of this House but as the wife of an MP. I see the vital work they do day in, day out, on the front line to help some of the most vulnerable people in society: listening and offering support, and speaking up for those without a voice, all to serve the people in their constituencies, regardless of how they voted. Of course, for many of your Lordships here today, that was your daily reality when you served in the other place.

Alongside Jo Cox, we now have had the horror of two MPs in the last five years killed while doing their jobs—simply serving their constituents, as they were elected to do. One of our own colleagues, the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, was badly injured and his aide Andrew Pennington killed in a horrific act of violence. Any attack on any parliamentarian is an attack on our democracy. All of us, across both Houses, across all parties and groups, stand together in condemnation of these senseless and callous attacks. It is right that the security measures in place for MPs are reviewed, but we cannot allow these dreadful events to break the close link between MPs and their constituents which is so central to our democracy.

It has been a devastating week for our party, our Parliament and our country, with the loss first of our dear friend James Brokenshire, and now of the much-loved Sir David Amess—both men taken from us too soon and with so much more to give. But today, I know I speak on behalf of the whole House when I say that our deepest sympathies are with Sir David’s family, friends and staff, especially his wife Julia and their five children. We have lost a dedicated public servant and a colleague, but they have lost a husband and a father. I hope they can find some comfort in our admiration and respect for the most decent of men.

Sir David’s family have called on everyone to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all—something we should all reflect on. I know that there are many noble Lords who wish to speak today who had the honour of knowing Sir David much better than me. I look forward to learning more about him from them, but I have no doubt that we can all learn from Sir David’s example of compassion, kindness and public service.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, I think the whole House welcomed the noble Baroness’s very emotional, genuine and fond tribute to Sir David.

As the news unfolded on Friday that Sir David Amess had been attacked, our hope that he had not been seriously hurt was mixed with that dreadful feeling we had in the pit of our stomachs that something deeply shocking and terrible had happened. When it was confirmed that he had not survived, it was hard to find the words to convey our feelings about this act of devastating horror.

We send our deepest and heartfelt condolences to Sir David’s wife Julia, their children, their wider family, and his many friends and colleagues. Their loss is profound and overwhelming. We also feel for the staff who were with him at the time; the emotional shock that they suffered will be deeply felt for a long time.

I also take this opportunity, as the noble Baroness did, to express our sadness and condolences on the death of another Conservative MP, James Brokenshire. It is a cruel connection that James also had strong Essex links, having been born in Southend and previously represented Hornchurch. As she said, both men have left us too soon and had so much more to give.

I first met Sir David Amess in 1983, when he famously achieved that remarkable victory that many thought impossible: winning the newly drawn parliamentary constituency of Basildon, where there was not a single Conservative councillor. At the time, I was living in Southend and working for the League Against Cruel Sports. David was one of the then small group from his party strongly supporting our campaign to ban fox hunting and hare-coursing. He remained passionately committed to the welfare of animals; indeed, his recent, final comments in Parliament—though none of us knew they would be so—were to urge for debate on animal welfare.

Over the years, our paths criss-crossed in Basildon, Southend and Westminster—and, just occasionally, on the same side of an issue. Leaving Basildon for Southend was both painful and an opportunity for him. As with everything else, he embraced his new constituency with enthusiasm, commitment and genuine affection, which, as has been clear from the responses of his constituents, was warmly reciprocated.

G7 and NATO Summits

Debate between Baroness Evans of Bowes Park and Baroness Smith of Basildon
Thursday 17th June 2021

(11 months, 2 weeks 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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I thank the noble Baroness and noble Lord for their comments and questions. They both rightly asked about vaccinations and, as they will know, G7 leaders committed to providing at least a further 1 billion doses to the poorest countries to help vaccinate the world by the end of 2022 through dose sharing and finance. The G7 will share at least half of these by the end of 2021. We have committed to providing at least 100 million surplus Covid vaccine doses to the rest of the world within the next year and 5 million will be shared by the end of September, with another 30 million by the end of 2021.

The noble Baroness is right that sharing supply, boosting manufacturing and funding the COVAX scheme all have critical roles. That is why G7 leaders talked about, and want to take concrete actions to overcome, bottlenecks and want to boost manufacturing so that we can increase the supply. The vaccines we will be providing will be across all our supply: AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Janssen and Moderna. We will be working with leaders to continue to ramp up that effort.

Both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord rightly raised climate change and the work done on that. Commitments were made at the summit. Most G7 countries will be reducing emissions by more than half by 2030, compared to 2010 levels. All countries will formally commit to their specific reductions when submitting their nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement. Each country will also set up policy plans and milestones on how they plan to meet these, as we have done with our carbon budget.

Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness talked about the climate finance commitment and, of course, we were the first G7 member to substantially increase our commitment. At the summit, Canada committed to doubling its climate finance through to 2025 and France, Germany, Japan and the US also agreed to increase their commitments, so there was welcome progress.

Both the noble Baroness and noble Lord talked about girls’ education, which is a priority for this Government. At the G7 summit, the Prime Minister announced that we will be pledging £430 million to the Global Partnership for Education for the next five years, which is our largest pledge ever and an uplift of 15%. At the summit the G7 collectively pledged at least $2.7 billion towards the Global Partnership for Education and we will continue to encourage partners around the world to contribute to that fund.

Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked about the Northern Ireland protocol. We are working to support the Good Friday agreement and urgently need to find solutions to support the peace process and minimise disruption. There was discussion of the protocol with our European partners at the summit. Those discussions will continue because we all want to ensure that we get to a satisfactory resolution.

The noble Baroness seemed to suggest that there had not been much movement on, for instance, global tax, over the last few years. But at the G7 we saw a major breakthrough on the issue that has been under discussion for over five years, particularly back in the historic two-pillar international agreement on global tax reform, to address the tax challenges we face. We are very hopeful that this agreement will provide a strong basis for securing a more detailed and comprehensive agreement among the G20 and OECD in July.

On the Australia trade deal, I am sure that the noble Lord will be delighted to know that the UK-Australia trade relationship was worth £13.9 billion last year and is set to grow under this deal. I assure him that British farmers will be protected by a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years, using tariff-rate quotas and safeguards. To the noble Baroness I say that, when the agreement is published, there will be a chapter on animal welfare, because we have been very clear that we will not compromise on our high standards. I can also confirm that, of course, formal scrutiny of the ratification process will take place once we have laid the final agreement—this will be once we have undergone legal checks—and the impact assessment will be published with it.

The noble Lord asked about the Atlantic charter. It recognises that the values that the US and UK share remain the same as they were in 1941, including defending democracy, reaffirming the importance of collective security and building a fair and sustainable global trading system. There was a very constructive relationship between the Prime Minister and President Biden, and it was a very successful summit.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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Perhaps there is just time to say to the noble Baroness that there were a number of specific questions that she did not answer. Can she look through the notes and respond in writing if possible?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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If there are questions that I have not answered, I will.

Election of Lord Speaker

Debate between Baroness Evans of Bowes Park and Baroness Smith of Basildon
Wednesday 21st April 2021

(1 year, 1 month 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, on behalf of the whole House I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McFall of Alcluith, on being elected Lord Speaker, and I look forward to working with him in his new role. I also offer our thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, and the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, for standing in this election. As with everything else over the last year, this election was impacted by Covid, but all three candidates rose admirably to the challenge of remote campaigning.

I also take the opportunity on behalf of the House to thank all members of staff, and the Hansard Society, who made the election possible and ran the process so smoothly. There will be a proper occasion for tributes to be made to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, after he retires as Lord Speaker, so I will save mine until that time. But on behalf of the House, I would like to thank him for all his service to this House.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, I concur with the comments of the Lord Privy Seal and offer our congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord McFall, on his election as the next Lord Speaker of your Lordships’ House.

Noble Lords including the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, may recall that, when he was newly elected, we congratulated the Lord Speaker on breaking through the glass ceiling as the first male occupant of that post —there are very few times that us women can say that. There will be time later to pay proper tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, but at this stage I want to thank him for his service to this House. We look forward to the opportunity to pay tribute to his work.

This was an unusual election and I think that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, said, the whole House will want to thank the officials of the House, the Hansard Society, and Mark D’Arcy and Jackie Ashley for hosting the hustings. I also want to thank the other candidates; I am sure the noble Lord, Lord McFall, will join me in this and has probably been in touch already. It was a difficult election and all the candidates showed the best of your Lordships’ House. As those of us who have done so in other lives know, standing for election is always difficult; you want to win and need to be prepared to lose. They all showed this House at its best and showed themselves at their best. They gave us an excellent and difficult choice, but from these Benches we send our warm congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord McFall. I have worked with him for many years already, but look forward to working with him in his new role.

Clerk of the Parliaments

Debate between Baroness Evans of Bowes Park and Baroness Smith of Basildon
Tuesday 13th April 2021

(1 year, 1 month 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, I am delighted to move this Motion to give the House an opportunity to pay tribute to the outgoing Clerk of the Parliaments, Ed Ollard.

From 1983, when he joined as a fast-stream clerk, Ed served this House with distinction. He provided outstanding service in a variety of senior roles within the House, including as Private Secretary to the Leader and Chief Whip, Finance Director and the Clerk of Committees. Before he became the 64th Clerk of the Parliaments, he served as Clerk Assistant to Sir David Beamish for six years.

In these varied roles, Ed provided Members across the House, and its political leadership, with courteous and professional procedural advice and was a source of authoritative leadership to the staff of the House. He was generous and resourceful, often going way beyond the call of duty. On one such occasion, he went so far as to provide clothing to the Government Chief Whip, my noble friend Lord Ashton. I am happy to confirm to noble Lords that this did not involve Lycra, but my noble friend did borrow a white bow-tie from Ed to save his blushes at a reception in Buckingham Palace.

Between 1992 and 1994 Ed served as Private Secretary to the then Leader of the House, my noble friend Lord Wakeham, and Viscount Cranborne. Some noble Lords will recall this as a particularly demanding parliamentary Session, as the Maastricht Bill was passing through the House. Ed must have had a strong sense of déjà vu over the last few years as we worked through legislating for our exit from the European Union.

Across the various posts he held, Ed oversaw a number of significant changes which helped modernise our processes for the benefit of the whole House, including overhauling the clerks’ Table with modern equipment, overseeing the transformation of House publishing and printing, and playing a central role in implementing the recommendations of the Ellenbogen report on bullying and harassment—an issue he was deeply committed to addressing as the senior officer responsible for the staff of the House.

But by far the most significant changes Ed presided over have been those implemented since March 2020 in response to Covid. These changes will be familiar to noble Lords across the House, but what may be less well known is the vast amount of work he did behind the scenes to bring our hybrid proceedings to life. Over Easter last year, Ed helped develop and oversee the initial setting up of our virtual proceedings, in less than three weeks, and then our move to hybrid proceedings. It was a huge but critical task that ensured that this House has been able to undertake its business during these unprecedented times, and while we all may have had our frustrations with the hybrid way of working, none of us can deny how essential the changes Ed helped deliver have been in allowing us to continue our important function during this pandemic. For that, we all owe Ed an immense debt of gratitude.

Ed has left the House as we undergo a significant period of change. Over the next few weeks, we will have a new Speaker and a new Chief Operating Officer, and we will, I hope, be taking further steps forward as we slowly return to the normal way of doing business. I look forward to working with the new Clerk of the Parliaments, Simon Burton, as we navigate the future and welcome him to his role.

As he leaves this role, I am sure Ed will find more time to enjoy his favourite pastimes of watching Charlton Athletic—I could not say so myself, but I am sure some will think that only a Clerk of the Parliaments who has served over the last few years in this House can enjoy such a thing, but that is up to Ed—and, of course, following the Tour de France and cycling himself. I suspect the sightings of Lycra on the West Front Corridor will decrease quite significantly now Ed has left us. On a more serious note, I am sure the whole House will join me in thanking Ed for his distinguished service and we wish him, his wife Mary and their family all the best for the future. I beg to move.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, it is an honour to have the opportunity to pay tribute to Ed Ollard as the outgoing Clerk of the Parliaments on his retirement. I admit that this is something of a first for me: it is not the first time that I have spoken to recognise somebody’s service on retirement, but it is the first time I have ever done so for somebody who is younger than I am.

Ed started his career in the House of Lords in 1983. Noble Lords might be aware that this was the year in which it was first decided to televise proceedings in your Lordships’ House. We cannot hold him responsible for that, but I refer to it to illustrate that he started his career here at a time of great change, and his career here has ended at a time of great change, although I know he shares our optimism that many of the current changes will be temporary.

When Ed announced his retirement last September, we knew that his choice of date was for our convenience, not his. As I said at the time, for a man who cycled into the office each day—hence the Lycra—the choice to continue to do so in the wet and cold winter months could have been only through a sense of duty. Those of us who saw his Lycra-clad arrival, and then his appearance in the Chamber, could only marvel at his Superman-style changes as he swapped one pair of tights for another.

As we heard from the noble Baroness, his career has been one of diligent and resourceful service. Taking account of Queen’s Speeches, royal visits, addresses from Heads of State, restoration and renewal, security issues and the pandemic, it is true to say that there is never been a quiet moment. He has seen many challenges, not least over the past year. The hybrid way of working, despite its necessity, is frustrating to us all. Ed’s guidance, advice and suggestions, as we navigated our way through the difficulties to ensure that we could continue our work, were always thoughtful and considered.

On many occasions, I have been grateful for his advice. I say “grateful,” but it was not always what I wanted to hear. However, I was never in any doubt that he had the interests of your Lordships’ House, its Members and its staff at heart. It is to his credit that he has never been precious about the issues that I raised with him. I can remember calls from sunnier climes during recesses, including one occasion when I had to seek advice about the House being recalled. On another occasion, I was locked in the car park and the police could not find the key to the barrier. Ed was on call with good humour, courtesy and advice at all times—and he found the key.

Business of the House

Debate between Baroness Evans of Bowes Park and Baroness Smith of Basildon
Wednesday 16th December 2020

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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Sorry, but it is 5 January—we may all wish. A new Forthcoming Business will be issued later today. However, I need to be very clear; if developments are such that we are required to meet again before 5 January, the necessary arrangements will be made, whatever they may be.

I wish all noble Lords and members of staff of the House a very merry Christmas. I thank you all for your amazing efforts in what has been an extremely difficult year. I beg to move.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for some clarity around dates—or maybe not.

On the Trade (Disclosure of Information) Bill, it is a sensible precaution to take all its stages tomorrow, with that Bill then sunsetted until we can give proper consideration in any way we wish when dealing with the Trade Bill. I think I understand from what the noble Baroness said that there is no desire to lose the Trade Bill, although it has had a gestation period longer than most elephants at the moment. Can she confirm and put it on record that we will return to it?

I question why it is now, on 16 December—I should probably be home having dinner with my husband on our wedding anniversary—the Government have suddenly decided that they have discovered we need these provisions in place in the next few days. I would have thought that would have been evident prior to today or the last few days. Can the noble Baroness clarify why that is?

I do not ever recall a similar statement to this in the over 20 years I have been in Parliament. It is a quite extraordinary announcement. I feel a bit like I am living through a poor parody of Noel Edmonds’ “Deal or No Deal”, but without Mr Blobby—perhaps we all have our nominations for who Mr Blobby might be. The referendum to leave the EU was in June 2016. In December 2019, the noble Baroness’s party fought and won an election on getting Brexit done.

Clerk of the Parliaments

Debate between Baroness Evans of Bowes Park and Baroness Smith of Basildon
Wednesday 30th September 2020

(1 year, 8 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, I wish to notify the House that I have received the following letter from the Clerk of the Parliaments:

“I write to inform you of my intention to retire from the office of Clerk of the Parliaments at Easter next year.


At that point I will have served as Clerk for four years and I think it will be a suitable point to hand over and to ensure an orderly transition to new leadership of the Administration.


It has been an immense privilege to work here in a fascinating variety of roles, since I joined in 1983. I have seen the House evolve and change massively during that time—but perhaps no more spectacularly than now, where the way in which we are currently working is not something most of us could previously have imagined. These last four years as a whole have contained more than their fair share of challenges for the House and the Administration, and I hope that we can continue to build on the positive changes we have collectively made to meet them.


I would be grateful if you could convey my deep appreciation to members in all parts of the House for their generous help and advice to me during my time here. Most of all, I would like to place on record my thanks to my colleagues, the staff of the House. I am indebted to them for their unstinting professionalism and dedication to the House, as well as their support and guidance to me personally.”


In light of the ongoing external management review, I will consult the leaders of the other parties, the Convenor of the Cross Benches and the Lord Speaker, and ensure that a recommendation for Ed’s successor as Clerk of the Parliaments is made to Her Majesty in good time, and of course, as is customary, I will put a Motion before the House nearer the time of his retirement to enable Members to pay a proper tribute to Ed’s distinguished service.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for reading out the letter and for saying that there will be time later in our calendar to thank the Clerk of the Parliaments for his service; there will be an opportunity for further comments then. I am grateful to the Clerk of the Parliaments—to Ed—for the timing of his announcement. That is clearly for the benefit of the House and not for his own benefit, because he will be working throughout the football season and will miss the opportunity to see quite as much of his beloved Charlton as he would like; and because he will be cycling to the House throughout the cold, wet winter, as I know having regularly seen him clad in Lycra. It is helpful that he has set out a timetable and we are grateful for that. We look forward to working with the noble Baroness to choose his successor and to pay appropriate tributes in due course.

Covid-19

Debate between Baroness Evans of Bowes Park and Baroness Smith of Basildon
Wednesday 23rd September 2020

(1 year, 8 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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I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their comments and questions. I assure the noble Baroness that the Government remain committed to the test and trace system, and it will clearly play an important part in our efforts to continue to tackle the virus. I am sure she will be pleased to know that the test and trace app will be rolled out nationally tomorrow, further enhancing that programme. It is designed to work alongside the traditional contact tracing services and testing to help people understand if they are at risk. On her questions about the rules, my personal interpretation is that she could indeed invite two noble Lords to join her for curry if two had left, as the rule is about six people. Children are counted as individuals, so they are counted as one of the six.

Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness talked about evidence. Certainly both the Government and the scientific advisers looked at a range of evidence in order to come up with the package that we have.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness quite rightly talked about the economic impacts, which we are all extremely aware of. They will know that through the measures we have taken so far we have protected 12 million people and jobs through the furlough and self-employed schemes, at a cost of £40 billion. However, I entirely accept their points about the impact that this virus is still having, and the impact it is still having on our economy. I can certainly assure the noble Baroness that my right honourable friend the Chancellor, and those across government, are working with employers, representatives, unions and businesses to continue to work out exactly what the best form of support for businesses in all sectors is. We keep that package under constant review.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about the prioritisation of testing. He is absolutely right: at the moment prioritisation is for those who work in acute clinical care, broader NHS staff and people in care homes, and targeted testing for teaching staff. He is obviously quite right to mention other individuals who work within these settings, and we will keep the prioritisation under review. As we increase our testing and look towards the 500,000 tests that we hope to get to by the end of October, we hope to be able to offer tests much more widely and include more people within that prioritisation.

On face coverings, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, talked about indoor settings with lots of people. That is why we are now mandating face coverings in indoor settings and enclosed places which are freely accessed by the public, where it may not be possible to maintain social distancing. He will be aware that we already had those measures in place for shops and supermarkets and on public transport. It is for that very reason that we are now extending the mandatory wearing of face coverings to hospitality settings, taxis and private hire vehicles—again, in enclosed settings where it is particularly difficult for people to maintain social distancing.

The noble Lord also asked about extra funding for the police and local authorities. We have already announced an initial £50 million to support the range of enforcement activity we would expect to see in relation to the new rules that we have just announced. It will be up to the police to decide how they wish to deploy that—for instance, it could be used for increasing patrols to enforce social contact rules, deploying police to high-risk areas where there is rising concern, and providing more support to local authorities and NHS Test and Trace where quarantine and self-isolation breaches are being escalated. Of course, those are just some of the ways in which this funding could be used at a local level.

In relation to the new payment that was announced, the £500 is targeted at those on low incomes and who cannot work from home. It is an additional payment, on top of statutory sick pay and existing benefits or support, such as universal credit, employment support allowance, local housing allowance or hardship fund payments. It will become available for those who are required to self-isolate from 28 September. Local authorities are working quickly to set up these support schemes, and we expect them to be in place by 12 October. Anyone who has had to self-isolate from 28 September will receive backdated payments. That is, I hope, the detail of the new scheme.

The noble Lord talked about parliamentary scrutiny, which is of course extremely important. Each SI has undergone full scrutiny, in line with the requirements of its parent Act. We have been using the appropriate parliamentary procedures for considering regulations, including waiting for the JCSI and the SLSC to report on them before they are debated. On Monday, we will have a more general debate, in line with the commitment we made, on the Coronavirus Act itself.

The noble Lord asked about tomorrow. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton—who is sitting there—will be well aware, we have two days of full discussions on coronavirus SIs, so I do not think we can criticise the House or anyone within it for the work they are doing on this. We will be discussing the SIs that were to be in the Grand Committee in the Chamber. We are dealing with them in order: there are deadlines within which we have to discuss these SIs, and that is the order in which we are taking them. I hope the noble Lord will accept that, as well as the fact that we have two coronavirus Statements today, we are taking this very seriously and ensuring parliamentary scrutiny.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness has not answered many of my questions on restrictions, schools, the TUC or the Prime Minister.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
- Hansard - -

Sorry, I did have an answer on schools. Our advice for children is very clear: they should have a test only if they have symptoms. Obviously, we are well aware that there is a capacity issue in the system at the moment, which we are trying to address, so there are perhaps longer waits than we would like for tests. However, 64.7% of people who have a test get the results back within 24 hours.

House of Lords: Allowance

Debate between Baroness Evans of Bowes Park and Baroness Smith of Basildon
Wednesday 22nd July 2020

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon
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My Lords, when the Minister introduced this, she made it sound so easy—as though the commission met and agreed these proposals, when it was actually a long, winding and rocky road to find agreement, because we were dealing with contentious matters. On the point made by my noble friend Lord McConnell and the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, the days when this House was the preserve of the landed gentry have long gone. As we have seen, many Members who have participated in the work of the House, and who I am sure the Minister will join me in paying tribute to, have shown the value of the work that this House does. That should always be our priority, which we have shown ourselves to be ready for. All decisions are about compromise. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, that the House has a new role. The commission brings proposals to your Lordships’ House for agreement, and the only body that can agree these proposals or otherwise is this House and the Members taking part in it. It is the ultimate preserve of this House whether it wishes to accept the proposals.

My noble friend Lord McConnell spoke of the imperfections in this temporary system and outlined one. That is one of the things we will address in the proposals going forward. This is a compromise—a way forward in a temporary system that a lot of people had to grapple with to find a way for the House to operate better, recognising the contributions not only of individual Members but of this House and its role in legislation. This week we have dealt with the Business and Planning Bill, where significant amendments that were not dealt with in the House of Commons were sent back to the House of Commons with the agreement of all parties. Last night, those Members dealing with the Agriculture Bill were in your Lordships’ House until midnight debating it, and that could happen tomorrow night as well. We also have the Second Reading of the immigration Bill coming up. We must recognise that we all need to get back to normal working as soon as possible, before we forget what that is, because working in these circumstances is a lot harder for everybody in many ways. As the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said, it is about not only the allowances but how we operate and fulfil our functions.

There were those who were very cynical and sceptical that this House could embrace technology as we have done to conduct our business. Members of the other place are envious of our remote voting system. As their queue snakes around Parliament and they pretend to socially distance, many are very concerned for their welfare and that of their colleagues. The system that we have adopted is infinitely preferable.

While I accept that there will be imperfections and that we all have concerns, the allowance system before us today recognises a number of issues, particularly the frustrations of Back-Benchers who cannot contribute virtually and wish to come into your Lordships’ House. As I have said to my Front-Benchers, and I am grateful for their support in this, the work of the House of Lords is often like a swan; it appears to be going smoothly on top, but if only one could see the furious paddling underneath, including those of us on the Teams channels, WhatsApp channels and email channels managing our business during the days and the enormous amount of work that Peers are involved in that is never seen. These proposals recognise that, and the work of our committees.

With more Peers attending, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, about the arrangements in place is important. The most important thing is to keep ourselves, each other and our families safe. I hope that we can get some more people into the Chamber and we will have a second Hybrid Chamber operating as well, but I also mean around the building. When I get in early, I talk to cleaning staff and catering staff. They also have concerns, so we must ensure that, whatever we do and however we operate, processes are in place to ensure the safety not only of Peers but of the staff of the House, and not only those in funny clothes but also those cleaning the place and ensuring that we are fed and watered. Can the Minister say something about that? Does she have any comments on the wearing of face masks in the Palace? Also, on testing, if any member of staff or noble Lord has symptoms, what will the procedures be for them being tested, and are there any proposals for preventive testing or preventive support?

On balance, these proposals are an important step forward. I see this not just as something that is happening today. In all the decisions being taken, there must be a process. Having dealt with very difficult circumstances, we are moving to a position from which we can return to normal. That must be part of the process, because it is where we all want to be.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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I thank all noble Lords for their contributions today. I agree with the noble Baroness about the commission bringing proposals to the House and the House ultimately having to make decisions on them.

I hear what the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said about travel, but I am afraid that the commission’s decision has been set out. He is rightly expressing his view, which is doubtless shared by many Members of the House, that there needs to be a review of the allowance system overall. I am sure that the members of the commission will have heard his comments, and that there are Back-Benchers who have a lot of sympathy with him.

These are challenging times. We have had to develop a system for the working of the House, as opposed to allowances, which we all know is not perfect, but we have all worked together to do our best to ensure that noble Lords can be involved and can contribute to the important work we want to do. We all accept that this is by no means perfect, which is why we are all very keen to move towards a return to normality—whatever normality finally becomes. But as the noble Baroness and the noble Lord said, we have to make sure that as we return, hopefully, in larger numbers in September, we do so in a safe, Covid-secure way, not just for us and all our colleagues but for the staff of the House.

The noble Baroness asked about masks; obviously, as government guidance may change, we will keep that in mind. For instance, in our new Grand Committee that will start in September, we have moved to “one metre with mitigation”, so masks will be worn as you enter because that ensures Covid security, whereas in the Chamber we are two metres apart. So, I suspect we may find in different parts of the House different ways of making sure that we comply with the guidelines. I encourage all noble Lords to bring face coverings with them, but there is already a supply of masks in the Hallkeeper’s Lodge, in St Stephen’s Hall, should people require them. Ah—the noble Lord has pulled one out, and I saw the noble Baroness come in with one earlier. It is the responsibility of all of us to make sure that we keep ourselves and all our colleagues safe.

The noble Baroness also asked about testing. The House authorities have consulted Public Health England on the provision of different types of testing on the Parliamentary Estate, how they could be put in place and how effective they will be in increasing the safety of Members and staff. Members can already get infection testing, as the public can, but I know that as more people come back, guidance changes and testing becomes available in other ways, the authorities are exploring how and whether it could be offered in the most convenient way to Members, but without creating further issues of too many people in one place.

These are all challenges that we will all be working on together, and I appreciate noble Lords’ comments. As the noble Baroness said, I certainly did not mean my remarks to make it sound like this has been easy—it has not—but I hope noble Lords feel that we have taken a step forward. I assure all noble Lords that their concerns have registered with all of us and we greatly appreciate everything they have done. I hope that at this point I can wish all noble Lords a very happy August Recess, and I look forward to seeing many more noble Lords back, I hope, in September.

Covid-19 Update

Debate between Baroness Evans of Bowes Park and Baroness Smith of Basildon
Thursday 25th June 2020

(1 year, 11 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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I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their comments. Both rightly asked about the “test and trace” system. It has been important to learn as we have developed this new technology, which is why it has undergone testing on the Isle of Wight and in a series of field tests. This has uncovered some issues with the app, particularly the Google-Apple framework. We are now bringing together the app and the Google-Apple solution so that we can carry out contact tracing and make it easier to order tests and access advice and guidance on self-isolation.

On 18 June, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced that NHSX has begun the next phase of development in building this app, and we will conduct a national rollout only when we are confident of having got it right. The noble Baroness is right that other countries have started to roll out apps, but they too—Singapore, for instance—have found very similar issues with the compatibility of this data. Germany has had 12.2 million downloads, but as we have said, you need about 60% of the population for this to be a fully functioning rollout, and downloads are not the same as rollout. I am not saying that there are no issues, but a lot of countries are grappling with this. We are making progress and will continue to do so.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness rightly asked about local outbreaks, and the noble Lord referred to specific examples. I can confirm that there are ongoing discussions with local authorities. Each local area has its own local action committee and its own arrangements to choose how it wants to run its local outbreak plans. Decisions will be supported at a local level by the Joint Biosecurity Centre—which is also tracking data and will be involved—Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace. We have made £300 million available to local authorities to work with NHS Test and Trace in developing local outbreak control plans, which will identify and contain potential outbreaks in places such as workplaces, ensure that testing capacities are effectively deployed and help the most vulnerable in isolation. We are in discussions with local authorities about what enforcement powers are available and what more can be granted. As has always been the case, if multiple cases appear in a specific setting, a specialist team from the local authority or Public Health England will help to manage the outbreak. A lot of work from central and local government is ongoing throughout this pandemic, and it will continue.

The noble Baroness asked about the one-metre rule, particularly in respect of businesses. It is for each business to carry out its own risk assessment, in consultation with workers, to inform their actions and the mitigation steps they may take if they move to the one-metre-plus rule. The noble Lord and the noble Baroness will have seen that a significant amount of detailed guidance has been published since the Prime Minister’s Statement. Obviously, employers have a duty under the law to protect the health and safety of their employees, and if there are concerns about employers’ steps, employees should get in touch with their employee representative, union, local authority or the Health and Safety Executive. We have announced an additional £14 million for the Health and Safety Executive for extra call-centre staff, inspectors and equipment.

I hope that the noble Baroness can assure her eight-year-old friend, whose name I am afraid I have forgotten—

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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I hope that she can assure Sam Parker that we are committed to doing everything possible to allow children to go back to school safely. In the next couple of weeks, we will be publishing the guidance to help schools plan successfully for a full return in September.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about choral singing. I am afraid I hear that the science shows that there is an additional risk of infection when you or others are singing or speaking loudly, and this applies even if others are at a distance from you. This is something—I am trying to speak softly—that we will continue to look into. I share the noble Lord’s wish for cricket to return and will continue to apply whatever pressure I can. Yes, it is the ball, I believe.

The noble Lord also asked about orchestras. Sector-wide guidance for the performing arts returning to rehearsal and performance is something we are working on with the sector. It is a priority because we entirely understand the difficulties that the sector is facing.

The noble Lord asked about statutory sick pay. People will be eligible for statutory sick pay on the basis of their shielding status until 31 July.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about the preparedness plan. We are constantly working to make sure that we are prepared for whatever turn of events we face. Obviously, we have learned a lot from where we have got to now. We continue to hope that we will continue to beat this virus, but we all need to abide by the guidelines and to play our part. We are absolutely committed to continuing to move in the right direction, and we believe we can do that.

House of Lords: Allowances

Debate between Baroness Evans of Bowes Park and Baroness Smith of Basildon
Wednesday 6th May 2020

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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As the noble Lord is aware, since he is on the commission, this is not a government decision but a decision of the commission, on whose behalf I am speaking. The Motion makes it clear that it is a temporary arrangement. As noble Lords know, I have said that it is under constant review. We can discuss with the Lord Speaker what that reviewing may look like, but it is not my decision alone as I am part of the commission.

We will have to see when and how we start to move. We are anticipating new guidance over the weekend on what restrictions will be happening. I am sure that all of us in the House will look at how to implement them. We all want to return as a House, as everyone has stated, but we have to stick to government guidelines and ensure that we have a safe working environment for Peers and staff. We have put Virtual Proceedings in place and are trying to roll them out. We are trying to increase the amount of business being done in Virtual Proceedings, which we will obviously discuss on the next Motion as we look to take more legislative stages online.

This is a constantly moving issue. I can assure noble Lords that—whether they know it or not—my staff and team, through the usual channels and with all the other leaders, are working constantly to ensure that we are doing our best to allow noble Lords the opportunities to address the issues that they want to.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon
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I want to press the noble Baroness further, because I asked about her role as the Lord Privy Seal. I appreciate that she speaks as a member of the commission, but she is a member of it as the Lord Privy Seal and Leader of this House. What discussions has she had with the Government? In her role as Lord Privy Seal—a position that I think Thomas Cromwell held as well—it would be nice to know that she had been discussing the role of this House with the Government.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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Yes, I am very happy to say so. One of the only other items on an agenda largely about coronavirus, in Cabinet and elsewhere, is that of parliamentary business. I am therefore able to give regular updates on the work of the Lords. I have been discussing with my Commons colleagues the work they are doing and how we can roll that out, and I am of course raising House of Lords’ issues on a regular basis within government; that is my job and that is what I do.