16 Baroness Meacher debates involving the Leader of the House

Tue 21st May 2024
Tue 30th Apr 2024
Mon 26th Feb 2024
Mon 5th Feb 2024
Mon 28th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1
Wed 16th Mar 2022
Health and Care Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard _ Part 1 & Report stage: _ Part 1
Thu 28th Jan 2021
Wed 31st Jan 2018
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords

Infected Blood

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Tuesday 21st May 2024

(1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I will say just a few words from these Benches—we are a little depleted this evening. I strongly support the words of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. They were very constructive and helpful. I also want to say how much I personally appreciate the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is responsible for this area of work. We are incredibly lucky to have such a committed and devoted Minister who, I feel absolutely confident, will pursue this and ensure that the compensation is properly provided to the people who so desperately need it. The noble Earl will, I know, collaborate; he had a very good meeting with a small number of us and it was very clear that he will welcome continued collaboration, and I certainly look forward to that. I give a special welcome to the Front Bench for the noble Earl, Lord Howe.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I am, as ever, very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for her kind words. I can assure her that it has been a privilege for me to be involved as a House of Lords Minister in working through these proposals and to be standing here today to announce them. I am more than ready to continue that work as we fashion the compensation scheme, together with Sir Robert Francis and those impacted by this scandal.

Moved by
96: After Clause 26, insert the following new Clause—
“Victims of specified offences: data-sharing for immigration purposes(1) The personal data of a victim of a crime mentioned in subsection (3), which is processed for the purpose of that person requesting or receiving support or assistance related to the crime, must not be used for any immigration control purpose without the consent of that person.(2) The personal data of a witness to crime mentioned in subsection (3), which is processed for the purpose of that person giving information or evidence to assist the investigation or prosecution of the crime, must not be used for any immigration control purpose without the consent of that person.(3) The crimes referred to in subsections (1) and (2) are—(a) domestic abuse as defined by section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021;(b) an offence under any of sections 2, 2A, 4 or 4A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 or section 42A (1) of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001;(c) an offence under any of sections 1, 2 or 4 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015;(d) an offence under Part 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003; (e) such other offences as specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.(4) Paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 to the Data Protection Act 2018 does not apply to personal data processed for the purposes of subsection (1) or (2).(5) For the purposes of this section, the Secretary of State must publish guidance about the effect of subsections (1) and (2) to—(a) persons who are victims of or witnesses to the crimes in subsection (3),(b) persons from whom support or assistance may be requested or received by a victim of crime in the United Kingdom,(c) persons providing support to, or conducting investigations or prosecutions with the support of, witnesses of crime in the United Kingdom,(d) persons exercising any function of the Secretary of State in relation to immigration, asylum or nationality, and(e) persons exercising any function conferred by or by virtue of the Immigration Acts on an immigration officer.(6) The Secretary of State may from time to time revise any guidance issued under this section.(7) Before issuing or revising guidance under this section, the Secretary of State must consult—(a) the Domestic Abuse Commissioner,(b) the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses,(c) the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, and(d) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.(8) Subsection (7) does not apply in relation to any revisions of the guidance issued under this section if the Secretary of State considers the proposed revisions of the guidance are insubstantial.(9) A person exercising public functions to whom guidance issued under this section relates must have regard to it in the exercise of those functions.(10) For the purposes of this section—“consent” means a freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of the individual’s wishes by which the individual, by a statement, signifies agreement to the processing of the personal data.“immigration” means the exercise of any functions of the Secretary of State and of immigration officers under the Immigration Acts within the meaning of section 61 of the UK Borders Act 2007.“support or assistance” includes the provision of accommodation, banking services, education, employment, financial or social assistance, healthcare and policing services and any function of a court or prosecuting authority.“victim”, in relation to a crime, means the particular person who appears to have been affected by the crime, and their dependent, where that dependent is also affected by the crime.”Member’s explanatory statement
This probing amendment seeks to ensure that the personal data of a victim of a crime is not used for any immigration control purpose without the consent of that person.
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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I intend to press this amendment to a vote, so I need to explain it. We have already debated it but, very briefly, the amendment seeks to protect migrants who help the police by preventing their personal details being used by the immigration authorities. With that, I would like to test the opinion of the House.

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Moved by
119BA: After subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) In exercising its functions the IBCA must have regard to the following matters—(a) the need for swift and fair redress to victims;(b) the ease of accessibility to the relevant compensation scheme;(c) the efficient and effective operation of the relevant compensation scheme.”
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I rise to respond to the Minister’s remarks and thank him for his commitment to make conversation available to the victims of the contaminated blood scandal. However, I also express concern that we do not have any clear dates even for the appointment of the chair of the body that is yet to be established in order to begin to provide these compensation payments. These people have been waiting and waiting for decades. They need urgency and speed and I argue that the Minister, in order to win their trust, needs to set out early dates by which they can expect to receive compensation.

I am concerned that victims who have already had access to the derisory compensation programmes that have been made available might not be entitled to the Government’s new compensation programme. I hope I am wrong about that, but I do have some concern. There has been the most appalling neglect of these victims and really quite derisory payments—in so far as anything has been paid to them at all. With those concerns, I thank the Minister for his comments.

One of my concerns is that the regulations must not put a time limit on people making an application for compensation, so I propose that amendment to the House. It is vital that these victims are not penalised if they do not meet some arbitrary deadline. I beg to move.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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I call the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, who is taking part remotely.

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Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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Perhaps I may add something about High Court judges, having been one myself. It may not be necessary to have a sitting High Court judge, because there are a number of recently retired High Court judges who would be entirely suitable. However, it needs to be a High Court judge who has tried medical cases. I add the fact that many family judges try medical cases quite as much as civil judges. Let us not necessarily be tied to an existing High Court judge.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, this is my amendment, so I think my job is to bring this—

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness has already spoken, so it is not appropriate for her to continue.

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Today’s debate is an important step for victims of infected blood. My firm desire is for us now to work together to ensure that every provision and every commitment made in this House is deliverable and meaningful to those people who desperately need compensation. I am very happy to have further meetings with noble Lords. I therefore earnestly entreat them to hear and embrace the steps we are taking today and have confidence in the Government’s intentions. The government amendments provide the appropriate and workable legal framework we need to get on with this very important work and I hope the House will support us in progressing it.
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, the lead amendment in this group is Amendment 119BA, which I happened to table. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on these amendments at great length, in particular the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Featherstone, who made very powerful speeches. I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for the very considerable number of assurances he has given this House. They will, I know, provide tremendous reassurance to the victims of the contaminated blood scandal, who have been waiting, as I said before, for a very long time for some action; I think they can now expect compensation quickly after 20 May. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 119BA (to Amendment 119B) withdrawn.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Portrait Baroness Campbell of Surbiton (CB)
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My Lords, before I begin, I too pay tribute to the late Lord Cormack. He was a consummate parliamentarian, but he was also my friend, and he taught me so much when I arrived in the House. Equally, he gave terrific support on disability issues; on every occasion, he was very supportive.

I support Amendment 134, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I declare an interest, as my first husband, Graham, had haemophilia and received infected blood products. As a result, he contracted both hepatitis C and HIV. We learned of this only after we had become engaged. Graham died 30 years ago, on 19 December 1993, aged 32. We had been married for only six years.

I apologise that my health prevented me speaking at Second Reading. As I was directly affected by the infected blood scandal and gave evidence to the inquiry, I hope your Lordships will forgive this late intervention.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, addresses a matter of profound importance to the thousands of us infected or affected by the shameful events that devastated the lives of so many. Your Lordships will remember that, in July 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May ordered a fully funded independent inquiry into how contaminated blood transfusions infected thousands of people with hepatitis C and HIV. She also allocated £75 million to be available for interim payments to victims still living and bereaved families. Yet only two months ago, some seven years on, the distinguished chair of the inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff, expressed his frustration with delays in setting up a compensation scheme. He said:

“The Inquiry’s final recommendations on compensation were published in April 2023. My principal recommendation remains that a compensation scheme should be set up with urgency”.


The Government accept the “moral case for compensation”, but these words are meaningless if actioning the inquiry’s recommendations is further delayed.

It was in 1987 that Graham, then my fiancé, and his younger brother Anthony were first told that they had HIV from factor 8 clotting agents. Anthony was first to die, leaving a widow and a one year-old daughter. Graham endured five years of misery, a barrage of associated illnesses, including pneumocystis pneumonia, epilepsy and intermittent blindness. He died 18 months after his brother. It must have been unbearable for him to watch what he knew was in store for him, but his courage took my breath away.

I count myself lucky. I eventually found a way to move on, enough to lead a good, purposeful life after Graham died, but the memory and the flashbacks do not fade. Thousands of other affected families have not been as fortunate, with the personal cost of the past ever present and haunting. Many wives of infected men lost their childbearing years. Parents and countless partners gave up jobs to care for loved ones at a time when HIV/AIDS was stigmatising and isolating. There have been over 3,000 deaths to date, with an average of one more every four days.

The Government have rightly accepted more responsibility for their part in the tragedy, but they have procrastinated in establishing a compensation scheme. Not content with the guidance given by Sir Robert Francis, who was specifically appointed to make recommendations for compensation, the Cabinet Office has now appointed Sir Jonathan Montgomery to chair a group of experts to decide who gets what. Not surprisingly, the infected blood community is concerned, given Sir Jonathan’s past links with two bodies implicated in the scandal, and unhappy about yet a further delay.

According to the chair of the Haemophilia Society,

“it has caused huge anger and upset in the community. We certainly haven’t been consulted and neither have any other members of the community as far as I am aware. This is now the third knight to be asked for his opinion on it. First, Sir Robert Francis. Then Sir Brian made his recommendations in his interim report. They are now asking for a third time. It feels like they want to keep asking the same questions until they get an answer they like”.

I hope the Minister will tell us how this latest “body of experts” on compensation will involve members of the infected blood community, whose lived experience makes them experts too. The need for such involvement is a consistent theme of Sir Robert’s report if trust is to be restored. So, in the spirit of transparency, will the Minister let your Lordships have sight of the membership and terms of reference of this new expert group? Can he also give an approximate timeline of when compensation will be paid? As the Government insist on waiting for the final inquiry report to be published on 20 May, will the Minister at least assure this House then that a compensation scheme will be ready to go live afterwards?

Every year, on the anniversary of my late husband’s death, I visit St Botolph’s church in the City of London. It has a remembrance book with the names of hundreds of haemophiliacs who have died from infected blood products. Each year, I see pages of new entries. Surely this example alone should galvanise the Government into compensating those still living as soon as humanly possible. Each delay means countless more deaths without the comfort of knowing that justice has been served for the infected victims, and their affected partners and children.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I express my strongest possible support for all the amendments in this group. I congratulate the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Campbell, on their powerful speeches. As president of the Haemophilia Society for many years, I have met many of the victims infected in this appalling blood scandal. Many have died before any compensation was paid to them at all. Many others soldier on with the support of their families.

We have all been moved by the Post Office scandal, but in my view far too little has been heard of the very different but equally devastating suffering of the people given infected blood, many of whom were already suffering from a serious condition. As we know, their health-wise suffering was different from that of the Post Office staff. The great thing about these amendments is that they provide clear deadlines and clear government responsibilities.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I anticipate using every opportunity available to engage with noble Lords on not only what the amendments will comprise but what we intend to do thereafter. As the noble Lord will appreciate, there is a wealth of regulations in this space. I venture to say that quite a lot of the detail of the arrangements will be contained in regulations, which will be laid as soon as possible. To the extent that I can go into detail on what those regulations will contain, I shall be happy to do so, but I hope that the noble Lord will understand that I am not in a position to do so today.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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I apologise for interrupting the Minister. He referred to the payment of £100,000 to a lot of people in 2022, but is he aware that the whole point of Amendment 134 is to fill the gaps for all the people who did not receive an interim payment? When he referred to speeding up their response to the Langstaff inquiry, that was a verbal commitment, as I understand it. The point is that these people need an urgent payment of £100,000; as I understand it, they have not received any compensation, so it is urgent. We are talking about something that happened 50-odd years ago. The idea that we still need more time cannot be right, so I hope that the Minister can reassure us that absolutely everything will be done to get a payment of £100,000 out to the groups of people who have not yet received compensation—immediately and within a month of the passing of the future Act, as the amendment says.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I perfectly understand the noble Baroness’s strength of feeling on this long-standing scandal. It may be of some reassurance to her if I repeat the words of my honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office in the other place, who said in December:

“The victims of the infected blood scandal deserve justice and recognition. Their voice must be heard, and it is our duty to honour not only those still living and campaigning but those who have passed without recognition”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/12/23; col. 1147.]


I met the Minister for the Cabinet Office to discuss these matters. My right honourable friend assured me that this is indeed his highest priority, and I undertake to the Committee that I will continue to work closely with him ahead of the next stage of the Bill.

I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to the debate and for highlighting so compellingly the issues that bear upon this appalling human tragedy. Ministers will reflect carefully on all that has been said. I hope my response has provided the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, with enough by way of assurance—although I wish I could reassure them even further—about the Government’s intended course of action to enable the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment and for the other amendments in the group not to be moved when they are reached.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for that very helpful intervention.

At the end of the debate on the previous group, I asked the Minister how we can get into the culture, focusing on the things that need to be looked at in stalking cases. Stalking advisers would be key to that. They would not just support the victim but know and understand the local people in their system and the criminal justice system; they would talk to them and ask them to look out for things. I hope the Minister can give a positive response. From our Benches, we support these amendments.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak extremely briefly, because others have spoken at great length, to support very strongly Amendments 67 and 69 and to applaud the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for seeking to ensure that the Secretary of State provides guidance for stalking advocates along with guidance for domestic abuse and sexual violence advisers.

As we know, stalking all too often ultimately leads on to criminal violence against women. An important measure ultimately preventing violent crime against women is to provide this support and advice for stalking advocates. It is far better than waiting for violence to occur before intervening. These are much more important amendments than they might appear.

Lord Roborough Portrait Lord Roborough (Con)
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My Lords, government Amendment 74 has been tabled to place a duty on the Secretary of State to issue guidance about victim support roles specified in regulations and to give the Secretary of State a power to make regulations that specify those roles. This replaces the current Clause 15, which specifies that guidance must be issued about independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers.

Through the Bill’s passage to date, we have carefully listened to concerns that naming particular roles in the Bill could be misinterpreted by funders as the Government prioritising these roles above others. We remain clear that ISVAs and IDVAs are only two roles within a rich and diverse support sector, meeting a range of victim needs, and that the right mechanisms are in place to ensure that funding for services is determined on the basis of local need for a resilient and cost-effective support offer. But we are conscious that the debate about naming certain roles in the Bill risked overshadowing the purpose of the clause, which is simply about improving a consistency of certain roles. While we know that this is not an issue or intervention wanted or needed for all support roles, we have also listened to arguments put forward that there are other support roles that might benefit from the improved consistency provided by national statutory guidance.

Therefore, this amendment avoids naming any victim support roles in the Bill. It instead provides the more flexible mechanism afforded by regulations to set out the relevant roles for which guidance must be issued, for use now and in the future. We intend to still use this only in cases where consistency of service provision is of sufficient concern to warrant national statutory guidance. This of course remains the case for ISVAs and IDVAs.

I am pleased to announce today that following constructive debate and engagement, the Government agree that such guidance is warranted for independent stalking advocates. They do vital work to support victims of these terrible crimes, as highlighted in the coroner’s report following the inquest into the tragic death of Gracie Spinks. Clear national guidance on the role of independent stalking advocates will be an important step in improving support for stalking victims. In response to my noble friend Lady Newlove, the Government can of course commit to consulting thoroughly with all stakeholders. We will require guidance to be issued on support services named in regulations. We will shortly publish draft regulations that will list independent domestic violence advisers, independent sexual violence advisers and independent stalking advocates. We have therefore heard the point on the value of ISAs and will require guidance to be issued.

I offer my thanks to the Victims’ Commissioner, my noble friend Lady Newlove, and the domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, for their engagement on this clause, to the National Stalking Consortium, convened so well by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, and to the wider victim support sector, which is assisting the Government in developing the relevant guidance.

Turning to some of the points that have been raised in this helpful debate, I hope I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. The Criminal Justice Bill does not have any stalking-related measures, but stalking victims have further been supported by the following legislation since 2012. The Stalking Protection Act 2019 aimed to protect people from the risks associated with stalking. Stalking can fall within the scope of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 where the perpetrator and victims are 16 or over and personally connected. With the Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Act 2023, if someone commits an offence under existing Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986, and does so because of the victim’s sex, they are liable for a higher maximum penalty. Finally, the Online Safety Act 2023 names Section 2A and 4A offences as priority offences.

I turn to some of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. The Government of course recognise the value of ISAs—and I have recognised it in this amendment today—and have provided additional funding to stalking charities to help support victims, including funding specifically for advocacy. The Home Office part-funds the National Stalking Helpline, run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, providing £160,000 annually between April 2022 and 2024.

Through the Government’s up-to £39 million domestic abuse and stalking perpetrator intervention funds, PCCs for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Cheshire, Kent, Sussex and the West Midlands are delivering interventions for perpetrators of stalking, and support for victims. An evaluation partner has been appointed so that we can develop an evidence base from this fund that works to protect and support victims. It is fair to say the Government can always do better, and we welcome a response to many of the points that have been raised and any dialogue between the department and interested parties.

In response to the noble Lord’s point about the Suzy Lamplugh Trust’s super-complaint to the police, we recognise the devastating impact stalking can have and expect the police to take reports seriously and to take swift action. We thank the trust for submitting this complaint—the Government will follow its progress with interest and have already provided relevant information about some of the issues to the investigating organisations.

To, I hope, reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, we have been engaging with stakeholders about the inclusion of ISAs throughout the passage of the Bill, and we are pleased to be able to confirm that we intend to specify in regulations that ISAs are included in the duty of the Secretary of State. As I mentioned earlier, our point is that these advocates are of equal status, and we do not want to create a hierarchy, so inclusion puts them on the same level as ISVAs and IDVAs.

On the points about information and how these offences are treated, stalking is an offence that often escalates over time—as we have heard earlier in this debate. That is why it is important to take preventative steps to protect victims of stalking at the earliest possible opportunity. In January 2020, the Home Office introduced stalking protection orders, which aim to address perpetrators’ behaviours before they become entrenched or escalate in severity. The Government have also awarded up to £39 million, as I mentioned, for the domestic abuse and stalking perpetrator intervention funds. Finally, victims can access support at any stage of their journey through the National Stalking Helpline, which is run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and funded by the Home Office.

As we are bringing forward this amendment, and intend to specify ISAs in regulations, I urge the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, not to press her amendments requiring guidance to be issued for independent stalking advocates. I hope that this demonstrates that the Government are committed to ensuring that victims of these terrible crimes receive the right support.

Elections Bill

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage
Monday 28th March 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Elections Act 2022 View all Elections Act 2022 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 96-VI Sixth marshalled list for Committee - (24 Mar 2022)
Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 155A in my name, which would give the right to vote in local elections to all those liable to pay council tax to that authority. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, who spoke last week on an amendment concerning the right to vote in parliamentary elections for 16 year-olds who pay income tax. As he pointed out, there is an important principle: there is a connection between a requirement to pay tax and the right to vote. Mine is a probing amendment. Taken as a whole, this group raises the question of whether the key factor for the right to vote should be nationality, residence or liability for taxation—issues which the Bill does little to address.

The Minister will not need to be reminded of the events that took place 3,269 miles to the west of here on 16 December 1773, when a large number of tea chests were thrown into Boston Harbor in protest against the imposition of taxation without representation. Because my aim with Amendment 155A is to secure the right to vote in local elections for all those with an obligation to pay council tax, that would mean taxation with representation. The amendment takes as its starting point the position of those who are required to pay council tax but who cannot vote in the local elections that will decide how the money they pay is spent. There is a principle at stake here: it becomes almost an issue of consumer rights.

In some cases, notably that of EU citizens, a resident here before 31 December 2020 will keep their local vote. However, the right of EU citizens to vote in local elections following our withdrawal from the EU is being denied to those arriving after 31 December 2020, except where reciprocal arrangements or agreements are in place. The implication of this is that citizens of Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, Poland, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta will be able to vote in local elections, but citizens of other EU countries or non-EU countries will not. Except that, if citizens of those other EU countries lived in Wales or Scotland, they would be able to vote in local elections, and indeed for elections to the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments.

Am I alone in finding all these differences very hard to justify? The decisions in Scotland and Wales seem to me to be eminently sensible, although they should go even further and extend the right to vote to non-EU citizens who are paying council tax in those countries.

I want to see the franchise widened and a connection clearly made between taxation and the right to vote. I hope the Minister will be willing to think further about the complications that the Bill will introduce across the United Kingdom. I wish that we were still a United Kingdom, but with so many different rules in different places, with different categories of the right to vote, it is getting far too complicated. My amendment might well solve the problem.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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I shall contribute briefly, following the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, in support of Amendment 155A. I too fully support the principle of “no taxation without representation”. If the Minister is unable to support this amendment, I wonder whether he could explain to the House why the Government do not accept this incredibly reasonable principle. How can they not agree to that? I do not get it.

The complexity and confusion referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, will inevitably be caused by introducing different voting rights for EU citizens who arrived in the UK before 2021 and those who arrived in or after 2021, and for those have arrived from one EU country rather than from another. It seems that Scotland and Wales are extremely sensible, as they have managed to adopt residence-based voting rights. The case for a UK-wide approach on this issue is incredibly strong and the Government will need a powerful argument to deny it. I hope they are able to make a sensible decision and accept the amendment.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I add my name to those who have expressed their regret that the noble Lord, Lord True, is not in his place to respond to today’s debate. All I can say is that I wish him a good recovery. If he is watching us online, I do not know whether that will aid his recovery or delay it.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and other Members, including my noble friend Lord Desai, have all identified that this is an important part of the Bill but it is a mess. It is really difficult to encapsulate what we are trying to talk about, but I wanted to intervene to make one point. One of the general principles that we should apply is that if you have the right to vote, however that is defined, then you should also have the right to be a candidate. You may say that that is a rather simple and obvious thing to say, but I shall give the Committee an example: between 1969 and 2006 we had a period where there were people with the right to vote but not to be a candidate. It is remarkable, really, that it was only in 2006 that the law was changed to allow people from the age of 18 to 21 to be a candidate as well as being an elector. I have good personal reasons for being very well aware of that fact. I wanted to introduce the principle that there is a good case for having a system whereby, if you have the right to vote, you can also be a candidate in the election in question.

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In summary, the Government have no plans to extend the parliamentary franchise in this way, either to EU citizens or to foreign nationals, and in consequence I am afraid that I cannot support these amendments.
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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Before the Minister sits down, he rightly said that taxation has not historically been used as a justification for the right to vote, but have the Government actually looked at it? In the context of a Bill that will supposedly rationalise and make sense out of our electoral system, have the Government looked at the idea that taxation would be a good, sensible rationale for the right to vote—at least at local elections, where it would be a lot more straightforward than national elections?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I understand where the noble Baroness is on this. I think one has to distinguish national elections from local elections, and the rules do so in respect of the various categories of individuals who live in this country. To answer her question directly: the Government have looked at this issue and we do not believe that a change is warranted. As I say, we do not deny the vote to those who happen not to be earning. Equally, we do not grant the vote, in general elections, to foreign nationals who happen to pay council tax. I think there are good reasons for that.

Health and Care Bill

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Lords Hansard _ Part 1 & Report stage
Wednesday 16th March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Health and Care Act 2022 View all Health and Care Act 2022 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 114-IV Marshalled List for Report - (14 Mar 2022)
Lord Howarth of Newport Portrait Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, in moving this proposed new clause, superficially so bland, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, beckons us along a path which leads towards constitutional and moral anarchy.

What is dangerous constitutionally about this amendment is that it would undermine the way we do parliamentary government. Forcing the Government to lay a Bill before Parliament and to enable Parliament to consider the issue, as the proposed new clause requires, would be a coup. This Back-Bench amendment would usurp control of the parliamentary agenda from the democratically elected Government. In the last Parliament we saw Back-Bench MPs, with the collusion of Mr Speaker Bercow, contriving to set aside Standing Order 14(1), which gives precedence to business tabled by the Government, in order to substitute their own agenda on Brexit. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was very much opposed to that.

Parliament proceeds by precedence, and these are dangerous new precedents, as any noble Lord who sees their party as a party of government must surely agree. While it is for Parliament to interrogate government and hold it to account, it is not for Parliament to claim for itself the role of the Government. Parliament is incapable of governing and it should not dictate the parliamentary programme. If Parliament makes exceptions to that principle to gratify a faction of its Members in either House, and if the principle that it may do so becomes established through reiteration so that the Government no longer control the legislative agenda, the ability of Governments to govern will suffer. Our system of parliamentary government is battered and unsteady as it is; we should not injure it further.

The moral anarchy that lurks in this new clause is that it would legitimise in a new way the taking of human life by other human beings. I readily acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and other proponents of what they call assisted dying are motivated by compassion and kind intentions. I profoundly believe, however, that their approach misreads human nature and that legislation to permit assisted suicide would create more suffering than it would alleviate. The offspring of this compassion would be a coarsening of our society and a diminution of the value we place upon life.

Some people make a moral case for assisted suicide on the basis of personal autonomy. I understand the appeal: I want, or I think I would want, such choice and control for myself at the end of my life. But that is not a good enough argument. Our responsibility is not just to ourselves, or even to those individuals we love the most, but to our community. For a community to be healthy, it must have norms. It has been a norm in our culture to place an especial value on human life. We reaffirmed that value when we abolished capital punishment. Since then, we have subjected our society to decades of laissez-faire ideology and chaotic individualism, and among the consequences of that have been a dissolution of community bonds and new harshnesses.

If we continue to dissolve our traditional norms, we are at risk that there really will be no such thing as society. As we look at our society now, at lethal child abuse and domestic abuse, at murderous assaults on women, as we look across the world at the millions consigned to death in the pandemic by the refusal of rich countries, including our own, to share intellectual property and technology to enable poorer countries to have vaccines, and as we witness increase discriminate mass killing in Ukraine and Yemen and genocide in Xinjiang, do we really think we should be preparing to sanction a new class of killing?

The new clause requires that a vote in Parliament on the intended legislation must be a matter of conscience. Let us examine our consciences very carefully indeed as we consider the proposal the noble Lord has put before us.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I support Amendment 170 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, to which I have added my name.

As the noble Lord made clear, there is no realistic prospect of a Committee day for my Assisted Dying Bill. This makes the point that the current procedures limiting Private Members’ Bills to Fridays do not enable important legislation such as the Assisted Dying Bill to reach the statute book.

The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, introduced his amendment brilliantly. It leaves me only to reiterate that we are not discussing the pros and cons of assisted dying this evening. The House is expected to rise at 1.30 tomorrow morning. I hope for the sake of everybody in this House that noble Lords on both sides of the assisted dying debate will resist the temptation to get into such a debate—that is not as what this amendment is about. We are debating whether it is acceptable that there is no procedure at present to enable the Westminster Parliament to test the willingness of both houses to pass such a significant and popular piece of legislation. We know that not only Scotland, which the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, mentioned, but Jersey and even the Isle of Man have procedures to enable them to pass an assisted dying law, and all those three are likely to pass such legislation within the next one to three years.

We therefore ask noble Lords: do we really think it is satisfactory that the Westminster Parliament is hamstrung without a procedure for Parliament properly to debate a Bill to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill people who are mentally competent and who are suffering unbearably? For Westminster to be upstaged on such an important and popular human rights issue by our much smaller neighbours is surely unconscionable. Amendment 170 from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, deserves our support.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, I oppose this amendment. Much as I admire my noble friend Lord Forsyth and fully understand the reasons why he has brought this before your Lordships’ House, it is not a good precedent to bind the Government in one Bill to introduce another a year or so hence. We should think very carefully about the constitutional issues.

We should remember Silverman and we should remember Steel: those Bills began in the other place—an elected House. An initiative of this sort should come from the elected House and not be imposed upon it by an unelected House. I do not think anybody would question my devotion to this House. I believe passionately in it. I believe passionately in an appointed House, as we are. I admire enormously the variety of expertise and experience that is in your Lordships’ House. However, we are not the elected House. I agree that it would be entirely reasonable in the elected House for time to be sought from government. The last time they debated this there was a fairly emphatic result, and it was not in favour of having an assisted dying Bill.

Much as we can admire the total sincerity of those who are committed to the principle of assisted suicide—I happen not to be of their number—it is very dangerous for us to begin in this House changing constitutional precedent by obliging government to introduce a Bill. Therefore, I urge your Lordships not to support this amendment.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I must tell my noble friend Lord Forsyth that I am not with him on this amendment and nor are the Government. That has nothing to do with the issue of assisted dying, about which we each have our own views, but is about the proper process for bringing forward legislation and the roles and responsibilities of government on the one hand and parliamentarians on the other.

Governments are elected. The electorate then expect the Government to bring forward their programme of legislation, which Parliament then decides on. If alongside that process there is an issue that the Government do not choose to legislate on, but which happens to be close to the heart of an individual parliamentarian, that parliamentarian has the privilege of being able to bring forward a Private Member’s Bill for Parliament to consider. In each of those two legislative processes the roles, rights, responsibilities and privileges of the Government and of individual parliamentarians are separate. It is no more appropriate for a Government to force an MP or Peer to bring forward a particular Private Member’s Bill than it is for an MP or a Peer to force a Government to bring forward a government Bill. That includes a draft Bill. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern observed in Committee, draft Bills are brought forward by Governments only when there is an intention to legislate.

The Government have no intention of legislating on assisted dying; it is not part of our programme, nor was it part of our election manifesto. Equally, it is no part of our agenda to prevent an MP or a Peer bringing forward a Private Member’s Bill on assisted dying. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has done just that because it is something that she feels strongly about. It is for her to persuade Parliament and the Government that her Bill is a good thing.

That is the proper process, and surely that is how it has to be. If it ever became possible for an MP or Peer to use a government Bill as a vehicle for obliging the Government to publish a completely separate Bill, even one on a subject which was in tune with the Government’s thinking, the due process of legislating would thereby be subverted. I ask noble Lords opposite how they would react if under a Labour Administration, an MP or Peer proposed to use a health Bill as a vehicle to oblige the Government to publish draft legislation, the purpose of which was to place all NHS hospitals into private ownership—or one might find an MP trying to use a criminal justice Bill as a vehicle to oblige the Government to publish legislation to bring back capital punishment.

My noble friend might say, “Well, in that circumstance, it would be for Parliament to decide whether or not to accept such an amendment”—but that is not the point. The point is that if one House of Parliament were to approve such an amendment and the other House were to follow suit, Parliament would thereby usurp the role of the democratically elected Government. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, and my noble friend Lord Cormack were 100% right: it is for the Government to say what their legislative programme should be, not Parliament.

As the late Lord Simon of Glaisdale might once have said, this amendment is constitutionally offensive and it should be rejected on those grounds.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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Before the Minister sits down, does he believe that limiting debate on a crucial human rights issue to Fridays—when, as he knows, certainly in the House of Commons, very few MPs are around, and in the House of Lords too, many Peers are not available—is an appropriate way to consider a matter of very great importance?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, we gave a full day’s debate to the noble Baroness’s Bill. That is surely not ungenerous.

Living with Covid-19

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd February 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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As I said, in due course we will set out further details on which high-risk groups and settings will be eligible for continued free testing. As I also said, we will publish guidance specifically in relation to adult social care and other high-risk settings well in advance of when we move towards the end of free testing.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I want to raise a very particular issue raised initially by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. The Government are rightly retaining free tests for exceptionally vulnerable people but by the time an exceptionally vulnerable person is found positive, it is too late; he or she may die. Will the Government consider tweaking the rules to enable the children— and maybe the husband and other members of the household—of exceptionally vulnerable people to have free lateral flow tests so that the exceptionally vulnerable person can then take exceptional measures to protect themselves if one of their household is found to have Covid?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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As I say, we are not ending free testing immediately. There is some time and obviously, as I said, there will be further guidance and information on a whole range of issues including, I am sure, the situation the noble Baroness mentions. We have announced that the end of free testing is coming but we have also made it very clear that for vulnerable groups there will be further guidance and information about where testing will continue to be available.

Covid-19

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Thursday 28th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con) [V]
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As I said, we will be looking at all important data, which we will be publishing and reviewing so that we can then set out a strategy for leaving the lockdown. Our aim will be to set out a gradual and phased approach towards easing restrictions in a sustainable way. A sustainable way is critical, beginning, as I said, with the reopening of schools, which is our priority.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB) [V]
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My Lords, when the Prime Minister says in his Statement that the UK has more than enough vaccines for this year, does he mean that we have sufficient vaccines on order or sufficient vaccines accessible to the NHS and the vaccines rollout programme? If we have only sufficient vaccines on order, and in view of the EU conflict and in particular the threat of the German Government to block exports of the Pfizer vaccine to the UK, can the noble Baroness guarantee that the most vulnerable groups will still have access to their second vaccinations within 12 weeks, as promised, and that the rollout of our first vaccinations can continue as planned?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con) [V]
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I can certainly reassure the noble Baroness that we have total confidence in our supplies. We remain in close contact with all suppliers, and scheduled deliveries will fully support vaccination of our top four priority groups by mid-February, as intended. I can also confirm that individuals will receive their second dose, as it does provide better, long-lasting protection, as we planned.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, it is humbling to speak in this debate after so many excellent speeches. I want to focus on a somewhat different issue from those raised by most people here, the issue of Russian interference in the Brexit referendum campaign, and to reinforce the argument for a meaningful vote or votes in Parliament. The Dominic Grieve amendment is indeed a valuable start and it must not be lost, but it is essential that there are additional amendments to ensure that parliamentary sovereignty really rules in this process. Clearly, Parliament cannot seek to interfere with the referendum result unless the British people can put the misinformation behind them and come to understand, as they are beginning to, the reality of the risks to their jobs and standard of living presented by Brexit.

I will talk about Russian involvement in the Brexit referendum campaign as someone who lived in Moscow and worked within a Russian ministry—funded, I should say, by the British Government; I do not want people to get the idea that I am some sort of Russian spy. During my three-year period in Moscow I developed a deep affection and respect for the Russian people with whom I lived and worked. I am not anti-Russian. At the same time, we should not be naive about interference by other countries in our precious democratic processes. Governments need to take steps to protect the British people from those influences in the future. Whatever Government we have in place, it is vital that work is done to interfere with this process. What is the point of another referendum, or an election, if Russia may determine the outcome?

We know that Russia has put massive resources into developing social media infiltration tools. As your Lordships know, my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox is on the Twitter board and knows a thing or two about these matters. She is aware of such Russian investments. Russia would make these investments only in order to use the tools against the West. Of course, Brexit will damage Britain and the rest of Europe: it is a pretty brilliant stroke by Mr Putin. We know for a fact that in the Trump presidential campaign, 126 million Americans received personally tailored Facebook fake news. Someone closely involved in the digital economy—not my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox—takes the view that it is almost certain that Russia used similar social media methods to influence the result of the Brexit campaign. This is, however, very difficult to prove. When I contacted the Electoral Commission last summer, it was investigating Russian involvement in the Brexit referendum. At that time I was told by an investigator working closely with the FBI that Russian money funded the Brexit campaign—not totally, but substantially—and that it was the link between the Brexit and Trump campaigns. In fact, I have been told rather more than I feel able to say today.

Suffice it to say that already, more people are against Brexit than support it, as other noble Lords have said. If sufficient information comes to light about Russian distribution through Facebook of misinformation tailored to local communities during our referendum, we can expect that a growing number of the British people will want Parliament to intervene. There is a risk that this information may not come to light in time for 2018. For a start, Facebook is a closed dataset. As your Lordships will know, the information on a Facebook page is available only to “friends” of the user. Also, Facebook has 2 billion monthly users; imagine the task of going through that material, albeit electronically, to find the information. It may, therefore, not be possible for Facebook to get hold of the information in time. It has, however, employed thousands of staff to do just this job. The question is whether they can find out what happened and, if so, when.

I have two questions for the Minister; one that I hope he or she can answer, but the other may be more difficult. First, is the Minister aware whether or not MI6 is investigating Russian involvement in the Brexit campaign using social media infiltration tools and funding? Secondly, has MI6 commissioned work to develop tools to combat the Russian equipment to prevent interference in our referenda and elections in future? The British people and Parliament need this information.

As well as amendments on a meaningful vote for Parliament, I will want to support amendments that relate to the charter of human rights. However, I cannot overemphasise the importance of parliamentary sovereignty and meaningful votes for Parliament.

European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Monday 20th February 2017

(7 years, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, the aim of those who voted for Brexit was, as I understand it, to bring back control to this country. This surely means to restore the supremacy of the UK Parliament. It is then the responsibility of Parliament to ensure that the outcome of the Brexit negotiations is indeed in the best interests of the British people. If we fail in that duty, we will deserve the wrath of our people. It is not the job of the House to prevent the passage of the Bill, as was very clearly explained to us by my noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood. But it is the job of us all to ensure that the Bill is passed only with a clear assurance on its face that Parliament will have an opportunity to debate the deal, or the lack of a deal, and to vote at the end of the negotiations with all options open to us.

Some have argued that to leave the EU with no deal would not be a problem because, of course, we can turn to the WTO system of tariffs. But the EU is about a great deal more than trade, as many noble Lords have already made clear. For most of us, the greatest contribution of the EU has been the peace we have experienced in Europe for half a century—probably the longest period of peace in western Europe for a thousand years. That is quite striking, is it not? For me, nothing is more important. Whatever deal our Prime Minister manages to achieve, will our relationship with the EU continue to provide that security? Parliament will need to consider this vital matter.

The second priority is our security in the face of terrorism and international organised crime. As things stand and as I understand it, the UK leads on four areas of Europol’s work. If we leave the EU, we will need a concession even to have access to the Europol database. Will the deal ensure that Britain is to be treated as an EU member in this regard and will the UK remain central to the work of Europol? If we disappear without any deal at all, we would of course lose all that.

Will the deal ensure a stable and sustainable economy? What will be the implications for the standard of living—particularly of those who are only just managing—of the proposed tariff regime, not to mention the value of the pound? What will be the implications of the deal, or lack of a deal, for our higher education institutions and research, or our pharmaceutical and other key industries? How serious will be the loss of priority access to new medicines for us all? I understand that we would have to take our turn behind Europe, China, the US and other economies bigger than our own. To be sure, if we have no deal at all the consequences in all the above policy areas, and dozens of others, do not bear contemplating.

If there is a deal but it provides little or no assurance on peace, security, counterterrorism and fighting international organised crime, not to mention the future of our universities, the NHS, social care, research and our major industries, then Parliament must have a role in determining the best way forward for the British people. In conclusion to this brief intervention, the issue for this House is indeed the supremacy of Parliament in line with the decision of the Supreme Court, and the need to ensure that Parliament can fully exercise that supremacy in relation to this most important issue of the day for our country.