10 Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne debates involving the Cabinet Office

Thu 25th Feb 2021
Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage
Mon 22nd Feb 2021
Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Wed 30th Dec 2020
European Union (Future Relationship) Bill
Lords Chamber

3rd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & Committee negatived (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee negatived (Hansard) & Committee negatived (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading & Committee negatived
Fri 21st Oct 2016
Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 3rd Nov 2014
Thu 15th Sep 2011

Overseas Development Assistance

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Excerpts
Wednesday 14th July 2021

(3 years ago)

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Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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I disagree with the noble Lord that this is a small sum of money when it would be 1p on income tax and is something like four times the amount committed to hiring 50,000 more nurses and four times the amount committed to hiring 20,000 more police officers. We have set out, as agreed in the Commons yesterday, the criteria for re-establishing it and committed to re-establishing it when they are met.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (Con)
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Does the Minister agree that, given that the amount of funding is a little smaller than earlier, despite the fact that it is extremely generous in global terms, this is the moment to look more carefully at the way in which these funds are spent? Might it be possible, for example, to introduce open tendering rather than automatic disbursements of funds before there is any open competition, as is happening at the moment and has been happening for a long time? Might he also be willing to consider some successful monitoring? There are many ways of monitoring, but at the moment the funding does not seem to be subject to such things and certainly it is not published. Will the Minister consider those two items crucial when he delivers the outcomes of this slightly lower sum of money being spent?

Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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I strongly agree with my noble friend. We need to be much more stringent in our assessment of how the money is spent. We saw from the St Helena Airport incident, for instance, that money can be wasted. I am sure that with less money available there will be much more scrutiny. That tends to be a natural reaction in organisations. I will take back my noble friend’s useful suggestions to the Treasury.

Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

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

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 View all Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 172-I Marshalled list for Committee - (22 Feb 2021)
As regards the amendment, which I support, I am very happy to go along with what has been said already by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. From my point of view, if there is no vote I certainly will not press one.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great honour and privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I thank him immensely for all that he has done to bring us to this situation, but my first thank you must go to my noble friend Lord Lucas, for giving us the amendment that the Minister has felt able to accept and for putting it down with others. We all thank the Minister for his tremendous work, in the last few days and earlier, in ensuring that the detail of the Bill is as perfect as it can be. He first gave attention to the Explanatory Notes, which he revised and improved. Then, he most generously offered a review, which was a wonderful offer. We are all looking forward immensely to discussing that and participating in a debate later. Today, he has really broken the tape as the winner, in that he has accepted the amendment of my noble friend Lord Lucas.

I was fortunate enough to put my name down in time for one amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas. I support many amendments, including that which says,

“leave out ‘person’ and insert ‘mother’”.

As Shakespeare says,

“Why not a mother? When I said ‘a mother,’

Methought you saw a serpent: what’s in ‘mother,’

That you start at it? I say, I am your mother;

And put you in the catalogue of those

That were enwombed mine”.

It felt a little like that on Monday. When we used the word “mother”, it was as if people were alarmed by the concept. It had to be a “person”. Today, “All’s Well That Ends Well”, which is where that quotation comes from. I thank the Minister immensely.

The first person to thank, from our Back Benches, must be my noble friend Lady Noakes, who opened up the entire debate on Monday by putting forward her regret Motion. That was a timely and correct Motion, which enabled all of us to open our hearts and minds, and discuss this from all corners of opinion. We thank my noble friend Lady Noakes immensely for doing this for us and for not taking it to the vote, because it has brought us to today’s happy moment, when we have something that nearly all of us—I hope all of us—will fully support, which will give the right maternity allowances and so on to the Attorney-General, whom the Bill aims to support.

The wonderful thing about the acceptance of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Lucas, is that it follows the accurate criticism on Monday and in the other place that this Bill was designed to help one person only. Now, with the alteration of the wording from “person” to “mother”, it embraces everyone. It embraces the whole of maternity. It may not name everyone in it, but it opens the door to us having further debates and enlarging maternity support. There are certain pockets and gaps in maternity provision for women in the United Kingdom even now. The criticism of the Bill was correct that it was just for a single mother, but now it is not; “mother” is for all mothers, and that is wonderful. I am really happy about that.

Many others have been working in the last two or three weeks and, as soon as the discussion began several weeks ago, a large group of us coalesced. We coalesced with almost no special drilling, organisation, APPG horrors or anything like that. Yet, as we have already heard today and will hear more of, members of the group have been working together from all corners of the House. The noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Young, Lord Winston, Lord Triesman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris—wonderful Members of Her Majesty’s Opposition are working together with us. We have heard from my noble friend Lord Lucas, and there are many more people on this side too, whom I can name, such as my noble friends Lady Noakes, Lady Altmann, Lady Eaton, Lord Balfe and Lord Polak. We have the Cross Benches, such as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, who apologises for not being here today, because she is in another committee. She has been and will go on being magnificent. We are still to hear from the noble Baronesses, Lady Fox and Lady Hoey, who are non-aligned. We have already heard from others, such as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. This big cluster is growing every day; I cannot name everyone. It is safe to say that we have built on the work of the other place and of Sir John Hayes and Andrew Rosindell—forgive me for not remembering their constituencies. We have had a lot of help from across the Cross Benches and both sides of the House.

This is a beginning. It is a wonderful beginning and the first step in clarifying some of the legislation that appears to have become rather muddled recently. We in the House of Lords have the time, duty, knowledge and obligation. We are people of public service, and we can do all that is possible to make certain that everything that comes through this House comes out again in perfect condition, suitable for the population of Great Britain and elsewhere.

I thank the Minister once more and, just to make him laugh, tell him that the debate that he leads this afternoon has a hashtag. Guess what it is. It is all over the web and the House of Lords. The hashtag is #MumsTheWord.

Lord Dodds of Duncairn Portrait Lord Dodds of Duncairn (DUP) [V]
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It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. I add my voice and thanks to the Minister for his earlier remarks and his acceptance of the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I also express thanks to those noble Lords who have spoken so powerfully in changing the language that was originally proposed for the Bill, in moving amendments to give effect to the widespread view of Members of your Lordships’ House about that issue.

During the Second Reading of the Bill, all were struck by the virtual unanimity, across all parts of the House, in opposing the use of the word “person”. Like others, since participating in that debate, I too have received many emails from women who have expressed real concern about the original proposals and what they meant. One of the things that came out of the debate, more than anything else, was the feeling that it is important to draw a line in the sand on this issue and that it is time to stand up to some of the—if I may say—intimidation and marginalisation that goes on when people try to express what in my view is a perfectly reasonable position.

If it is not possible to talk about a “mother” or “woman”, rather than a “person”, in a Bill of this nature, when would it ever be considered appropriate? Reassurances might have been given that this is to do with legal drafting guidelines, that the Bill is perfectly competent and legally effective, that what is said here cannot be taken as a precedent and so on. I fully respect the sincerity and good faith of the Minister in the arguments that he advanced in the previous debate, but we know that the danger is that, if we had missed this opportunity to resist and rectify something that is palpably wrong, albeit for what might have been seen as plausible reasons, in the future it would have been used as an argument to further do away with appropriate and proper references to “woman” and “women” plural in legislation and elsewhere.

This legislation is very narrow in its application to the circumstances and situation of the current Attorney-General. Again, we wish her and her family well at this important time. It is a pity that the Government found themselves in the position of incurring such controversy on such an issue. I hope that the lesson has been learned. The way in which your Lordships’ House has reacted and taken action is to its enormous credit.

There are a number of wider issues that I and other noble Lords raised during our debate on Monday, and the Government have agreed to come back to the House before the Summer Recess to report on many of them. That is welcome and I look forward to the report. Like other noble Lords, I might have preferred the Bill to refer to “woman” rather than “mother”, but I recognise that the Government have moved today on this most important issue, and I thank the Minister for listening to noble Lords.

Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 22nd February 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Read Full debate Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 View all Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 172-I Marshalled list for Committee - (22 Feb 2021)
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Noakes for her determined and timely action in flagging up the wording in this Bill. I thank the Minister for his sensitive and careful acceptance of the comments that several noble Lords have brought to his attention on the use of the word “person”, as opposed to “female”. As other noble Lords have noted prolifically in this important debate, the drafting of the Bill has eliminated females from the very act that only a female can carry out.

As a former Member of Parliament, of the European Parliament and of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I have fought all my political life to bring females in to all aspects of politics and in to all circles of political power and responsibility at all levels of society. As a former director of the world’s largest children’s charity, a senior consultant to another six or seven of the world’s largest NGOs serving children, and a former World Health Organization ambassador, I know well that the child to be trafficked, abused, enslaved or sold is the one who has been successfully detached from its mother. In this Bill, this detachment begins before conception.

The knowledge that, both before and after birth, a mother is needed for the foetus to be safely developed in the womb and securely delivered with a safe birth, underpins the Children Act and all child’s rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which were framed and intensively discussed, debated and agreed by our former, late, much lamented and loved colleague Baroness Faithfull, whose work for children seemed eternally enshrined in British law. This Bill betrays her heritage, as much as it betrays that of Professor Bowlby, with his attachment theory for babies and children throughout their beginnings.

This is something that successive British Governments have always known about and supported. Article 10 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, signed in 1976 and ratified by the UK in the same year, states that:

“The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize that: The widest possible protection and assistance should be accorded to the family, which is the natural and fundamental group unit of society”—


that comes out of the European Convention on Human Rights, of course—

“particularly for its establishment and while it is responsible for the care and education of dependent children. Marriage must be entered into with the free consent of the intending spouses. Special protection should be accorded to mothers during a reasonable period before and after childbirth.”

The Government are right to put this Bill forward because, as Article 10 goes on to say:

“During such period working mothers should be accorded paid leave or leave with adequate social security benefits.”


Nothing could be more suitable than that. However, we also have CEDAW, ratified by the UK in 1986 to

“provide special protection to women during pregnancy in types of work proved to be harmful to them”,

and to

“ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period, granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.”

Nothing could be more appropriate for this Bill, which our Government have correctly put forward, save that both those great statements mention women—mothers, females, not persons. In the dictionary, “person” means man, woman or child.

Today this House is talking about a female activity. I find it astounding that half a million years of human knowledge, custom and practice is cast aside for the sake of today’s unwillingness to recognise reality; to discard “mother”, “female”, “woman” in favour of a mythical being, the neutral “person”, the very neutrality of the word negating females. Those successfully impregnated by males for conception are females. Maternity is not a male activity, nor can it be hijacked by a change of wording. While wishful at all times of supporting mothers at any stage of their responsibilities, I cannot sit silent while we wipe the female out of a piece of maternity legislation which is designed for her.

Of course, we want our laws to be understandable to the ordinary person. That means everyone who votes and those who are not yet old enough to do so. One of our most wonderful authors, Shakespeare, has a lot to say about motherhood and mothering. He refers to breastfeeding several times, for example in “Romeo and Juliet”, “Macbeth” and “The Winter’s Tale”, in which he presents the heavily pregnant Queen Hermione. In “Pericles”, Queen Thaisa vividly gives birth to a princess during a storm at sea. I will give an example, from Shakespeare, of what happens when you lose the word “mother” or “female” and replace it with “person”. It makes a very interesting distinction. This is from Sonnet III:

“Thou art thy mother’s glass and she in thee

Calls back the lovely April of her prime;”

Now let me use the wording of the Bill:

“Thou art thy person’s glass and it in thee

Calls back”—

what can it call back? It cannot be “the lovely April of its prime”. I suggest we can only offer that it calls back “the flat and gloomy February of our time”.

If, despite his kind words, the Minister is unable to offer any real sweetness to salve our strong concerns, would he be willing to accept a full debate on language used in legislative drafting, in other governmental organisations and institutions, and in those which are sustained by funding from the Government, such as schools? The concerns of this House today about language cannot be easily ameliorated, as the present debate so clearly shows. I deeply and profoundly regret the drafting and the misgendering of women in the Bill.

EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Excerpts
Friday 8th January 2021

(3 years, 6 months ago)

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Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (Con)
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My Lords, I warmly welcome the trade and co-operation agreement and I seek its strengthening. My alma mater is the Royal Academy of Music and therefore I ask: how soon, and how, will the Minister reach agreement on the missing element of the trade and co-operation agreement—namely, music and the creative industries?

Music is key to the global and growing success of our creative industries, whose annual value of £111 million, with 3 million jobs, makes them our second biggest exporter after financial services. We have been the single market’s cultural hub, thriving on the inward and outward exchange of skills afforded by freedom of culture, music and movement—especially of musicians. Indeed, as Shakespeare tells us on soft power:

“The man that hath no music in himself,

Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,

Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.”

Julius Caesar does not trust Cassius because

“he hears no music …

Such men as he never be at heart’s ease”.

Right across Shakespeare’s plays and poems, we find that he is always on the side of music: seeking, praising and glorying in it, and recognising its powers to move, enhance the moment and express love. He famously refers to music as the food of love, and he mistrusts an absence of music, and those who prevent it in others. That is perhaps a reason why music is the heart of our true soft power.

A single example of our great success in global music is the British Council’s “Selector” music show, which chooses the best UK music every week and shares it with the world. The programme is now broadcast in 30 countries around the globe, including Azerbaijan. It connects a global audience to anything and everything that is exciting in the UK just now. It takes an audience on a virtual tour of the UK, dropping people into cities such as Bristol, Belfast, Cardiff and Glasgow to listen to the best emerging music. The UK-Russia Year of Music reached 48 million Russians regularly. “The Voice” reached 23 countries and 1.5 million children everywhere. But musicians need the capacity to move swiftly and cheaply and to study at the lowest cost. Can the Minister reassure me that his every effort will be trained on achieving those crucial imperatives, without which our world leadership in this most important of creative industries cannot survive?

European Union (Future Relationship) Bill

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

(3 years, 6 months ago)

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Read Full debate European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020 View all European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 30 December 2020 - (30 Dec 2020)
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (Con)
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I rise to ask the Minister how this excellent new relationship will help Gibraltar. What form will the strengthened link with the United Kingdom take? As we know, most importantly, the excellent prosperity of Gibraltar is linked closely to the prosperity of the local region around Algeciras and La Línea particularly. Some 15,000 Spaniards depend upon their jobs in Gibraltar through having access each day to Gibraltar across the border. What can be done in the new improved climate to enhance economic co-operation in the region to the benefit of both Gibraltar and the neighbouring Spanish region, even given the current problems and restrictions from Covid-19? I believe it would be most helpful for Gibraltar to get some encouragement from the Minister in his wind-up speech.

Of course, as a former first vice president of the European Parliament’s senior committee, the Committee on Foreign Affairs, I am keenly interested in growing our nation’s strength and enlarging our influence in all parts of the globe. Naturally, there are already many “doubting Thomases”, whose fearful commentary of our supposedly weakened position they foresee as a consequence of this excellent legislation now before your Lordships’ House. I can assure these would-be harbingers of doom that no less personages than our two closest contributors to our new and powerful position, Mr Barnier and Charles Michel, have indicated that they hold a different view, closer to my own, of Britain’s uniqueness in this position.

As Mr Michel tweeted last night, he is “looking forward to co-operate on … foreign policy issues as allies sharing common values”. Mr Barnier added correctly that:

“The British have experienced diplomats who don’t give up and always ask for more”.


Of course, I would remind Mr Barnier that we do not just have excellent diplomats—we do indeed have the best in the world—but we also have fantastic people in the departments of industry and trade, and in other departments too. But I would suggest to the Minister and other Members of your Lordships’ House that with those endorsements from the two people who gave us the most difficult of times, and with this historic agreement in the bag, we cannot fail.

Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill [HL]

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Excerpts
2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Friday 21st October 2016

(7 years, 9 months ago)

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Read Full debate Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill [HL] 2016-17 View all Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill [HL] 2016-17 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (Con)
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It is with the greatest possible pleasure that I rise to support the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin. It is a significant step forward in logical thinking and in the investigation of what we as a society feel about handicap, about handicapped people, about life ownership and about who should make the judgment on whether a person should live or die. Considered internationally, it is a topic and issue on which there is the widest possible variation, as there is with capital punishment. Curiously, this is exactly what this is—a form of capital punishment. It is a form of disallowing by decree the life of someone who is not the person in question.

I am aware immediately that under United Kingdom law a foetus has no personality. This is not the same as in some of our EU member state partners. In Germany, for example, the foetus has a right to life as a personality from the moment of conception. Even in Germany, a would-be mother, a pregnant lady, can have an abortion at any time up to 12 weeks, with nothing except a consultation with a medical professional and three days’ waiting time—but after 12 weeks nothing is allowed, unless the health of the mother is severely compromised. If I recall correctly, considerably earlier legislation in the United Kingdom gave the health of the mother as the key to the question of whether there should be an abortion on any grounds at all. It seems that we switched considerably when it was deemed that external judgments, including that of the mother but mainly those of medical professionals, on the health of the foetus itself, became the judgmental point, rather than the health of the mother.

A major or minor handicap is a difficult issue to determine. But, as the noble Lords, Lord Shinkwin and Lord Alton, have already declared and pointed out, some of the handicaps that were once deemed major are not so today, because there have been medical advances. There are ways in which either they can be ameliorated or the person can be adequately supported. We can look some of the ways in which mental handicap has been supported, for example with special assistance in schools. One hundred years ago it might not have been possible for someone with a certain level of intelligence to be educated and have a fulfilling life. Now, with special teaching and assistance and the attitude of society towards children with a mental handicap, it is amazing how flourishing those children and adults can become.

I myself feel very powerfully that the focus on Down’s syndrome as an impossible handicap, and the idea that the person with the handicap should be discarded, are intolerable. On the other hand, I would have great difficulty in supporting the birth, if the condition was known, of a foetus with Tay-Sachs disease, when the pain, grief and suffering is eliminated after about two and a half years, but the time up to that is agonising for the baby—and, of course, very difficult for the parents.

One has to think about the major issue that we are looking at with this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, has based his argument on equality and equal opportunity. Everyone who is disabled is just as important and valuable as anyone else. I speak as someone who happens to be profoundly disabled from an in utero problem. I would very much have avoided being discarded before birth if I had had any opportunity to comment on it—but the problem that we are discussing involves making judgments on another potential human being who is not there to make the judgment themselves.

The attitude of society towards the mother is a critical issue. Perhaps we are guilty of hypocrisy here, because we claim that we have a wonderful attitude towards those who are disabled—that it is absolutely perfect. Did not we do the Paralympics? Were we not number one? Were we not special British people with a handicap—Paralympic brilliance? Yet here we are discussing the discarding almost at the moment of birth a potentially valuable human being who might go on to win a gold medal in the Paralympics. Is not there a hypocrisy here that needs significantly to be addressed and discussed? This is why I am such a keen supporter of the Bill, because the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, is tackling that very hypocrisy.

On the one hand, we are very proud of ourselves. Indeed, this House recently published a report on disability. I have to question whether it is fulfilling the goals and activities of that disability report, which was welcomed and lauded and supposed to be so wonderful. Are we doing it? I suggest that we not, in fact. It is time that we woke up to the fact that we are hypocrites on disability. This is a very clear example. I am referring not just to the House of Lords report, which I am criticising a little bit in terms of its implementation here, because it does not happen. The great hypocrisy is saying that we, the British, are special on handicap and are in advance of everybody else. Here we are with the Paralympics: those poor old Brazilians could not match us—not one tiny scrap, we think. Yet actually we are making sure that we have the fewest possible supposedly disabled citizens in our society.

Looking at some of the EU member states or across the globe, we find a vast disparity of views. I do not suggest that this is a topic that is very easy to discuss or one on which it is very easy to reach a solution, but I ask that we are honest with ourselves. While suggesting that we have the perfect Equality Act, that we are absolutely wonderful and that we are doing everything for the disabled, we are, on the other hand, allowing ourselves to discard all disabled people before they are actually born. We need to have a very careful look at the quality of life for those who are disabled and ask disabled people themselves why they find life so happy, exciting and worth having that they wish to still be here.

I was interested the other day to attend a round table with seven of the most important disabled societies in the UK. Disability and disabled people were being discussed and rather the same attitude prevailed. As I looked around the table, I could find only one person in that vast discussion who was actually disabled. I speak here as someone who, for a decade or so, chaired and ran ADAPT, promoting access for disabled people to arts premises and public libraries. We were the body responsible for adapting, to a certain extent, the House of Commons—and, sadly to a lesser extent, the House of Lords. Going around the UK and getting grade 1 and grade 2 listed buildings adapted was a tremendous experience and I was glad that we managed to do so much. However, it is interesting that, even today, the disabled are talked about but are not the ones who are giving the evidence.

It is with the greatest possible pleasure that I hope my few remarks will convince noble Lords that this Bill deserves not just full support but a wholehearted and wide societal discussion. This is our hypocrisy and it is something which noble Lords can very well address and resolve.

Soft Power and the UK’s Influence (Select Committee Report)

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Excerpts
Tuesday 10th March 2015

(9 years, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, most profoundly for his magnificent chairmanship and his instigation of the Soft Power Committee, of which I had the honour to be a Member. It was a pleasure and privilege to work under the leadership of the noble Lord. He has served many major roles in different Governments of the United Kingdom and he brought them all together in a summation of this report, the way in which he conducted our meetings and the entirety of the soft power debate. All noble Lords will inevitably agree about the high value of soft power but few have spent time considering it in the way that the noble Lord has done recently.

It is no surprise that we are holding this debate the day after Commonwealth Day, the Commonwealth being one of the major institutions that came to the forefront of our debates and discussions and the taking of evidence in our Soft Power Committee. As Her Majesty the Queen said yesterday in referring to the Commonwealth, the organisation’s values were,

“more important and worthy of protection than perhaps at any other time in the Commonwealth’s existence”

It is important, therefore, to look at what those values are. They are the common values that we define as British values but they are commonplace throughout the Commonwealth countries. Tolerance is, perhaps, one of the most important. If you look up the findings of various tolerance surveys globally—and they are carried out all the time—you will find that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is at the forefront of being the most tolerant nation on the globe. That may seem surprising when we feel we have internal disputes within our society today; none the less, it is a fact. It is the Commonwealth of Nations which has promoted that tolerance. When you look at the statistics, you will find that other Commonwealth members share that same high level of tolerance, almost without exception.

For myself, I do not see that tolerance happens by chance. It comes because societies work hard to promote the fundamental freedoms—of which one of the most important is the freedom to worship. It is facing onslaught and assault in many different areas of the world, not least in the Middle East. You cannot promote the fundamental freedoms and expect them to survive and to be enhanced without the rule of law. As a former honorary member of the American Bar Association, I pay tribute to the way in which it works globally. Would that the British Bar associations did the same; alas they do not. I would urge them to do more.

I can announce that the AMAR international charitable foundation, which I chair, has received a major grant from the European Commission to promote religious tolerance in Iraq. If you can promote religious tolerance in today’s Iraq, I promise you can do it anywhere. Yet that little organisation has a track record of success in the promotion of the fundamental freedoms including, most profoundly, the freedom to worship.

As a politician, I have always focused on the need to have the right legislation in place in other areas of the world. In Romania, for example, we fought hard to bring in the correct children’s Act, which was based mainly on the UK Children Acts. In Russia, there was the terrific success story of outlawing human trafficking for the first time in their history. The doubters say that the rule of law means nothing; you put in a law but nobody implements it. That is not the case. The exciting thing is that, when you introduce the law, society starts to pay heed and to take it into account. It is certainly so in the places I have mentioned.

The rule of law inevitably depends on trained lawyers and that is why I suggest that the United Kingdom’s soft power has been of profound value globally and is, at this moment, under considerable threat. Take the Commonwealth scholarships fund. Last Saturday I was at Oxford University. I spoke with the law department and heard how it reaches an outstanding group of human rights lawyers from Africa and south Asia—the Commonwealth that would otherwise be impossible to reach. The professors told me that these scholars are bright, effective, brave people. They go back to prosecute war criminals in Kenya. They broadcast programmes on gay and lesbian rights in Uganda. Once trained in Oxford, these legal people address corruption and consumer protection in Nigeria and Ghana. Some are involved in refugee protection in Somalia. One of the former students is head of obstetrics in Lilongwe central hospital. I recall well visiting Lilongwe central hospital maternity ward some years ago. The very high degree of neonatal deaths accounts for the low level of life expectancy in Malawi. What could be better than having a fully trained obstetrician with legal knowledge there? Some of the students have developed a national human rights-based approach to primary education for disabled children in Uganda and beyond.

Without Commonwealth support, this sort of skill and knowledge development and the access that mature students gain to a worldwide network of human rights advocates would be lost to them. Their often weak institutions and the populations that they support would not gain the credibility and knowledge that the students bring back.

Today, the scholarships cover all costs, with the Commonwealth providing 60% of the funds for a master’s degree in international human rights law. All flights, reading material, accommodation, university and college fees are included. The design of the degree is unusual in that it is a part-time course spread over two years. I am supporting one student myself and I know how good it is. The course includes periods of traditional full-time study at Oxford during the summer combined with closely tutored online training which the student does from home or work. The degree helps mid-career professionals to extend their advocacy skills and knowledge of law while continuing with their human rights work at home. This means that students are able to use immediately what they have learnt in class. There is no brain drain from those nations and there is no immigration impact on Britain. Indeed, the Commonwealth Secretariat was one of the very first institutions providing education in the developing world to recognise the potential of the internet for advanced training.

The Government have recently undertaken a review into a range of government overseas scholarship programmes for international students which includes the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan. The review was announced on 8 January by the Minister, the Member of Parliament for East Devon, in the following terms:

“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development have recently commenced a review of the Government’s overseas scholarship schemes. It will build on the triennial reviews of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission and the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission and examine those schemes together with the Chevening scholarship programme to assess: Whether there is scope for further efficiencies and synergies across the schemes; If so, what alterations in structure, administration or delivery might realise those improvements? The extent to which efficiencies have already been put in place in recent years”.

While the scope of the review is limited to the Commonwealth, Chevening and Marshall schemes, the newly created BIS Newton Fund will also be considered in the process of evidence gathering. The Minister added:

“The outcome of the review will be published in March 2015”. —[Official Report, Common, 8/1/15; cols. 14-15WS.]

Noble Lords must therefore expect it to be concluded imminently and that Ministers will be expected to reach conclusions on those recommendations within the next two weeks. No one outside the review knows exactly what it will say, of course, but there are all kinds of possibilities, which is why I am raising this matter today.

One possibility is that the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, a well regarded and semi-independent non-departmental government body whose qualities I have just described and which has served the UK so well for the past 55 years in managing UK awards under the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan, may be recommended for closure. We should try at all costs to avoid a situation where in the dying hours of this Parliament Ministers announce a decision that is conveniently executive and which has been arrived at behind closed doors without proper parliamentary and public scrutiny. My two questions are as follows. When does the Minister expect the results of the review of HMG’s overseas scholarships schemes, announced in January, as I say, to be available, and will he confirm that no changes to the governance of these successful schemes will be agreed without full prior parliamentary consultation? Secondly, what provision has been made for public consultation as a part of this review? I believe that these schemes represent the soft power of the United Kingdom at its most effective, and I fear for its future if they are allowed to fall into oblivion.

Chilcot Inquiry

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Excerpts
Monday 3rd November 2014

(9 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire
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There are many things that the noble Lord might like as a Christmas present. I am not sure that I would prefer to read this report, with all its appendices, rather than the novels that I hope my wife will give me for Christmas.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (LD)
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Does the Minister agree that sometimes in these enormous investigations it might be wise to set a time limit with an understanding that there are some things that simply can never be found out?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire
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My Lords, I think one of the lessons we will have learnt from this inquiry is that time limits are highly desirable. I stress again that the review of thousands of documents, which were at high levels of classification, was unprecedented and did unavoidably take a great deal of time.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Excerpts
Thursday 24th July 2014

(9 years, 12 months ago)

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Tolerance, respect for the other, care for the stranger without the gate: these are the core British values that are enshrined and honoured by our common rule of law. The careful wording of Article 18 meticulously reflects these values and encapsulates our worldwide common right to worship as we wish. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, so powerfully proclaims, this right is under extraordinary attack, so too are our British values, entwined as they are with the article. We have an enemy here in the UK, and it is the same enemy that has erupted in parts of Syria, in Mosul and other cities in northern Iraq and elsewhere.

What is our enemy? We—Jews, Christians and Muslims—are all people of the book. Our capacity to co-operate, share, live, study and work together derives from that. Our common enemy, the Salafi, do not agree. For the Salafi, we are the enemy and must convert or die. The Salafi identify themselves as Muslims, but there are many different strands of Islam. Some may be hostile to other strands or other faiths, but Salafist thinking mutates disastrously to destruction, dominance and executions. It is important to distinguish between these common strands of Islam. Words that are thrown around so loosely now, such as “Islamist”, “fundamentalist Muslim” and so on, are not the Salafists. It is the Salafists and their cousins the Wahhabis who are our common enemy and the enemy of other faiths as well.

Let me give an example. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke strongly about the situation in north Iraq. I speak about Mosul, which I know well. What is it like today with ISIS—that armed group of Salafists—having taken over the city and the region? Civil society has gone. All social life has disappeared from the streets. No family parks are allowed to function. No play areas for children can be opened. The coffee shops have shut. There is no judiciary. The ruler is the executioner. All minorities are subject to displacement, assault and execution. So, too, are the majorities. The holy shrines of prophets are being destroyed. All the mosques of other Sunni strands of Islam—that is to say, the non-jihadi Salafist group—have been taken over. The clerks have either been assassinated or persecuted. The synagogues have been taken over as well. The Shia are under the threat of killing wherever they are. They are the majority in the country. They are being executed. The Yezidi have been displaced from their homes and places of work. The Shabak groups are obliged to leave their areas. Christians have been turned out forcibly. They have had a special favour; they have been warned and told to leave.

The Shia are automatically executed when their names betray their strand of Islam. Anyone who is not Sunni jihadi—Salafi—must hide or run away. Women are not allowed to leave their homes without a niqab covering the whole of their face and should be accompanied by a man. That is not Islam. Show me the verse in the holy Koran that says that must be the case. You cannot find it. Public services are fractionally running, but there is separation of the sexes. The management team of your local health centre, if it still exists, is from ISIS. The directors-general of health and education are now prisoners in their own homes. They are Sunni. The health facilities are being run by few staff, with the majority remaining inside their homes in order to stay alive. Those who are working are uncertain about any salaries. Even worse, who is going to provide them with the drugs and fresh equipment when their stocks run out, which is happening? There will be epidemics, including cholera, which was in the area very recently. The new rule applied to schools and hospitals allocates a day for men and another for women, so that the two genders are not in the facility at the same time.

Is there not familiarity with the situation that was uncovered this week by Her Majesty’s inspectorate in its report on schools in Birmingham? Examples of this include altering the curriculum and schemes of work so that children are not allowed to hear musical instruments or to sing and changing the art curriculum so that they may see and draw only designs but not full faces or images. I recall having that argument with Hezbollah in south Lebanon. Indeed, in 2007 the Muslim Council stated that girls in schools should be covered except for their hands and faces. I cannot find the verse that tells me that that should be so. There is no Christmas, despite the fact that the birth of Christ is in the Koran and Jesus is a prophet in Islam.

What is the Islam that I know and love? It talks of music:

“’Tis said, the pipe and lute that charm our ears

Derive their melody from rolling spheres;

But Faith, o’erpassing speculation’s bound,

Can see what sweetens every jangled sound.

We, who are parts of Adam, heard with him

The song of angels and of seraphim.



Music uplifts the soul to realms above.

The ashes glow, the latent fires increase:

We listen and are fed with joy and peace”.

What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to ensure that true Islam, like true Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism, is firmly embedded in the school curriculum, taught, implemented and demonstrated? Her Majesty’s Government must give an answer.

Kosovo

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Excerpts
Thursday 15th September 2011

(12 years, 10 months ago)

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Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Portrait Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for giving us this unusual opportunity to discuss the state of Kosovo. It is a great pleasure to follow his wise words. I will concentrate my remarks on two perspectives that have been of large concern to the European Union and the Council of Europe during the last years. I first visited Kosovo in the late summer of 1999, where I met Mr Bernard Kouchner, who was the high representative in the wake of the reconstruction and development plans for Kosovo.

Since then, the EU, both in its member states and institutions, and most particularly the European Commission, has played a very prominent role in the reconstruction and development of Kosovo. It is worth reminding ourselves that the European Union is the largest single donor, I believe, to the reconstruction of Kosovo. I think we have forwarded more than €2 billion to Kosovo since my first visit in 1999. I welcome that assistance and I particularly welcome, and wish to draw attention to, the valuable work of EULEX, which is working on the European justice system in Kosovo.

I also draw noble Lords’ particular attention to the valuable work that EULEX is doing on child trafficking and on bringing criminals to justice. I also commend the work of the high representative and vice-president of the European Commission, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, in this area. Of course, EULEX is a technical mission that mentors, monitors and advises, and the legal basis is the Council joint action of February 2008.

Noble Lords will be aware of several quite significant problems that Kosovo has faced in human rights. I will first mention the extraordinary problem of a number of families in grave difficulty since 1999. They live on the tailings of lead mines. Perhaps the most infamous one is Osterode. In 1999, I visited those families with Mr Kouchner, a medical expert. A number of Roma and other families had been placed on the tailings of the lead mine.

All of us in this House are well aware of the dangers to human health of lead. They are dramatic and drastic. Mr Kouchner, on behalf of the international community and the European Union, pledged to the families, who then numbered thousands and certainly now number many hundreds, that they would be moved within 40 days. Generally speaking, 40 days on the edge of a lead mine is far too long for lead ingestion, particularly for children and babies. I should like to draw the Minister’s attention to the gravely unhappy fact that those families are still there.

I have examined the World Health Organisation’s statement and I spoke with Mr Kouchner again recently. I wrote to him in 2008, when I also spoke to him. It is extremely sad that in the summer of 2000, although Mr Kouchner ordered his UN medical team to assess the extent of the lead contamination, these families have not been moved. The WHO report from the medical team declared that the families should be moved immediately and the camps destroyed. Blood tests carried out on some of the children showed that they had the highest levels of lead poisoning recorded in medical history, so the situation is extremely grave. When I met some of those families, I could see the impact of lead poisoning that has now gone on for over a generation. Because no records have been kept in the area and therefore no deaths have been recorded, it is difficult to say how exactly many stillbirths, deaths on arrival, maternal deaths and deaths of people in their early thirties can be attributed to lead poisoning. Many people have slow learning capabilities that may be due to this poisoning. However, the blood levels recorded in the children indicate the most devastating outcomes. As Mr Kouchner himself wrote to me:

“Ces progrès sont toutefois insuffisants”—

it simply is not good enough.

I was pleased to learn that the British Government had addressed this issue. David Miliband, the previous Secretary of State, wrote a good letter on 17 February 2009. He also pledged that the Foreign Office, various different members of the European Commission and the European Union, and of course the Government of Kosovo themselves, would do everything possible to support these families more effectively by placing them somewhere where they could survive. But I have to say that since UNMIK handed over the management of these places—I would not call them camps—to the Government of Kosovo, very little progress has been made. They were handed over in the first half of 2008 and are now the Government’s full responsibility. However, although the Commission has continued to provide financial assistance in the form, for example, of the €1.2 million CARDS project and much in the way of food provisions, legal assistance, basic household appliances and so on, the situation remains the same for one of the saddest and most tragic groups of people I have met for a long time. I wish to draw the Minister’s attention to this tragedy.

My second point derives from my present position in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In January this year the Council of Europe accepted a report by Dick Marty, the special rapporteur on trafficking in human organs from Kosovo over the past decade. It is a gravely worrying report. I am pleased to say that on 15 June the European Union appointed a special prosecutor to investigate trafficking in human organs in Kosovo. I believe that the prosecutor will be supported by investigators, and the Kosovo Government have declared that they will collaborate with this prosecution. However, I wish to put on the record that Dick Marty is requesting an international investigation because, as noble Lords will be aware, there are purchasers for these organs.

There is a marketplace, and some evidential trails indicate that perhaps some eminent or better known persons in the wider Europe may have been involved in, or at least had knowledge of, this issue for over a decade. Sadly, organ trafficking does not appear to have stopped. A particular tragedy is that medical advances have meant that an organ, a liver or kidney, can alas be taken from a six year-old child and usefully placed in a middle-aged man. That used not to be the case. The result is that children in Kosovo are gravely at risk of organ trafficking, as well as through associated trafficking throughout Europe and the wider world.

I hesitate to put such sombre facts on the record, but I have the greatest confidence in the British Government and the Foreign Office, and I wish to request support for the resolution of these problems.