Baroness Tyler of Enfield debates involving the Leader of the House during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 13th July 2021
3 interactions (733 words)
Thu 13th May 2021
3 interactions (99 words)
Wed 24th March 2021
2 interactions (202 words)

Procedure and Privileges

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Tuesday 13th July 2021

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Leader of the House
Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I join others in congratulating the House authorities and all those involved in making this hybrid virtual Parliament work over the past 16 months. I also congratulate the leadership of the House. My noble friend the Leader of the House should take this as a compliment. She does not get many from me; I give her one—and others involved, as well.

These virtual hybrid sittings have been a lot better than nothing—they have allowed us to continue our work—but this has not been a parliamentary assembly. I agree with much that is in this report. I agree also with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who sadly is no longer in his place, on the business of opinion polls, which seem to me to be exactly the wrong way to go forward in the way we did. I note the lucidity of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay. Some people say there should be a retirement age in this House; I do not agree. Should I be spared and get into my 90s, like my noble and learned friend, I hope I have some element of the lucidity that he showed in his excellent speech.

I turn to the delicate subject, which people are particularly unhappy to discuss, of exemptions for disabled people. I listened intently to my noble friend Lord Shinkwin, who obviously has a personal and very good understanding of this. I can see that we can do an awful lot better. I, too, appreciate the excellent contributions of some of the disabled Peers here, who add enormously to our diversity and help us understand. I have had four hip operations, which is quite a lot, but I am not disabled. While appreciating that—and I see that we can do better—I quote the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, who said that the House authorities can help. I think the House authorities could probably help more. It is a question of looking at what help there can be. We should look again, for instance, at part 17 of the financial support document entitled Additional Financial Support Available to Members with a Disability. Of course, people who find it more difficult should have all the support they can. We should show all these people real respect. They make incredibly valuable contributions.

However, we should be cautious about how we view attendance. This is a parliamentary assembly—to take part, you need to assemble. It is about emotional geography, which my noble friend Lord Strathclyde referred to, apparently quoting the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy: talking to people, understanding the mood of the House—which noble Lords have referred to—and understanding the point of view of others. This, too, is important: disabled people who bring benefit to this House also need the assembly. They need the informal discussion and the spontaneity, which has been referred to. Therefore, we should be extremely cautious about how we proceed on that line.

Finally, as a former Deputy Chief Whip in the other place, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who said that there is a particular value to the Front Bench in listing speakers. For that reason, I do not agree with it. By so doing, there would be no spontaneity, as my noble friend Lord Cormack said, and no difficult questions. That is why I shall support my noble friend Lord Cormack in the Division.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD) [V]
- Hansard - -

I welcome some of the relatively modest procedural changes being proposed today, such as retaining lists for Oral Questions and changing our working hours to make them more family-friendly, argued very cogently by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.

However, my main purpose today is, first, to register my deep disappointment that a real opportunity has been missed to overhaul and modernise our working practices, many of which were designed for a very different age, despite the many voices calling for change in our debate on 20 May, which seem to have been ignored. Secondly, while strongly welcoming the proposed new arrangements for those with long-term disabilities—I found the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, particularly poignant—I draw specific attention to the plight of those Members with long-term health conditions, the clinically extremely vulnerable, those with shorter-term disabilities and those with caring responsibilities, for whom no provision is being made after remote participation finishes.

My starting point in our debate in May was that the ability to participate remotely, while developed to deal with the pandemic, should continue in certain forms to give everyone in your Lordships’ House an equal chance to participate. I was not alone in voicing those sentiments.

We are taking decisions today on the future working practices of the House at the same time as the Government have decided—recklessly, in my view—to scrap all measures introduced to keep us safe in the face of rapidly rising infection rates driven by a far more transmissible variant. This has real consequences for those for whom leaving home to take public transport and entering public buildings, such as Parliament, will become impossible if they cannot guarantee that others will be wearing face coverings after that ceases to be a legal requirement. That includes Members of this House who are clinically extremely vulnerable, as well as those living with family members who fall into this category.

Parliament, as we all know, with its many small and narrow corridors, its very crowded areas around the Chamber and its really tightly packed Division Lobbies, is an extremely difficult building to make Covid-secure. So I ask the Leader of the House whether, in September, we will be following the Chief Medical Officer’s advice to continue to wear masks in crowded indoor spaces, of which this Chamber is clearly one? What assurances can she give me that concerns about overcrowding will be taken into account when new proposals to vote in person using pass readers are put to the House in the autumn?

For me, this is personal. Having had two knee operations in the last nine months, my mobility has been severely impaired, making me effectively housebound for much of the period. Using the Tube has been pretty much impossible for me. Participating remotely, which I have done continuously during this period, has been my only real means of participating and contributing. In brief, I have had a short-term disability. So yesterday I sought some advice from employment law experts on how the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 to provide reasonable adjustments applies to people who may not have a long-term disability, as defined in the Act, but nevertheless have an impairment which impacts on their ability to perform day-to-day activities. I was advised that any good employer would be expected to make reasonable adjustments in these circumstances. I was also advised that, if someone had caring responsibilities that required them, for example, to be present at a prescribed time to supervise medication, it would be considered discrimination by association not to make reasonable adjustments to allow them to do so, if the means existed—which they clearly do; the system for remote participation is up and running.

So will the Leader say what legal advice has been sought on how removing the ability to participate remotely for those relatively few noble Lords with real and genuine needs to do so complies with the Equality Act? Will she also explain why there was no consultation about the new arrangements for people like myself with shorter-term disabilities—those with post-operative restrictions, the clinically vulnerable, and so on—and why the definition of “disability” has been drawn so tightly?

Finally, I make a heartfelt plea that the House of Lords Commission, which will be overseeing the process for deciding who will be eligible for continued remote participation, will look again at the issues I have raised, in the hope that good sense and common decency will prevail.

Lord Dubs Portrait Lord Dubs (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I join in thanking the staff for the very helpful way in which they have supported us during the last 16 or 18 months of the pandemic.

When we had the opinion poll, as described by my noble friend Lord Grocott, I voted in favour of lists, not because I like lists but because I feared that, if we rejected lists, we would go back to a situation of no change under any circumstances. My preferred choice would be to have the Lord Speaker choosing people to ask supplementaries. After my time in the Commons, I was absolutely shocked at Questions in our House. There are many things about our House that are better than in the Commons, but Question Time is certainly not one of them. I found it intimidating, I found that I was easily bullied—I still am—and there was no chance to be spontaneous; it was a matter of whether one had any chance at all of getting in.

By the way, I mean no disrespect to the right reverend Prelate when I say that the House gives way to the Bishops’ Bench. They have a better chance, so I do not think he should vote in support of the amendment to the Motion suggesting that we should have lists. My preference is absolutely to have a Lord Speaker doing the selection of Members to ask supplementaries, so I shall certainly support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe. I remember the days of the queues, not so long ago, to try to get a Question, sitting outside the Table Office. One had to sit sometimes for two hours in advance. It was totally ludicrous. Passers-by said, “Whatever are you doing here?” Two hours of your time, maybe even longer if you wanted to be certain, and then the undignified bearpit process of trying to get in on a supplementary.

Of course we need flexibility. I believe in the Lord Speaker choosing people. I am sure the Lord Speaker would be pretty fair to those with disabilities; would be fair in terms of choosing people specialising in the subject, rather than anybody; and would be fair in terms of timing if he or she had some flexibility in terms of giving more time to one question than to another. All that, to my mind, would be a matter of spontaneity, so I shall support with enthusiasm the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe.

As regards voting on the estate, of course there have to be exceptions and we have to define what a “place of work” is, but I think that, unless people have disabilities, all people should vote on the estate. I did not quite follow the excellent speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, in one respect, about Millbank House, because, under the proposed system, as I understand it, she would be able to vote from Millbank House. I am in Millbank House myself and I am bound to say that, while I move pretty quickly—or I did before the pandemic—I found sometimes that getting to a vote from Millbank House when a Division was called took some time because of traffic at the pedestrian crossing and so on. As for Portcullis House, coming over for a Division takes some doing. I know Members of our House who never go to meetings in Portcullis House because, if there were to be a Division, they simply would not get back in time.

While we are on this, I support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Adonis. I remember when we used to sit very late, which might still be the case this autumn, and I had to make sure I knew the timing: my last Tube home was at 12.35 am and I would race to get the last Tube to save a £40 or £50 taxi fare. So I understand the difficulties and I am well aware that I can move quickly and Members of this House who are not able to move so quickly, or who are disabled and can hardly move at all, should have better provision made for them than is the case now.

To conclude, I support my noble friend Lord Adonis in his suggestion of different timings. I am on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and we always meet on a Wednesday afternoon. One has to forgo either the Select Committee or what is going on in the Chamber. This is quite possible and it is normal to have to juggle timings a bit, so that one can decide whether one is in a Select Committee or whether one is in the Chamber. As I said earlier, I very firmly support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe. I do not believe we can go on with the present system, or that the list system will be able to continue. Surely it is not a breach of our traditions of being a self-governing House if we stop the bearpit that characterised Question Time up to the pandemic.

House of Lords: Remote Participation and Hybrid Sittings

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Thursday 20th May 2021

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Leader of the House
Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have listened to most of this debate, all bar a few speakers, and what has struck me is that most of us think that personal interaction is very important. Most of us are concentrating on what we are saying, but it is what is listened to that is important.

Ministers give out a great deal of information without saying anything. How many times has a noble Lord here realised that they have made a good point as the Minister shrinks slightly into the Front Bench and those around them start to look slightly embarrassed? That is when you know you have a point. There are minor victories, such as the Minister sprinting to the Box for information and then coming back. That always helps if you are sitting down keeping score during a long Committee stage. We must keep this interaction—the sudden realisation that there is a point that matters, and which has some weight behind it.

How we get to that is fairly irrelevant. Do we have Question Time with a list or do we jump up and down? It depends on who you are and what your experience has been. I have been here a long time. I do not know how many supplementary questions I have asked—it may well be in the thousands. But it was the last thing I learned and got comfortable doing. It is not an easy skill. Is it a skill we need? On occasion, I have even provoked a reaction from the Minister, especially if I have been wise enough to gather information to back up my question. Everything is about getting that reaction.

Can the new technology help us? The answer is yes, if we use it correctly and we adapt it. We are taking our first steps in using this virtual world. It has already been reasonably successful for committees, particularly for getting witnesses in. Occasionally we can get too many witnesses in and we do not have enough time to examine them correctly or, more importantly, have the committee discuss what it has heard. We will have to develop how we work with this.

Also, as my noble friend Lady Barker said, we have not made the technology work for us in the way we want to use it. Is that possible? Of course it is. I remind the House of some of my interests in assistive technology: voice-to-text and text-to-voice technology, used in different formats for various disability groups, such as the blind, dyslexics and even the deaf. Most of the technology is fairly similar at heart, whether you turn it round to interpret a written or a verbal input. You can change it around and get better stuff out of it, but we have to learn to use it better. I hope that the House will make sure we take it on and integrate it into what we are doing. If it gets good enough to make a Minister cringe then maybe we can use it, but not until then—not until you can get the idea that you are carrying people with you and making those against you occasionally say, “Yes, there is a real point here”, because that is what we are about. We are trying to make sure that we interact.

Everybody else has said something about voting, so I might as well. The Chief Whip will know that I have an occasionally unsuccessful relationship with technology when I have left my phone on silent and put it down, or something. I apologise, but not with any great sincerity. It is convenient, but we have had more votes that we normally would because we have missed out on what I have just talked about: Ministers are not picking up the vibe and do not know what is going on. We do not have a chance to make a serious change. I am absolutely convinced that we are leading to slightly more formalised conflict because we have a more formalised process that does not have the brakes and the ability to interact outside of it.

There is also the social interaction around voting: the conversations that have already been referred to matter. If anybody tells you that they do not, they probably have not been in a situation where they can use them. Everybody else does. Also, something can happen if you actually speak to somebody who knows something about an issue beforehand. We have to try to get the best out of the new technology and be brave enough to work it in with the old idea that we are actually talking to people and changing their minds. It is difficult to change your mind and to listen to what is said to you. Saying yes or no and pressing a button is easy. Until we learn to make that technology serve us well, we will be wasting opportunities.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Addington. It is quite hard to have completely new insights at this point in a debate, so I will focus on those things I feel most strongly about. I have listened very carefully to the debate and there are essentially two camps. I have a very clear and simple view on this issue: the ability to participate remotely through our hybrid proceedings, although developed to deal with the pandemic, should continue in certain specific forms to give everyone in your Lordships’ House an equal chance to participate.

As we have heard, virtual participation has had some important benefits, including enabling Members to participate who might otherwise find it difficult to attend the House in person. This includes Members with disabilities, long-term and sometimes fluctuating health conditions or caring responsibilities, as well as those who are geographically distant from Westminster. It was deeply moving and humbling to hear the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. I totally support her view that remote participation should be classed as a reasonable adjustment—something any decent employer would do and, frankly, is obliged to do. We make the laws of this country; how can we possibly say that they do not apply to us?

The needs of Members with caring responsibilities are something we very rarely talk about, but they are a real constraint for some of them. We heard powerful contributions on this from my noble friends Lady Humphreys and Lord Bradshaw. At a time when we are rightly promoting better support for this in the workplace more generally, we should also apply these considerations to ourselves. Remote participation has contributed to levelling the playing field for parliamentarians with caring responsibilities, many of whom are women.

Unlike other noble Lords, I do not see that retaining some hybridity for those who need it as being in opposition to doing a good job of exercising our scrutiny function and holding the Government to account. As most Members happily return to the House physically over the coming months—and I look forward to doing so when it is safe—the two can happily coexist if there is a will to make it part of a broader modernisation agenda. It will make our representations more representative of the overall population and, frankly, make us seem more relevant to the world at large. As many noble Lords have said—the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, was particularly eloquent on this point—at the moment virtually every organisation is fundamentally reviewing its working practices to retain the benefits of flexible and remote working and we should too; otherwise we will, in the memorable words of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, simply be preserved in aspic.

Speaking personally for a moment, remote participation has been a godsend for me following knee surgery last autumn and a very long recovery period when I simply would not have been able to come in physically because of my restricted mobility. Participating remotely has been my only realistic opportunity to make a contribution to proceedings. I would be very unhappy if that opportunity was not available in future, so I agree with Professor Meg Russell of University College London’s Constitution Unit that decisions about the workings of Parliament need to be underpinned by the fundamental principle of equal participation. That fundamental principle should extend beyond the pandemic and become enshrined in our ways of working.

It is quite wrong for us simply to ape the arrangements in the other place. We have heard the charge many times today that as it is going back to the old normal so we must too, but such an approach fundamentally fails to respect the fact that we are meant to be a different type of House with part-time Members as well as full-time Members. We should take seriously the real benefits of having Members who are still actively engaged in external work, be it paid or voluntary, who are able to bring up-to-date expertise into the Chamber. Part-time Members need to be able to plan their work commitments on a sensible basis, and that requires some flexibility. It is quite different from the Commons and requires a different set of working arrangements, so I respectfully disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on that point.

There is one point I would like us to learn from the Commons. We should review our working hours and try to bring them into at least the 20th century, if not the 21st. The Commons has managed to do this to provide greater certainty about hours and the timing of votes to allow more predictable planning more in line with modern expectations and caring commitments.

On Oral Questions, I strongly support the line that many noble Lords have taken in support of a list. Our old habit of shouting and baying and the bear pit at Question Time frankly often brought this House into disrepute, and the loudest voices too often drowned out those with the most to contribute.

To summarise, I strongly support the views of the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Bennett, my noble friends Lady Bowles and Lady Bakewell, and many others—they do not all begin with “B”—that this is a great opportunity for us to embrace a long-overdue modernisation of our working practices, to get rid of some of our more anachronistic ways, which were designed for a very different age, and to adopt a new normal which appears far more relevant to the outside world.

Lord Hunt of Wirral Portrait Lord Hunt of Wirral (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, what an interesting, valuable and enjoyable debate this has been. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, warned us right at the start, we have heard many strong and divergent views, but the overwhelming majority want to restore the normal working practices of the House at the earliest opportunity. I say to my noble friend Lord Cormack that I do not think he is ambitious enough. Many of us would like to see us restore those practices on 21 June. I pay tribute to my noble friend for sitting for over six hours through every one of the 80 or so speeches. That is the hallmark of a true parliamentarian, and we respect him for it.

Like others, I begin by warmly thanking and commending everyone who has risen to the not inconsiderable challenge of enabling this House to carry on with its business in the past 15 months. It has been a herculean task, achieved with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of inventiveness.

However, it was always intended to be a temporary measure for the duration of the pandemic. I am sure that, in advance of this debate, others in the House received a persuasive briefing from Zoom, the designers and providers of a system that has facilitated not only our debates but a great deal of business and artistic endeavour in the world outside during the lockdowns. The briefing is persuasive because it makes the very valid point, as highlighted by a number of speakers, in particular recently the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, that witnesses to Select Committees have been able to give evidence remotely throughout the pandemic—a practice that makes sense and, I agree, should be allowed to continue. It makes sense from the health perspective and for the environment, by reducing unnecessary travel.

However, the business of this House is a very different matter. As some of us have trickled back into physical attendance, we have quite rightly been subject to strict provisions for the prevention of infection. These have been relaxed further, as noble Lords will be aware, but some requirements very sensibly remain in place. No one seriously disputes the need for that common sense and caution. Like regulation, though, such measures must be proportionate to the scale of the danger, risk and need.

When I first entered the House of Commons, 45 years ago, the wartime generation was still a significant presence. That generation may have gone now, even from this House, but surely we can show a tiny fraction of its courage and resolve by leading the way in returning to normality.

I suppose I am in a special position, if not an entirely privileged one, in that I have been doubly vaccinated and have also been infected by Covid-19, with mercifully light and fleeting symptoms. I am well aware that there are others whose immune systems have not had quite so thorough a workout, particularly among our staff here, and their interests are vital.

We have already reached a point—and with fortune at our backs we shall go further on 21 June—at which increasing numbers of our fellow citizens are going back to work. If we expect that of them, they will increasingly expect it of us. It is a long-cherished principle that before voting in this House we should be present to take full account of the arguments presented, so let us at least lead the way. When my noble friend Lord Wakeham and I led the Select Committee on televising the House of Commons, we were playing catch-up because the House of Lords had led the way. Let us do so again.

Covid-19 Update

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Thursday 13th May 2021

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Leader of the House
Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am afraid I cannot say anything further than that the inquiry will begin work in spring 2022. But I can certainly assure the noble Baroness that my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster spoke to all the First Ministers about the announcement of the inquiry, and we have pledged to work with them to establish it and ensure they are involved—so, yes, conversations have been had and will continue to be ongoing.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I searched the Prime Minister’s Statement in vain for any mention of care homes or social care. We must never forget that during the first wave almost 20,000 care home residents died, representing 40% of all Covid deaths registered in that period—and that is likely to be an understatement of the true toll. So what assurances can the Leader of the House give to the bereaved families that the reasons for this catastrophic failure to protect our most vulnerable citizens will be fully investigated and the lessons learned, so that such a tragedy can never happen again?

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

As I have said, the inquiry will be a thorough examination across the breadth of our response. Obviously, the situation in care homes has been at the forefront of our minds throughout this pandemic. It is not for me to make commitments, but I cannot believe that this would not be something the inquiry looks at. I am sure that it will be and that relatives and those who work in care homes will be called to give evidence.

Financial Services Bill

(Report stage)
Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Wednesday 24th March 2021

(7 months ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Leader of the House
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Lord, Lord McNicol of West Kilbride, has withdrawn from the debate, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am pleased to speak in support of Amendment 1. First, I must apologise to the House that I have been unable to participate in earlier stages of the Bill—a matter of real regret to me—but I have been following proceedings closely. I declare an interest as a member of the Financial Inclusion Commission and president of the Money Advice Trust.

I am very keen to support this amendment, which takes forward a very important recommendation from the report of the Financial Exclusion Select Committee, which I chaired, in 2017. That report recommended an expansion of the remit of the Financial Conduct Authority to include both a statutory duty to promote financial inclusion, and a statutory duty of care. In my view, the two are closely linked, but I will obviously focus now on this very important duty of care amendment.

At the Liaison Committee’s follow-up inquiry on financial exclusion, held only last week, powerful evidence was received from charities and others active in the sector that the commercial model only goes so far, and that legislation is required to put an obligation on banks and other financial service providers to provide appropriate services to customers and have proper regard to inclusion.