Queen’s Speech

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Tuesday 17th May 2022

(5 days, 3 hours ago)

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Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, I want to address the role of higher education in the Government’s levelling-up agenda. I also want to mention housing issues raised in the Queen’s Speech, and I hope the Minister will be willing to pass on the points I make to her ministerial colleagues.

There is a university in every part of the country, and they are well placed to play a hugely important role in the levelling-up agenda. The role of these institutions in their local communities is often overlooked. In fact, universities are central to the local, regional and national growth effort. They are vital partners to local authorities and have huge networks including schools, big business, SMEs, charities and community groups. Quite rightly, the Government want universities to do ever more, recognising the role they could have in the levelling-up and the skills agendas, but they need adequate funding to do all this. Tuition fees are now frozen until 2024-25; they have reduced in value each year and are now worth in cash terms only two-thirds what they were 10 years ago. It is reasonable for the Government to expect efficiencies from universities, but they are reaching a point where they will have to consider reducing many of these very activities rather than enhancing them, or, where they have the choice, potentially recruiting more international and fewer domestic students, which seems a perverse outcome for bodies that could contribute so much to our national renaissance. I hope the Minister can reassure me that the Government will recognise the need to support the social and economic benefits that universities provide to the country. As the levelling-up directors are appointed, will she confirm that the Government will encourage them to speak to their local higher education institutions and utilise the expertise they will find there?

I now turn to housing. I declare an interest as the chair of the National Housing Federation, the trade body for England’s housing associations, and as the chair of the Property Ombudsman for the private rented sector. I welcome the introduction of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill last week. It is crucial that, through this important legislation, the Government ensure that affordable homes are available throughout the country for those who need them.

The Levelling Up White Paper rightly emphasised the central role that housing must play in closing the stark gaps in regional equality. For many, social housing would be the only suitable and affordable type of home for their families. That is why it is also vital that any changes to the planning system introduced through the Bill are designed to increase the number of homes for social rent in communities up and down the country. Can the Minister give me assurances on this matter?

I also warmly welcome the Government’s aim to improve the quality and regulation of social housing and strengthen tenants’ rights through the social housing regulation Bill. Since 2017, the National Housing Federation has been working with social housing residents on the Together with Tenants initiative to establish a new set of standards for housing associations, including a four-point plan for change and a new charter that sets out what residents can and should expect from their landlord. This work has already begun to deliver the new paths of accountability and influence for residents mapped out in the Social Housing White Paper.

The energy Bill should enable us to deliver the manifold benefits of decarbonising Britain’s homes. It will enable us to tackle fuel poverty and the climate emergency together, boost the economy and create jobs, as well as creating healthier, warmer homes and healthier, cleaner air. It is vital that we insulate and retrofit homes throughout the UK. I welcome the Government’s Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, to which housing associations can directly apply for funding, but if we are to be truly transformational in our approach to tackling the climate crisis, we need a longer view. I ask the Minister whether the Government have plans to provide funding for making social homes more energy efficient beyond 2025.

Currently, Ofgem energy price caps apply only to individuals and not organisations. Many housing associations manage energy bills for housing schemes through heat networks. Residents who receive their energy this way will be the hardest hit by rising costs. I urge the Government to take action to ensure that emergency support is put in place for customers on heat networks.

Finally, I welcome the commitment to introduce a renters reform Bill and the establishment of a landlord ombudsman to allow tenants to seek redress and resolve disputes against their landlords. As chair of the Property Ombudsman, I know that our inquiries team takes time to talk to tenants on a daily basis, providing advice, guidance and signposting where we are unable to investigate a complaint. While there are many forms of dispute resolution, this is a service that only ombudsmen provide. Will the Minister confirm that the intention is for the landlord ombudsman not only to deal with complaints that fall within its remit but to provide an accessible advice, guidance and signposting service to help both tenants and landlords understand better their rights and responsibilities?

State Pension Underpayments and Arrears for Women

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Monday 21st February 2022

(3 months ago)

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Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I would like to take the opportunity to wish my noble friend a very happy birthday. To answer her question, resolving these errors is a priority for the department. We are committed to doing so as quickly as possible. We have started by reviewing cases where the individual is alive; in doing so, we are initially focusing available resources on older cases and on those people whom we believe are most likely to be vulnerable.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, in her response, the Minister indicated that various steps had been taken by the department to put things right. That was welcome, except that the Public Accounts Committee made a series of very specific recommendations to the department in its very damning report. Can the Minister tell us exactly how much progress has been made specifically on those recommendations? If enough progress has not been made, will she ensure that she reports to the House on just how much the department is monitoring them?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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The department is considering the content of the report, including the recommendations. As is the case for reports such as this, the Government will provide their response to the House in due course through the publication of a formal Treasury minute. Until then, it is not appropriate for me to comment any further on the report, but I am prepared to make a commitment that, when such a decision is made and the response is ready, I will make sure that all noble Lords are appraised of it.

Health Partnership Schemes: Funding

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Monday 7th June 2021

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister has said that he recognises the important role UK clinicians can play in supporting health systems in low-income countries. Does he also recognise how much UK clinicians learn from their experience of working in partnership with others and the benefits this brings to the NHS? They are also excellent ambassadors for global Britain.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I concur with the noble Baroness’s view; indeed, I have friends and family who have shared such experiences with me. We will continue to work with the profession to see how best, in difficult situations, we can leverage expertise both ways.

Hong Kong: Pro-Democracy Campaigners

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Monday 19th April 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree totally with the noble Lord on the issue of values. That is why, as I am sure he would acknowledge, we have led in statements and in consolidating and increasing support at the Human Rights Council. It is something I have personally been engaged in and will continue to campaign for and make note of. He raised the cases of various individuals. Speaking personally, I saw the final interview Jimmy Lai gave just before his arrest, and it is quite chilling to see the conduct that happened thereafter to someone who stood up for media freedom. What has he been arrested for? It is for illegal assembly. We need to put this into context as well.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I reinforce the points made by my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws on Magnitsky sanctions. The Chinese Government recently criticised the UK for granting asylum to the Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Nathan Law. Does the Minister agree that a fitting way to rebut Beijing’s growing crackdown in Hong Kong would be for the Government to allow young Hong Kongers, who do not qualify for the BNO visa, to come to the UK to study and work?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s first point on asylum, as I said, I am proud that the United Kingdom continues to be a sanctuary for those seeking protection from persecution internationally, as it has been over the years. On her broader point, the BNO scheme has been introduced; it is working well. There are no other plans, but we continue to press the Hong Kong authorities to restore democratic rights and the right to protest within Hong Kong.

Hong Kong: National Security Law

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Thursday 7th January 2021

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has been at the forefront of strengthening international alliances and action in this respect. I have already alluded to the progress we have made. The noble Baroness is right to raise the important issue of other representation within the context of human rights. I note in particular that the human rights commissioner recently put out a statement on the arrests. We continue to implore China to allow access for the human rights commissioner to China, to ensure that human rights can be respected and the world can see what is being done currently on many minorities within China.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, given the Minister’s response to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will the Government consider lodging a case against China in the International Court of Justice on the grounds that its actions in Hong Kong constitute a violation of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con) [V]
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As the noble Baroness may know, an issue at the International Court of Justice requires both parties to consent. It would not, to my mind, be an option that we should pursue because it is highly unlikely that China would consent to such actions.

Hong Kong: Legislative Council

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Thursday 12th November 2020

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord raises Article 3, and that is exactly what we are pressing: that China must uphold its international obligations. I have already covered the point on the ICJ; we will continue to work on a multilateral basis and bilaterally in raising this issue with Chinese authorities and the Hong Kong special administrative region as well.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, what assessment has the Minister made of the likely impact that Beijing’s purging of pro-democracy voices in the legislature will have on the rule of law in Hong Kong? Does he share my concern about the threat to the continued independence of the judiciary, and do the Government have anything specific in mind to seek to avoid that?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I totally concur with the noble Baroness. There has been an increasing decline, and this is the second major shift this year with the introduction of the national security law and the suspension of democratically elected legislators. She raises an important point about the independence of the judiciary. Again, the national security law raises real concerns, as under it the Chief Executive now has the right to appoint judges as well. We will continue to raise that issue and our concern with China directly.

Hong Kong National Security Legislation

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Thursday 2nd July 2020

(1 year, 10 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, I agree with the noble and gallant Lord about the importance of this. I am sure I speak for all noble Lords in paying tribute to those who have served our country and fought for it so bravely. Since the last time we discussed this matter, I have asked for a specific update from the Home Office; I will write to him specifically on the 64 corps members he has mentioned. On the wider issue of prioritisation, as I said earlier, BNO status is granted to all those who qualify, which is 2.9 million, irrespective of their status—the issue of salaries was raised previously—or what they may do. This is open to everyone, and that process will be announced in detail by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the Statement is clear that it will not be possible for the UK alone to persuade the Chinese Government to respect their international commitments—a much broader coalition is needed. The Minister said something about the next steps for the work being done with the UN, the EU and other partners to achieve co-ordinated pressure on China: will he say something more about the timeframe? The Statement emphasises that a constructive relationship with China remains essential. China is the UK’s third most important collaborative research partner; it ranks ninth as a destination for UK students studying full degrees abroad; and a quarter of our international students are from China. Does the Minister agree that in standing up, as we are and we must, for the freedoms of Hong Kong, we must take care also that we do not stoke Sinophobia in the UK?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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I totally agree with the noble Baroness’s concern. It is important that we value the incredible contribution of all our communities to the United Kingdom’s progress and prosperity, and the British Chinese community is reflective of that ambition and contribution. On the issue of further work within the international arena, as I already alluded to, we are exploring what more can be done. We have achieved a great deal in the time. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about a strategy. I believe, having looked at this brief very closely, that, domestically and internationally, we have had a strategy in place, and we will continue to apply that pressure. The diplomatic channel remains open with China and we will continue to work with China bilaterally to raise these issues as well.

China

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Monday 29th June 2020

(1 year, 10 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, I agree with the noble and gallant Lord. Our position on UNCLOS and the South China Sea, working with other allies in the region, is very clear. We call on China to respect international law in this respect.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the approval by China’s National People’s Congress of the new national security laws for Hong Kong was immediately followed by worldwide condemnation. However, the Guardian reported that the National People’s Congress standing committee is currently holding a three-day deliberation and the law is expected to pass tomorrow. So China is clearly not standing down. Given the Prime Minister’s offer on 3 June that any Hong Kong citizen eligible to apply for a British National Overseas passport would have the right to live and work in the UK—although that has not been fully corroborated by our Foreign Secretary—how many might qualify for visas and how many will be allowed to claim full citizenship?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. The standing committee is currently debating this very issue and the decision is awaited. On BNOs, the Prime Minister has been very clear. I am sure that the noble Baroness also saw his article at the beginning of this month, where he made it clear that anyone eligible for BNO status—which is the larger number of more than 2.9 million people—would qualify for citizenship.