There have been 4 exchanges between Lord Bethell and Leader of the House
|Wed 25th March 2020||Coronavirus Bill (Lords Chamber)||15 interactions (2,292 words)|
|Mon 22nd July 2019||Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill (Lords Chamber)||14 interactions (1,013 words)|
|Mon 8th July 2019||Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (942 words)|
|Wed 31st October 2018||Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (598 words)|
My Lords, first, I strongly support the very sensible amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. As I think we all know, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, said so eloquently yesterday, myriad people are very worried about what is going on and are concerned that things will happen to them but their voice will not be heard. The Government have enough to worry about, so, from their point of view, it seems very sensible to have a review process in which an organisation such as the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations acts as a sort of funnel, pulling together all the myriad concerns that many of us seek to represent today through a single forum which can communicate regularly with the Government —it would be a two-way process. It seems eminently sensible to make sure that the people who are most worried feel that they are being heard and that there is a dialogue.
Secondly, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. The variety of powers that local authorities will be required to have—particularly in relation to children in care, children going through adoption or fostering, and child carers—is incredibly important. If they are worried, think what that is doing to the people they are caring for. Therefore, I feel that clarification in that respect would be enormously helpful.
I thank the Minister for that comprehensive answer. I also thank all the House for its supportive remarks on this amendment.
I say to my noble friend Lord Adonis that the two things we are talking about—the accountability of Parliament and our need to monitor these things, and the voice of the users and people at the receiving end of care, or non-care—are not in conflict. We need to be doing both, of course.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, was quite right to point to vulnerable children and their care. My noble friends Lord Hain and Lord Blunkett were also absolutely correct about the importance of civil society in getting us through this crisis.
My noble friend Lady Pitkeathley is not here, but she is listening to us. She texted me to say, “Thank you for mentioning carers”. Of course in all this, the carers —people who are at home, many of them quite elderly themselves—are caring for people who will be at the sharp end of what comes next. We should not forget that.
I found two things very useful. First, the noble Lord, Lord Russell, mentioned the NCVO’s role in this, and he is absolutely right. Secondly, and finally, the Minister mentioned that the Government will produce guidance on the enactment of these clauses. This has to be done quickly but I put in a plea: that the voices we have talked about in this short but pertinent debate should be heard in the construction of that guidance, too. On that basis, I am happy to withdraw my amendment.
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My Lords, I attempted to put my name to this amendment. For some reason, presumably because the Public Bill Office staff are all working from home, it did not quite get through. The Government need to give this very serious consideration indeed.
Can the Minister concede that we are tabling this amendment because of how the NHS and medical services are affected by the Bill. We are not asking for any change in the criteria for abortion. We are asking simply for the process of the administration of decision-making to change.
That is being done right across the whole of the health service. The Minister has explained that telemedicine is being rolled out at a surprising rate. I do not understand why an experienced clinician or a midwife cannot make the judgments that he was talking about via video. They see women all the time and they will be able to make the same judgments. I do not understand that. If the Government do not accept this proposal, I ask him to accept that they should at least be under an obligation to continue to meet very regularly with the Royal Colleges and the organisations involved in this situation day to day, and they should be willing to come back with the power to make this change under a separate piece of legislation—because if, in seven weeks’ time, there is a clear pattern of women being failed, we cannot let it continue.
I say this with the sincerest due respect. The Minister will be aware that there are huge concerns about the power to have just one doctor decide whether a body should be cremated, especially in the light of the crisis becoming more intensive and critical.
My Lords, before I get to the procedural part I will refer the Minister to some of his own words. He referred to the Government’s desire to ensure that everyone should have safe, high-quality medical care. In this area in particular, given that the option has been given to provide alternatives, that is something that the Government will be judged against, and I hope that he will be able to live up to his promise. However, it is with a heavy heart that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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My Lords, I too beg the indulgence of the Committee. I have raised this point on a number of occasions; I am raising it now with respect to the powers within the Bill relating to necessity and proportionality, particularly as regards matters of dignity in death and what may happen in the unforeseen circumstances that thousands of deaths occur among the faith communities, and cremation may be decided upon due to the lack of burial spaces and storage facilities. I am suggesting that Schedule 28 affects our human rights obligations.
I am requesting, therefore, on behalf of the many hundreds of individuals who have written to me, including faith leaders and organisations, that the Government remove from paragraphs 13(1) and (2) in Part 4 of Schedule 28 the words
“have regard to the desirability of disposing”
and replace them with “dispose”, and then delete from paragraphs 13(1)(b) and 13(2)(b) the words
“in a way that appears”
so that the necessary guarantees are provided in the legislation, which will be required to provide assurance to the relevant faith communities.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for what he said, which gave considerable reassurance—up to the last sentence or two. I was permitted by the Public Bill Office to table this amendment, so I am therefore slightly surprised at his reporting of the advice he has had from legal counsel. Obviously, I have to take note of what he said. No doubt they have greater legal minds than mine, although I note that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, co-signed my amendment. I am a little taken aback by what the Minister said, but I none the less welcome the rest of his response. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
My Lords, I will also speak to Amendments 6 and 10 and will endeavour to be brief. Rather than repeating myself later, I will set out here why it is important that this amendment should be in the Bill. I suspect that I will have a slightly more uphill struggle than on the amendment we debated before the Statement, but I hope not, because I am seeking consensus. Once again, I am deeply grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and other noble Lords on this and subsequent amendments.
We have to have some understanding of why it is important to have some essential elements written in the Bill rather than in letters from present or past Leaders of the House, or reassurances from the Dispatch Box. It is patently obvious that nobody knows who the Minister will be from Thursday onwards. I suspect—I have written about this—that there may be an election sooner rather than later, so elected Members in the other House do not really know who will be there. As far as we are concerned, the grim reaper can determine whether we are here or not rather rapidly.
On staff servicing the sponsor body and members of the sponsor body who are not in either of these Houses, it is obvious that going for promotion, or leaving for another job or another part of the country is part of life. Therefore, the notion that a letter of assurance or a word or two from the Dispatch Box, or even, importantly, the trust we place in existing sponsor body members and staff is not worth the paper it is written on or the emotion it uses. Who knows who will be here by the time we decant and, certainly, by the time we return?
I place on record that none of what I am going to say disparages either the commitment or the appreciation of Ministers or sponsor body members, or Liz Peace and her team; I have nothing but respect for their work, their good offices and their words. However, we need to ensure that the electorate, who are already totally disillusioned with politics and Parliament, feel that this has something to do with them. As we discussed on the consensual amendment on the economic benefits to accrue from the restoration and renewal programme, if we can get them, so on the political gains that can be made: there is the need to gain consent. That is why these amendments endeavour to ensure that the Bill, whoever is in this House and serving on the sponsor body, and the direction they give to the delivery authority, make it absolutely clear what Parliament’s will is.
What is Parliament’s will? Is it determined by ephemeral Ministers or by a letter that may or may not have been sent months or perhaps years before? Is the will of Parliament to be determined only when the delivery authority eventually comes back with a scheme that, frankly, will not be amendable anyway, because it will have been put together as a package? We may be able to choose whether we have a slightly more or slightly less expensive scheme; I hope that we will go for something more than the lowest common denominator. If we do not, people will be even more aggrieved at the billions we are spending if it is just about electronics and pipework, and a little bit of restoration. These amendments are intended to be a positive way to ensure that the sponsor body is able to understand the will of Parliament, expressed by the Bill, which is, seriously, the only way in which Parliament can reflect the true will of this House and the other place on this prolonged project, and do so with consensus.
It is important that public engagement at every level on these and later amendments supports our intentions—I think that all of us have the same intentions; they cannot be otherwise. I have said to Ministers that if the amendments tonight and subsequent amendments were already in the Bill, would anybody feel that they had to take them out—would there be a move to do so? The argument is that this confines the sponsor body in some way and that it is determinist, preventing it having flexibility in the way it proceeds and what it does. None of the amendments prescribes, because I have deliberately watered them down; none of them is deterministic or confines the sponsor body and the future delivery authority in any way whatever. They reinforce and send a message out to the public that we care about the engagement with them; we want them to understand what is taking place in their name, with their money—to ensure that that reaches out, as Amendment 10 says, to the regions, and that we do so with the support of future generations.
I will say one other thing about the nature of Parliament as well in reaching out and selling the restoration and renewal programme to the public. Does anybody seriously believe that the sponsor body is not inherently part of Parliament? It responds to Parliament, and as we discovered in the Joint Committee, its methodology is very much about the estimates committee and the commission, but it is part of and represented from this House and the other House on the sponsor body. Essentially, it is part of the parliamentary process. However, it cannot simply hand over promoting and communicating the restoration and renewal programme now and in the future to the public. It must have a role in doing so. People have said to me, “This isn’t the role”, but it is in the letters of the former and current Leaders of the House that were sent to the sponsor body and circulated to us all that we do not need to bother putting something in the Bill, because it is the role of Parliament to sell the Bill. If we look at the attendance on the restoration and renewal Bill in this House tonight, or the engagement in the House of Commons, does anybody seriously believe that the 600 or 650 Members of the other House, depending on the boundary changes, will spend their time going out, explaining, engaging and selling this programme to the public? Your Lordships must live in a different world if you believe that, and if you do not, you should support the amendment. I beg to move.
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Actually, he was Chancellor of the Exchequer when a large part of the work was being carried out. I assure my noble friend that Gladstone took a keen interest in the allocation of the public finances; my noble friend and I can correspond on this matter afterwards.
The amendment moved by my noble friend seems at one level to be a statement of the obvious but, on another level, the fact that it needs to be stated is of some importance in itself. The two changes that he essentially wishes to make are: to enlarge the sponsor body’s duties to include promoting to the public the work of R&R; and to add to the sponsor body’s duties consulting not only Members of each House but members of the public. That should not need to be said; it ought to be obvious that that should happen. However, there are two reasons why this is important. First, I do not think that the Government are racing to accept the amendments; I am looking at the noble Earl. If so, there must be some reason why. It is precisely because the actual duties will be expanded in a way that the Government think will be distracting to the sponsor body. Why would the Government regard them in that way? They impose additional duties.
However, those duties—the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, was completely right about this—are exactly what we would and should expect of the sponsor body in two respects. First, it is a matter of self-interest: the body is going to spend a lot of money—the figure of £4 billion has been touted before but, from my intimate knowledge of how infrastructure projects go, I think that we can safely assume that it will be significantly larger. When the inevitable controversy comes, as it will, about the cost, overruns, delays and everything else, the sponsor body, your Lordships and the other House of Parliament need the ultimate protection possible, which must surely come from having engaged with the public and having proper public promotion and displays. Westminster Hall needs to be full of displays about the work that will be undertaken and we need the visitor centre to do the same. That is important. Secondly, part of the justification for the spending on this work is that it will enhance public access significantly.
To extend the point about what happens at the end of restoration and renewal, not having proper citizenship education is part of the problem. My noble friend Lord Blunkett has done more than any other Minister—in history, I would venture to suggest—to put citizenship at the core of what we teach in schools. It is hugely important. However, we still do not pay nearly enough attention to it. In particular, we do not make visiting Parliament, engaging with parliamentary institutions and meeting parliamentarians a systematic part of secondary school education, as it should be. Since the Germans’ massive renovation of the Bundestag’s beautiful old buildings in Berlin—at the behest of British architects, as it happens—they have had comprehensive programmes for schools and schoolchildren proactively to visit Berlin, tour the German parliament and meet their parliamentarians. We do not do that here. Even with all the expansion we are talking about, the creation of a visitor centre and all that, it all depends on people wanting to come here, whereas we should be proactively engaging. This problem goes to the wider issue: the further one goes from London, the more disengaged people feel from their parliamentary institutions, not least because they hardly have any contact with what goes on here. Their schools are much less likely to come here.
I am struck when I meet school parties—some I show around; many I just meet when I am walking around the Palace—and ask where they come from. They disproportionately come from London and the area immediately around. Why? Because if you have to proactively seek to come here and cover expenses and things of that kind, it will particularly be private schools—we come back to this issue—who will come here. We have to end this. We are now in a massive Brexit crisis because of the massive alienation between a large part of our people and our parliamentary institutions.
My Lords, I agree with every word the noble Lord has just said.
What I would like to see in this Bill—as noble Lords know, I always try to push things to extremes—is a duty on the sponsor body to see that, once the restoration and renewal work is completed, there are facilities and arrangements in place for every schoolchild in the country, during the course of their secondary education, to visit the Houses of Parliament, have a tour and get the opportunity to see the work we do.
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My Lords, my name is added to Amendment 12. In the Joint Committee, we said that it was easier to see what restoration was about, but the renewal part exercised quite a bit of our time. In other words: what sort of Parliament did we want and what sort of involvement with democracy did we want? We have talked about the outreach programme and the educational facilities, and I shall not anticipate my noble friend Lord Bethell in moving his amendments. I felt surprised at that stage that not enough thought had been given to renewal and its opportunities. I have no qualms about mentioning that again when the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, is in her place, because I know that she is well aware of the hopes that the shadow body has—but the Bill does not place enough emphasis on that.
The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, spoke about technology. In 10 or 20 years’ time, we will be able to communicate in a totally different way from the way we do now. We talked about the outreach programme run by the Lord Speaker, where individual Peers go out to schools and schools come here. With modern communications, that can be done virtually; there is enormous scope for us to relate to the general public in a totally different way. I will say no more on that because we had good discussions earlier—but I will say that it would be a shame to miss the opportunities in the Bill, and I support the amendments in this group.
My Lords, I will speak briefly. I have no problem with Amendment 12—the lead amendment—or Amendment 18 in the name of my noble friend Lord Bethell, but I am afraid that I have my doubts about Amendments 13, 14 and 19. I think that they will place a burden on the sponsor body with which it will not be able to cope, because it would have to decide what it understood by “major political and constitutional reforms” before any reforms have taken place.
Coming back to my earlier comments, we need an adaptable space that can be fitted with changes that Parliament itself may wish to make to meet the demands made of it and to engage with those outside it. As Amendment 13 stands, there is a problem with referring to,
“major political and constitutional reforms”,
without stipulating what one means by that. Similarly, in that amendment and my noble friend’s, there is a reference to, “inclusive participatory democracy”. If that is going to stay in the Bill, the definitions section will have to be amended to explain what that actually means for the benefit of the sponsor body.
So I think there are problems with the stipulations in these amendments. I understand where my noble friend the Minister will be coming from in responding to them. A lot more work would need to be done; otherwise, the danger is that the amendments will confuse rather than clarify.
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My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is that the sponsor body should nominate from among its members a Member of the House of Commons and of the House of Lords to be its principal spokespersons in their respective Houses. This was considered by the Joint Committee looking at the Bill. It thought it a worthwhile thing to do but said that it should not be in primary legislation. Indeed, I would not necessarily want to press the amendment, but this is a useful opportunity for us to be updated on where we are and on the thinking on how we will report back to this House and the Commons on the sponsor body’s work.
As I understand it, the Leader of the House of Commons and the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, wrote to the shadow sponsor body with the Joint Committee’s findings and asked specifically about the importance of having a political figurehead for the programme. It replied:
“We note that analogous arrangements already exist in both Houses, with the spokespeople for each Commission responding to oral and written questions”,
and it anticipated that the sponsor body would,
“be invited to consider and agree its preferred approach to the appointment of spokespeople in the autumn, ahead of its transition to the substantive stage”.
It occurred to me on more than one occasion this evening that it might have been helpful if we had a spokesperson from the shadow sponsor body to tell us where it had got to on various things. My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market, who has had to leave, has sought to do that in a personal capacity. I am not criticising the fact that it has not happened—we are still at a shadow sponsor body level—but one can foresee situations where issues will arise. It would be helpful to have someone at Oral Questions, answering Written Questions or debates in your Lordships’ House, or making Statements and reporting back, just as the Senior Deputy Speaker comes to the Dispatch Box to present reports and respond to them.
I understand that the question of how we deal with this issue might have gone, or is going, to the Procedure Committee. The purpose of the amendment is to get on the record how the House anticipates it might deal with it, so that we can have somebody who comes to your Lordships’ House—and for that matter to the House of Commons—to update us and, to some extent, to be the face of the sponsor body and to answer for it. I beg to move.
My Lords, the amendment from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, is sensible because it is not otherwise clear in the Bill how the sponsor body will interact with the two Houses of Parliament. Under Schedule 1, there will be a chair who is specifically required not to be a Member of either House of Parliament; then there will be between four and eight persons among the membership who will be Members of this House or the House of Commons. By virtue of the fact that they are here, people will expect them to give accounts of what is happening, but they will have no formal standing. They will not formally represent the sponsor body and it is not clear, for example, how one would put questions to that body.
If we are not careful—this comes back to the 19th-century experience—in order to interact, people will want to get at the chair and the chief exec, who are not Members of either House. A Select Committee will be set up so that it can call them before it and interact with them. However, it would be more sensible if Members of the two Houses of Parliament are required to be members of the sponsor body. It could be rather like the way we interact with the Church Commissioners; I cannot remember whether it is the Second Church Estates Commissioner who is a Member of one House or who represents the Church Commissioners here. Is it the Bishops? Anyway, it is possible to interact directly with them. Having a similar relationship would be perfectly sensible, given how important this body and its parliamentary work will be over more than a decade.
The noble and learned Lord said that he did not intend to press his amendment; what he is actually doing may come from his experience of the work in Holyrood. He may be anticipating exactly the problems and issues we will have. It is as well to get this right in the Bill, rather than having to make significant adjustments and take what might be avoiding action, such as setting up a special committee to interact with the sponsor body because we have no provision for the body itself to have a direct relationship with the two Houses of Parliament.
You can say that but you cannot prove it. It is not an exercise in futility. It has happened in other countries and has worked well, so you cannot argue that it is futile. What is being proposed is an exercise in total futility. After all, this House will not have the present composition or the current function for ever—at least, I hope that it does not; I hope that it will change.
Even if we do not move to Birmingham, York or somewhere else, we could still have a purpose-built Parliament in London. It would not help in the redistribution of wealth and power in the countries concerned but at least it would provide a purpose-built building fit for the 21st century. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, spoke about this building providing a Parliament fit for the 21st century, but it does not matter what you do to this building, it will never do that. It will never provide proper disabled access or have proper security.
What are we going to have? I went to a briefing about this with the lady who chairs the shadow committee. We were given an indication that we are going to be decanted for 10 years, moving out in 2025 and moving back in in 2035, so for 10 years we will try to operate as we do at the moment. What will happen to Joint Committees of the two Houses when we are in the QEII centre and the House of Commons is in Richmond House? What will happen to the CPA, the IPU and the all-party groups? What will happen to the informal contacts, which are increasingly essential to the work of this Parliament? What about security when people go between those two buildings? That will not be very easy. I asked about parking but the committee did not know. At the moment there is parking for Members of both Houses but there will not be during those 10 years. I come in on the No. 3 bus, so I am not worried about it, but a lot of my noble friends do not. They drive in and need to find somewhere to park, but that will not be possible. What is going to happen to the Library during the decant period? There is no answer to that. This is an outrageous suggestion. We really have ended up with a dog’s breakfast.
One argument—it was repeated today by the Leader of the House—is that we should look at what happened to Notre Dame. However, the fires at Notre Dame and Windsor happened during restoration and renewal, and the fires at the Glasgow School of Art also happened during restoration and renewal—twice. When people are working in this place we can detect whether there is a danger of fire and we are protected, but fires seem to happen during restoration and renewal, so do not imagine that this will be a solution to that risk. If we are not going to have any new build, why do we have to have this long and cumbersome decant that will cause so many problems? If we are not going to have a new build immediately, let us at least try to make the best of it. Let us make do and mend in this building. It can be done. We could move back to long Summer Recesses. The work could be done in those periods bit by bit. There is no impossibility.
I missed out something earlier when I was talking about building a new Parliament. I do not suggest that in the long term we abandon this building. It could be used more productively, and the work could be done without panic or rush because we wanted to get back into it: it could become a very good museum, a centre for the study of democracy. As my noble friend Lord Maxton has suggested, we could have reconstructions of famous events in political history in each Chamber for people to come in and see. We could have a whole educational opportunity for young people, who we have been talking about, to come in and look at history. As the noble Earl, Lord Devon, said, there is much more to this place than just the Victorian history that Pugin and Barry left us. There is much more to the whole building. I am not sure that as far as Scots are concerned Westminster Hall is the best place to remember our history, but it would still be a very good centre for people to come to.
I urge the people concerned in all seriousness to look at this again. We are heading towards disaster. I am putting my mark here: I predict that whoever becomes Prime Minister, whether Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn—the latter is possible, although whether it is desirable is another matter—when faced with this proposal for billions of pounds to be spent on Parliament when there are so many other priorities, will not approve it. The whole project from now on is doomed.
My Lords, I congratulate all the noble Lords who have got us this far; it has taken a great deal of work over many years. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House mentioned many names and I expect that there are quite a few others. The debate has persuaded me that we need to look separately at the preservation of this building and at what Parliament does and where. As my noble friend Lord Foulkes said, this place could be turned into a very good museum of democracy.
Some noble Lords will have gone to a meeting in Portcullis House several years ago, at which we were first told about the various plans for getting us out of these places—or not, as the case may be. I remember one long-standing Member of the House of Commons, the first to ask a question, said: “Don’t you realise that if we move out of this building, it will be the end of parliamentary democracy?” It is an interesting question, especially now. Maybe we have reached it, maybe we have not, but we need to look at this separately. This is a wonderful building; it could be a museum, as my noble friend said, or we could come back here.
I will talk briefly about two things. The first is the issue of fire, which several noble Lords have spoken about, and the second is access of location. We had a Starred Question on fire in your Lordships’ Chamber about a month ago, after the Notre Dame fire. Subsequently, I had a meeting with some of the officials who do a wonderful job in dealing with fire protection in this building. We have fire detection and sprinklers in the cellar, which is probably the most difficult place, but there are many more problems associated with the roof, not just of Westminster Hall but of these buildings, too. There are three things to look at: detection, extinguishing and evacuation.
It is clear that they are doing pretty well in getting a new system of detection around, even in the roof. Extinguishing fires there is extremely difficult, but the new system, Water Mist, uses much less water and is extremely effective. I suggest that before any construction work starts on this building, a water mist system should be installed for the whole building on a temporary basis, with temporary pipes or whatever. That would be a great protection against a fire during construction. As many noble Lords have said, the biggest risk of fire is during construction. We are a royal palace, and there have already been two royal palaces that have caught fire in the Queen’s reign. However careful everybody is, it can happen, as many noble Lords have said.
If this place is going to be reconstructed as a Parliament, we need to look at evacuation. Have many noble Lords wondered: if the Committee Corridor were completely full of people, which sometimes happens, where is the way out? There is a fire door by the main entrance, but if that is shut because of a fire on the other side, can 1,000 or 2,000 people at the Lords end get out in half an hour—which is apparently the fire resistance of the doors—down two very narrow staircases? It is something to think about. It could happen tomorrow, but if we are rebuilding, we ought at least to ensure that we have proper evacuation facilities, including for people in wheelchairs or with mobility problems, as many noble Lords have said. That all needs to be sorted out before we start.
My final point concerns moving us to the QEII centre, and the Commons to Richmond House. As some noble Lords including my noble friend Lord Foulkes asked, how are we going to get from one to the other, through the mass of tourists that we see, particularly in the summer months? It is not easy. We will certainly not get back in seven minutes to vote, and communications between the House of Lords and the House of Commons will be extremely difficult. I cannot see why nobody has looked properly at the Foreign Office. We do not have an empire, as we did when it was built. I know that the Foreign Office will be loath to get out of their lovely building—maybe we can promise that it can return in 10 years when it is all finished—but at least it would be a bit closer to Richmond House. Maybe there are other buildings as well. We need to make sure that we do not completely separate the Commons and the Lords, because that would not be a good thing at all.
I believe that we should look again at my noble friend Lord Adonis’s suggestion of moving out completely, because in a new building, wherever it is, we could have the education facilities, the public access and everything else that we do not get here. We are rightly concerned about that and it would certainly help the north/south divide if we made everything less London-centric.
Finally, my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe is very keen that we consider the possibility of selling off the second-hand bits and pieces from this building if they are no longer used. I think that he is talking about the floor tiles that have been replaced over many years; he thinks that he has a market for them as a souvenir of the old House of Commons or House of Lords. He has asked me to say that he will put down an amendment in Committee to support this idea. It will not fund the new building, but I suppose that it might help.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 34. I begin by apologising to the Committee for not having participated at Second Reading, although I have taken care to read the transcript very carefully.
My noble friend Lord Faulks has given a clear and brilliant explanation of the unsatisfactory nature of the law on treason. Not being a lawyer, I shall not attempt to follow, let alone match, his judicial exposition; I shall come at the issue from a completely different angle. Earlier in the Session, I chaired a one-year Select Committee of your Lordships’ House on citizenship and civic engagement. I am pleased to see at least one member of the committee—the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries—in his place; he will be familiar with quite a lot of what I will say.
Our report was published in March and we have received the Government’s response, although we have yet to hold our concluding debate. An underlying theme of our examination of citizenship and civic engagement in the 21st century was to look at the glue that holds our society together. A major topic debated at length by the committee was values: what is the essence of what this country stands for, which needs to be defended? Of course, it was not for a committee of your Lordships’ House to define irrevocably to which values British citizens should adhere. Indeed, we recommended that the Government should encourage a vigorous debate on this issue, but we offered as a “straw man” of the values we should share,
“democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and respect for the inherent worth and autonomy of every person”.
I say in passing that the committee suggested that the Government’s continued use of the term “fundamental British values”, as part of the Prevent strategy, was unfortunate and, in some cases, counterproductive. Since the Government began to use this term, the word “fundamental”—because of its close association with fundamentalism—has assumed greater significance; this issue was raised by my noble friend Lady Warsi at Second Reading. As a result, rightly or wrongly, one section of our population has seen it as directed particularly at them which is an unfortunate development.
Leaving that aside, there are core values; they represent red lines that have to be defended. One of our witnesses, Dame Louise Casey, put it thus:
“You do not pick and choose the laws of this country. The laws that protect religious minorities are the same laws that say I am equal to a man. You do not pick which ones you want. It is not a chocolate box of choice; it is something you have to embrace. If you are uncomfortable with that, I now say that is tough”.
The committee concluded:
“The epithet ‘racist’ has rightly acquired particular force and opprobrium in modern day Britain. Those who seek to continue to promulgate approaches that are not in line with our values, such as the value of equality, have been known to make use of this phrase to rebut criticism of their approach. Where necessary society must be sufficiently strong and confident not to be cowed into silence and must be prepared to speak up. Fear of being labelled ‘racist’ is never a reason for those in authority not to uphold the law, or for citizens not to raise their concerns”.
It is not good enough to look the other way; civic engagement demands more. Whether my noble friend’s amendment is the only—or right—way to help defend these red lines I am not sure. But I am sure that there is an important debate to be had, a debate about the gap—as he referred to it in his remarks a moment ago—and about how we balance our country’s proud record of openness and tolerance with the views of others, often in positions of influence, who openly despise such an approach as weak and wrong and who, given their positions of influence, are able to influence the actions of others and lead them astray. People of influence are able to empower and liberate their followers. This empowerment can be put to good or less good uses. We have seen an example in recent weeks in the United States, with the delivery of letter bombs to prominent citizens whose sole defining characteristic seems to be that they oppose the current Administration.
If there was one key theme from the huge volume of evidence that my committee received, it was that people from all parts of the country and all communities considered that the ground was shifting under their feet, that they increasingly felt rootless and that they wanted to belong. They wondered whether all parts of our society were prepared, in the spirit of compromise and tolerance so essential to the well-being of this country, to subjugate some of their personal preferences and beliefs in the cause of the greater good of society as a whole, or whether, as a result of speeches or actions by those who did not share our values, too many now felt empowered and liberated to attack our society, the state or the Crown and thus, in the broadest sense, commit an act of treason.
To conclude, we took evidence from Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. He addressed us thus:
“If we keep picking the fruits of tolerance and not attending to the roots of the tree, it disappears … tolerance becomes cynicism, cynicism becomes indifference, indifference hardens and we end up going down the road that leads to hate incidents and hate crimes”.
It is to try to avoid this country going down that very sombre road outlined by the Cardinal Archbishop that I have put my name to my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, I too support the amendment. When I read it, I was surprised that it did not include the words “take up arms against Her Majesty’s forces” or something to the same effect. It is, as my noble friend pointed out, a procedural point. I gently point out, however, that we in this House have great freedoms of manoeuvre and are able to table amendments that you simply would not be able to in the House of Commons. I hope that, in the end, the provision will include the words “taking up arms against Her Majesty’s forces”. We cannot have UK citizens attacking the UK or its forces in an organised way while still enjoying our way of life and the privileges of living in the UK. How do we think our security services and Armed Forces feel when they realise that a member of the enemy was brought up in the UK?