Lord Clark of Windermere debates involving the Cabinet Office during the 2019 Parliament

Freedom of Information

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd January 2024

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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It is a good question. I do not have a figure; I have explained that freedom of information is a duty across nearly 100,000 public authorities, because we are not only talking about central government today but schools, the NHS, local authorities and even some publicly owned organisations, so individual costs will be borne by individual departments. In the Cabinet Office, there is also a dedicated unit, because we are responsible overall for the Act, which is why I am answering Questions. But a lot of freedom of information requests are actually dealt with by civil servants as part of their day-to-day job, because they have to comment on where there are policy issues or advice to Ministers that it would be difficult to make available. Obviously, as the Minister, I try to encourage them to make things available wherever possible under the Act.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab)
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My Lords, I was pleased to hear the Minister say that she supported freedom of information. Will she continue to shout that loud and clear? I was the author of the original White Paper, and we made the point that unless our constituents and electors have knowledge, there cannot be democracy. I hope she will make that point loud and clear.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I support the noble Lord. I think this was probably his approach when he conceived the legislation, which is not entirely easy because of the burdens. You have to have a balance between letting sunlight in wherever we can by making things available—not using them as an excuse for cover-ups; we have perhaps had too many of those historically—and keeping secret private advice to Ministers so that they can take decisions in an objective fashion, consider options that are not always welcome and come to the right conclusions. I think that is very important, and I speak as someone who, strangely, has been both a civil servant and a Minister.

Covid-19 Inquiry

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Thursday 8th June 2023

(1 year ago)

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I agree with the noble Lord about the possibility of an accommodation being reached. We have had discussions with the inquiry to bridge the gap between sincerely held views. However, we have also requested that any judicial review is held expeditiously, and we are very glad that the court has agreed to deal with this before the end of June. In the meantime—and I cannot emphasise this more strongly—every day more material is being sent into the inquiry and the large teams working on this important matter are co-operating.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab)
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My Lords, does the Minister guarantee that the inquiry will be provided with the figures outlining the serious loss of personnel in the NHS, which is causing serious problems in the cancer field, as we have heard about today, and which have occurred over the period that it is investigating?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I assure the noble Lord that anything that is Covid related is being made available to the inquiry, subject to some security points. The impact of the Covid measures on the wider NHS and health is a matter for the chair but is inherently relevant.

Lobbying of Ministers

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Tuesday 1st March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I apologise but I did not absolutely get the point that the noble Viscount makes. It is certainly the case that in a free society and a free country, it is perfectly reasonable for individuals or organisations to go to their MP, the Government or the local council to put the case for changes and provide information from outside, which may help government, councils or others make decisions. That is an inherent part of a free society.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab)
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My Lords, over the years the process of providing information to civil servants, Ministers and parliamentarians has traditionally been done by lobbying, which is part of the democratic process. There is a belief that, of late, lobbying has become an integral part of the process of winning government contracts. Will the Minister reflect on that and discuss the suggestion with some of his colleagues?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, obviously I agree with what the noble Lord said in the first part of his question: in a free society it is an inherent right to make representations. As I have told the House, the Government are open to considering any proposals that do not restrict that. Lobbying and approaches to government should be transparent and properly conducted and exclude personal advantage; that is the purpose of the system.

National Risk Register

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Wednesday 3rd February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord makes a strong point with which I agree, having chaired one of your Lordships’ Select Committees that looked into longer-term planning. His point is important. The NSRA certainly takes into account the impact of risks on the most vulnerable in society in its methodology.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, emergency planners readily accept that the wider the input there is to a national risk register, the better it is, by its very definition. What plans have HMG to extend that input?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, as I say, the Government are in contact with a range of people. We have just discussed the issues of flooding and vulnerable groups, and, as I said in answer to the first supplementary question, the Government are obviously in contact with the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. We cast our interests and our ears—if you can cast your ears—widely.

EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Friday 8th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I wish to make my remarks in the context of climate change, which the Government are so committed to addressing. I will start on the European and international stage. When I chaired the Forestry Commission, I worked very hard with the then Government to get Europe to accept legislation so that illegally logged timber would not be allowed to enter the European Union in trade. I ask the Minister: what is the current position? Leading on from that, if it is still the case in Europe, what will the case be for Britain in any future deals outside Europe?

On the domestic front, trees are a critical part of our rural and urban ecosystems. We all know about the effects of Dutch elm disease and larch being felled. Currently, we have ash dieback too—80% of our ash trees are under threat—and there are many other diseases facing trees. Historically, the trading relationship in shrubs and trees within Europe and between Europe and the UK has been very close. Indeed, ash dieback was originally traced to the import of young ash trees from a European source. Put simply, we worked closely to tighten that up and make sure that it did not happen again. What is the current position of the relationship between Europe and the UK regarding tree trade?

UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Thursday 10th December 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Russell of Liverpool) (CB)
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The noble Lord, Lord Bird, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, all Members of the House are aware that the Isle of Man lies half way between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, yet it has never been a member of the European Union in its own right and is not included in the UK membership of the EU. That relationship is dependent upon protocol 3 of the UK’s Act of accession. That protocol also allows the island to be part of the European Union customs area. Will the Minister double check—or indeed treble check—that the interests of the Isle of Man are covered by and included in this agreement?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I will certainly check, as the noble Lord asks. I am not briefed in detail on the Isle of Man but I will make sure that I write to him and that the letter is made available to others present.

Covid-19: Public Health Information

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Tuesday 8th December 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, there is a large packet of questions there. I will obviously try to provide answers to some of them, but I cannot provide answers to all of them. The Government certainly recognise the priority attached to the groups for whom the noble Baroness so rightly and strongly speaks. Our strategy ensures that our audience receives bespoke Covid communications. Our partnership includes 47 BME publications, and core market materials are translated into community languages on request. The Government are overseeing BME audience-focused communications and engagement as part of specific campaigns.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, will the Government publish an equalities plan to ensure that there is the correct infrastructure across the country so that no community is left behind in the rollout of the vaccine? We already know that poorer areas have fewer GPs, so additional facilities need to be in place to ensure that these areas are not left behind in the rollout.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord will welcome the fact that this country is leading the world in the availability of vaccines. We have a programme, for which the set of priorities has been published, to distribute that vaccine broadly and widely, without fear or favour, to any group within this country.

Civil Servants: Public Procurement

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Thursday 29th October 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, of course I have listened to what my noble friend said. Like her, I have spent a lifetime in public service in different guises and I attach the highest importance to probity in every place and at every level. As she says, the NAO is undertaking an investigation to examine government procurement during the pandemic covering the period up to July 2020. The report is expected to be published in December.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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What a disappointing reply from the Minister. Does he not realise the deep concerns over the relationship between HMG and various companies in recent months? Have any formal reservations or qualifications been lodged under their code of conduct by senior civil servants on Ministers’ proposals? Whatever, will he confirm that eventually, there will be an inquiry into these activities?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I have already referred to the ongoing NAO investigation. So far as the Civil Service Code is concerned, Section 4.1.3c is absolutely specific that

“civil servants must not misuse their official position or information acquired in the course of their official duties to further their private interests or those of others … Where a conflict of interest arises, civil servants must declare their interest to senior management.”

Every civil servant will be expected to abide by that.

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 27th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, as this House debates parliamentary boundaries, it is important to come back to the fact that democracy is more than just voting. It is about living together in harmony and fairness, with respect for other minority viewpoints and tolerance of the opinion of others. Democracy in Britain is under challenge today as never before. I think of the growth of social media. The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, described this very graphically as “social media lynch mobs”; it is a truth, as well as a non-truth. There is an increasing feeling of alienation in many areas of this country. There is an emergence of anti-democratic, right-wing parties that are actually opposing democracy. We see that manifested in lower turnouts. I view the Bill against that background.

Living in Cumbria, I see—and agree with—the arguments advanced earlier by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. Physical boundaries, such as mountains and lack of road access, clearly need more stringent examination and should, generally, not be a factor where new constituencies emerge.

Democracy is a qualitative, as well as a quantitative, institution. I am, therefore, very much in favour of retaining 650 members. That allows citizens to feel more comfortable in their community and constituency. However, I am concerned about the strict 5% limit. It should be extended—certainly to 7.5% in extreme cases.

Lastly, our very constitution is based upon the supremacy and sovereignty of Parliament. Therefore, I am not exactly happy about removing Parliament’s final vote on the construction and position of parliamentary boundaries. It is a denial of our basic constitutional premise and I am not happy about it being passed to unelected officials.

House of Lords and Machinery of Government: Consultation on Changes

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Wednesday 15th July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I repeat what I said yesterday. Of course, all the factors the noble Lord has mentioned have to be weighed and taken into account in any reflections on the future of our Parliament and the role of this House. At the moment, Parliament is operating remotely—as the noble Lord himself is—and it is not impossible. However, I am sure that all the factors mentioned will be considered.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, all power to the Government’s elbows to distribute civil servants across the country, but yesterday the Minister was absolutely clear that only Parliament could determine its own relocation. Will the Government desist from acting ultra vires and leave it to Parliament to pursue its own conclusions, backed by primary legislation?

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I do not believe the Government are acting ultra vires in any way. It is important that all of us—in this House, in the other place and in the political world generally—reflect on how we may restore respect in the political process and bring that closer to the people. That does not change the fundamental constitutional point which the noble Lord has cited.