21 Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale debates involving the Leader of the House

Wed 27th Mar 2024
Wed 18th Aug 2021
Mon 6th Jul 2020
Business and Planning Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading

Allowances

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Wednesday 27th March 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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I welcome this proposal, and the points I wish to make are made in a friendly manner, not a critical one. I am concerned about the interpretation of the words “similar accommodation”. I wonder whether the noble Lord the Leader of the House would consider whether a requirement that the accommodation is registered for VAT should be part of the scheme. I understand that this is fairly common within the Civil Service. I also wonder why we are reinventing a wheel and why we do not just adopt the same system as applies to Treasury officials who come to London for meetings and are part of the Home Civil Service. This seems a very easy thing to incorporate into our rules. I am concerned that the absence of any mention of VAT and the loose wording “similar accommodation” could lead to loopholes. As a person who was responsible for closing many loopholes in the European Parliament scheme, I am well aware of where loopholes can be found.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, it would be wrong of me not to comment on this, having been the Member who first raised this about a decade ago when we first raised the annual allowance. I welcome the report and the Motion in the name of the Leader of the House. I thank him personally. He may have been involved in the original scheme and the mistakes that were made then, but I welcome very much his efforts as Leader, with, I am sure, the support of the Lord Speaker and others, to make sure that this change came before the House today. It is long overdue and very welcome.

I also want to thank my noble friend Lord Foulkes. When I gave up the campaign on this issue through sheer exhaustion, he took up the cause. He deserves some credit on behalf of all of us who live outside London for making sure that this change comes forward.

The initial scheme, which was introduced in the month in which I came into this House, was wrong. In order to stop people who live in London abusing the old scheme, it has resulted in all of them receiving significant financial benefit during the last 14 years, while every Member who lives outside London and who uses overnight accommodation in London had their allowance cut in July 2010 and has suffered financially ever since.

Afghanistan

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Wednesday 18th August 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I salute the bravery of those who served in our Armed Forces and those of our coalition partners, as well as those who worked for local and international charities in Afghanistan, the diplomats and others who served our country so well over these past 20 years —particularly the past two weeks—and the Afghan women who, in the past few days, have said publicly that they will not give up the fight and will stand and fight to continue their work in education and government. I salute their bravery absolutely. I also note my declaration in the register.

I have felt sick, in the course of the last few days, at the situation as it developed, but I felt particularly sick last Friday. A friend in Kabul, who I had been corresponding with over recent weeks, was sending messages telling me of family members who had disappeared in Kandahar and other areas, presumed dead, and of family members who had fled when they discovered that their girls were on the lists of those whom Taliban fighters were looking for to marry off to Taliban fighters. I was sick to hear of her and her family’s fear for what might unfold in the days to come. The last message I got from her, on Friday, said that she was trying to organise a way out but that if Kabul fell to the Taliban, her family would have to take her underground, but she would continue to provide me with updates. I have not heard from her since.

This terrifying, horrific situation we have seen unfold over recent days has been 18 months in the preparation. But only the Taliban has prepared for it. Our Government have serious questions to answer. The Americans may have made the big mistake, but our Government and the other coalition partners have been party to discussions in the G7, the United Nations and NATO over recent months that surely must have included this on the agenda. To have sat back over these 18 months and not prepared for this at least likely outcome is a great failure on the part of Ministers—perhaps also on the part of those who advise them.

There are huge questions that need to be answered if we are to learn lessons from this immediately—not after a long inquiry, but immediately—and ensure that our government and its administration are fit for purpose in the months and years ahead. Were the Government advised just a few weeks ago that this was at least a possibility in the days and weeks following the rapid withdrawal? If they were advised of this, did they ignore that advice? If they were not advised of this, why do those advising them not have the knowledge and expertise to give better advice? If government Ministers ignored that advice, what on earth were they doing over these last few weeks as this situation unfolded in front of us? These questions need to be answered right now.

It cannot be that the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister or anyone else in government hides behind announcements or generalisations. We and the people of Afghanistan deserve to know—

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I am afraid the noble Lord has gone well over his time. Can we hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik?

Procedure and Privileges

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Tuesday 13th July 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I echo entirely his endorsement of the various thanks that were spoken so well by the Leader at the beginning of this debate.

I have attended the House in person pretty consistently since early June last year. Having been a strong advocate for a full lockdown in early March, I made a conscious decision that, if people were having to work in shops, on public transport, in schools, in hospitals and in health services, if possible—and if willing—Members of Parliament should be in attendance in the Chamber. I have done that consistently over the past 13 months, so I warmly welcome the fact that the House will return in full in September. I strongly support the principle that, apart from for those Members who are exempt, voting should take place on the Parliamentary Estate. That is right for the second Chamber of the United Kingdom Parliament, and will enhance our business and reputation.

However, I have some concerns about the proposals before us today. Last week, in the opinion poll—as it has been described—on the future of speaking lists, I reluctantly voted in favour of continuing with them. I was a Member of the Scottish Parliament from when it gained its full legislative responsibility on 1 July 1999. One of the mistakes that was made early on in the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood was instituting a system of speaking lists for Questions to Ministers. I tried to change it after I became First Minister; ever since, I have advocated for change when I have occasionally had the chance to speak about it. It did not just take the spontaneity away from the questioning of Ministers; it constantly let Ministers off the hook and reduced accountability rather than enhancing it. This regulation of Questions also made the whole session significantly less interesting for members of the public, whether they were in the gallery or watching through the media. It was a mistake in Holyrood and it would be a mistake to continue with this system indefinitely here.

However, I voted for it because I support the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, in principle. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, explained, having a list that is then enhanced by the occasional spontaneous question to follow up on a non-answer would be worth trying in your Lordships’ House in those circumstances. I hope that the Procedure Committee will continue to discuss this and not simply close off any further review as a result of the opinion poll that took place last Monday.

I also have some sympathy with the proposals from my noble friend Lord Adonis on starting times. I would vote without hesitation for earlier starting times—probably even earlier than my noble friend is proposing—for the House on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The leaders are aware of this but I was dismayed last year when the decision was made, for what I understand were technical and practical reasons, to move the starting time of the House on Mondays to an earlier time. At that time, because of the number of trains and other forms of transport that were available—not just from where I live in Stirling but from many miles north of that and from Northern Ireland too—some Members were not able to be here at 1 pm on a Monday. It was physically impossible for them, as it was for me and many other noble Lords who were further away and were therefore unable even to apply to be on the speakers’ list for a Question for the Monday 1 pm session.

I do not think that I will vote for my noble friend Lord Adonis’s amendment today but I implore the Procedure Committee and those responsible to look at this issue. It is possible to move the starting times further forward on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but I want the Procedure Committee and the other administrative committees of this House to take more account of the fact that many of us do not live in the metropolitan area around London. They need to take account of that in their decision-making and remember it, because participation in this House should be based on the principle of equality for all Members, with all Members able to take part on the same basis. We are rightly making provision for that today in terms of those Members who have long-term disabilities, but we should also take into account those who live far away. This should be true in relation to allowances as well.

I will not divide the House on the fourth Motion in front of us and I will not speak for long about it, but we have shown over the past 15 months that we can amend the allowances system when there is an absolutely proper need to make a change. It is fundamentally wrong that this House continues with an allowances system that, since 2011, has resulted in those Members who have property in London and the surrounding area and are therefore able to commute into London benefiting to the tune of nearly £300,000. Before 2011, the daily allowance was £86.50. It was changed overnight to £300. In general, the allowances that could be claimed by Members who lived outwith London, including the overnight allowance, were reduced by £34.50. This discrimination has now been taking place for a full decade. It is fundamentally wrong. It discriminates institutionally against Members who do not have property in London. It is time to change it. This Motion reinstitutes the position as it was before, builds in the annual uprating and does not make the change necessary to make this House equal. It is time that it did.

G7 and NATO Summits

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Thursday 17th June 2021

(3 years ago)

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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At the summit, the G7 leaders announced plans to deepen the G7’s current partnership with developing countries and deliver a new deal for Africa, including magnifying support from the IMF for countries most in need. The increased funding for COVAX will help with the vaccine rollout within countries in Africa.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, it was reported that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had observer status at the summit. Was this regarded as a successful new initiative and is it likely to be repeated? It seemed to me to be very welcome.

I welcome the strong wording in the G7 communiqué about establishing the Democracy 11, and the strong wording in the outcome of the NATO summit about defending the borders of free nations in the east of Europe from Russian expansionism. Will the Government therefore guarantee that any current support available for conflict prevention, peacebuilding and institution building in those eastern European nations will be maintained, despite the cuts to the budget for official development assistance in the UK?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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As I have said in response to previous questions, we remain and will remain a world-leading aid donor. Officials are currently looking through the implementation plans for our spending and I am sure that the noble Lord’s comments will be taken into account.

His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Monday 12th April 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, on this sombre occasion, I hope I speak for all those who have served in government and in the Parliament in Scotland since 1999 in expressing thanks for the service of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and condolences to Her Majesty the Queen following his death. Prince Philip’s association with Scotland predated his membership of the Royal Family, and those happy schooldays in the Highlands undoubtedly contributed to his love of the natural environment, knowledge and, of course, sports. In the decades that followed, the Duke of Edinburgh was regularly in Scotland, accompanying the Queen, or as chancellor of the University of Edinburgh or as a supporter of many other causes and organisations in his own right. Of course, they enjoyed their annual weeks at Balmoral together and with guests.

In my time in government, I was fortunate to join the Duke of Edinburgh on many occasions, and I retain three powerful memories from those moments. Prince Philip accompanied the Queen on all her official visits to the Scottish Parliament since 1999. From day one, the Queen and Prince Philip were supportive of the new institution and its members, they understood the status of the legislature and they followed closely the work of Ministers and MSPs. The respect shown for the status of the Scottish Parliament and the devolved Government was deeply appreciated, and it helped stabilise our young institution after a bumpy start. The people and representatives of Scotland will forever be grateful for that.

It is fitting that the Duke of Edinburgh awards, helping millions of young people all over the world, are forever associated with the home of the Scottish Enlightenment and all it represents, but the Duke of Edinburgh’s connection with young people went way beyond those awards. He would gravitate towards young people at public and private events, listening to them, learning from them, challenging them and, of course, laughing with them too. It would be a terrific legacy for his lifetime of service if we could renew our commitment not only to those awards but to the future opportunities of young people, wherever they come from in our land and throughout the Commonwealth.

Finally, this weekend, I, with my family, have remembered the man himself: always on duty in public, supporting the Queen and the country, but in private he was the family man, making guests feel at ease at Balmoral and Holyrood, poking fun at his own children and being a memorable host. My former staff all recall moments when His Royal Highness allowed them to relax with a “Come on, then, let’s get started,” or “Come and help me with this,” picking the person out in the room who looked most nervous and putting them at ease. When he discovered that my wife was the daughter of a butcher, one evening at Balmoral, when he famously delivered the barbecue—as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury told us earlier—they engaged in conversation for hours afterwards about the butcher meat that he liked to choose from the local butchers in the area around Balmoral, and the passion that he had for making sure that everybody enjoyed the best possible cuts on the evening.

We remember today his devotion to duty and to his family. As Covid restrictions lift, the family will return to Balmoral and Scotland—I hope this year—but there will be an empty chair and someone else will be at the barbecue. I hope in that moment they feel the strength of our condolences and depth of our gratitude and know that in Scotland he will never be forgotten.

Business of the House

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Tuesday 28th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Trefgarne Portrait Lord Trefgarne (Con)
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My Lords, I will not delay your Lordships. I regret very much the need for hybrid arrangements both in your Lordships’ House and now, as we are to decide shortly, in Grand Committee. I think that we have all been given to understand that the hybrid arrangements will end when the two-metre requirement goes and I look forward to that very much indeed. In the meantime, would it not be possible to provide more accommodation for your Lordships in, for example, the Royal Gallery, in the Robing Room or perhaps in the galleries around the Chamber?

I want particularly to ask about the voting arrangements during the hybrid proceedings. Is it not possible for noble Lords to cast their vote here in the Chamber, or perhaps in Grand Committee, by, for example, handing their vote to the clerk? I have been told that doing so is possible in special circumstances but not routinely, but I hope that that can be changed. So far as the hybrid voting arrangements are concerned, I am not keen on the idea of allowing anyone situated remotely anywhere in the world to do so. That is surely not a satisfactory position. I express the hope again that your Lordships’ House will return to normal as soon as possible.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, I will resist the temptation to go into the wider issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. There are points that need to be debated about the hybrid system and the voting system and it is unfortunate that we have not had the chance to do so over these weeks, when we could easily have spared an hour or so for that discussion.

I want to raise two specific issues in relation to the Motion before us. The first concerns the timings. I wonder if the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip could outline whether those involved in the discussions on the arrangements for September have given any consideration at all to the fact that, when we meet at one o’clock on a Monday afternoon, it is physically impossible for Members who have to travel from north of Glasgow and Edinburgh to attend the Chamber. That is fundamentally and perhaps even constitutionally wrong. Given that nine years ago your Lordships’ House withdrew the potential for reimbursement on an overnight basis, a Member would have to incur the costs and make the arrangements to travel down on a Sunday to take part in proceedings at one o’clock on a Monday. At the moment, the first train that I can take out of Stirling is at 6.40 am. I can make the connection to the 8 am train from Edinburgh, which gets into London at 12 40 pm, but there would be a significant risk in trying to get to this place from the train station for one o’clock. A similar problem exists at the end of the week, but I understand that that may be impossible to avoid because of the fact that, because so many train services are not running at the moment, it is not possible to return home after the last debate on a Thursday. I understand that that is the situation at the moment and it is something that we need to live with.

If the Grand Committee is to meet on a Monday, has any consideration been given to the Grand Committee or your Lordships’ Chamber, or both, meeting later than one o’clock on a Monday, so that everyone can take part? On that issue of taking part, we are all willing to be flexible and we understand that there had to be some arrangement between the four groups or blocs in your Lordships’ House when it came to speaking lists and the selection of Members to ask questions, which I appreciate had to be done for a short time through the party Whips. However, if there is any justification for an unelected House in this Parliament, it is because people bring their individual experience, judgment and knowledge to their contributions to Questions and debates, so it cannot be right over the long term for the final selection of those who can speak to be made on a party basis by the Whips. What consideration have the Government given to reviewing that system if, for example, we are in a situation where the number of Peers who will be able to take part in the new Grand Committee proceedings will be so small that they will need to be selected by the party Whips under the system as it currently stands?

House of Lords: Allowance

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Shinkwin Portrait Lord Shinkwin (Con)
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My Lords, every situation can teach us something. The experience of the last few months might have plunged some noble Lords into significant debt, but it is none the less valuable in the lessons that it teaches us as a self-regulating House. I think it is fair to say that the most important lesson is that we must avoid at all costs reinforcing the unfair perception that your Lordships’ House is the exclusive preserve of privilege and wealth. Diversity is our strongest defence against that charge, which is why we need to recognise that some noble Lords will inevitably have neither inherited nor acquired wealth but will have significant outgoings. That is normal and must be taken into account, and I thank the Lords Commission for doing so in its latest decision.

However, apart from the personal consequences of suddenly having very little income, it has been very unsettling to see such decision-making power wielded in secrecy and without any accountability to a parliamentary Chamber that is meant to be self-regulating. I therefore think that, to move forward, we need to get our own House in order by injecting some transparency and accountability into the system. Most importantly, we urgently need to strengthen the legitimacy of the Lords Commission in future by holding an election of its chair and deputy chair by the whole House, by holding open meetings of the Lords Commission, by ensuring advanced publication of Lords Commission papers, and by having a quarterly Lords Commission Question Time with its chair, held in the Chamber, as in the House of Commons.

I will close on this point. Specifically with regard to the position of the Clerk of the Parliaments, I know that I am not alone in being concerned that the postholder wields huge authority without any real accountability to the House. I therefore suggest that the contract for such a hugely important role should not be extended in future without it having been put to and agreed by the House first, and the details of the package, the job description and objectives having been made available in the Library a week before consideration.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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I first praise the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, for speaking out on issues that he has felt strongly about over recent weeks. It is never easy to talk about parliamentary allowances, because your words are capable of being distorted and you become a bit of a target. If he has opinions to provide to your Lordships’ Chamber, he should do so, and he is brave to speak out. I have different points to make, but I welcome his contribution.

I also thank the noble Baroness the Leader for her introduction, for making sure that the information for today was available early and for the supplementary information that has been provided this morning. I recognise that the last few months have been difficult for all concerned. I have praised the staff of the House before. They have done an outstanding job in difficult circumstances. But I also think that the Leader has steered us through these times in a responsible and admirable way.

I have two points, partly spurred on by the use of the word “temporary” to describe this second version of the temporary scheme that we are going through. That word was used to me in the spring of 2011 when I questioned the new allowances scheme. I was told that it was a temporary move to remove the abuses that had been taking place and bring in something that would be simple to administer, but that it would be reviewed quickly and we would return to overnight reimbursement in the near future.

That, of course, has not happened. If, over the nine years since, those Members who live in London or have property in London—I suspect that the vast majority in this House have either inherited that property or had it paid for by the state as Members of the House of Commons—have attended every sitting of this House since Easter 2011, they will have gained more than £200,000 from the change in the allowance system that was brought in, when the previous overnight allowance, which I think was about £160 to £170, was mopped into the daily allowance so that everybody in the House could claim it, not just those who actually had overnight costs from being in London.

This has happened in the same decade when every party leader, in the House of Commons and here, has expressed a desire to bring more people from more parts of the country, with different experiences and backgrounds, into your Lordships’ Chamber. At a time when that is the expressed aim, there is institutional discrimination against those Members who do not live in London and the south-east. That discrimination has never been tackled by the commission, successive Leaders or any of the political parties. I think that that is shameful. I have said it here before and I will say it again today.

I raise this today because we have an opportunity. I want to be positive rather than just negative about what has happened. There is an opportunity, given that these temporary arrangements have had to be put in place, to reduce the daily allowance for all Members and to reinstate some overnight allowance for those Members who have to travel from other parts of the country and do not own property in London. There must be an opportunity over these coming months, as we use this new temporary system, to make a change—to do the right thing. I ask the House of Lords Commission to give that serious consideration. The time is right. I think that it would suit the public mood, but it would also be the right thing to do, not only for the individuals concerned but for the diversity of this House and the attendance of Members from around the whole of the United Kingdom.

My second point is bit more specific. It is not far off some of the principles behind the points made by the previous speaker. I should perhaps say first of all that my comments on this in no way affect or change my ability to reclaim the legitimate travel costs that I have incurred in attending the Chamber physically over the last few weeks, because on each of those weeks I made a contribution in the Chamber and I will receive my full travel reimbursement, as is right and proper.

However, I am not happy at all about the situation where changes to the regulations and the interpretation of the travel allowance are being backdated. If someone has attended this Chamber over the past seven weeks but on the day was not able, for whatever reason, to go on the relevant Questions list, perhaps because they were not chosen by their whip, and they incurred legitimate travel costs to be here, if they were not on a list for the day or days they were here that week, they will not get the travel reimbursed, which they paid at the time assuming that that was okay.

I have raised this with the Clerk of the Parliaments, in correspondence with the Leaders and with the Lord Speaker. I think it is wrong that the travel allowance changes should be rigidly backdated. There should be some flexibility for anyone caught up in that situation. I am lucky and fortunate not to be in that position, but at least one or two Members of your Lordships’ House might be.

Business and Planning Bill

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 6th July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, I absolutely respect the choices made by others, but one of the reasons that I have travelled to London each week since the beginning of June to attend your Lordships’ Chamber is because I believe very strongly that the Government and Parliament need to lead the country out of peak lockdown with confidence and clarity. That is best done if as many of us as possible are here and present to do so.

I wholeheartedly support almost every measure in the Bill and the purpose behind it. The Government are right to be leading the country out of lockdown and trying to energise our economy again, but I am a little concerned at the pace in the devolved nations, which should be more closely involved. There should be more effort across the four Governments of the United Kingdom to be more co-ordinated in their approach to releasing business activity and moving on from peak lockdown.

In this effort, the Government are in danger of being too inconsistent and lacking in clarity. For example, I cannot understand why we are allowed—and now I think that “encouraged” is the right word—to use aeroplanes and sit next to each other in a confined space while travelling for hours on end, yet people cannot take lifeline ferries to the islands off the west coast of Scotland. I do not understand why people can pack into pubs, not only to stand too close to each other and get drunk but also to use the same toilets and other facilities, but cannot move in a single-file, one-way system at a reasonable level of numbers through our national and local museums and galleries; or use health clubs, which would be a far better use of their time than getting drunk on a Saturday night. I do not understand why people can get their hair cut, as I did on Saturday morning—but if I had wanted to, I could not have gone to a nail bar to have my nails done.

I do not understand the choices that have been made. The Culture Secretary speaking on the “Today” programme this morning showed how difficult that is to explain when he was asked a question about museums and aeroplanes. He did not have an answer. When the Government are not clear and do not show the logic behind the decisions they are announcing, that does not release economic confidence, energy and entrepreneurship; it deflates it, because people remain worried and scared. My plea to the Government when bringing forward this Bill and other measures is this: there needs to be more clarity and consistency in decision-making, so that people feel confident to take the leadership role that they are being shown and thus re-engage with the economy in ways that are absolutely essential.

I am not at all convinced by the idea that we should encourage more off-sales of alcoholic liquor, and I will come back to that during the debates on the specific clauses of the Bill, I am sure. However, while I welcome the Bill and most of the measures in it, I make the plea that not only in Whitehall but also in Holyrood, Cardiff and Belfast, the four Governments of the United Kingdom show more unity and urgency as well as much more clarity and consistency, because that is how the country will respond with the highest degree of positivity.

Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Wednesday 8th January 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

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Asked by
Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government when the integrated security, defence and foreign policy review will report on the United Kingdom’s place in the world.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, the Prime Minister has committed to undertake the deepest review of Britain’s security, defence and foreign policy. The review will examine how we strengthen and prioritise our alliances, diplomacy and development, and how we reform Whitehall to support integrated policy-making and operational planning. It will consider all aspects of our defence and security capabilities, including our approach to procurement and maintaining our technological edge. An announcement on the review will be made in due course.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. This review is very welcome, not least to those of us who have argued for some time that the UK should be updating the strategy set out in 2011 on conflict, stability and security. It is welcome that defence, diplomacy and development are all referenced both in the gracious Speech and in the supporting documentation. The UK is in a unique position internationally, because of our commitment to defence, our commitment to development and our diplomatic resources, to make a real impact. I would welcome an assurance from the Minister and the Government that due weight and respect will be given to development as well as diplomacy and defence, as this will ensure that this review and its outcomes have the most impact in whatever “global Britain” might now mean.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, I agree completely with what the noble Lord has just articulated. On international development, as I indicated, the review will be broad-ranging, with a number of interwoven strands. The precise scope of the review has yet to be determined, but I can tell the noble Lord that the policy to maintain 0.7% of gross national income for development will remain unchanged.

House of Lords: Allowance

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Tuesday 27th March 2018

(6 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, I realise that I am unlikely to win the popularity stakes in your Lordships’ Chamber by the comments that I am about to make—but, having exhausted all other opportunities available to persuade those who hold offices in this House to change this system of allowances, I feel that I have no other alternative but to say a few words in this debate.

In 2010, shortly after I was introduced to your Lordships’ House, the system of allowances was changed. I have to say today that I am opposed to this Motion on two grounds. First, I am opposed to the increase; that will certainly not make me very popular. I do not believe that £300 tax-free, available to every Member of this House indiscriminately, is justifiable in terms of public opinion or the public purse. Secondly, I am opposed to it because it entrenches the discrimination that was introduced into the system in 2010.

For those Members of your Lordships’ House who have been introduced since 2010, I will remind the House of what the allowances were back then. The day allowance, which is effectively the equivalent of the £300, was £86.50. It was introduced for the majority of Members of the House, who went from £86.50 to £300 overnight. There was an office allowance—a secretarial allowance—of £75, available to all Members, and there was an overnight allowance of £174 for Members who lived outside London. That was a total of £335.50 for those Members who could legitimately claim the overnight allowance because they lived outside London and were paying sometimes up to £200 a night for a hotel in London.

In 2010, that was changed to £300 for every Member of the House, available every day that the House sat. The Members who lived outside London received a reduction of £35.50; the Members who lived inside London—even with the ending of the secretarial allowance—received an increase of £138.50. That system continues to exist today and is entrenched by the report of the House of Lords Commission that is in front of us. It was basically introduced because leaders in your Lordships’ House assumed that it was impossible to police a system that relied on the trust of Members living in London not to illegitimately claim an overnight allowance to which they were not entitled. So those who were legitimately incurring costs through living outside of London were effectively penalised because people who lived in London—it was perceived—could not be trusted. That is a shocking state of affairs: it should have been dealt with long before now.

There have been assurances again and again over the last eight years that, if there was any change at all to the allowance system, the first change would be to rectify this anomaly. The impact of this anomaly is clear: there are Members here today, in your Lordships’ House, who have moved their residence from outside London to inside London solely for financial reasons, because of the impact of the allowances scheme. People who were introduced in 2010, 2011 and 2012—because they lived outside London and because of the desire of the then Prime Minister and others to bring in more people from outside London to your Lordships’ House—have moved to London since then. There are Members here who have an incentive to move to London, when the incentive should be to increase the geographical diversity of this House: to get people here from the devolved Parliaments who have not served in Westminster and to get people here who spent their working lives in Northern Ireland, Wales, the north of England, the south-west and Scotland. This system acts as a disincentive to that objective. All the political parties say that they have that as an objective, and yet they will not take the one simple step, based on receipts, that would make a difference. So I am opposed to this report because it entrenches that discrimination: it is an unjust system and it is a disincentive to greater diversity in this House at a time when, I hazard to suggest, it is deeply needed.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, you can agree with my noble friend on the anomaly he highlights and the unfair system that penalises those who live—and remain living—distances from London, and still be in favour of passing the Motion this afternoon. They are not mutually exclusive. It is perfectly feasible to recognise that after eight years, a modest increase in the allowance is justified whether the media mislead the public or not about your Lordships’ House, and to want to look at changes in the future. I encourage my noble friend to support what is put forward by the Leader of the House this afternoon and then to work with others on seeing whether we can have a watertight system.

There are many other anomalies. One of the things we should greatly encourage is to get the work of this House better known and better connected across the United Kingdom. One small measure in that regard would be to pay the same allowance for activities outside this House that are paid when they take place inside the House. In other words, we do not discriminate, for instance, against committees that take themselves out of London to find out how the real world lives out there.