Elgin Marbles

Lord McNally Excerpts
Thursday 14th December 2023

(6 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, it was a pleasure to pause and give room for the last two contributions. I will start with a message to the Minister which might help him in his reply. In December 2011, I was in his position replying to a debate about a pardon for Alan Turing. I stood up and gave the set government reply, which had also been the reply of the previous Labour Government. Two years later, in 2013, when I had left the ministry, the then Secretary of State stood up and announced a pardon for Alan Turning, and all the careful wording I had used in explaining why we could not go against previous legislation or previous decisions just went. The Government had decided that it was necessary in the spirit of the day to pardon Alan Turing. The only thing left of this is that if you look me up in any of the reference books you will find a very helpful line saying: “Lord McNally refused a pardon for Alan Turing in 2011”. No, I did not; I was reflecting the policy of the Government of the day, as the Minister will be in a few minutes.

In a way, a lot of the legal and historical arguments do not match the fact that we are changing our views of what museums are for and their role in their societies and the world. By God, it will keep me awake tonight, but I am fully in agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Frost, said: this is a dilemma with a solution that is an opportunity. It a chance for us to play on the big stage in a confident way about how we see our heritage and our future.

Some of the ideas put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Frost, I have put forward in previous debates. There is ample opportunity to have a permanent partnership between Greece and Britain, between the British Museum and the Acropolis Museum, which would be a world standard in co-operation and exchange. One thing I do know, coming into the early autumn of my career in politics, is that the idea that if you send the Parthenon marbles to Greece on loan, you will ever get them back is disappearing into fantasy. They are of such special and unique importance that the political craft is to set an agreement between our two Governments and two museums that will leave the marbles where they should be in Athens but also leave a legacy for both museums of co-operation and exchange which is far more to the credit of both countries than this sterile old argument.

Civil Servants: Reduction of Numbers

Lord McNally Excerpts
Thursday 24th March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I would say to the right reverend Prelate that there are two sides to this coin. One is an efficient service that is more capable of delivering quality public service—we all believe profoundly in the ideal of public service—in a satisfying, effective way. The answer is yes, but I would say that that is not only measured in numbers.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the great gifts of 19th century Liberalism to the present day was a Civil Service selected on merit and politically neutral? Is that still the central pillar of the Government’s approach to the Civil Service recruitment, and would such recruitment benefit from a real attempt at greater diversity, backed up by a strengthened Freedom of Information Act which would increase public confidence in governance?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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There are a lot of questions there. I have great sympathy for the noble Lord’s first sentiment, which is the loss of Gladstonian Liberalism, which I think needs to be rediscovered a little on those Benches. As far as his other points are concerned, independence must be fundamental, and diversity in all its forms is one of the reason the places programme is intended to take the Civil Service into other parts of the country. Thinking outside the Westminster, Whitehall and London bubble is very important, because there are many insights further than a mile from this building.

Space Industry

Lord McNally Excerpts
Thursday 4th March 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD) [V]
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My Lords, it is very clear from what the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, said, that we have been down this road before. Some of us are old enough to remember Blue Streak and Black Arrow. What is needed first from the Minister is a clear commitment to a long-term strategy for the space industry. In doing that, will he clarify for us what the role of the national space council will be and how it will act as a conduit between the private and public sectors? Will the Minister also tell us whether either academic or commercial space co-operation will be inhibited by the powers in the National Security and Investment Bill now before Parliament? As a last thought, will he consider using his diplomatic and negotiating skills to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, to return to government to give the sector the political vision and commitment that it needs?

EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement

Lord McNally Excerpts
Friday 8th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD) [V]
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My Lords, as has been said by a number of noble Lords, this agreement mainly ignores the 80% of our economy covered by services. Everything from data adequacy to proper arrangements for our creative industries is left in the “work in progress” or “it will be all right on the night” category.

Financial services remain particularly vulnerable, and here I register a concern that the post-Brexit committee structure for this House does not include a specific financial services committee. That sector is not only one of the most important and successful parts of our economy, but one that might be most susceptible to the activity of buccaneers seeking to make London the money laundering capital of the world. It is a mistake not to have a specialist committee, either of this House or a Joint Committee of both Houses, to keep a close and expert eye on this important sector.

Secondly, the Brexit settlement faces us with the challenge of how really to return sovereignty to this Parliament and not simply to government Ministers. We have already seen the rampant use of Henry VIII clauses in much of the Brexit-implementing legislation. It is now abundantly clear that we need to reform the 2010 CRaG Act and curtail use of the royal prerogative, if parliamentary sovereignty is to be established over executive power in trade agreements and other treaties and executive actions.

Spending Review 2020

Lord McNally Excerpts
Thursday 3rd December 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD) [V]
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My Lords, this spending review comes as the country faces a spaghetti junction of serious challenges. There is the Covid pandemic, where even our Panglossian Prime Minister warns that we must not get carried away by over-optimism. There are some difficult days still ahead with Covid. Then there is Brexit. Let us be clear that, whatever the outcome of negotiations, Brexit is not done, it is about to begin, and the true costs of our leaving will become clearer than what was ever put on the side of a bus. Then there are the challenges brought about by climate change, the digital revolution, the need for sustainable plans to give care to our elderly and their carers and, at the same time, to give a road map of hope to those born in this century.

I have time to make only two pleas to the Chancellor. I urge him to give further immediate and longer-term relief to workers in the creative and leisure industries, many of them freelance. Pre-Covid, these were the fastest growing sectors in our economy, and they can be so again, given the necessary support. I support the call from the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for us to continue to associate with Erasmus. I urge the Government and the Chancellor to look again and abandon the cut in the aid budget. Theresa May once warned that the Tory Party must not become the nasty party. This is a decision by the nasty party, for the nasty party, and the Chancellor’s smiling photoshoots will not remove this stain from his record.

Finally, I again urge the Chancellor to listen to the advice of my noble friend Lord Razzall, which can be summed up in the advice from the late Lord Healey: when you are in a hole, stop digging.

Covid-19: Devolved Administrations

Lord McNally Excerpts
Friday 27th November 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am sure the Minister would agree that optics are important in fighting a campaign. One problem that we face in fighting the Covid epidemic is that quite often the Prime Minister has seemed to be uttering appeals from the imperial Parliament. Should not he take advice from, or the example of, his hero Churchill, who in 1940 who brought in the Opposition and presented a national front? Should not a special COBRA meeting be set up and meet regularly, involving opposition leaders and the leaders of the four nations? That would send a message of national unity that is missing at the moment.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, again, I do not agree with taking this to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister who leads in taking decisions and is involved in conversations. I think it is more important to stress the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Reid, that there is active, high-level engagement across the Governments and that is securing progress. We believe in devolution, and the devolved Administrations have public health responsibilities. I repeat that co-operation exists and should continue to exist.

Parliament: Restoration and Renewal Project

Lord McNally Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I will have to take advice on the matter in order to respond to the noble Lord. Options coming out like chaff will have varying effects, as he will know. I repeat that this is a matter for the exclusive cognisance of your Lordships’ House and, in the last resort, of the other place.

Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD) [V]
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My Lords, since the origin of the idea to move to York came from No. 10, perhaps we should carry on up to Barnard Castle. In the meantime, the real wake-up call for this House is that for the past 20 years, the Conservative and Labour Benches have frustrated any real and radical reform of this House. I ask the Lord Speaker to call together the leaders of all parties to consider such a programme of radical reform. While I know that turkeys do not vote for Christmas, unless we are willing to reform ourselves, we will certainly be plucked and stuffed by that cabal in No. 10.

Lord True Portrait Lord True
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My Lords, I always commend an open mind, but unfortunately for the Liberal Democrat party, many of its proposals for reform have fallen on stony ground.

Ministerial Code

Lord McNally Excerpts
Thursday 12th March 2020

(4 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD)
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My Lords, the greatest tribute that can be paid to my noble friend Lord Tyler in securing this debate is the quality of the speeches we have heard and the embedded wisdom of the contributors so far. Today’s debate has at its heart the concept of governance—that interconnected system of laws and conventions that enable society to work.

Norms and conventions change. Hugh Dalton lost his job as Chancellor for a few indiscreet words to a journalist on his way into this Chamber to deliver his Budget; the other one was out of commission at the time. The leak to the Sunday Times the weekend before the Budget has almost become a tradition in its own right.

Times change—today a lot of the old conventions no longer hold across our society. In the City we no longer rely on “my word is my bond” or a twitch of the Governor of the Bank of England’s eyebrow to guarantee financial probity. In Parliament and government, the understanding that we are all honourable does not carry the weight that it did. Of course, Sir Mark Sedwill was right when he told a Select Committee that it was the expectation that

“professional people conduct professional relationships”.

But that expectation must be underpinned by clear rules of behaviour for those who have power, and protection for those whose duty it is to speak truth to power.

I recently signed up to the “Valuing Everyone” course that the noble Lord, Lord Young, referred to, organised by the House authorities. Do Ministers, on taking office, have any similar training programme? I do not mean just handing them the code; I mean a training programme. When I was chair of the YJB, I did such a training programme as part of the MoJ’s in-house staff relations programme.

We have heard a lot about special advisers, and I hope the Minister will clarify the role of special advisers and the lines of responsibility to them. As has been said, the Ministerial Code is very clear that

“the conduct of special advisers, including discipline, rests with the Minister who made the appointment.”

That is clearly no longer the case. Special advisers are now under the central direction of Mr Dominic Cummings, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, has indicated. Can the Minister say, given the power that Mr Cummings now has, whether there is any reason, other than his own contempt for Parliament, why he should not give evidence before a Parliamentary committee examining these matters?

Just over 20 years ago I was a member of a Select Committee of this House under the chairmanship of the late Lord Slynn of Hadley. We were looking into the state of the public service, after the change of Government in 1997. Our findings were clear; we received much evidence testifying to the

“high standards of efficiency, integrity, impartiality and intellectual rigour which continue to characterise the Civil Service.”

Incidentally, many of our recommendations were somewhat belatedly included in the 2010 Constitutional Reform and Governance Act, to which the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, referred. I still believe our findings are true of our Civil Service and civil servants.

It is probably time for the Lords to establish another Select Committee to look again at these matters, and how they are affecting our public service. I could think of no better chair than the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale. What has been emphasised time and again is that the Prime Minister is the Minister for the Civil Service. His recent foreword to the code was full of fine words; but he will be judged on his actions, and he cannot outsource these responsibilities to Dominic Cummings.