There have been 6 exchanges involving Lord Polak and the Cabinet Office
|Thu 25th February 2021||Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill (Lords Chamber)||2 interactions (441 words)|
|Fri 8th January 2021||EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (340 words)|
|Wed 21st October 2020||EU Exit: Negotiations and the Joint Committee (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (68 words)|
|Wed 9th September 2020||Office for Veterans’ Affairs (Lords Chamber)||4 interactions (114 words)|
|Tue 5th May 2020||House of Lords: Membership (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (94 words)|
|Tue 28th April 2020||European Union: Future Relationship (Lords Chamber)||3 interactions (86 words)|
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his personal assurances and commitment to improving the Bill, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for her leadership and intervention.
The Government have acknowledged the significance of women’s role in giving birth. Language is imperative in setting out law. I would have preferred “woman” but support the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, as this honours mothers. I will say a quick work about feeding babies. Both my husband and I have chests, although mine is slightly adjusted, so it was me who ended up breastfeeding my five children. So I take great exception to the word “chestfeeding” and hope that we will not descend to the farce that has got us here.
Women like me have entered public life and carried on birthing children and experiencing great financial stress. This has reminded me of having to attend a Labour Group AGM on the third day after my daughter was born in 1992. I was immediately informed by the then leader, who is now the mayor of the council, that my baby was not entitled to enter the building and, more importantly, our shared office. I was similarly vilified in a national newspaper for bringing my eight month-old son to this House for one day in 1998—although subsequently sentiments changed towards other colleagues and mothers, thank God, who were regarded as heroic for bringing in their newborn babies and children.
It was a farce that led us to refer to a “person”, not a “woman”, no matter the explanation. While I appreciate the miraculous advances in medicine and science, not least the discovery of Covid-19 vaccines at such speed, I do not foresee that in my lifetime men will be birthing babies. Apart from anything else, it would certainly speed up population control. Until then, we should ensure that we provide women with the necessary support, and I support this Bill very strongly.
Due to House procedures and unforeseen circumstances I was not able to participate at Second Reading. I am glad of this opportunity to do so at this stage, as I welcome and support this Bill very much. I thank all noble Lords across the House for their powerful contributions. Like many other noble Lords, I would like to see the Government give further urgent consideration to improving maternity pay and conditions for all women in other professions, including local authority councillors. I have spent most of my life working first in the NGO context and then as a contracted social worker, not entitled to the luxury of full maternity pay. This has been the experience of hundreds of thousands of women, including Members of this House who have been pregnant during their time here.
Equal access to work is not the reality for many, and despite the Equal Pay Act 1970, our statutory maternity pay is a mere £152 a week, which is probably not enough to cover nappies these days. Over 50% of women from ethnic minority backgrounds work in insecure and low-paid sectors. I have strived for equal justice and whenever I have been in a decision-making position, I have taken action on employment rights, including maternity pay for staff, which is an essential element of workers’ rights.
The very first time any women within the NGO sector had full maternity rights provided was in 1982. I managed a women-led organisation, and I negotiated with the then GLC women’s committee, which had the foresight to support this—much to the angst of the local union, which argued that unless all NGOs were paying their maternity entitlement, one organisation should not be an exception. But I stood my ground, with the support of women locally and other women’s organisations, and maternity payments are still preserved in that organisation 36 years later.
This is really important. I persisted with that organisation. Despite the fact that they were all minority women, they were entitled to proper wages because unless you have proper wages it is no good relying on measly packets of maternity pay. This is a very important factor. Working conditions for minority women remain appalling. The incredible coalition that has been evident throughout these discussions on the Bill has been so powerful. We must now strengthen our resolve to ensure that we do not revert to accepting anything less than the best possible financial care for women, expectant mothers and mothers. We should do everything possible in our deliberations. We have raised hope for women across our country that we commit to making sure that they also are given their fullest maternity entitlement.
My Lords, it is an honour to address your Lordships’ House for the first time. I thank those who have made me so welcome and been so helpful in my time here so far: the doorkeepers, the staff, Black Rod and of course Garter. I thank those who introduced me, my noble friends Lord Callanan and the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding.
I started my career in politics in this building, although not in this place, when I was privileged to represent the constituency of Stockton South, my home town, for seven years. In that time, I served under both David Cameron as the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse and Theresa May as the International Development Minister for Africa.
In 2013, I brought private Member’s legislation, which was an attempt at that time to legislate for a referendum on our membership of the European Union, topical to the matters that have preoccupied the House for some time in the intervening years. It was successful as legislation in the House in which I was then present. My noble friend Lord Dobbs did a valiant job of attempting to persuade your Lordships to support that Private Member’s Bill at that time but was unsuccessful on that occasion, although of course an awful lot has happened in the intervening years.
An awful lot has happened and an awful lot has challenged many of our political systems. Having had the good fortune to work in some capacity with at least the last three Conservative Prime Ministers, including the present one, and to have watched the political debate now in this House and then as a representative of my home town, I fear that our politics has become more divided and fractious. I hope, therefore, that as we debate the deal that has been done, and it is indeed now done, we recognise that the UK has now left the European Union and is now free to forge its own future, whatever disagreements we might have about that future and the shape that it should take, that we can set a better and more positive tone, that future debates will better reflect on both Houses and our political system, and that we can unite the country with better, more positive and closer working arrangements that in truth will better reflect how most people feel we should behave.
My Lords, it is a sad irony that this trading co-operation agreement—so-called—will assuredly result in less trade and reduced co-operation with the European Union. The best thing that can be said about it, and it has been said, is that it is better than no deal, but it is emphatically not better than our previous position. I ask the Minister: when have any Government entered trade negotiations with the expectation—indeed, the express objective—of ending up with arrangements that reduce opportunities and increase impediments to trade relative to the status quo ante? That is precisely what this agreement does.
In trading with the EU, we now face more bureaucracy, as people have pointed out, greater regulatory impediments, weaker mutual recognition of professional qualifications, and a new ambiguity in supply chains, while in a week when we hear that 4,000 City firms are at a heightened risk of failure due to the Covid crisis there is next to nothing on the services sector, which comprises 80% of our trade with the European Union. As my noble friend Lord Blunkett pointed out, there will of course also be less co-operation on security and policing and weaker regulation of data flows. Yet the Prime Minister urges us to rejoice and celebrate this deal as though it were some great victory, another Waterloo. That is the maximum self-delusion. This is not a Waterloo; if anything, it is a Dunkirk. It is a temporary reprieve from a disastrous strategic mistake, and I am sure the future will show us that neither trade nor prosperity are won by evacuations.
My Lords, that is a false characterisation of Part 5 of the internal market Bill. The Government are not subverting the Northern Ireland protocol; we are acting to implement it. The Government’s proposal, which your Lordships will have to discuss—I do not want to repeat the discussions we had yesterday—is that in certain circumstances we might have to protect our union against interference with free movement in the customs territory. On the joint committee proposals, the statement referred to the meeting that took place recently and the fact that another meeting will take place in November. The record of this Government on citizens’ rights for EU nationals has been outstanding and generous; we and, I understand, the Commission are pressing all member states to reciprocate. I hope very much that that will be the case.
My Lords, I stand by the words of the Prime Minister in reaction to that. It was disappointing. I referred to it in my speech yesterday. It seemed to restate the opening position. As we understand it, the communiqué was hardened from the text that was before the Council, which was disappointing. We have expressed our disappointment and set out our position and feelings on the matter. I repeat to the House, because I do not want to make an entirely negative point, that we will carefully study everything that is said by EU representatives. As I have said, there will be further conversations.
My Lords, since establishing the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, the Government have brought the Strategy for our Veterans to life. We have improved access to social housing, we are hiring Armed Forces champions in jobcentres, and we are announcing a high-intensity mental health service. The Government have also announced a veterans’ railcard, guaranteed interviews in the Civil Service, and a national insurance holiday for veterans’ employers. We awarded £6 million of Covid-19 funding to service charities.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his kind words about the work of officials; he is a great campaigner on these matters. He is absolutely right to signal the importance of work on mental health. The existing services we have established— the Transition Intervention and Liaison Service and the Complex Treatment Service—benefit from over £10 million of investment per year and have collectively received over 10,000 referrals. However, we want to do more, and the forthcoming veterans mental health high intensity service will see even more investment, providing crisis care, therapeutic in-patient support and help with co-ordinating care. We are currently recruiting for this service. I will certainly talk to Mr Mercer about a meeting with my noble friend and we will see what we can arrange.
My Lords, I welcome scrutiny and think that it is vital for a democracy. Obviously, the arrangements made by the authorities of the House are beyond my remit; I am here to answer for the Government. The Government do not currently intend to put a cap on the size of the House; indeed, their position is that from time to time the House will need refreshing. That has always been the position; it has never been a static House.
My Lords, I understand what my noble friend is saying. For example, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern makes an immense contribution, even though I think he only gives a year in age to Her Majesty the Queen. Anybody who had half a tin ear to the work of your Lordships’ House would understand the immense contribution made by older people in it. I submit that if an appointed House is not in good part a House of expertise and experience, it is nothing, but I repeat that the House needs to be refreshed from time to time.
My Lords, I understand where the noble Lord is coming from, but we have seen many deadlines moved over the last few months and years. My view, and the Government’s view, is that business profits from certainty. The deadline that has been set out by Parliament is a certain date around which business can plan, and we intend to maintain it.
Yes, I certainly agree with my noble friend, and the Government believe that that will be possible. The Government are asking nothing of the European Union that it has not agreed in free trade agreements with other nations. On fisheries—I should declare an interest as a descendent of six generations of fishermen—the Government’s position is that Britain will be an independent coastal state; we will make our own arrangement but we will negotiate with all parties, as is done with Norway, on the future use of what will be our waters.