44 Baroness Barker debates involving the Cabinet Office

Thu 17th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1
Tue 15th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2
Thu 10th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2
Wed 23rd Feb 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading
Thu 25th Feb 2021
Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage

Conversion Therapy Prohibition (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) Bill [HL]

Baroness Barker Excerpts
Friday 9th February 2024

(5 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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My Lords, this Bill addresses an abuse that has long been acknowledged. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, asked us to think about the history surrounding this issue, but I would like to suggest that we should consider the context in which this debate is happening. It is against the backdrop of an international campaign to roll back women’s rights and LGBT equality. The ultimate purpose of this campaign is to eradicate human rights. It is a campaign that we see every day in our media as trans people are daily depicted as being somehow unacceptable.

Today we are debating a specific measure about outlawing a particular practice: conversion therapy. There is a need for this measure. It is needed, first, because, despite many noble Lords saying that existing legislation covers different practices, we know from individuals that these abuses go on. Not only do these abuses go on, but they continue in two places of specific importance—within religious settings and within psychotherapeutic and counselling settings. These are two places in which people are particularly vulnerable. It is for that reason that I think my noble friend’s Bill is an important contribution.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, derided the testimony of people who have been through this and said that it was not proper evidence. She said that we must wait for there to be random controlled trials. There will be no random controlled trial in which those who have been subject to abuse are compared with those who have not been. No ethics committee would ever agree to such a thing. We have to rely on the testimony of individuals and I think that we should believe them.

Secondly, there is a need because the profession of counsellors and psychotherapists is one in which it is difficult to have regulation. My noble friend Lord Alderdice has been trying for over a decade to bring about an agreement on regulation in that field and he has not succeeded. Therefore, anybody can set themselves up as a therapist. That being the case, it is necessary for us to make sure that these practices are not there to be used abusively towards individuals.

Thirdly, on religious organisations, it is important that we recognise that religious organisations can believe what they like and say what they like. To a large extent, they can do what they like in a furtherance of those beliefs, provided that they do not cause harm. That is where my noble friend Lady Burt’s Bill is trying to draw the line. Many people will benefit from that, not least the majority of members of religious organisations and faiths who wish to be free of allegations of abuse. The profession of their faith does not depend on causing harm to other people; they would never countenance it. Many of them wish to be dissociated from this and not be tarnished with these practises.

Finally, on freedom of speech, individuals remain free to think what they like. They can say what they like. Individuals are free to hate LGBT people. Individuals are quite able to say that we do not deserve to have equality in society. That will continue to be the case. They can even pray for us not to have equality. But noble Lords have to understand—as we have done in other circumstances, particularly when we have argued the case for safe access to abortion—that there are times and occasions when prayer has been weaponised as a political tool. Therefore, we need to question some of the assumptions about the actors in these religious organisations always being benign.

All this Bill seeks to do is to make sure, particularly in situations where individuals are vulnerable, that they are not subject to abuse. We know from history that the psychiatric profession can be open to abuse and political manipulation. All we are trying to do in this Bill is to prevent those excesses and to make sure that everybody, no matter who they are, is safe.

Minister for Equalities

Baroness Barker Excerpts
Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government base their equalities policy on evidence or, as the Prime Minister does, on campaigns run by certain groups following a distinct ideology against women?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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As far as I am concerned, evidence is the only thing on which to base a decision. My understanding is that that is the position of the Government.

Elections Bill

Baroness Barker Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage
Thursday 17th March 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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My Lords, yet again I support the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. I share his view that it is good for charitable and voluntary organisations and campaign groups to be involved in civic activities. There should be full transparency around their involvement.

I do not disagree in any way with his suggestion. I would make it a condition of registration with the Charity Commission that an organisation should have a website. Certain things would have to be on that website, such as accounts and a copy of the organisation’s governing documents, precisely so that people could find out basic information about who was behind the entity. But why confine this to a website? Why not have it on a Facebook page or a Twitter handle, for example? I think the noble Lord is coming at an issue that is of growing importance and much bigger than this Bill.

I have started to talk to a number of the regulators, including the Fundraising Regulator, about what is an organisation. It is now quite common for campaign entities to be described as an organisation when they are nothing more than a Facebook page. They may be crowdfunded, but they do not have to produce accounts or show who or what their membership is. They do not have to show their governing documents. They are simply a presence. They can exert quite considerable influence in political campaigning—not necessarily as yet in election campaigning, perhaps, though I bow to others who have greater knowledge about this.

It is certainly a growing phenomenon in campaigning on political issue—one that I think regulators will have to start discussing. Indeed, I know that these discussions are beginning. I was talking to a regulator the other day about how they deal with a very prominent campaign, Insulate Britain, its fundraising activities on a platform and whether they were or were not compliant. This issue is starting to emerge. All sorts of people are having to work through it for the first time.

In this spirt, I ask what might seem a bit of an “anoraky” question of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots. He and I are entitled to be the anoraks on this subject in this House. Small and technical though the question may be, I think it is potentially of growing importance in the time to come.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots, for his introduction. As I am sure Members of this House are aware, new digital tools and channels have significantly changed the campaigning landscape in the UK during the last decade. This includes the use of organisational websites.

Unfortunately, concerns about the transparency of some websites that have been set up for political campaigning are starting to have an impact on public trust and confidence in campaigns. The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, seeks to address this further. We support his aim in doing so.

Following the 2019 general election, the Electoral Commission said that it had been contacted by people who had been concerned about misleading campaign techniques from across the political spectrum, including on websites. It received a large number of complaints, raising concerns about presentation, tone and content.

Transparency is incredibly important. We are pleased that this is addressed later in the Bill. In the Electoral Commission’s research after the 2019 election, nearly three-quarters of people surveyed agreed that it was important for them to know who produced political information that they saw online. Fewer than one-third agreed that they could find out who produced it. Again, it is important that the amendment talks about having the information on the website in a prominent position, not tucked away and hidden.

The Electoral Commission’s research also confirmed that transparency about who was behind political campaigns was important. Nearly three-quarters of those questioned—72%—agreed that they needed to know who produced the information they were looking at online, including on a website. Unfortunately, fewer than one-third—29%—agreed that they could find out who had produced that information.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, has said, this is a simple amendment, but we also agree this is an important small change. The more transparency we can provide when people are looking online during general or local elections, the better. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said it was a good thing that civic organisations are involved in electoral campaigning. Of course it is. I am sure we all agree with that. But that does bring issues around transparency as part of how campaigning on websites is managed. I do not imagine everyone is going to be deliberately hiding information, but perhaps they do not even think about the importance of providing it.

Elections Bill

Baroness Barker Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage
Tuesday 15th March 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 31B, 32 and 32A in this group in the names of my noble friends Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lord Collins of Highbury. Amendments 31B and 32 relate to Clause 22, which prohibits an entity registering as both a political party and a third party, which would allow them to access multiple spending limits. I cannot see any reason to oppose this, which would remove a loophole from the level playing field—those words which have been so often mentioned—and maintain the integrity of the existing system.

In the debate on this clause in the other House, a Minister explained that this change was necessary after an entity registered as both during the 2019 general election, therefore abusing the system. Can the Minister confirm which party this was?

Specifically, Amendment 31B intends to probe the application of this clause to minor parties. While we can assume that major political parties, which tend to have governance units, will be aware of these new changes and will be very unlikely to register in both classifications, we should consider whether the same can be said for minor parties. This brings me to Amendment 32, which is intended to probe how the Government will inform third parties of the impact of this section. On the first day in Committee my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock touched on the importance of consultation, and I ask the Minister what consultation there has been on informing third parties of the impact of this section. In particular, I ask about impact assessments on this section. Consultation is particularly important for this Bill. Many of the groups which fall within the definition of third parties can be considered minor organisations which also may not have the necessary structures.

Amendment 32A touches on a similar subject of informing involved parties but relates instead to Clause 23. This clause deals with transitional provision for groups which appear on both registers and would permit them to spend only in one capacity.

I understand that the Minister has been very kind and has had discussions on these matters with my noble friends, but I really hope he can confirm what plans the Government have to involve, engage and inform the relevant parties, and we would really welcome further discussion on this matter. I beg to move.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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My Lords, I will follow up on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Khan. It is quite puzzling to see how extensive a problem it could be to have entities registered as both political parties and third parties. Indeed, when the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, did his review of the legislation governing third-party campaigning, he said specifically that he did not see this as a significant problem.

I would like to ask the Minister when he comes to reply whether that situation has changed because of the increase in digital campaigning and therefore ask how this would be monitored and enforced. Whose responsibility would it be? Presumably it would be the Electoral Commission’s, but would it require a new set of digital enforcement measures that it has not had previously?

The other issue that I would like to probe is what engagement there will be with entities that might fall into this category. It is not at all clear to me from the Bill where this proposal has come from and how it is envisaged it will work. I think there is considerable concern among non-party campaigners out there which are small entities that they might fall foul of this when not doing anything intentionally wrong. It would be very helpful if the Minister could tell us the extent of the problem that has led to this having to be put into primary legislation.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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I thank noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. Our view is that no group or individual should have access to multiple spending limits at an election. Spending limits exist to ensure that there is a level playing field, a concept that I think we have agreed on already in this Committee, and any opportunities to unfairly expand spending limits should be removed.

The noble Lord opposite asked about specific examples. What is propelling the legislation is principle but, obviously, there is the case from the 2019 UK parliamentary general election when a group claimed that it could do that—that is, expand spending limits by registering both as a political party and as a third-party campaigner. The organisation that we have in mind is Advance Together, which was used to sidestep election spending rules. It registered both as a political party and as a third-party campaigner, effectively to double its spending limits. I do not want to go too deeply into the motivations there, but that organisation ran negative attack campaigns against incumbent MPs who were supporters of Brexit in five target constituencies. It was mainly staffed by former Liberal Democrats seeking to stop Brexit. Indeed, they admitted on Twitter:

“Our candidates are there to be tactical. Not to win.”


Whatever the politics, this was a clear abuse of third-party local spending limits, which are limited to £700 per constituency under the RPA. That dual registration leap-frogged the £700 third-party spending limit in the constituency, allowing the third party to spend the higher candidate limit locally, and obviously to benefit from the national third-party spending thresholds. It is hard to believe that many groups would wish to circumvent the rules in this way, but I think noble Lords would agree that it is probably best to be prudent in this regard.

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Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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My Lords, at this late stage, I want to thank the noble Baroness for her introduction. I do not intend to repeat many of the points that she put forward, which were entirely valid.

The history of legislation in this area over the past 20 years is of fundamentally confused aims which are compounded over time and, particularly these days, are exaggerated by new forms of digital campaigning. It becomes increasingly difficult to achieve the stated aims of the legislation, which is to understand who exactly is undertaking campaigning, how they are doing it and where their funding is coming from. Until such time as we sort out some of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, directed us towards, about what legitimate advocacy is and what party-political campaigning is, we will never sort this out entirely.

At every stage of this legislation, we have to ask what problem it is supposed to be answering. Do you know what? It is never very clear. That is a fundamental problem. My understanding of Clauses 24 and 25 is that they try to limit third-party campaigning to specific UK-based bodies and therefore to stop foreign interference. I am not entirely sure about that. As somebody who spent an awful lot of time in the charity world, I look very carefully at the description of entities. The Explanatory Note for Clause 24 states that it

“inserts new section 89A(1) of PPERA, which will prevent any third party from incurring controlled expenditure (including notional expenditure) during a regulated period, unless it is either eligible to register under section 88(2) of PPERA or an unincorporated association with the requisite UK connection”.

Does “unincorporated association” mean a charitable entity? What does “requisite UK connection” mean? Does it mean registered as a charity in the United Kingdom or not? As the noble Baroness said, under Clause 25, the Electoral Commission has something that we might welcome; that is, an ability to stop whole classes of organisations or entities registering, but, at the moment, we do not know what they are or what they might be. If we did, we might agree, but there is something about the way in which this is all written that is unclear.

That leads us on to the key problem that that creates, which is how the Electoral Commission or the police will enforce this, particularly if it is entities of an uncertain nature outside the United Kingdom. It sets up yet another problem. I would therefore welcome it if the Minister could unpick all that and explain to us precisely what is going on here and what it is that we are trying to sort out.

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, very generously attributed to us two items of business on this string that were actually submitted primarily by her colleague, the noble Lord, Lord, Collins—that is Amendment 45A—and herself in respect of opposing the Question on Clause 24. I refer to page 8 and 9 of the second Marshalled List of amendments to support the validity of the counterclaim I am making.

The intention to oppose the question of Clause 24 was tabled in the name of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock and Lady Meacher, who is in her place and may well want to speak to that proposition. All I wanted to say at this stage is that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has opened up the big questions that lurk in relation to Clause 25. We will very certainly and definitely want to return to that, and we have stated our intention to oppose the Question that Clause 25 stand part of the Bill. But that is clearly not part of this string, and I think we will be resuming discussion on that at another time.

My noble friend Lady Barker has quite rightly pointed at the fog that surrounds the intended purpose of Clauses 24 and 25, and the lack of what I would describe as a credible justification for the alterations proposed in these two clauses, particularly in relation to Clause 24, seeing as that is the one that is in front of us at the moment. My noble friend Lady Barker pointed out some of the questions that arise from that. My understanding—maybe the Minister in replying could confirm it—is that an unincorporated association would, for instance, include an organisation which I believe is called the West Midlands Industrialists, which channels funds directly to the Conservative Party—entirely legitimately; I am not suggesting anything different. An unincorporated association could be a trade association, formal or informal; it could be some kind of NGO; it could just be an informal grouping that has got its constitution together. It is an entirely separate issue whether they are legitimate bodies to be funding elections—but the law as it stands says that that is legitimate. Except insofar as deleting Clause 24 might form part of the agenda for the rest of this evening, there is no proposal before us to change that. But I think we should perhaps ask the Minister if he or she can rehearse the unincorporated associations question, so we can understand, perhaps a bit more fully, what we will in essence eventually finish up this evening by nodding through. With that, I defer to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who I am sure will want to speak on Clause 24.

Elections Bill

Baroness Barker Excerpts
Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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My Lords, I have the great privilege of being a member of the Select Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, which considered citizenship and civic engagement in 2018 and has recently reconvened to look at the matter again. Largely with that in mind, I support Amendment 7, in particular. Bad as this Bill is in many ways, we have to treat it from the standpoint that, somehow, it could be a mechanism to improve representation, participation and the understanding of the electoral process by wider society.

The reason why it is important that civil society organisations be evidently included is that they do something unique. They represent people who are not in Parliament—all sorts of diverse and minority communities: precisely the people who are not engaged, and consequently not represented. We have already begun to see the beneficial effects of the Government talking to civic society organisations in the preparation of the Bill. I would make a case similar to that which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, made for trade unions, and say that we should be unafraid of including those groups in the development of the statement for the Electoral Commission.

One group of civil society organisations that we might think about are those concerned with citizenship, such as Young Citizens or the Association for Citizenship Teaching, organisations which exist with the primary purpose of improving the knowledge of future generations and their engagement and involvement in the electoral process. That is a thoroughly commendable thing and by including it in this Bill, we would not be doing anything that would in any way inhibit the Secretary of State or damage the process. This would be a small but valuable addition to the Bill.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I always have some empathy with the noble Lord opposite, who I greatly respect, when he speaks of Labour tradition, the tradition of working people and social traditions. My mother’s grandfather and his family were brought up in Salford and teeming parts of Manchester, and the education they had that led them to improve their lives and secure some degree of prosperity came through the mechanics’ institutes and institutions created by civil society with a good social instinct. So I understand what the noble Lord says and how he feels. I also understand how the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, feels when she speaks about civil society.

These amendments propose extending statutory consultation to specific groups, however defined. As the Bill stands, the consultation process provided in Clause 14 will already ensure that the statement will be subject, where applicable, to some statutory consultation with key stakeholders, including the Electoral Commission, the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission and the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee. If the amendments your Lordships agreed earlier and are about to agree are agreed by the House of Commons, those institutions and bodies would be involved before the draft statement is submitted for the approval of Parliament.

The Secretary of State and officials will hear what has been said, but of course, the Secretary of State is not limited to consulting with only those bodies in considering legislation. I am grateful for what the noble Baroness said about reaching out to civil society. Government Ministers regularly engage with relevant stakeholders across civil society—I am sure that will continue—and a wide range of views can be considered by the Secretary of State when preparing a draft statement. I remind the Committee that the Secretary of State concerned is the one who bears responsibility for local government. Obviously, there is a particular, constant and important engagement between their department and local government. I understand the meaning and sense of the amendment asking for local government to be consulted, but that is, if you like, a standing counterparty of that department.

In addition, both Houses of Parliament play an important role in allowing for the views of wider society; your Lordships’ House is admirable in that. This already ensures that groups such as those noted in these amendments, including trade unions—which never lack a powerful voice in this House, notably from the noble Lord opposite—will be adequately represented through Parliament in scrutinising any draft statement. Additionally, the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, which is a statutory consultee, is a cross-party group of MPs and that will further allow for representation of the views of different parts of the electorate.

So, while understanding the spirit in which these amendments are advanced and certainly giving the assurance that the Government are not limited to consulting only those bodies listed in the Bill, I urge that the amendments be withdrawn or not moved.

Elections Bill

Baroness Barker Excerpts
Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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My Lords, electoral law is perhaps a somewhat arcane topic, but it often defines a society because it tells us who are regarded as being citizens with power in a particular society. Electoral law can also define a Government. The Government of Earl Grey in 1830 was known as a reforming Government. It brought in the Great Reform Act 1832, which extended the franchise. I wonder what, in years to come, people will make of this legislation brought in by this Government, contrary to much of the evidence and research quoted extensively tonight.

I will confine myself to two points in this short speech. Much of what the noble Lord, Lord True, said could be described as, “This is the Government making great efforts to extend our democracy.” I have spent quite a bit of time, with the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Ashley Abbotts, looking at citizenship and civic engagement. Back in 2017 and 2018, we looked extensively at the work done by government to extend citizenship education in schools. We have recently looked at it again, and, in truth, we do very little to ensure that children leave school with the most basic knowledge of how to participate as active citizens in this country. We have a low basis of teacher training, and we have no cross-governmental responsibility for ensuring that we have professional teachers qualified to teach this.

While we are quite happy to pay lip-service in legislation such as this, we are unwilling to look at what we need to do to equip our citizens to participate fully, not just in terms of their personal social development but to acknowledge how they play an active part in the decision-making of society.

My second point is about voter ID and voter registration. There is a correlation between those of us who are members of minority groups and who have often had problems and been questioned about our identity and the equanimity, or lack of it, with which we approach the Bill. It is not until you are a member of a visible minority that you really get to understand just how easy it is to fall outside the norms of society. I want to take this opportunity to talk on behalf particularly of non-binary and trans people. They have no other representation in our Parliament. They are a group of people who are quite often—daily—vilified and misrepresented in our country, but they are citizens. They have expressed great reservations about ID. I think that trans and non-binary citizens should be required along with everybody else to prove their identity, but it is up to the Government to make sure that the systems of proof of identity are not based on prejudice or narrow, conventional ideas about what proper voters look like.

Therefore, I want to ask the Minister the following question. This piece of legislation had very little discussion and scrutiny before it came to this House. Will his Government undertake to talk to representatives of all sorts of minority communities about how the legislation will be implemented and what sort of training there will be for the officials who have to implement it, to make sure that it is not discriminatory in the way that is feared?

In this day and age, when commercial companies that truly understand the importance of being able to diversify access to their goods and services can do so in ways that maintain integrity of systems of ID, it is not beyond the wit of a Government to do that. As it stands, this legislation is nowhere near anything that could be considered inclusive. This Government really could do much better.

Covid-19: National Memorial

Baroness Barker Excerpts
Wednesday 8th December 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, we all need to find ways to remember. My aunt died in the Spanish flu pandemic, which was a lifelong sadness to my mother, 70 years after her death. Memories of this pandemic will last equally long and bite equally deep, as the noble Baroness said, in many personal ways. We are aware of the call for the memorial wall to become a permanent national memorial and we welcome the discussions being led by Lambeth Council on this.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is perhaps a bit premature to decide on one national memorial at the moment, as we are far from near the end of this pandemic? Does he know about the memorial forests initiative, whereby people can plant a tree in memory of somebody they know? That campaign has the additional benefit that people can access it online—they do not have to go to London to pay remembrance. Does he think that is worth promoting more generally to the public?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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The noble Baroness of course makes a very good point; I would always commend the planting of trees. We have received a very large number of views and suggestions from parliamentarians, as we have heard today, and the public on how this period should be remembered and commemorated, which we will pass on to the commission as it is established. I assure noble Lords that it will give full consideration to all initiatives and ideas and provide recommendations to the Prime Minister.

Covid-19: Status Certification

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Thursday 29th April 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

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Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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My Lords, in a Written Answer to my noble friend Lord Scriven’s Question HL15192, the noble Lord, Lord True, said:

“We will present … findings from the COVID-status Certification Review to Parliament today.”


Given the serious restrictions on people’s liberty and livelihoods, why is this being slipped out in the days before a recess? Why is it not subject to full scrutiny in Parliament?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I have been open with Parliament and we have laid a Written Ministerial Statement. Given that Parliament is going into recess, it seemed appropriate to set out progress and the current state of affairs with the review. Any noble Lord who chooses to read it will see that that is fairly set out, but a final decision has not yet been made and, as we have repeatedly said, will be announced in due course.

Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014

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Thursday 22nd April 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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The noble Lord is the antithesis to capitalism. The remarkable success of private companies in procuring vaccines for the safety of our people is something for which I am profoundly grateful.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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What changes will be made to the code about lobbying for government contracts directly via a Minister’s WhatsApp account and text?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, all these matters are currently under review. I declare myself guilty occasionally of sending and receiving WhatsApp messages, in common with millions of other people in this country. I wonder which is the way to the guillotine.

Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill

Baroness Barker Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 25th February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Read Full debate Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 View all Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 172-I Marshalled list for Committee - (22 Feb 2021)
Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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My Lords, due to the rules of procedure of our House, I was unable to take part at Second Reading but, having listened very carefully to the whole debate and reread some of the speeches, there are some points not made on Monday that I think should be drawn to your Lordships’ attention. My colleagues will deal with the detail of the debate and the Bill.

We are in familiar territory because powerful campaigns have common characteristics and patterns. A classic campaign identifies a minority group—preferably one about which the majority population knows little—ascribes to it characteristics and motivations which make it a threat and repeats those assertions, preferably with the backing of a neutral body or experts, over and over until they become received wisdom. It is what happened to migrant communities in the UK in the 1970s and, in the 1980s, it was lesbians and gay men. Today, it is the turn of trans people. I say in what will be the continuing theme of my speech: there is no evidence, and no evidence has yet been offered, that trans people are a systemic and significant threat to women.

We see a reliance on campaign techniques with which some of us are very familiar. When this House was debating changing the law to allow gay adoption, or enable civil partnerships—the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will remember it well—we were sent documents which purported to be research. In those days, they came from organisations such as the Christian Institute. These days, the alt-right has become a lot more savvy. It supports campaign groups and individual academics to produce documents that look like research—noble Lords will have got one during the recess—but, on closer inspection, they are just the same dodgy dossiers as in the past. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his speech on Monday recorded at col. 652, was full of passionate assertions based on that document and others, but if you examine his speech closely, there is no actual evidence of any threat from trans people to individual women or women’s rights. It is just an opinion —admittedly, widely repeated.

On Monday, I listened to the phrases carefully crafted to make it appear that the people using them are not transphobic, just protecting women. We heard that again today from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. As a lesbian who lived through Section 28 , I know what it is like to be portrayed as a member of a group that constitutes a threat to women, children and families—it was unsafe to let us into changing rooms, because we could pose a threat—all without any evidence. That was an experience of classic homophobia, often expressed in exactly the same arguments and phrases as we hear today. This time, no matter who the messenger—the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, or the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—and regardless of their record on other equalities issues, the effect of what they propose is the same. It is to limit or deny a minority group—in this case, all trans people—access to services and public spaces.

Another trope was on show on Monday: people supporting amendments, like other people in this wider campaign, stated over and again that they are being silenced. Week in, week out, that claim is repeated in national newspapers and on the BBC and other broadcasters. They are not being silenced; it is just that some of us have the temerity to disagree with them and call them out for what they are doing. They state that they are hounded on social media. They are, but anyone listening to the debate on Monday would have thought that was all coming from one side of the debate. I invite noble Lords to look at my Twitter timeline. I assure them that they will be astonished by what people claiming to be feminists are capable of saying and doing in threatening other women.

I am not surprised that these proposals and amendments have some support in your Lordships’ House. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, is on record as having consistently opposed LGBT equality since 1994. Other noble Lords read the Times, which in each of the past two years has published over 320 articles about trans issues, almost all of them full of gross misrepresentation. Others will have been approached by women—female friends and colleagues—who are scared by the never-ending messages that trans people are a threat to them. That is understandable, given the deluge of this incessant campaign. But I stress again that the evidence behind it is not there.

As a Member of your Lordships’ House, I have worked hard to improve the position of women, in all their diversity. That includes lesbian mothers in the days when they were considered not fit to be mothers. I have worked hard on women’s reproductive rights, so that women and girls, here and abroad, have access to safe, appropriate healthcare. My commitment to women’s health and dignity is undiminished. I ask noble Lords who listened to the strong allegations and assertions made on Monday to note the lack of credible evidence for trans people being a threat.

The wording of the Bill is already inclusive. Amending it would be a deliberate decision to exclude trans men and others from services. That is the first and thin end of a dangerous wedge. When people like me were in the firing line, we depended on allies. Today, trans people are under sustained, unwarranted attack. For those reasons, if I get the opportunity, I will vote against these amendments and I strongly urge noble Lords who may well have listened to the debate on Monday to go back and ask themselves the question: where is the real evidence of trans women in particular being a threat to other women?