9 Baroness Blackstone debates involving the Leader of the House

Mon 16th Oct 2023
Thu 17th Nov 2022
Thu 6th Jan 2022
Mon 12th Jul 2021
Mon 23rd Nov 2020
Wed 14th Oct 2020
Wed 31st Jan 2018
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords

Israel and Gaza

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Monday 16th October 2023

(9 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, obviously that is the wish that all might have. I thank the right reverend Prelate for his remarks and agree very much on the importance of community cohesion. The reality is that Israel is reacting to the attack, which the right reverend Prelate rightly characterised as an attack on the Sabbath of such horror. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that there is a distinct difference between those who seek to kill babes because they are Jews and a nation that we believe—as the President of Israel has stated—will operate within international law. If Hamas turned away from terror, laid down its arms and dedicated itself to improving the welfare of the Palestinian people, we would not have to wait too long for the outcome that the right reverend Prelate seeks, and we all devoutly wish that that will one day happen.

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I am not sure that I can be whipping the House as well. There is time for all Benches to be heard and I think the noble Baroness was possibly up first—but let us get on, because time is going by.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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I am very grateful to the noble Lord. My Lords, the cold-blooded murder of Israeli civilians and the taking of hostages was a dreadful crime against humanity. However, the Israeli reprisals in Gaza and their effects on the Palestinian community there are deeply concerning. Does the Minister accept that no crime against humanity justifies another one? Does he agree with the UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, who condemned all the parties for their rhetoric and called on all countries to ensure respect for the rules of war? Can the UK Government do more to ensure this and that the actions now being taken are in line with international humanitarian law and give some hope for the two-state solution?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, what we have seen in recent days has gone a little beyond rhetoric, I fear. I would say to the noble Baroness that of course all countries have a responsibility to seek to abide by international law. When the Prime Minister spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu last week, he emphasised that it was important to take all possible measures to protect ordinary Palestinians and facilitate humanitarian aid. Those things are vital. We have a strong track record of supporting international law and we ask our friends and partners to do the same. Israel has stated that it will operate within international law, but it has a brutal terrorist enemy to deal with.

G20

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Thursday 17th November 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My noble friend makes some very important points. It is no secret that the Prime Minister considers this relationship to be extremely important, and my noble friend is quite right to say that it goes beyond our aspiration for a free trade deal. There was a good personal meeting between the Prime Minister and Mr Modi, and we are deeply committed to strengthening our comprehensive strategic partnership and to discussing collaboration across all five pillars of the UK-India road map, and not only on the bilateral relationship but on aspirations within the Indo-Pacific. Discussions on digital and intellectual property matters are part of that. We are very confident that this relationship will go forward very positively.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, do the Government support President Macron’s apparent intention to persuade his Chinese opposite number to mediate with Russia, to try to ease the conflict in Ukraine and possibly pave the way for peace talks? If the Government do support him, what action will they take to manifest that support?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Baroness in her wisdom will know, concluding a war and bringing warring parties together is a very difficult and delicate matter, not all of which can be conducted in public. China certainly has a potentially important diplomatic role, and it has influence. Obviously, we will use our diplomatic influence with China and in other places to lead it in a direction that would help to secure peace. It was positive that the G20, including China, made the very clear declaration that nuclear war—and the threat of nuclear war—is absolutely inadmissible. That is a long way from where the noble Baroness wishes to get, but I assure her that we will continue to engage with all parties, including President Macron, in efforts to secure an end to this terrible conflict. In the interim, we will be unstinting in our support for Ukraine.

Covid-19

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Thursday 6th January 2022

(2 years, 6 months ago)

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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My noble friend is right. It is something that I know noble Lords and our colleagues in the other place have raised. Work is going on to try to take action in this area. When the omicron variant was first identified we introduced the travel restrictions to try to slow its arrival, but now that it is so prevalent these measures are having a limited impact but are obviously having a significant impact on the travel industry. I think these are welcome measures that will, I hope, be welcomed by the public. However, there are no changes for unvaccinated adults.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, in the period before Christmas, the Government gave a high priority to keeping schools open, which was welcome. However, does the Minister agree that it is not just a matter of keeping schools open but a matter of encouraging all parents to send their children to school? With that in mind, will the Government consider making exclusion zones around schools to prevent anti-vaxxers providing parents, pupils and teachers with a lot of misinformation about vaccination? Does she also agree that it is extremely important that parents do not think that their children are going to have to sit in classrooms in the kind of weather that we are having now with windows open because adequate funds have not been provided for proper ventilation schemes for schools?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I certainly agree with the noble Baroness about the appalling behaviour of some people around schools, and we have provided guidance to all schools on how to manage vaccination-related protests in liaison with the police, the NHS and the local authorities. Should a protest contravene the law, the police have comprehensive powers to deal with activities that spread hate or deliberately raise tensions. But she is right: it is an unsatisfactory situation and we are working with schools to try to help and support them in any way we can.

On the noble Baroness’s second point, more than 350,000 CO2 monitors have been rolled out to schools across the country and 8,000 air purifiers are being distributed to schools with particular ventilation difficulties. However, in the areas where CO2 monitors have been rolled out to schools to identify poorly ventilated areas, feedback shows that in most of those settings existing ventilation measures are sufficient. So a lot of work is being done, but we have added 7,000 to the 1,000 purifiers that we were planning for SEN and alternative provision settings to add to the broader school estate.

Afghanistan

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Monday 12th July 2021

(3 years ago)

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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There has been significant progress in human rights in Afghanistan since 2001, as I said, in connection to women’s rights, the rights of minority groups, freedom of expression and access to education. We will continue to work with the Afghan Government and international allies to protect this.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, what recent discussions have the Government had with the relevant authorities in Pakistan? It is acknowledged that Pakistan can play a crucial role in influencing the Taliban and securing the peace process, that could avoid another decent into civil war in Afghanistan. If there have been no such discussions with Pakistan, would the Leader of the House say why?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I am afraid that I do not have a running list of every negotiation happening, but I am very happy to go back to colleagues and write to the noble Baroness with recent contacts.

G7 and NATO Summits

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Thursday 17th June 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his comments. He is right that this is a huge global challenge and we all need to work together to deliver on it. However, I point out that the Oxford vaccine is a very important way of helping tackle this pandemic. Of course, we part-funded it, and it is being produced at cost to low and middle-income countries and at scale through manufacturing partnerships across the world. This is already ensuring that more than half a billion doses of the vaccine are available across the world. Of course, we have to ensure that we continue to roll it out, but it is also worth remembering the huge contribution that we have already made through the Oxford vaccine.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, I am not sure which specific question my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition wanted the Minister to answer, but there is one that she put to her that I would like to repeat, to give the Leader of the House the opportunity to answer it at the Dispatch Box today. From the beginning of discussions on global corporation tax, other countries in the G7 indicated support for an initial rate of 21%, so why do the Government seek to weaken it? Could the noble Baroness please answer that question? At the same time, can she make clear what the Government will do to strengthen global tax systems as a matter of urgency to stop the continuing tax dodging of firms such as Amazon and Google?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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As I said, this was a major breakthrough, and different countries of course have different views on what the minimum rate will be. Compromise is necessary to reach the final agreement among the 130 members of the OECD inclusive framework, but we think that the position agreed at the G7 is one that the OECD and G20 can coalesce around.

Integrated Review

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Monday 23rd November 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I reassure the right reverend Prelate that this settlement puts the defence programme on a sustainable footing and will make sure that our Armed Forces can meet today’s threats at the same time as delivering on a once-in-a-generation modernisation. This £16.5 billion increase over four years is the biggest uplift in 30 years, and, as I mentioned, it cements the UK’s position as the largest defence spender in Europe and the second largest in NATO.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, I am sure that I do not need to remind the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that the Conservative Party manifesto contained a commitment to spend 0.75% of GNI on development aid. She failed to answer the direct question put by my noble friend Lady Smith and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, about whether this would be maintained. How, in the circumstances, can abandoning an election manifesto commitment of this kind even be considered—it is enshrined in law? Can she tell the House what the effect of doing so will have on the lives of millions of poor people living in dire poverty around the world, quite apart from the damage it will do to our international reputation?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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As I have already said, we are, and should be, proud of our international development work. I have also already said that the spending review will be on Wednesday and announcements will be made there. I will not say anything further on that today, but I can certainly say that we are absolutely committed to supporting international development and helping the world’s poorest people. We will remain a world leader in this area through, as I have said, hosting COP 26, our G7 presidency and hosting a major girls’ education summit next year.

Covid-19 Update

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Wednesday 14th October 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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As I mentioned in reference to a comment by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, CT scanners have been made available—for instance, in Harrogate and Exeter—to provide safer, faster access for people with a range of conditions, including cancer, so that we can continue to try to ensure that routine appointments and operations can still take place. As I also mentioned, three other hospitals are now on alert in areas of high prevalence in order that they can come on stream. Obviously work is going on between the Department of Health and NHS England, but they will be staffed from the local area. We will of course keep all of this under review because we know that capacity is important, and the Nightingale hospitals will, I am sure, once again play an important part in our response as we go forward.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, given the threat to jobs from measures set out in the Statement, can the Leader of the House say what the Government intend to do to prevent higher levels of unemployment? In replying, can she tell the House what proportion of jobs will be supported by the Job Support Scheme, and who will still miss out in the extension of the Self-employment Income Support Scheme?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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First of all, our Job Support Scheme is in line with those of other major European countries, including France, Germany, Ireland and Italy, in its proportion of wage support. We very much believe that this scheme can help the lowest paid in particular, who can benefit from the responsiveness of our welfare system. The dovetailing of those two things should actually mean that some of the poorest workers—or those on the lowest pay, I should say—could end up on around 88% of their original income, and so more than the two-thirds on which the scheme itself is based. Obviously, businesses are able to top up the two-thirds as they wish, as they did for the furlough scheme.

However, I think the Chancellor has been quite clear: unfortunately, we are not going to be able to save every job. We will do all we can to support businesses and individuals. That is why we are trying to look to the future with, for instance, the £2 billion Kickstart scheme, which will create thousands of subsidised jobs for young people; paying employers to hire apprentices; and doubling the number of work coaches. We are very cognisant of the issues in this area, and have a range of things—both trying to protect jobs at the moment and looking to the future—to make sure that everyone has an opportunity for employment going forward.

Covid-19: Strategy

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Tuesday 12th May 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

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Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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I am very sorry to hear about the friends of my noble friend Lord Sheikh and I am glad to hear about their recovery. I too pay tribute to the fantastic work done by all those in our NHS and care homes who keeping us safe. As I mentioned in a previous answer, Public Health England is undertaking a rapid review of how different factors, including ethnicity, are disproportionately impacting people. The review is being led by Professor Kevin Fenton, the London regional director of public health at Public Health England, and his findings will be published at the end of the month.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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The Secretary of State for Education has said that nothing can replace being in the classroom. Can the Leader of the House confirm that all primary school pupils will be able to return to school by the end of June and that further reassurances about this will be given to parents? If the R rate allows, will the Government also reconsider their plans for secondary schools so that all these pupils, whose mental well-being is also at stake, can return to school, even if only briefly, before the summer holidays? That will help to mitigate the growing inequality among children in this age group.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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I am afraid that, as with everything, I cannot give categorical promises or guarantees. Everything is being done in a cautious way on the basis of the science, the data and public health. However, I can certainly say to the noble Baroness that it is our ambition, if it is feasible, for all primary school-age children to return to school for a month before the summer, and this will be kept under review. At this point, I am afraid that only secondary school pupils with exams next year will be able to have face-to-face contact with their teachers in order to support their remote learning. There are no plans for other secondary school pupils to return to school before the summer.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, I greatly regret the fact that we are debating this Bill, as I believe that we should remain as a member of the European Union. I did not think it was right to have a referendum about an issue of such complexity. Indeed, in a parliamentary democracy most referenda are inappropriate.

For many years we sought to be a member of the EEC, as it then was. Having joined, it brought us many benefits, the greatest of which has been our membership of the single market. Our economy has flourished so that we have enjoyed higher growth than before and a strong position relative to other OECD countries. The decision to leave the EU is already jeopardising this, as the Governor of the Bank of England and many others have made clear. Yet a former senior Minister who supports Brexit was heard on the “Today” programme yesterday in denial about Government projections of an economic downturn under each of the three models of possible outcomes. What he said was shockingly misleading. I hope that when the Minister replies he will confirm that impact assessments will be made available to Parliament. I hope too that there will be no more disgraceful attacks on civil servants like the one we heard in another place from the Minister in the Brexit department. If these go on we will have to start a defence league for officials.

It is not only because of the economic consequences of leaving the EU that the UK would be better off inside than outside. There are many advantages in being part of a political bloc whose members share our commitment to the rule of law, democratic institutions, freedom of speech and human rights. In a troubled world where there are powerful countries that respect none of these, there is great benefit in working together in Europe to secure peace and justice in the world. We should not forget the views of young people: they voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU. They are now puzzled about what constitutes government policy. This is hardly surprising since the Government themselves have no vision or clarity about where they are going. Above all, young people fear a hard Brexit and that we are abandoning the values of tolerance and openness that they hold dear. Old people, who voted in large numbers to leave, have most of their lives behind them. Young people have most of their lives before them: we must not let them down. To pass the Bill unamended would let them down.

We must ensure the sovereignty of Parliament and prevent a constitutional outrage. The House can play a crucial role in protecting our constitution by seeking to prevent an over-powerful Executive bypassing proper parliamentary scrutiny. Legal expertise in amending the Bill’s Henry VIII clauses will be invaluable. The Government’s decision not to convert the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law means the protection of human rights will be weakened. More than 20 human rights organisations, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission, recently published a letter stating that losing the charter creates a human rights hole. The protection of the charter should be retained. Without it, there are risks to employment rights, consumer protection, the protection of the environment and the rights of children.

I also want to comment on the absurd decision, forced by the hard Brexit faction in the Government and the Conservative Party, to have a precise date for leaving the EU next March. This comes before many of the vital decisions that need to be made about the consequences of Brexit have been properly discussed and negotiated. I hope the Government will think again and consider leaving only after the transitional period, rather than before it.

The calamitous decision to leave the EU has distorted the work of Whitehall and Westminster, leaving insufficient time to address many urgent issues where change and reform are needed, whether in health and social care, education, housing and the environment, or the reduction of poverty. Moreover, this displacement of effort is magnified by the loss of many benefits brought to us in all these policy areas by our membership of the European Union. Leaving will make it exceedingly difficult to retain many—if not any—of these benefits. However, I end by saying that our greatest priority must be to fight against a hard Brexit and the horrors of renegotiating all our trade agreements. We must stay in the single market and the customs union for the sake of the Good Friday agreement, and above all for the sake of the prosperity of our nation.