Ministers: Legal Costs

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Tuesday 12th March 2024

(1 month ago)

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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The truth is—as I know well—that as a Government Minister you do work late. Government officials often work late as well. This is a serious point about how to make sure that Ministers are properly advised on issues. That is what happened on this occasion.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, the Government seem very keen to lecture everybody else about extremism these days. Would they like to take a look closer to home at the extremism in their own ranks, in particular from very major donors?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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On extremism, as the Prime Minister said in his very important speech two weeks ago, we have seen an unacceptable rise in extremist activity that seeks to divide our society and hijack our democratic institutions. It is our duty to ensure that the Government have all the tools that they need to tackle this ever-evolving threat.

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

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Friday 9th February 2024

(2 months ago)

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I have listened with great care to many very fine and thoughtful speeches today. I support the intentions of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt. I think some kind of intervention in this area is long overdue. We have heard from the speeches of Theresa May when she was Prime Minister, and Boris Johnson, when he was Prime Minister, made similar remarks.

It is always dangerous to attempt to gauge the consensus of your Lordships’ House, but, like many noble Lords, I do not think that Clause 1(2) works, as it is cast too wide. However, like the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and as with the outstanding interventions of the noble Baroness, Lady Hunt of Bethnal Green, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, I believe that it is within the capabilities of people of good will, wit and wisdom to tighten the net and attack the real harm that is being caused to people, as we know that it is.

Words have been used by noble Lords such as “coercion”, “manipulation”, “degradation” and “abuse of power”. I add that, notwithstanding the very thoughtful remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Altrincham, there are people putting themselves out there, in a desert of mental health services, who should not be. These talking therapies can be very powerful for good, but can also be very dangerous when they are manipulative.

On 31 January, in her article in the Times, to which the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, referred earlier, Emily Sargent described what is, frankly, this quackery. It is an article that I recommend noble Lords read. The noble Lord and I read the article very differently, and so I urge noble Lords to read it for themselves. What I read was the testimony of a very brave undercover journalist, who put herself in harm’s way to expose quite dangerous quackery that left her feeling very vulnerable.

The noble Lord, Lord Robathan, joked about how he nearly joined the SAS but some psychologist did not let him. I am saying nothing about that—I am not qualified to comment on entry requirements to the SAS—but, from his nature and his strength of character, I suspect that he feels very robust in his mental health, which is wonderful. But that is not true of everyone, particularly the many young people whom he referred to just now. So, in the particular area exposed by Emily Sargent in her piece, we see that there are conversion therapies that are not currently banned by the extant criminal law because, for example, they are not sexual or violent offences. It is the abuse of power when somebody effectively gets into your head and makes you feel worse about yourself. In some of the examples given by Emily Sargent, people were turned against their own parents. There are all sorts of problems there that we have to attack.

I do not want to be discourteous by taking too much time, but I will say that the tone of your Lordships’ debate has been a lot better than what happened at the other end of the building on Wednesday. I sincerely wish that the Prime Minister would apologise to Brianna Ghey’s grieving family for his error. There would be no harm or dishonour in apologising for that kind of error when it has caused such dismay not just to that family but to so many other trans people and their families in this country.

To end more positively, I will briefly quote the wonderful young writer Shon Faye, who wrote:

“Hope is part of the human condition and trans people’s hope is our proof that we are fully human. We are not an ‘issue’ to be debated and derided … Our existence enriches this world”.

Minister for Disabled People

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Tuesday 19th December 2023

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I mentioned the convening work done across departments, which is important in relation to legislation, as the noble Baroness says. Obviously, the Covid inquiry is looking at what happened during Covid, and these are the sorts of issues that I hope it will tackle. On individual Bills, I know from those I have done that we often debate disability—perhaps sometimes in response to amendments from the noble Baroness and others. That is very useful because it gives departments an opportunity to explain what they are doing. We have duties to the disabled and other groups, and we need to make sure that we take them seriously.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, given the cross-cutting work that the Minister has described and feels so confident about, can she tell the House when the Government are next due to report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? What are the challenges from the last reporting cycle that the Government will be keen to address in that report?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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This not being my area, I am not able to answer the question fully, but officials are due to represent the UK and attend the meeting of the UN in March to discuss these issues. I am certainly happy to take away any particular concerns that the noble Baroness would like me to pass on.

Elgin Marbles

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Thursday 14th December 2023

(4 months ago)

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, not for the first time I find myself congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, on bringing such an important and timely debate. I am afraid I will disagree with much of what he said, including on matters of history. I say that with some trepidation to such an established historian, but there are different views about matters that have already been cited in your Lordships’ House.

The Prime Minister’s recent snub of the Greek premier, for even discussing his country’s well-known and long-established claim for the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures in their Athenian home, was more worthy of a sulking adolescent than an aspiring statesman. I slightly balk at the idea of the recipient of stolen goods agonising about their possible loan to the rightful owner. Whatever Policy Exchange may say, and perhaps legislate for with the flick of a pen, there are other views. I do not currently accept that Lord Elgin had permission from the Ottoman Empire to hack away at the marbles with crowbars and take them for the adornment of his Scottish mansion. He was authorised, I believe, only to take impressions. He sold them to the British Museum only after his subsequent bankruptcy. There, like much of our imperial history, they were scrubbed with wire wool, which did lasting damage.

I will not fast forward to recent governance troubles at the British Museum and the still unresolved systematic thefts from its mostly undisplayed treasures, but we might observe that the right to call itself “the museum of the world” et cetera is wearing extremely thin.

Regardless of arguments about legality, past or present, the British people know better than too many of their leaders how to make friends by being the bigger person. Most of them support returning the artefacts to the people to whom they mean so much more. A few minutes, let alone hours, at the Acropolis Museum in Athens would lead any noble Lord to understand just how much these artefacts mean to the people of Greece. Few have been fooled by years of buck-passing between museum and government around this issue, when technological advancement should make sharing and return so much easier than ever before.

I fear the Government are taking the concept of culture war to new and ever more literal levels. They are prepared to legislate to change facts, as found by our highest court, so as to transport desperate human cargo to Rwanda. But they are not prepared to legislate to allow the British Museum and other important collections even to make their own decisions about co-operation and vision over world heritage. They want to stop the boats, stop the courts and burn the bridges, but the Government’s marbles are long since lost.

Vetting Social Media Accounts

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Wednesday 21st June 2023

(9 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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Of course we need expertise in policy development—I am as keen on that as the noble Lord—but the guidance was developed by the Government People Group for the specific use of the cross-government diversity networks. I cannot comment further for the reasons I outlined at the beginning of the debate, although I believe the Ministry of Defence is looking into the circumstances of one of the cases the noble Lord mentioned, and I will keep him updated when I am able to do so.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I share the bemusement of other noble Lords. Why are diversity networks being singled out for Government censorship, and how on earth does it compromise Civil Service independence for grown-up professional people to be subjected to a range of even controversial views?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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The guidance was developed because of certain things that were happening, notably to remove the risk of extremist views being engaged in some of these diversity networks; it was a particular issue relating to that. If the noble Baroness reads the guidance, she will see that it is measured and tries to ensure that debate and good engagement by the diversity networks continues, but that they are not used as a sort of campaigning platform for nefarious organisations such as terrorists.

Covid-19 Inquiry

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Thursday 8th June 2023

(10 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I wonder what kind of example the Government think they are setting for other parties to litigation or, indeed, to judicial inquiries. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, deserved a better answer; who is the ultimate arbiter of what is relevant when that is in dispute? Is it the Government or the trusted senior judge?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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Of course we trust the senior judge. She has control over what she decides within the framework of the inquiry, as we have been discussing, which has advantages and disadvantages. In the judicial review, we are addressing the narrow point of whether it is right to provide unambiguously irrelevant material. This could cover anything from civil servants’ or families’ medical conditions to matters totally unconnected with the Government’s handling of Covid. It seems right to have a ruling on how that should be handled, not least given the implications for future inquiries and future Governments.

Covid-19 Inquiry: Judicial Review

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Tuesday 6th June 2023

(10 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, on the anniversary of D-day, I remind noble Lords that during the pandemic this country alone lost twice as many civilians as we lost during World War II. Therefore it was quite right that the Government decided, like many other countries, to hold some kind of independent inquiry into the handling of something that was difficult for everyone—no question about that. I hope the Minister knows my respect for her; she knows that we share a characteristic of being former civil servants. I declare a further interest in being a former inquiry member, having served on Lord Leveson’s inquiry, so I hope I have a number of insights into this kind of process.

I am concerned that sometimes Governments hold inquiries, important though they are, to kick important issues into the long grass. If I am not right about that, I am sure that a lot of people in the country share a potential cynicism about the inquiries held. I think the noble Lord, Lord Allan, suggested that it is like saying, “We don’t believe in legal aid or in judicial review, but we believe in judicial inquiries whenever there is a political crisis”. I have concerns about that.

In particular, however, I ask the Minister: how is it ethically or publicly appropriate to constitute your own independent judicial inquiry into a matter of such public concern and not to trust the judge—a Member of this House—to decide what is relevant and not relevant, and what is sensitive and not sensitive? If there are things that are sensitive, how is it not appropriate to put in the disclosure with suggested redactions and leave it, for goodness’ sake, to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hallett, rather than to judicially review the government’s own instituted inquiry? Further, and finally, how is it appropriate to use the leverage of withdrawing legal funding from witnesses as a means of deciding that those witnesses—whoever they are, whether I like them or not and whether I agree with them or not—should not co-operate with the inquiry of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hallett, for fear of having legal support withdrawn?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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Perhaps I could pick up that last point, which the noble Lord, Lord Allan, also raised—

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for his thoughtful comments. Issues about the Executive and Parliament are ones that we debate. We have set up a very broad inquiry to learn the lessons and do the right things for the future. The Cabinet Office and other departments—because other departments are also party to the inquiry—have followed procedures that have worked well on a series of other inquiries. What we have found here is that there has been an issue about some unambiguously irrelevant information. That is not going to stop us making available all relevant material in relation to Covid. I think that people have just mistaken our intentions, but I am sure that it will be quickly resolved—obviously, that is my hope.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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So as not to mistake the Minister’s intentions, why not make the application not for judicial review but to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hallett, herself, by submitting with full disclosure with a submission that certain parts of it be redacted? That is what a Government do when they have trust in the judicial chair of their own inquiry, so why not do that?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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As I hinted, we have been in discussion for some time, and we have tried to make progress. We have taken the view, on advice from our own King’s Counsel, that it is appropriate to seek a judicial review—so that we can get guidance on this narrow and technical point of law, particularly in the new era of communications—and that that is the sensible thing to do.

I failed to respond to an earlier question about the use of digital communications. I should repeat that this is something we debated. I made a Statement in March issuing the new guidance on the use of non-corporate communication channels, which distinguishes between things that must be recorded for posterity, and the disciplines that we as Ministers have to enter into, and the ephemera with which is not appropriate to clog up the record book. Obviously, it is early days, but I hope that that will help with these issues in the future. I also look forward to the clarity of this judicial review, into which we have entered with good faith and the expectation that it is proper, whatever might have been said by some others.

Emergency Alert System: Fujitsu

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Wednesday 19th April 2023

(12 months ago)

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I will make one preliminary point: Fujitsu has been fully co-operating with the postmasters inquiry. I also emphasise that there is no link between the small amount of work that Fujitsu has done for DCMS and the Cabinet Office and the work done for the Post Office.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I am so grateful to the Minister for setting out the issue about the regulations and security. But in addition to security concerns, there are basic decency and morality concerns. How do people in this country feel about contracts being given to this company in the interim, while this inquiry is pending?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I have explained what we are doing about the inquiry. The grounds for the exclusion of bidders from public procurement procedures are set out in the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. These rules set out the circumstances in which bidders must or may be excluded from the public procurement process. We have to follow those processes. The Procurement Bill, which was brought forward by this Government and debated extensively in this House, and is now being considered elsewhere, strengthens the grounds for exclusion, but we have proceeded with this contract on alerts. I emphasise the value of these alerts in warning and informing people where we have serious problems.

Civil Service: Digital Skills

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Monday 20th February 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I believe that is actually the direction of travel. We are bringing in more of a capability-based pay scheme, which will allow us to track and keep these people who are in hot demand in a competitive market—as I know only too well. The Civil Service jobs are very interesting; if we could sort out a route for people to come in and work on digital data, and perhaps even go out again, and so improve our skills and work on these important projects, that would make a huge difference. The establishment of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology—DSIT—is going to make a difference as well, in setting the tone and encouraging people to come and work on the very real data and skills challenges that we now have in the Civil Service.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the Question about skills but values are just as important as skills in the digital space. Could the Minister tell your Lordships’ House what the Government intend by way of promoting fundamental rights and freedoms in that space—whether it is the right not to be degraded, the right to personal digital privacy, the right not to be discriminated against or, crucially, the right to decisions on things that matter being made by a human being and not an algorithm?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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The noble Baroness raises important points, and these are going to be debated a lot in the Online Safety Bill. In the Civil Service, we have a clear set of values—public service values. The Central Digital and Data Office is set up to look at how best to transform public services, but in a way that is appropriately balanced between using things such as AI and making sure that people’s rights and responsibilities are protected. We have the Data Protection Act and the Information Commissioner’s Office to help us in that process.

Boardman Report

Baroness Chakrabarti Excerpts
Tuesday 20th December 2022

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his point. We need to distinguish between inappropriate lobbying, which we have sought to regulate since 2014, and other contributions to thought. In other countries, think tanks are very common; they exist to contribute to democratic debate. Indeed, in the US, they are very much better financed. I come back to my previous point: work is going on through the review by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and through the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists, who, for example, made some changes earlier this year to tighten up the definition of incidental exception. We need to be careful where noble Lords are taking us on the matter.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as the former director of Liberty—the National Council for Civil Liberties—and its charitable sister, the Civil Liberties Trust. I would have thought it an intrusion into individual Members’ privacy, if each and every one had to declare that they were members of Liberty. However, in exchange for the privilege of being a charity or a not-for-profit company, is it not right that an element of transparency over donations above a certain and significant threshold should be required?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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If you declare all donations and list all the people who donate to charities—such as Liberty, to which noble Lords may want to contribute—you will find that other people will go through and seek to influence those who are donating to such charities, to contribute to them. These things are very complex, and it is not right that we should introduce those sorts of detailed rules on small sums of money, which is largely what we are talking about. Those small sums of money are helping the whole process of having independent thought, which is needed, both for those of us who serve in government and for those who serve in other parties and sit on other Benches.