25 Baroness Deech debates involving the Leader of the House

Mon 15th Apr 2024
Mon 23rd Oct 2023
Mon 16th Oct 2023
Tue 28th Jun 2022
Mon 28th Mar 2022
Elections Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1
Fri 4th Feb 2022

Iran and Israel

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Monday 15th April 2024

(1 day, 16 hours ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness. The Royal Navy is one of the top five in the world. Of course there is a need to defend our country and act co-operatively with other nations. The overall Ministry of Defence equipment plan for the next decade is £288 billion, including £41.5 billion for the Royal Navy. That will include a Dreadnought, Astute and AUKUS submarines, fleet support ships, ocean surveillance capability and Type 26, Type 31 and Type 32 frigates. As far as the RAF is concerned, the plan is that it should become increasingly a digitally empowered force. The future combat air system will provide us with sixth-generation fighter jet capability, building on what is currently provided by typhoons and the F35. We are in a close partnership with the Italian and Japanese Governments in relation to future fighter capacity.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, I would like the Minister to take the long view on this. First, in relation to Gaza, it must not be forgotten that this is happening against a history of nearly two millennia of persecution. There is no other people in the world who have been persecuted for so long and against whom there is a constant existential threat. Therefore, the priority in Gaza must be for Hamas to come out of the tunnels and hospitals and release the hostages if they have them, and then you get your ceasefire.

Secondly, with Iran—taking the long view—we seem to have forgotten the nuclear plan, the JCPOA. We have taken our eye off that. Iran is within minutes of getting nuclear capability and is mad enough to use it. We must return to sanctions. If the Government are not going to ban the IRGC, then at the very least visas should not be granted to those so-called clerics that go forwards and backwards between Tehran and London and foment trouble in London. So, please, let us remember the priorities in Gaza and, secondly, stop the flow of malevolent individuals into this country.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, there is much to be desired in what the noble Baroness says. As a historian and someone with a sensitivity to all the genius of human culture, of course I understand what she says about the experience of the Jewish people. It is clear that Hamas cannot remain in charge in Gaza: the British Government have made that clear, and the Foreign Secretary has said that it is a requirement.

On her important remarks on Iranian nuclear ambitions—if there be such, and the objective observer suggests that there might be—there is no credible civilian justification for enrichment at the levels that the IAEA has reported in Iran. The British Government remain determined that Iran must never develop a nuclear weapon. We are considering next steps with our international partners and we are committed to using all diplomatic tools available to ensure Iran never develops a nuclear weapon, including using the snapback mechanism if necessary. These matters, as I said earlier, must be carried forward in co-operation with our international allies, and that is our diplomatic objective.

Death of a Member: Lord Judge

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Thursday 9th November 2023

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, these Benches echo all that has been said so movingly about this remarkable and learned man, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. As has been expressed, I and others felt a deep sadness on hearing the news of his death.

On behalf of these Benches, I have stood and given tributes on a number of occasions and, each time, very poignantly for me, I followed Lord Judge. He was wise, kind, humble, gracious and, as has been said, he always had a twinkle in his eye. His life was one of devoted public service to the greater good, be it in the law or the courts, as President of the Queen’s Bench Division and later as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, or as a Member of this House. He was a source of wisdom to me personally in my role as Anglican Bishop for HM Prisons. He would always greet me in the corridors with Shakespearean references to Gloucester. I will personally miss him.

As Convener of the Cross Benches he was a great friend of this Bench. Reference has been made to his speeches, not least on constitutional matters, and I hope that we will return to those so that we keep on listening to his words. As has been said, his interventions were always short; he would just stand up without any notes and he would always hit the nail on the head with just a few words. I said to him on numerous occasions, when I had spoken after him in debates, that I usually just wanted to say, “What he said”.

He contributed to a vast number of journals and books over his career, not least one entitled Christianity and Criminal Law, which brought theologians, lawyers, judges and historians together to discuss the Christian traditions of the law. He never shied away from addressing tricky issues and he often brought a fresh take to a problem of law. He was indeed ruthless, but always with that twinkle in his eye.

His insights and friendships will be greatly missed from all sides of the House. Our condolences go to his beloved family. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, my late noble and learned friend Lord Judge was, in my view, the judges’ judge, the Lords’ judge and the people’s judge. As judges’ judge, he championed the judiciary, filling a gap that we have sustained ever since the abolition of the old Lord Chancellor post. He kept up morale, not least mine. On my regular visits to him when I was as chair of the Bar Standards Board, he would say, “What’s the matter, Ruth?” As the Lords’ judge, he got to the essence of what we Lords should do and will always be remembered as the upholder of the rule of law by ensuring that parliamentary sovereignty held executive sovereignty in check. As the people’s judge, he followed in the footsteps of Lord Denning, Lord Bingham and Lord Mansfield, in reminding us that we are here to protect everyone from an overmighty executive. If only he were here to greet the first Lady Chief Justice.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, was a great man and a wise man. He was funny, tough and, as so many have said, extremely kind. He and I were in Oman together, about three or four years ago. At a formal meeting of the State Council, which is the Omani equivalent of this upper House, I was asked a question by one of its Members. It was a long and complicated question, in very rapid and totally incomprehensible English. I had no understanding or clue of what exactly I was being asked, but I floundered on until I was rescued by Igor. He swept down and, with his very graceful words, said, “Perhaps I may add”, which immediately made everything extremely clear. He will be missed immeasurably. Perhaps the best and most lasting tribute we in this House can give him is to challenge wherever and whenever we see Henry VIII powers.

Israel and Gaza

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Monday 23rd October 2023

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, on the second part I am not able to comment. I am grateful for the welcome that has been given to the degree of support the Prime Minister and Government have already announced.

The noble Lord is quite right about the important role of the UN agencies; they are, in effect, the conduit for aid going into Gaza. UNRWA has a unique mandate from the UN General Assembly, as the noble Lord knows, to protect and provide protection and core services to Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. It is a vital humanitarian and stabilising force in the region.

The Government are clear that the final status of Palestinian refugees must be agreed as part of eventual peace negotiations. Until then, the UN remains firmly committed to supporting UNRWA and those who work with it. It is worth recalling that it provides basic education to more than 500,000 children per year, half of whom are girls, access to health services for 3.5 million Palestinian refugees and social safety net assistance for around 390,000 of the most vulnerable across the region. So, yes, I can give the noble Lord the assurance he asked for.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, I also welcome the kind and supportive Statement we have just heard. It comes as a ray of light in the farrago of disinformation that we are getting. I have three points to raise.

First, on the question of aid, over the last decades billions of dollars have been channelled into the Palestinian territories, largely through UNRWA. Where has it all gone? The concrete that was supposed to build houses has apparently been used for nefarious purposes and for hiding. What has happened to all that money from all over the world, which appears to have been used by Hamas to get rockets and to make trouble, rather than supporting their people?

Secondly, the two-state solution is all very well. However, as long as the call goes out “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, we know that “From the river to the sea” means the total annihilation of Israel and its replacement with one state. A state has been offered on four occasions to the Palestinians and rejected.

Thirdly, I hope the Government will have a mind to the trouble going on in our universities. Just today I heard from someone connected with Warwick University that two Jewish students there who refused to join a pro-Palestine march have been ostracised and made to feel extremely unwelcome, and that the Jewish society app has been hacked with all sorts of nasty messages. This is simply an example of the sort of thing going on in our universities. Vice-chancellors need to be told to take care of all their students, bearing in mind, of course, freedom of speech, but also bearing in mind the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. Our young people are on the front line and they are suffering.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness makes three challenging contributions. It is not the case that every part of aid offered and sent is used for the purposes it ought to be. That cannot be the case, sadly, in what is effectively a terrorist-controlled entity. What we can do, working with the agencies and the UN, using them as conduits, is to ensure that as much as possible goes to the support of the people. I gave some figures in response to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. The fact that some aid has in the past been stolen and misapplied, and may be in the future, surely does not absolve us of the moral duty to seek to assist those in danger and those who are in need.

On the noble Baroness’s second point on the security of Israel, it is obvious that there can be no diplomatic two-state solution while Israel feels that it does not have the basic security of the right to survive that any people and nation have.

Thirdly, having not strayed into trying to direct broadcasters, I will not try to direct universities. However, all in authority need to have a care that their campuses are not misused or penetrated by malign organisations. Every student, in that glorious nobility of youth, should realise that treating others with respect is one of the most wonderful aspects of the human condition. If the story that the noble Baroness told is true, it is appalling and I hope that it is not replicated elsewhere.

Israel and Gaza

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Monday 16th October 2023

(6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. Hamas is proscribed—those who invite support for this group could be jailed. However, arrests are an operational matter for the police. The Home Secretary has asked police to step up patrols and monitor protests.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, I mourn the passing of a young relative, only 22, who died in the military just a few days ago. I hope that the Minister will agree with me that the root cause of this is Iran. It is Iran that has funded Hamas and it is its equipment being used. We must stop funding Iran. At this very moment, there are protests outside the BBC, because the BBC has become partisan in not using the word terrorists. Above all, I hope the Minister will dry up the source of funds to Iran.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, broadcasters are independent in this country, a free country, but as the noble Baroness will know, the Culture Secretary took up certain matters, which she has referred to. So far as Iran is concerned, Hamas is fully responsible for the appalling act of terror that has taken place, but Iran poses an unacceptable threat to Israel, including through its long-term support for Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. We condemn Iran’s destabilising activity throughout the region and we will look at its activities with wide-open eyes.

Restoration and Renewal

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Wednesday 13th July 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, clearly, I know next to nothing about construction, albeit that I oversaw from a distance the construction of two new buildings at my college. So to prepare myself for today, I sought advice from a national expert on megaprojects. I feel compelled to speak because of my alarm at the paralysis we find ourselves in and because of my respect for this building and all that it represents. The urgent start needed is held up by Members of Parliament who know that it will not be completed while they hold their seats. To them, I have to say that if you love it, you have to leave it.

I call on your Lordships and the Minister to declare today our willingness to decant for the sake of doing the job in the most efficient way possible, thereby earning the gratitude of future generations rather than their disbelief that things have been allowed to degenerate to such a level. It is not hyperbole to describe this moment as our Notre Dame. In recent years, there have been about 25 minor fires and a major asbestos leak. Dithering over the role of the sponsor body has cost at least £100 million. Some £70 million was written off when the Commons decided against moving to Richmond House, and there is no plan B. Incidentally, Richmond House, standing vacant with its forecourt by the Cenotaph, would make a far better location for the planned Holocaust memorial than Victoria Tower Gardens, where it is literally bogged down by water, stubbornness, and the usual underestimate of costs and overestimate of benefits.

This project seems fit to join the list examined by the political scientist Sir Ivor Crewe in his study, The Blunders of our Governments. From the poll tax, child support and super casinos to the Millennium Dome, projects fail because they are commissioned by Ministers and designed by civil servants, both of whom move on to other jobs. Policy is separated from reality and from implementation, while in the end there is no penalty for failure, and no one takes the accountability. Meanwhile, in this Motion, we are being sent backwards. Resignations have cost us much needed experience and the whole project has gone back to the drawing board. We need one small outside body to drive it forward; we need to confirm our decant; we want no plethora of options, because people will always favour the cheapest; and we need to hear directly from the professionals.

There are lessons to be learned from history and from the study of megaprojects. Nine out of 10 such projects have cost overruns. The Scottish Parliament cost overrun was 1,600% and the Channel Tunnel 80%. For many of the world’s most iconic projects, it could have been said that if people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. We should brace ourselves now for the disapproval that may come from transparency over expenditure, and we should keep our eyes focused on the future working parliamentary democracy of this country. By way of illustration, does anyone regret the Channel Tunnel or the Sydney Opera House, or indeed our current Palace of Westminster, which itself took decades to construct and ran into the same problems of governance, cost and political disarray that we are facing now, more than a century later?

Instead of learning from the past story of indecision, unwillingness to move and lack of leadership, there is this decision before us today to terminate the sponsor body, apparently because it told the truth about the budget—up to £13 billion—and the need to decant completely for 12 or more years. Decisions of both Houses have been reversed, with no reasoning given for this new model of governance. As the Public Accounts Committee said, this Motion before us will cause further risk and delay; there is no one person or body to be in charge.

Much as we respect them, we know that the clerks do not have construction expertise—indeed, they were never expected to have that as part of their job—nor do the Speakers, not even with a client team and a joint department of both Houses. Why, at the very least, does the Infrastructure and Projects Authority not have oversight of this rather than being excluded? Why was a meeting of interested Lords called the day before the report from the Public Accounts Committee? That report is critical of the fact that there is still no start date and of the new oversight given to the House authorities. We have no evidence as to why the existing governance model was rejected. The sponsor body had already spent £145 million in readiness. Our delay is costing us £60-85 million a year and that is an old estimate.

Every expert has told us that a full decant is called for. Our experience with Zoom during lockdown has shown that Parliament can function in innovative ways, without losing its authority and without changing for ever. We have to accept that we will be a generation who sacrifice our own convenience for the sake of generations of politicians to come. A decision to decant is the kick-start this programme needs. In this House, it has already been approved and we should not resile from it in the face of this Motion. We should not encourage work to minimise the decant or plan for a shorter life expectancy for the completed works, which would mean leaving our successors that recurrent nightmare. The decision should be made now, before the recess. No amount of rejigging of the governance will change the need to decant, not least for the sake of the staff.

We need to move from policy development to project execution. I fear that some of the current debate about governance is really about finding a new organisation that will tell us that the project is cheaper and less risky. The worst-case scenario is that the new organisation will come up with more palatable numbers, and then overoptimistic costs and timelines are approved. The best-case scenario is that the new organisation will go back and redo the work that has already been done, and come up with the same conclusion. The Commons yesterday were also pretty pessimistic about this new governance.

My final thought on governance is that we need to bring together decision-makers, so that stakeholders can debate, align their objectives and find common ground. I tried to piece together an organogram of the new structure, and it ended up looking rather like that tangle of wires and pipes beneath our feet in the basement. I do not really see how it can work efficiently.

A number of individuals are currently putting themselves forward as our next Prime Minister. The one question I would ask of each one is: are you committed to progressing the restoration and renewal of the Palace, and will you convince MPs that they must vacate it as required? I agree with my noble friend Lord Devon that ideally this Motion should be rejected in its entirety, but I envisage that that is not possible.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, I declare interests, first as the first holder of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, dealing with student complaints, and secondly as former principal of St Anne’s College, Oxford, where the only time I ever banned speech was a session that was planned on how to practise safe male sadomasochism. I have no regrets about having banned that.

What an indictment of our universities it is that we should need to return to this topic again. I have spoken about it many times in this House.

Academics have the right to say and debate controversial and provocative things subject only to the laws that prohibit and criminalise certain topics, of which there are surprisingly many, ranging from the prevention of terrorism to defamation and racial discrimination. Universities are not and never have been at liberty to limit freedom of speech beyond the law, which is why it is so shameful to see professors hounded out for, for example, their views on gender. My views in a nutshell are that it is a problem, but that this Bill is not the right way to tackle it.

Policy Exchange, on whose research the Bill is largely based, found that there was extensive political discrimination in universities, with remainers against leavers, hostile attitudes between left and right, gender-critical researchers and transgender activists, reflected in difficulties in publication and probably other promotions in the university. There is today huge cultural pressure to conform to the acceptable doctrines of the time. Dissenters feel they must keep quiet. The Higher Education Policy Institute survey this month found a distressingly large amount of agreement among students about banning things that cause offence to them and a need to feel comfortable, which is not what you go to university for.

Sadly, current controversies over free speech have tended to divide along strong lines of black and white. Each side believes that the other is wrong and therefore stupid and to be silenced. It is happening over transgender, and it happened over Brexit. The French revolutionaries, the Cultural Revolution, Nazism and fascism all blocked free speech on the ground that they and they alone possessed the moral truth. Outside of the universities too, there is very limited liberty to say things that do not conform with the prevailing trend, and the consequences can be cancellation, loss of job or even violence. Even here in the House of Lords there have been attempts to silence our individual opinions and words.

But this new Bill is not only superfluous and riddled with contradictions and ambiguities but is likely to make the situation worse if activists use the complaints system to be instituted in the OfS and even take to the courts. A student life is only three years, and taking to the courts in any subject, as we know, is likely to last long beyond their graduation and do them no good. The complaints system will be in addition to the long-established and—I would say—successful one run by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, which I set up. I cannot see how the director of freedom of speech at the OfS cannot be but conflicted. Moreover, I cannot see the point of duplicating what is already available at the adjudication office. It is possible under the Bill that the OfS might deal with one side of a complaint, from a staff member, and the OIA will receive a complaint from a student about the same incident. There needs to be clear demarcation. The OfS will be able to offer a remedy only for the free speech aspect, while the OIA can offer broader remedial action.

Sadly, I have had significant experience of trying to help Jewish students as a patron of UK Lawyers for Israel. Those students have faced threats to their safety and even refusals of references when trying to assert their rights to free expression. The London colleges, notably LSE, SOAS, KCL and UCL, are often regarded as hostile environments for Jewish students and, right now, Goldsmiths has embarked on a study of anti-Semitism in its college. This new legislation must not undermine the existing protections, flimsy though they are, to stop anti-Jewish racism and Holocaust denial.

The Bill refers to freedom of speech within the law without giving a definition. One can easily imagine a Holocaust denier or a Hamas leader taking legal recourse for being denied a platform. Holocaust denial is not actually illegal, but it has been argued that the Equality Act and Prevent duties will ensure that it is not permitted on campus. Not only has this not been tested, we know that every year extremist Islamist speakers are allowed on campus preaching hate.

Do the universities not also have duties to prevent harassment and foster good relations under their public sector equality duty? Are they doing it? Will freedom of speech trump the other values, not expressed in straightforward law, that universities promote? There is no requirement in the Bill to consider competing freedoms. How does an authority decide between, on the one hand, Holocaust denial as an exercise of freedom of speech, and, on the other, the right of Jewish students not to be harassed and defamed? Will there still be a duty to prevent serious psychological injury? What about the freedom to speak against transgender issues? Will academic freedom triumph over demonstrably false assertions? What about a lecturer who wants to say that the US election was stolen from Trump or that climate change is a lie? The emphasis in the Bill might in future provide a cover for knowingly malicious and mendacious conduct.

Conspiracy theories put forward together with intimidation and vilification may be permissible and tolerable as political speech, but not as academic freedom, which they are not, or free speech, which has to be based on truth, not pseudoscience or neglect of the truth. We have seen the dangers of that in the political sphere also.

How relevant will the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, already mentioned and now adopted by 103 UK and Irish universities, be? The definition is not legally binding, but it addresses modern anti-Semitism, which is dressed up as opposition to the very existence of the only country in the world that offers a safe haven to Jews in a world of rising anti-Semitism. The definition should help universities to understand this. Far from it dampening criticism of Israel and exploration of the Palestine/Israel issues, there is no issue more explored on campus. Just Google and see endless debates and actions relating to boycotts, targeting of Jewish students, violent protests and day in, day out debate about those very issues. Will the Bill prohibit the boycott by institutions and organisations of Israeli academics and universities and, sometimes, the refusal of professors to support Jewish students who want to study Israeli matters or require references? There really is a problem but the Bill may very well make it more complex, more expensive and even worse.

Elections Bill

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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Before the Minister sits down, can I clarify what he has said about liability for payment? My Amendment 155A relates to the liability to pay council tax. Where people are excused, they might otherwise be liable to pay council tax but, because of government legislation, they have been excused the need to do so. I make the point that although I planned this as a probing amendment, I now realise we have a much bigger issue to address, and we will need to discuss this further on Report.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, may I point out one other anomaly? I imagine everyone in this House pays tax, and yet we do not have the vote. I think that is really rather unfair and hope to see that rectified.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, is, of course, quite correct and we will be looking at the question of voting rights for noble Lords in a subsequent group of amendments.

Health and Care Bill

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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My Lords, in moving this amendment I will also speak to the Amendments 313A, 314A and 315A standing in my name. Before I start, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for her many years of advocacy on reproductive health and look forward to hearing the points she will raise today. I am grateful for the productive meeting that we had a few weeks previously and welcome the noble Baroness’s support of the government amendments tabled in my name.

As many noble Lords will be aware, fertility preservation is achieved through the freezing and storage of gametes or embryos; it is an increasingly common procedure in the UK. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act sets limits on the length of time that frozen gametes and embryos can be stored for. The current statutory storage limit is 10 years, with the possibility of an extension up to a maximum of 55 years for those who are certified as prematurely infertile. Extended storage limits were introduced to help those people who became prematurely infertile preserve their fertility, with the hope of starting a family in the future. This would include children who may have undergone treatment for childhood cancers.

However, this approach appears to discriminate between those who have a medical need to freeze their gametes and embryos, and those who do not. This message was clear in response to our 2020 public consultation, and we accept that the current approach creates unfairness. Therefore, we are introducing a new scheme for all who currently freeze or wish to freeze their gametes or embryos. The new scheme will consist of 10-year renewable storage periods up to a maximum of 55 years for everyone, regardless of medical need. It is for these reasons that I ask noble Lords from across the House to support the government Amendments 243A, 313A, 314A and 315A in my name.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, Amendment 280 stands in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. I declare an interest as former chair of the HFEA.

Let me start by offering the Government what must be a rare and welcome tribute in these troubled days for bringing forward an amendment that reflects compassion and efficiency. They listened to the consultation and have picked up the result of at least two years of campaigning, in a way that I can only admire. As the Committee can see, my own miserable little drafting of Amendment 280 was really only an entry to allow the Government to do their own complicated drafting, which of course I will accede to—and there will be no need for my amendment.

I am profoundly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, and, before him, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackwood, all of whom helped this along. It has the support of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the British Fertility Society, Progress Educational Trust and the specialist lawyers Natalie Gamble and Emily Jackson. Everyone is behind this amendment, and I am profoundly relieved that it has come forward just in the nick of time, because there was a possibility that later this summer women whose eggs were frozen for 10 years, and who took advantage of the two years’ extra time given them, might have run out of time.

This amendment will bring the UK’s law in line with advances in science and changes in modern society, and it will give individuals greater reproductive choices. It will also give patients more time to make important decisions about planning their family. On behalf of hundreds, maybe thousands, of women, let me express my gratitude to the Government for something that will be helpful in many years to come. I give my wholehearted support to the amendments in this group.

Procedure and Privileges

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Tuesday 13th July 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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I am sorry to have to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who is normally a fount of wisdom, but I associate myself with his remarks about the suspension, or part suspension, of some Members because they did not take the Valuing Everyone course. That course is insultingly inappropriate. I have taken it twice. The entire message could be put on a postcard. The Procedure and Privileges Committee’s report mounts a rather feeble defence of it, which I do not accept.

I also associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Elder. Londoners do not know how much it costs to rent even a modest hotel room in London if one comes from outside London.

I also thank the staff and others who have achieved a miraculous adaptation of our debates and committee meetings to the virtual platform. Not only have there been very few glitches, but they dealt patiently and courteously with Peers’ lack of expertise and they have made the word “unmute” as familiar a word in our proceedings as “order” used to be. The effect of our adaptation to lockdown has been to precipitate the workings of this House much further into the 21st century. Indeed, given the snail-like pace of the restoration and renewal building programme, we will soon have modern practices in a building scarcely able to accommodate them. Having chaired a review of the law relating to disabled people in 2016, I would have appreciated then the ability for our disabled witnesses to appear virtually and to have been spared the journey and, in some cases, the challenges of access and speaking. Future committee witnesses will be greatly advantaged and their scope widened by the ability to give evidence remotely.

I intend to address Questions. Certainly allocation by ballot is much to be preferred to the queue with sandwiches outside the Table Office. Speakers’ lists are also an improvement on the previous situation when those with the loudest voices and thickest skins prevailed, and quite frequently precious minutes were wasted in the embarrassing scenario of several noble Lords shouting to attract simultaneously until the Leader of the House sorted it out. It was also hard to see why we all had to give way to the right reverend Prelates. A mixture of listed and spontaneous interventions is well worth considering. We should also get rid of the pointless “My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question” et cetera and instead have the questioner voice the Question so that watchers and listeners know what it is.

The criteria that should apply to lists for Questions or, in the alternative, spontaneity are those that underlying the purpose of Question Time. In my view they are: holding the Government to account by compelling answers to questions and extracting commitments and dates; seeking information that is not otherwise forthcoming; allowing all Members of the House a chance to ask questions in pursuit of their interest, not just those best placed with Ministers; and injecting an element of surprise that forces Ministers to prepare for every possible question without knowing in advance who will question them or on what aspect.

Holding the Government to account is equally well achieved by lists, providing that the questioners are fairly chosen by the leaders of their groups. That choice, over which some may have doubts, is at least as fair as giving the Floor to the loudest interveners, often the same few people under the old system. Under both the old system and the speakers’ list system, Ministers can and do avoid answering the question directly and can be brought back to it by subsequent interveners, so 10 minutes per Question is welcome; one wishes it were longer. Seeking information is equally well achieved by either system, backed up by Questions for Written Answer.

Do all Members of the House get a look-in? My own calculations show that women Members have enjoyed 34% higher participation than before, even allowing for the extension to 10 minutes. It was not so much that women interveners were underrepresented numerically under the old system; it was more that the same few formidable women with the strongest voices and the least hesitancy dominated the women’s team. It is now more varied.

The element of surprise is lost in having a speakers’ list, or rather, it may be that the Minister’s team knows in advance or researches the particular angle a Member is likely to pursue. This is an even greater drawback if, as appears to be a growing practice, the Minister’s staff ask the Member in advance what they are going to ask. This practice should be discouraged. For that reason, were it practical, a slot or two reserved for interveners who have not signed up would be of benefit. Therefore, I see much in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe.

His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Monday 12th April 2021

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I venture to suggest that His Royal Highness The Prince Philip was probably unperturbed by being deprived of the possibility of being a Member of this House by the House of Lords Act 1999, having been introduced in 1948, but what a marvellous speaker and Member he would have been, with his style and knowledge so well suited to the highest standards of this House. We were left to contemplate this on the many occasions when he accompanied Her Majesty the Queen to the State Opening and we wondered what he was making of the speech from the Throne.

His appearance always lifted spirits. I first came across this when I was a student of the Inner Temple, of which he was a Royal Bencher and which mourns him. He attended several student occasions, and there was nothing like his appearance at a gathering of law students to impress on us the solemnity and special nature of the profession we were embarking on. His conversation was always apt and, happily, Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal has continued in this position with the same welcome attributes.

I am glad to have this opportunity to put on record the gratitude—indeed, the most heartfelt emotion—experienced by those who are aware of the heroic acts of His Royal Highness’s mother, Princess Alice. The daughter of a Holocaust survivor who was saved by her has recounted how, in 1943, it was clear in Athens that Greek Jews were being taken to concentration camps. One Alfred Cohen, head of a prominent family and living among the community of 8,000 Jews, came across Princess Alice’s lady-in-waiting. Through her, the princess offered his family refuge on the top floor of her house, only yards from the Gestapo headquarters. Mr Cohen wrote that, for them, it was “an absolute miracle” that the lady in waiting had gone to see the Princess. An hour later, they were informed that she would take them in—father, wife, daughter and grandson. When the German generals came round looking for people in hiding, the princess pretended that she could not understand them because she was deaf. They left her alone. She did this despite the sanction of execution had she been found out. The Cohen family survived the war.

At her request, Princess Alice was buried in the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives. In 1994, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip became the first member of the Royal Family to visit Israel when he accepted a special recognition of his mother for her rescue effort, visited her burial site and planted a tree in her memory. It seems that His Royal Highness shared his mother’s kind nature, perhaps recalling that he had come to the UK as a child refugee. Speaking on the occasion of the award to his mother, he said:

“The Holocaust was the most horrific event in all Jewish history, and it will remain in the memory of all future generations.”


In 2015, he and the Queen visited Bergen-Belsen.

Despite the inevitable criticism, His Royal Highness spoke many times at Jewish events and supported the Jewish National Fund, an environmental organisation. The Jewish community appreciated him and will miss him. He supported the Council of Christians and Jews and, not unsurprisingly, had a keen appreciation of religious differences. When he visited the Sternberg Centre in the 1990s, he was shown the interfaith room, with his hosts telling him that they worked hard on Jewish-Christian relationships. “Really?” he replied, “And what about Jewish-Jewish relationships?”

His generous, brave spirit and his empathy with victims, such as those of Aberfan, will always be remembered. He has been a model for the Royal Family for so many causes, for selflessness and for bravery. I feel privileged to take part in this tribute and offer my condolences.