43 Baroness D'Souza debates involving the Leader of the House

Parliamentary Democracy and Standards in Public Life

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Thursday 11th January 2024

(3 months ago)

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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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My Lords, the democratic system is pretty robust and parliamentary democracy has survived, albeit in a less authoritative form. Democracy, however, being a process rather than a state, is fragile and needs constant vigilance. The media is awash with reports on the demise of democracy the world over, but especially parliamentary democracy in the UK. Lord Sumption has referred to “a developing totalitarian tendency”. That there are too many unfortunate examples of these tendencies has allowed an attitude of regretful acceptance of the increasing power of the Executive.

Recent legislation has included clauses that either unduly restrict current individual freedoms, infringe obligations set under international treaties or increase the power of the Government to alter clauses at will without proper parliamentary scrutiny. These actions add up to a public perception of a lack of transparency and good faith on the part of the Government and a consequent fall in public confidence in, and respect for, the integrity and credibility of the UK’s political institutions.

Parliament is one of the key institutions of democracy in the UK, along with regular elections, the independent law courts and a free press. The Westminster model is renowned throughout the world; it is one of our most potent symbols of fairness and a key instrument of soft power. It allows the UK to punch well above its weight. It is worth preserving. As the historian David Runciman has said, the end of democracy will not be signalled by tanks on the lawn but by the slow, almost imperceptible erosion of our democratic institutions. No matter how much these values are reiterated, recent history has shown that in each House profoundly undemocratic legislative clauses have been passed.

There may be those in this House today who disagree that there is any real threat to our ancient institutions. However, are these institutions in fact able to do the job for which they exist? They may well continue to function, but are they delivering? Are we noticing that institutional arrangements may be breaking down?

The role of Parliament has come under almost unprecedented scrutiny and criticism in recent months, and the calls for a rebalancing of power between the legislature and the Executive are loud. Perhaps we should resist pressures to be reticent as non-elected parliamentarians and insist on curbing executive power and the return of our parliamentary institutions to full democratic strength. That seems to be the fundamental task of both Houses of Parliament.

Death of a Member: Lord Judge

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Thursday 9th November 2023

(5 months, 1 week ago)

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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.

Lord Lisvane Portrait Lord Lisvane (CB)
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My Lords, Igor Judge was a man of warmth, courtesy, humour and wisdom. He moved seamlessly from being a giant of the law to a doughty defender in this House of the constitution. I got to know him when I was Clerk of the House of Commons and he eagerly embraced the proposal that there should be regular meetings between senior members of the judiciary and senior officials of the Commons, which proved to be invaluable.

When my wife was a high sheriff, Igor came down to deliver a superb and memorable high sheriff’s lecture on the threats to our constitution. Away from that serious subject, it was a weekend when the four of us laughed a very great deal. I was privileged to have him, with Betty Boothroyd, as a supporter for my introduction to this House. Thereafter, he was a friend, guide and mentor, as he was to so many.

During what we hoped would be his convalescence, he and I exchanged books by post—on cricket, naturally. My profound sympathies go to Judith and his beloved family. Igor’s loss will be deeply mourned and long felt.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak to my Motion B1, under which Amendments 4C and 4D would amend government amendments 4A and 4B in lieu. I am grateful to the Government for going part of the way in meeting the concerns raised in the original amendments, which were supported by your Lordships’ House. The purpose of those amendments was to introduce levelling-up missions to address child poverty and health disparities throughout the life course. The latter was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who is unable to be here today, but we have agreed the amendments that I am proposing. Both amendments received strong support on Report, including from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who regrets that he cannot be in his place today.

I am grateful, too, to the noble Earl the Minister for the helpful meeting we had last week. I am only sorry that the noble Lady Baroness, Lady Scott, is still unable to be with us, and I send her my best wishes. I am, though, disappointed that the Government did not accept the compromise that we proposed—I emphasise that it was a compromise. This compromise no longer pushes for specific missions and it accepts the government amendments in lieu, but would add to them the words

“including child poverty, and health disparities throughout the life course”.

I think they are still necessary—indeed, essential.

In the Commons and today, Ministers have acknowledged that child poverty and health disparities are

“essential factors when deciding missions”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/10/23; col. 182.]

The Government’s argument against our original amendments is that missions may need to evolve over time, so their details should not appear explicitly in the Bill. But does anyone in government really believe that child poverty and health inequalities will not continue to be essential factors in any levelling-up strategies for the foreseeable future?

Just this weekend, the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health emphasised the importance of long-term action on child poverty and health inequalities in the context of the climate emergency. Earlier, the early years healthy development review and the Marmot review into health equity underlined the need for a long-term focus with regard to these issues. This amendment would help ensure such a focus, without introducing the kind of inflexibility that the Government are so frightened of.

Given the time constraints, I will not repeat the arguments we made on Report. Child poverty and health disparities are a terrible blot on our society. Child poverty damages childhood itself and children’s life chances. Health disparities diminish life chances and physical and mental well-being at every point of our lives from before the cradle to the grave. The reference to life expectancy is only one element of health disparities; it is not the whole story by any means. Action on both fronts should be seen as an economic and social investment in the future of our society and as key to any levelling-up missions.

Acceptance of our amendment by the Government would constitute recognition of the importance of child poverty and health disparities throughout the life course and help ensure that, whatever the future levelling-up missions, they take account of these essential factors in levelling up our country and improving the life chances of all its members. Unless the Government are willing, even at the last minute to accept this compromise—and I hope I can persuade the Minister to accept it—I give notice that I wish to test the opinion of the House at the appropriate time.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, I too speak to Amendments 4C and 4D in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. We are essentially discussing four non-contentious words: “throughout the life course”. The Government have gone out of their way to address most of the concerns expressed about the welfare of children, for which everyone is extremely grateful. However, it is puzzling why these four words continue to be resisted. We know that health disparities begin in pregnancy, even before birth, as the noble Baroness said, and continue until advanced old age. Surely any levelling-up Bill has to acknowledge that continuous investment at every stage will result in a healthier and more productive society. The Government argue that this is implicit in the Bill, but why not make it explicit in the Bill? I honestly fail to understand this reluctance on the part of the Government and, should the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, decide to press her Motion to a vote, I will follow her into the Lobby.

Lord Foster of Bath Portrait Lord Foster of Bath (LD)
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My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Motion D, which relates to rural issues, and my concern about the absence of rural issues in the Bill. Indeed, at Second Reading I made reference to this issue and pointed out the enormous disparities between urban and rural communities. I gave a range of examples from the way in which, for instance, housing costs are higher and yet wages are lower, to that the cost of delivering services such as education, health and policing is higher, yet government funding is lower. There were many other examples. These disparities have been referred to in your Lordships’ House and the other place on many occasions over very many years. Indeed, proposals were made several years ago by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and were responded to by the then Secretary of State, Liz Truss, who said:

“This Government … is committed … to ensuring the interests of rural communities and businesses are accounted for within our policies and programmes”.


More recently, I had the opportunity to chair your Lordships’ special Select Committee on the Rural Economy. Again, we made a number of proposals, in response to which the Government said:

“Without doubt, these distinct characteristics”


of rural areas

“must be recognised in policy making and the government believes that rural proofing is the best”

way of doing it.

The most recent handbook on how to carry out rural-proofing—the Government’s Rural Proofing: Practical Guidance to Consider the Outcomes of Policies in Rural Areas—makes it abundantly clear that the rural-proofing process must take place before the presentation of legislation for consideration in your Lordships’ House and the other place. Yet, looking through the Bill as it was presented to us, I saw an absence of any reference to the distinctive nature of rural communities and the differences between them and urban communities. I also saw no evidence that a rural-proofing process had been done in advance of the Bill being presented to us. So, with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I proposed a couple of amendments.

The first said that, in developing the mission statements, the Government must have regard to the specific needs of rural communities. That has been rejected time after time at various stages in the passage of the Bill. However, as we have just heard from the Minister—I am enormously grateful to him for the meeting that we had to discuss this issue—the Government have now conceded that amendment. It is now to be included within the Motion brought forward by the Minister. Again, I am enormously grateful to him.

My second amendment proposed that evidence of rural-proofing should be presented to your Lordships’ House before the Bill is able to be enacted. That has been rejected and, as we have just heard from the Minister, it is to be rejected again. In his opening remarks, the Minister said that I need not be concerned because there is clear evidence that the Government have gone through a rural-proofing process in relation to all government legislation. I will not argue with the Minister, but I gently say to him that, when independent experts have looked at this matter—for instance, the Rural Services Network looked at the most recent government report on rural-proofing—they have made it absolutely clear that, in their view, there is no evidence of rural-proofing processes having been carried out. There are a lot of mentions of some good things that the Government are doing to support rural communities but not of a specific process having been carried out. The precise conclusion of the Rural Services Network was:

“Nowhere … is anything evidenced anywhere to show if these processes were followed”.


I will take the Minister’s word for it that he has been given total assurance that this procedure was adopted for the passage of the Bill. For that reason, I will not press and have not put down an amendment to repeat what my earlier amendment said. But it would be enormously helpful if, for the sake of those of us who are still somewhat sceptical, he could provide written evidence of the procedure having been carried out.

As I have said, I am enormously grateful that—through the amendment he has brought, repeating the one I originally proposed—we now have reference in the Bill that the specific needs of rural communities will be taken into account in drawing up the mission statements. I am enormously grateful for the work he did to ensure that this happened, so I end by once again expressing my thanks to the Minister.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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My Lords, this is, I think, a well-meaning Bill, but I question its necessity. I imagine no one here doubts that free speech should be protected, given it is one of the mainstays of our democratic settlement. The issue is by what means, and this is crucial because laws once on the statute book can be reinterpreted and misinterpreted. Furthermore, laws alone do not guarantee a more gentle and humane society—for that, we need a change in culture and behaviour.

Although this is clearly not the best time to uphold American constitutional rights, I have often envied American first amendment rights. The UK has never had such a codified protection of freedom of speech and assembly, but this protection in the UK is implicit in many of the laws we do have, and has existed for centuries as an almost definitive feature of British intellectual discourse.

The US Supreme Court has, in many courageous landmark decisions over the last few decades, made a clear distinction between two kinds of speech: advocacy and incitement. It has set out two conditions that must be satisfied to justify a suspension of first amendment rights. First, the words must be directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action. Secondly, the words must also be likely to incite or produce such action. In other words, there had to be, according to the Supreme Court, a clear temporal relationship between inciteful words and subsequent criminal action. At the same time, the court provided a three-part test for determining the legitimacy of any restrictions on free speech: any restriction must be provided by law; it must serve one of the legitimate purposes expressly set out in the text; and it must be necessary. Thus, the Supreme Court ruled that a black anti-war activist who threatened to shoot President Lyndon Johnson if he were to be forced to kill his black brothers was not intending to kill the President but to state his political opposition. Similarly, an opponent of the Vietnam war was justified in expressing sympathy and support for those unwilling to obey the military draft; the judge saying

“statements criticizing public policy and the implementation of it must be … protected”

to give freedom of expression the breathing space it needs.

It is an old and tested argument that the answer to hate or offensive words is more speech, to ensure that dissent remains within the political sphere and does not stray into criminal actions. This Bill recalls many issues that have given your Lordships’ House concern in the past: banning potentially noisy protests; tolerating dissent; hate speech; and now the freedom to express contentious views in the academic context.

There is an array of Bills that afford protection to free speech, as the very useful Library briefing has set out. These include the Education Act 1986 and the relatively recent establishment of the Office for Students, which requires all publicly funded education bodies to comply with public interest governance principles. However, the Government argue that these protections are spread among a number of statutes and, despite the well-publicised events in very recent years of no-platforming and campaigns against individual academics, the Office for Students has been reluctant to exercise its regulatory authority.

The current framework allows judicial review of a decision made by any educational body, which, in turn, permits only discretionary remedies and no scope for damages. The Government’s rationale is to bring all these laws together under a single banner and to strengthen monitoring and action.

Despite the many safeguards in our political system, the worry is that this spread of free speech rules and regulations may well itself have a chilling effect on free speech, while at the same time failing to eradicate vicious attacks. The law will permit a platform for those opposed to, say, gender terminology, and it may even prosecute those who attempt no-platforming. But the culture of intolerance will continue in other outlets, perhaps with even greater vigour.

It is useful to ask how far laws change the prevailing culture. The anti-smoking laws have certainly very successfully banished smoking in public areas; compulsory seatbelts have drastically cut fatal accidents. Will this Bill enable the academic sector to remain safe from attacks by those who hold contrary views? Will it eliminate “cancel culture”? Not in a hurry, I do not think. The self-righteous anti-lobby, or “woke culture”, is well entrenched in our social media and in actions against those who do not share its views. It requires rather a lot of courage for an individual, even though backed up by legislation, to face these kinds of onslaughts. The context of protest has led to self-censorship, possibly one of the most insidious kinds of censorship. Many academics would admit to modifying views and words in order to avoid attacks, and this is not conducive to intellectual exchange or opportunities to bring new ideas into the public arena. Darwin had a really tough time in the 19th century and JK Rowling is having a tough time today.

Then there is the question of necessity. I am informed by one of my grandsons that the Oxford Union has only ever cancelled three debates, none due to protest. Are the instances of interference in academic freedom numerous enough to justify the increase in monitoring and potential criminal charges in the Bill? Are the bodies mandated to bring formal complaints and action sufficiently distanced from the Government of the day? Will potential criminal sanctions contribute to the free intellectual discourse we all wish to see flourish? There are other loopholes in the legislation that could see the regulations abused and have the opposite effect with unintended consequences. Will this legislation have the desired effect in the absence of other legislation to limit online harms, and will it eliminate cancel culture?

Can a law adequately define contentious speech and views separately from the context in which they take place? Freedom of expression and its regulation depend on context; students at educational institutions are especially in need of protection because they are usually a captive audience addressed by teachers regarded as authoritative. The conundrum is that precisely because of these factors, students may also need to be protected from language that borders on incitement; for example, pro-Nazi or extreme religious views. The task of distinguishing between offensive talk and a call to action might be a very delicate one. So my inclination is towards non-interference by the state, and this Bill will need careful scrutiny to avoid undue regulation of what is a fundamental right.

Ukraine

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Thursday 24th February 2022

(2 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 my noble friend, particularly for the opportunity once again to state that we have no quarrel with the Russian people; our quarrel is with the Russian leadership and President Putin’s regime. I thank my noble friend for giving me the opportunity to say that on behalf of the House.

In relation to Russia Today, my noble friend will know that the Culture Secretary has written to Ofcom to express her concerns. It needs to keep the situation under careful review. It does have powers to step in when broadcasting rules have been breached. It has, as my noble friend will know, previously sanctioned RT for serious failures to comply with broadcasting rules on impartiality. As we in this country obviously benefit, thankfully, from a free and open media, it is right that all regulatory decisions by Ofcom be made independent of government.

In relation to the football tournament, I think the Prime Minister has been very clear in his view that it should not take place in Russia.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, the Statement says that the invasion of Ukraine must fail and must “be seen to fail”. Can the noble Baroness the Leader say something about what failure might look like? Would it, for example, be similar to the rather bedraggled departure of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in the 1990s after well over 10 years of occupation?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I do not think I can stand here today and set out exactly that. What I can say is that we will be working with our NATO partners, as we have seen today through the G7, to ensure that we have a united front against Russian aggression and that we maintain a strong posture together, in order to make sure that we have the outcome in this situation that we all want.

Afghanistan

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Wednesday 18th August 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB) [V]
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My Lords, the tragedy that is Afghanistan today is the consequence of many miscalculations, assumptions, faulty intelligence—or perhaps political decisions to disregard intelligence reports—and hubris. The fact is that 20 years of largely successful endeavours in building democratic institutions, and above all in educating girls, may be lost.

On the face of it, regardless of the policies the UK may have wished to implement in Afghanistan, the fact is that there was no room for manoeuvre at all once the USA had decided to withdraw its troops. The UK was hemmed in and had no alternatives to pursue other than US policy and action. It is therefore fair to say that UK foreign policy is now so firmly tied to that of the USA that independent action is virtually ruled out.

Post 9/11, the UK Government at the time agreed with the US that the onslaught in October 2001 was aimed at getting rid of al-Qaeda and preventing further terrorist attacks targeting the USA, and that a stable democracy with a trained army would be the best insurance for both these goals. Billions of dollars were then spent on a wide range of programmes aimed at building the institutions of democracy. President Biden’s most recent claim that there was no intention to impose any kind of western model is, to my mind, wrong. There clearly was: the US ODA programmes went far beyond rendering al-Qaeda impotent.

Then, for domestic electoral reasons, the Americans wanted their forces out. That was understandable but the mechanisms employed, as set out in the US-Taliban Doha agreement in 2020, flew in the face of any democratic process. Enormous concessions were granted to the Taliban with few, if any, guarantees. The talks began with a refusal to include either the legitimate Afghan Government or major allies among other interested parties. The demands set out at the beginning of the talks were the result not of any negotiation but of Taliban diktat—for example, the withdrawal of not only troops but all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisers and supporting service personnel, and the release of Taliban prisoners.

The talks were not about achieving any kind of peace but promoted the reputation and political influence of the Taliban. The Taliban’s insistence on removing all counterterrorism operations does not bode well for the future. Despite the many serious flaws, the talks were agreed without amendment by other NATO allies so the “war” was in fact settled in February 2020, and the carnage between then and now has merely been a Taliban way of keeping the upper hand at the Doha talks. Why were there no objections to, for example, the absence of any protections for human rights or the rights of women? Why did Pakistan get off so lightly that it could continue to enable Taliban atrocities?

Why is the world so surprised by the success of the Taliban in gaining complete control? It was given to them in the interests of satisfying an American electorate by those very nations that sought to eliminate them. Can the Government now assure the House that lessons have been learned and that an independent foreign policy might well follow?

Official Development Assistance

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Thursday 24th June 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell.

During the recent G7 summit the UK Government committed $600 million in additional funding to the Global Partnership for Education in developing countries over the next five years, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, mentioned. HMG went further in urging other nations to donate at least $2.75 billion to the GPE. That is welcome news but at least two questions immediately arise: has this contribution on the part of the UK been agreed and budgeted for, and how far will it replace the cuts imposed on female education programmes as a result of the reduction in ODA?

My concern remains Afghanistan. Violence in that country is increasing by the day. In the 24 hours from 20 June around a dozen districts fell to the Taliban, mostly in the north of the country. Since 1 May, when the USA officially began its drawdown, more than 50 districts out of a total of 400 have been taken by the Taliban. The combination of bombings, fear of attack and the ravages of Covid-19 are destroying considerable gains achieved in educating girls over the past 20 years.

Will the Government make a sustained effort to focus on the institutions of democracy? That must include schools as well as higher education bodies to demonstrate support for that vital democratic and long-term investment, and to give courage to those who continue to resist the Taliban by steadfastly keeping schools open and the teaching of girls alive. The Government know that educating girls is the single most effective pathway to overall development. We urgently seek reassurance that HMG are honouring their commitments to human rights, to open societies and to the education of girls.

His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Monday 12th April 2021

(3 years ago)

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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is only now, following the death of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, that we can begin to appreciate the wide range of his interests, activities and achievements. He had an extraordinarily full life; he was “action man”. Prince Philip, of all people, was unsuited to conformity with some of the strictures of royal life, but he did conform, albeit in his own inimitable style, for over 70 years.

Her Majesty the Queen’s words about her husband on the occasion of their golden wedding anniversary in 1997—

“I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know”—

are heartfelt, generous and true. We all anticipate that history will take careful note of these words and continue to commemorate Prince Philip’s remarkable contribution to the life of this and other nations. Among many millions of others, I offer Her Majesty the Queen my sadness at his passing and at the immense loss that this represents for the Queen.

House of Lords: Appointments

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Thursday 30th January 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, these are matters under discussion. The Government have not yet decided what will be in the scope of the commission, as the noble Baroness knows, and whether that will include the role of the House of Lords. We will make an announcement about that in due course; the point of my saying this is that the two processes could go side by side rather than together.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, could the Minister spell out for us exactly what vetting for propriety entails?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe
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My Lords, regrettably I cannot do that as I do not have the privilege of being a member of your Lordships’ Appointments Commission, so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Bew. I will write to the noble Baroness, having consulted him.

Lord Speaker: Powers

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
Thursday 31st January 2019

(5 years, 2 months ago)

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Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, I of course welcome the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that there should be what was originally intended to be a five-year review of the Lord Speaker’s powers in this House, but I point out and emphasise that the House has always operated on the basis of self-regulation. That is an extremely valuable convention simply because it ensures that each and every Peer in this House takes responsibility for the courtesies of the House. I understand that these have become somewhat frayed of late, but to undermine self-regulation would be an unfortunate precedent.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
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I agree with the noble Baroness. I believe that self-regulation works and characterises this House. It means that we do not need to resort, for instance, to selection of amendments and force groupings, programme Motions or guillotines, none of which, I think, would noble Lords want to be introduced to the House.