4 Baroness Flather debates involving the Cabinet Office

Succession to Peerages Bill [HL]

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Friday 11th September 2015

(8 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, as noble Lords will have noticed, I am British but not English and I look at a lot of things in a slightly different way. When I came to your Lordships’ House in 1990, I was the only Asian and the only minority woman in this House. The House was full of hereditary Peers, and I was worried about this because I had not met any aristocrats before I came to your Lordships’ House. I wondered how they would treat me. I can tell your Lordships that I was treated better in this House by the hereditary Peers than I have ever been treated anywhere else in my life. They became my friends—and my entertainment as well—and I learned a lot from them. They had a great sense of humour and they had a light touch about life. I have to tell your Lordships that I miss them and I have great affection for hereditary Peers.

That is by the by. We are talking about the Bill. When I saw it on the list I thought that I must speak because I must support it. Then I read the Bill and I got really quite upset. I thought that I was going to support something that I have always wanted: the eldest child inheriting regardless of gender. I cannot put it better than the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. He is the ultimate person for saying the piece. I am delighted with and endorse everything that he has said.

I am not sure about the other Bills because I am not very good with dates, but the other Bills may have come before we decided on the monarchy. They may have come before we had decided that the eldest child will be the next monarch. That will make a huge difference in people’s thinking: if the eldest child is a girl, she will inherit; if the eldest child is a boy, he will inherit. If they can do it, I cannot imagine that this House cannot do it.

I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes, with interest. He is really worried about the situation of some of the boys: how are they going to live? How are they going to manage? They will not have the amount of money that they would have had. In the old days they got sent to the colonies, as we all know. The younger sons were all sent to the colonies. You have not got any colonies so we have to find some other way of finding employment for them. Maybe it will encourage them to become professionals and to become more able to fend for themselves. That also would not be a bad thing.

In the case of Countess Mountbatten, Earl Mountbatten did not have a son. It had to go through Parliament to pass the title to Countess Mountbatten. Of course that is wrong. Viscount Whitelaw did not have a son and his title has died. It is quite right that that should not happen. If we want to make a change we have to make it gender neutral, as the fashionable term is these days. It has to be the eldest child. Thank you very much.

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Earl of Clancarty Portrait The Earl of Clancarty
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I accept entirely that hereditary peerages will be removed from this House. Sooner or later that will happen. However, this Bill has nothing to do with hereditary peerages in this House, as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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I know that I am the only other woman speaking, and, as I said, I am not even English, but the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, made the same points that I did. They did so very strongly and in some ways better than me.

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Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town
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What we are discussing is whether as a House we want to continue with titles and the privilege and status—I think respectability has been mentioned—and whether that is a priority. Surely, if we are to do anything, the priority is to do something about the peerages in this House. That is something my party would like to do by removing by-elections for hereditary Members.

We want women, whether in this House or with the other titles they may earn, to get them by their own ability. The examples are the women who serve in this House. They may get damehoods before they get here. We would not want those to be inherited, I assume, because the awarding of a title is about what they have done for themselves. The point I am trying to make—perhaps ineffectively—is that surely the priority is for more women, whether in this House or with other titles such as dame, to receive them by virtue of what they have done for themselves. The examples I want to give are the people who have got peerages here on their own abilities rather than the abilities of some male forebear.

The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, was a dame before she came here. She did not get that because her father was a great athlete. She got it because she had won 16 Paralympic medals, 30 world titles and the London Marathon six times; she chairs the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation; and she was BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year. The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, is an actress and television presenter, and chancellor of the University of Exeter. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is past president of the Royal Society of Medicine and a consultant professor of palliative medicine. These are women who have gained their titles—which happened to bring them here; some of them had damehoods before—because of what they did. Those are the examples I want to give.

There are, of course, people such as the noble Baroness, Lady Harding of Winscombe, the chief executive of TalkTalk and named as one of the 10 most influential women. She happens to be the daughter and granddaughter of Peers, but has her title because of what she has done in her own right.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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My Lords—

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town
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Could I just finish with this example? I am arguing that the Bill seems to be based on the continued assumption that women should not gain a title—recognition—because of what they have done but because of what a father, grandfather or great-uncle did. I give way to the noble Baroness.

House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Bill [HL]

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Friday 12th December 2014

(9 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, I should like to say a few words from a selfish point of view. The last time we had three expulsions, all three, unfortunately, were Asian. The amount of backlash one received was enormous. People said, “What have you done? You have done nothing; these people have done this and that, and you do nothing to them”. If they were working for some company they would not be there any more. This approach is long overdue and I am really grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for bringing it forward. It is hard to say, “Look, there are people in this House who do not follow the rules they should follow”. They are not honourable and should not be in this House.

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Portrait Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood (CB)
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My Lords, I should like to put on record my support. I had the honour to serve as the chairman of the Conduct Sub-Committee of the Privileges and Conduct Committee. At Second Reading, I gave strong and firm support to, and welcomed, the Bill. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, has made plain, it would fill the present, most concerning lacuna in our sanctioning powers. Again, I echo the hope that it will never be necessary to exercise these increased powers.

I welcome all the amendments. The first meets the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, in Committee. In its original form, this provision was too narrow and confined only to what is now in proposed paragraph (a) of the amendment. As the noble Lord pointed out, it would fail, for example, to deal with someone who committed perjury in a libel case and it took four years for that perjury to be revealed. That problem is now cured by the amendment. I strongly welcome it and the other two amendments, too.

House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Bill [HL]

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Friday 21st November 2014

(9 years, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, I am totally in favour of this power being given to us. When we had the latest expulsions, the amount of flak this House received from the public was amazing. Everywhere I went, people were saying to me, “You are no different to the Commons. You are a cheat. Everybody cheats in the House of Lords”. It is very important that we can show that we will not allow people who cheat on their expenses to remain in this House. Anybody who has been found to be cheating should have to leave the House, because unless we do that, we will never recoup our reputation and position in the public’s mind. In any other place where anyone else works, they would never get away with the behaviour of some noble Lords. They would never be able to keep their jobs and stay on, so why should we not do the same?

I utterly support the Bill. We need these powers to protect all of us who do not cheat or behave badly, because one or two people can make all of us look bad. I hope that we can get on with this and that the Bill passes.

Lord Finkelstein Portrait Lord Finkelstein (Con)
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My Lords, the last thing I would want to do is delay the Bill in any way. I was shocked recently to discover that this proposal has been debated since the 19th century without being passed. Of course the principle is absolutely right, but I just question whether Amendment 1 is really a very good idea. We talked just now about expenses. Obviously, if we pass the amendment, that conduct, which would have taken place before the Bill came into force, may only be exposed after it came into force. The amendment would make it impossible to deal with that conduct. In other words, the amendment makes it difficult to deal with some of the worst conduct. To use an entirely hypothetical example, if someone committed perjury in a libel case and it took four years for that perjury to be revealed, in the course of which the Bill was passed, the conduct would no longer fall under the Bill. I wonder whether the amendment is quite what we want.

Remembrance Day

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Thursday 10th November 2011

(12 years, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, as well. It is an opportunity for all of us to express our feelings about this occasion. It is a wonderful thing to be able to do that, we very rarely get a chance. My only sadness was that he did not mention the Indians—more than 4 million of them—who served with the British in two world wars. Since we are remembering people, and thinking of those people who were there with the British in two world wars, we might have thought of the Indians because they were crucial.

I should declare an interest. I am an Indian. I wanted to tell noble Lords about something that happened to me when I was a mayor in 1986. During my mayoral year, I was at the wreath-laying ceremony on Remembrance Day and afterwards somebody asked me, “Does Remembrance Sunday mean anything to you?”. I was very shocked by that. It was the first time that a seed was planted that made me think that people have to be informed of what the Indian role was in the two world wars.

Not only that—my father was a student here during the Great War, and Gandhiji said to the Indian students, “By all means help the war effort but don’t kill people”. So my father became a stretcher-bearer and spent the Great War in Mesopotamia. He never talked about it; my brothers, who were older, tried to ask him questions, but he never wanted to talk about it. I think he had such an appalling time that he did not want to recall it, as many prisoners of war did not. But in view of that, it was even more awful to be asked such a question.

Gandhiji also said, in the Second World War—and this has sometimes not been put across correctly—that we must help the British win the war, because then we will get our freedom. He said that if the British did not win the war, we would not know where we would be. So he actually encouraged Indians to volunteer in the Armed Services during the Second World War.

In the first year there were something like 1.5 million Indians. In fact, it was very interesting because India had a standing army of 150,000. When the British expeditionary force went to France it was outnumbered; it was when the Indian standing army started to come across and join the British that things started to change in France. So it is quite strange to know that India had a standing army of 150,000, and they were sent over as soon as possible to fight in France. Also, there were Indians in Palestine in the First World War.

In the Second World War, Indians were much more important. There were 2.6 million to 2.8 million Indians—there are no clear figures—who volunteered. There are very few veterans left now, but I have spoken to them and they said that when officers came to recruit to the villages, they said, “Join the armed services and you will get your freedom”. This was a great draw for them to join. Some people think that the Indians joined the armed services because of poverty. I am sure that was a factor, but I am pleased to say that it was not the only factor. Their contribution in the Second World War was absolutely crucial. North Africa was the first turning point of the war, and there were huge numbers of Indians there. In fact, we have a German friend whose uncle was posted to north Africa; the uncle told this little boy, “Don’t worry about me—I’m only going to fight the inferior races”. It is interesting to have this handed down from his uncle to him to us. This is how it was—we were considered the inferior races, but we did not do so badly after all. It was a great and important turning point.

The Burma campaign speaks for itself, as 1,250,000 were got together by Field Marshal Slim of whom two-thirds were Indians. I really hope that these things will not be forgotten totally, at least in your Lordships' House, because you care about these matters.

Because of all these things that people did not remember or know, as these memories get older and older, I really wanted to see a memorial to the Indians—but also to the Africans and West Indians. It should really pull at the heartstrings, the fact that West Indians—Jamaicans—were at the Somme. They came all the way to die at the Somme; not only that, but it took them six months to get permission to join the British Army and serve. These are things that we should know about, because the whole immigration after the war is rooted in the war. People forget to connect it. Who came here first? It was the people who had served in the Air Force and the Army.

There were two tyre factories in Southall and, as ever, the managers could not get any British workers. So they went back to the villages where their men had come from in the Punjab and recruited there specifically to work in those tyre factories. It is from that the migration to Southall started—and Southall, as noble Lords know, was full of Sikh people.

Sadly, I do not know whether most of your Lordships have seen the memorial. I hope they have. It is on Constitution Hill, not far from here. The names of the winners of the Victoria Cross and the George Cross are in the pavilion next to the memorial. I hope that people go and look at it and do not just pass through it, as they often do. The sad thing for me has been that we have never had a Prime Minister or a senior Cabinet Minister or anybody come to that memorial. The Queen inaugurated it but, even on that occasion, nobody from the then Government of any seniority came. It is quite interesting that when the Australian memorial was inaugurated, the Prime Minister went. One begins to wonder whether it is a question of kith and kin after all. We all remember the Anzacs and all the dominions, but do we remember the former colonies, which gave a great contribution? I am not sure that we remember them in the same way.

I also just mention that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, is the only person who has helped and supported us. She honoured us with a dinner, at which we raised quite a lot of money, and she has been twice to the memorial at the ceremony. But nobody else of any note has yet been there, and I invite all of you to visit.