6 Baroness Flather debates involving the Leader of the House

Fri 7th Feb 2020
Extension of Franchise (House of Lords) Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Mon 22nd Jul 2019
Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Extension of Franchise (House of Lords) Bill [HL]

Baroness Flather Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading (Hansard)
Friday 7th February 2020

(4 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I make no apology for saying that I feel personally deprived. That is the feeling that I get from other noble Lords: we all feel personally deprived. I cannot say that I have had a burning desire to vote in every general election, but in the two most recent elections I wanted to vote because some very big issues were presented to us. However, we had no vote.

The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said that no one has asked him whether he has a vote. It is not that people come up to you and ask, but when you talk to them it comes out and they are absolutely taken aback that we have no vote. It is not that they think, “Oh well, you shouldn’t have a vote because you have a place in Parliament”; they ask, “Why do you not have a vote? Are you not capable of voting sensibly? Have you committed some terrible crime? Are you too mentally disabled to vote?” It is just ridiculous to think that we have to look back to previous centuries, to the Lords who have brought us to this stage. I totally support this little matter being looked at carefully.

There is really no logic to why a mere 900 people cannot vote. It is not as if we are 9 million, or even 9,000. We cannot change anything in the election. Most of us would probably vote for the sitting MP in our area—if that MP was good enough, that is, otherwise we would not—or along party lines. We all have our own views on who we would vote for. It is not as though 900 votes would go to one person and make a difference in their life. My sitting MP is Theresa May and, if I had the vote, I should certainly vote for her because she is extremely popular and a good constituency MP. That is how it goes. It is not as though we are going to change the world. Nine hundred people cannot change the world in any way. I do not know what we could do to change the world; if anyone has an idea, please let me know because I will join them.

Seriously speaking, to my way of thinking, it is completely illogical that we do not have a vote. A lot has been said about various Acts of Parliament from 100, 200 or 300 years ago. As has been said, if we had not made changes, where would we have been with those Acts? We would not have functioned at all. In any case, if life Peers had not come, there would be no House of Lords. I think it would have started by removing the life Peers and then removing the women. The best way to start would be with a new House of Lords.

I totally support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, which says that we should get the vote.

Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not going to give way again; the noble Lord can make a speech if he wants to. This is not the House of Commons. In my view, the placing of the learning centre underground compounds the points I am trying to make. This site could be put on a much bigger estate. It could be more open, visible and more easily policed. Those are the main reasons why I support the amendment.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, a lot has been said and I agree with such obvious and logical reasons that have been given. It is very difficult not to, but I want to add my views. I was brought up a Hindu—am I not allowed to speak?

None Portrait Noble Lords
- Hansard -

Yes, of course.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
- Hansard - -

Somebody was muttering. I was brought up a Hindu. Personally, I have never understood why there is such a lot of prejudice against the Jews, in Europe and in other countries. They are very clever people. They believe in education and achievement. Why is it that people do not really feel the same about Jews as everybody else?

I have stood up to speak because when I learned about the Holocaust it had a very deep effect on me. I have become an atheist as a result, because I could not accept that 6 million people could be killed like vermin and nothing happened for them. If nothing happened for them, what do I need God for? I am sure not many people think like that, but it is how I feel. I am going to Auschwitz-Birkenau in August. Of course, somebody said, “You must go to Birkenau; it was a factory”. Silly me, I thought it was a factory making something. It was a factory killing people in the most careful and planned way, just killing people. I cannot believe that we are living in this century.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, there is another amendment in this group in my name, but I am afraid it is nothing to do with the Holocaust memorial, so forgive me for changing the topic. It is about co-ordination of major programmes and projects.

At Second Reading I raised the need for clarity on responsibility and accountability for all the major programmes of work ongoing at the Palace. As we know, we currently have the roof works, there is the masonry project and Big Ben, and soon to start will be the Northern Estate. My concern is the scope for confusion and the potential for all manner of things to go wrong if there is not a single body responsible for all these separate programmes to make sure they are co-ordinated properly.

Clause 1(1) makes provision for the sponsor body and the delivery authority to be responsible for building works beyond the restoration and renewal project itself. Since the Second Reading debate, I was pleased to receive a letter from the noble Earl confirming that responsibility for the Northern Estate will soon transfer to the sponsor body, so one of those major projects will now be within the remit of this new body. That is very welcome. I have also learned since Second Reading that within the House authorities, Strategic Estates is responsible for the other projects which are expected to be completed before the decant.

None the less, I have tabled my amendment because of the scope for things to go wrong when these big works eventually commence. I would like some reassurance from the noble Earl, or from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, that the Strategic Estates team has a formal responsibility for proper engagement with the sponsor body on all these projects; and that if there is any question that responsibility should shift to the sponsor body in the best interests of the future of the Palace of Westminster in the round, it will be considered swiftly. I would also be grateful if the Minister could let us know to whom Strategic Estates is accountable. If there was to be any change in responsibility for those major projects which could impact on the restoration and renewal project itself, which decision-making body would make that decision?

House of Lords: Size

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Monday 5th December 2016

(7 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I have been in the House for 26 years. When I arrived here I was the only Asian in your Lordships’ House, and I had this idea—quite incorrectly, as I realised afterwards—that Mrs Thatcher put me here because she thought I would be useful and that I might be able to help the Conservative Party to make contacts with the community, and so on, as I was very active in the community at that time. I waited and waited, and when the Conservatives lost the election, I realised that that was it—so I started doing things outside. I am pleased to say that I have done something that not many people have been able to do. I have been a catalyst for a memorial to the Indians, Africans and West Indians who supported Britain in two world wars. In that way, I suppose it was good that nobody gave me any work to do here.

I have been thinking a lot and have been listening very carefully, and I totally agree with one of the things that has been said. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, referred to the scrutiny of the people who are brought here. When I came here, I was under the impression that even political appointees were put through interviews at least by the Leader of the House, checked out a bit by central office, et cetera—but I do not think that is done any more. If you are a Conservative or a Labour appointee, that is what you are. I could not agree more with the idea that every person who comes to this House should go through scrutiny that is similar to what the Cross-Benchers go through. I totally agree with that and I cannot understand why it is not done

It has been said again and again that every time we speak to anybody they say, “There’s just too many of you”. We know that, and we are talking about it today. They also say another thing, which people are too polite to say—English people are very polite. They say that people in this House have cheated. They have taken money that they should not have done; they have gone to prison, which is disgraceful. Someone working in any company or organisation would not be kept there if they had gone to prison or if they had cheated—not just gone to prison. So I would add that to the list of things that we need to work on to make sure that anybody who cheats even for a small amount should not stay in this House because that ruins the reputation of all of us, not just that person. It is one of my pet peeves that we allow Peers to come back and be Peers again. It is not acceptable to me.

Another idea, mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, was a fixed term. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, was talking to me earlier. He said that when somebody is appointed, we should offer them an age limit and/or a fixed term, so they can choose whether they leave after the fixed term or based on the age they have arrived at, perhaps on the basis of whichever is the earlier. We will have to have an age limit—it is not going to work if we do not.

On that issue, we are not very kind to people who have been here for many years—and they keep coming. Do we know why they keep coming? Do they need help? Do they need financial support? Do we ever ask them how they are doing and how they are managing? Why should people who have given 40 years or something to the House of Lords have to skimp and scrape and then come in here for £300? It is not right. Some element of help for those Peers who need financial help should be put into the system, because that will help people to leave. They will not want to just keep coming because they need the money—because that is the worst reason to come.

I thought that what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, said about commitment was a very good point. People should be asked right at the beginning, “What is your commitment to the work of the House?”. They will obviously say “Yes” at the time, because they will want to come in.

I see that I am running over time, but I shall just bring in one more point that I heard and liked a lot. I am sorry, I have lost it now. I am not in favour of appointed Members. I am sorry, I seem to have lost my point.

Caste Discrimination

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Wednesday 15th July 2015

(8 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree with the noble Lord that this can be a problem within communities of that nature, and is not generally something that is within the British culture.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the Hindu community says that there is no caste discrimination in this country and therefore we do not need this subsection. Fine—but if that is the case, why is it fighting so hard against it? If there is no discrimination, then there is no discrimination. If this becomes law—as it should, and the sooner the better—there will be no prosecutions, nothing will happen and it will die out. But because they are fighting so hard, it leads me to believe that there is discrimination.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, cases of this nature are very few and far between. As I said, the Government are actively considering the matter.

House of Lords Reform (No. 2) Bill

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Friday 28th March 2014

(10 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, like all other noble Lords, I express my admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I think he is getting a bit tired of all this admiration, but never mind—he may not get it very often, so I urge him to enjoy it today, because he deserves it.

I come from Maidenhead, and there are a number of places named “Grenfell”: Grenfell Road, Grenfell Park, Grenfell this and that. I was very sad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, that that he has no connection with Maidenhead and that those names have nothing to do with him. Would it not have been wonderful for me if they had? I wish him a very happy retirement.

I will make a few general points. On resignations and doing something special for the Peer who is resigning, we can decide that; it does not need to be enshrined in legislation. It is up to this House to decide what most of us feel about that and how to do it. We are quite good at those sorts of things, and I am sure that we will agree on the right way of saying goodbye to Peers who have served well and for a long time. Therefore we do not need to spend a long time discussing that.

I have no comment to make on non-attendance, but I have many comments to make on convictions for offences. I believe that that has been taken from House of Commons procedure, but it is not sufficient. As many noble Lords have said, we have to think about public perception and our reputation. People who have cheated on their expenses will still come and sit here, and that is an offence to all of us. Our reputation has been affected. When a number of Peers were found to have cheated on their expenses it got around the public, who started saying, “Look at those Peers. They do nothing, they don’t stand for election, and they’re taking public money”. That is an awful thing, because everything bad reflects on all of us. That is particularly true of a House such as ours, because we are all part of a whole. We are not individuals elected from different places, who represent different groups of people; we are part of a whole whether we are from this or that party. In people’s eyes we are a single group.

To go to prison for one year or over will be very rare. It will happen in occasional cases, but it is disgraceful even to go to prison for a week, or for three weeks, as happened to one Peer. Those Peers should not be here. If someone was in the job market and had a job, and did the things that some Peers have done here, would you still employ them in your firm? Would you just say, “It’s okay, you can stay on”? You would not. This is a public body, and we have higher standards than a person in employment. If we do not, we should have; we should have higher expectations of Members of this House. We should expect them to behave in a far better way than ordinary mortals; we are ordinary mortals, but as Members of this House we should not behave badly.

When I first came here, this House had a great reputation and great respect outside. People used to say, “I’m a Member of the House of Lords”. We almost never say that now. I never say it, or only if it is necessary and fits the occasion. The situation has changed a lot in my time. One of the difficulties was that when I first came, changes were not happening. The House had been stratified for a number of years, for various reasons, which is a very bad thing. The British way of doing things is evolutionary, not revolutionary. We have taken only the first step towards this evolution of changing some of the things which we need to change. We need to change more things; the suggestion that we should be given 25 years or an age limit has to happen. We cannot have people sitting here until something very drastic happens and they cannot be here. That is very important, and should be mentioned when the person is appointed, so that there is no surprise—“Oh! My time has come”. The House is far too big and there are far too many of us here.

A noble Lord mentioned the reform of the House of Commons. I believe it was Bagehot, a constitutional lawyer, who said that the second Chamber should be complementary to the first Chamber. We do not know whether we are complementary to the first Chamber. They would like to see us go completely, because they get irritated when we stop their amendments. However, it is very important that both Houses should be considered in such a way that they benefit from each other and benefit each other; otherwise, it will never get any better.

Let us therefore move on with this and be thankful that we have something before us. I just hope that sooner rather than later we will lower the bar for people being removed from this House. I do not want to sit with people who have cheated with their expenses because I feel that I am tainted by their presence.

Privileges and Conduct Committee: Fourth Report

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Thursday 21st October 2010

(13 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Alli Portrait Lord Alli
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have thought long and hard about whether or not to intervene in today's debate. There are those who advised me to keep quiet and not rock the boat, but I have some serious worries about these reports and I believe that it is right and proper to share them with the House. By way of background, I have read the committee's reports on each of the three cases, and two aspects of these investigations trouble me. The case I am most familiar with is that of the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, so perhaps I might be allowed to use the committee's finding in her case to illustrate my concerns.

My first concern relates to the process and natural justice. As the House will recall, the initial investigation arose out of an article that appeared in the Sunday Times. A sub-committee of the Committee for Privileges was set up to investigate and to determine the facts of the case, and the subsequent appeal happened on 11 October. My concerns centre on the procedural failures of the sub-committee, the standard of proof adopted by the sub-committee and the weight that the sub-committee gave to the information collected by the Sunday Times. The sub-committee is mandated by this House to apply a civil standard of proof to its deliberations. This was not the standard used in the case of the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, and I welcome the full committee's recognition that the sub-committee should not have placed the weight that it did on the information published by the Sunday Times from the neighbours of the noble Baroness. In doing so, the sub-committee did not give the noble Baroness the ability to address the evidence, call witnesses or cross-examine any of the individuals quoted in the Sunday Times, but relied instead on hearsay.

I also note from the report of the full committee that it accepted that the procedures followed by the sub-committee were unsatisfactory, and it has recommended that the new commissioner and sub-committee review those procedures. I hope that the Chairman of Committees will today confirm that the findings of the review will be published.

It also seems unjust, unreasonable and unfair that any noble Lords facing such a serious set of allegations should not be entitled to legal representation. I note with some concern the comments made by my noble friend Lady McDonagh in her letter to the committee, which is on page 215. I believe that we should now amend our procedure to ensure that it is the right of any Member of this House to be properly represented in any investigation, particularly where the outcome could lead to the suspension of that Member. I am, however, perplexed, given that the procedures were so at fault, that the evidence was untested and that there was a lack of legal representation, how the committee could apply the heaviest of sanctions in this case without itself testing the evidence.

I now want to address a second and equally troubling aspect of all three cases. That is the element of race. Let me say from the outset that I do not in any way wish to accuse any member of the committee or the sub-committee of racism. That would be quite improper and wrong, but it cannot have escaped your Lordships’ attention that the only three Members of your Lordships' House who were referred to the Committee for Privileges and Conduct and subsequently investigated under these procedures were all Asian. I have reviewed the list of Members—some 20 in total—who have had expense complaints referred to the Clerk of Parliaments, and I cannot find any consistent pattern for the referrals. When one combines inconsistency in approach and the disproportionality of the sanctions, my concerns deepen. Something clearly has gone wrong, so I ask that the Leader of the House, with the support of other noble Lords who perhaps have more experience in this field, look into the matter and report back to the House. I further ask the noble Lord, if there has been inconsistency on the basis of race or otherwise, that the House be allowed to review these sanctions to ensure equal treatment.

I said at the beginning that I thought carefully before speaking today and that it was a very difficult decision to make, but I hope that noble Lords will accept that I do so out of genuine concern for the reputation of this House. I recognise that members of the public have a right to expect the highest standards of behaviour from Members of your Lordships' House, and those who do not meet them should rightly be punished. However, in the rush to apologise for an expense system for which we should all be embarrassed, it should not be at the cost of justice or fairness for all, regardless of race.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I, too, want to say a few words, but they are rather different from those of the noble Lord, Lord Alli. This is a very sad day for me personally, because the three Peers are all Asians. When you are a member of a minority and you read in the press that three members of the same minority have been found to have cheated on their expenses, it is hard to bear. I do not say this to suggest that the committee and sub-committee behaved in any way incorrectly; I do not mean that. I have looked at the reports and I have no complaint to make.

What I want to say is how distressing it is for me personally to find the 80th richest man, the noble Lord, Lord Paul, saying that he did not understand what “main” and “residence” meant. When I made my submission to the SSRB, I said that perhaps he did not understand the English language and the meaning of “main” and “residence”. Those words are fairly straightforward; we all know what they mean. If we do not, I suggest that we should not be sitting in this Chamber, as all the proceedings are conducted in the English language.

The noble Lord, Lord Alli, says that the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, has been treated badly and that things have not been looked at properly. As far as I remember, the Chairman of Committees said that she had herself admitted that the two places that she called her main residence were bolt-holes. The basis on which the decision was taken was possibly what she herself admitted about that.

We ought to let this matter rest. I think that it is very sad. Frankly, I do not have any sympathy for the two very rich gentlemen, the noble Lords, Lord Bhatia and Lord Paul. I do have sympathy for the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, but this is how things have come out. I have looked at the reports fairly carefully. They are clear and readable and they answer nearly all the questions for me.

We call ourselves “noble Lords”. When I came here in 1990, the behaviour of Members of the House of Lords was expected to be above this kind of thing; we were not expected to do this sort of thing. I remember clearly that, if I did not understand anything, I went to the finance department or to the clerks to the Parliament and asked them what I should do. They were always available to us to give advice. If we are in doubt, clearly we should take advice. We should not just carry on and say that we did not understand. I do not accept that someone cannot understand that, if they never stay somewhere, that place is not their main residence.

I am disappointed and distressed and I am sad that this involves three Asian Peers. The noble Lord, Lord Paul, said something about Indian culture. I do not know which Indian culture he was speaking of; I do not know of that culture. The only Indian culture that I know of in this regard is buying honours, which certainly is Indian culture. I hope that it does not apply to him.

Lord Brabazon of Tara Portrait The Chairman of Committees
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alli, asked me a number of questions, to which I hope I can reply and give him and the House some assistance. He asked whether the findings of the review would be published. Indeed they will be. Any changes to the procedure that were agreed by the Committee for Privileges and Conduct would of course require a report to the House and the agreement of the House. I think that that answers that point. He also referred to the letter in the Uddin report from the noble Baroness, Lady McDonagh. I refer him to the letter that followed from the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, which is on pages 216 and 217 of the report. I and the other members of the Privileges and Conduct Committee were satisfied by that letter.

The main question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, was why these three Peers were referred to the sub-committee for investigation whereas most other Peers facing allegations of wrongdoing were cleared by the Clerk of the Parliaments. Under the procedure agreed by the House in 2008, the Clerk of the Parliaments investigated complaints about alleged abuses of the system of financial support, resolving them himself where possible. He was able to do so in the vast majority of cases. However, the House also agreed that he could request the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Conduct to assist him in investigating a complex or serious complaint. The Clerk of the Parliaments took the view that cases that had been subject to formal police investigation were, by definition, of a serious nature. This is why he referred the cases of the noble Lord, Lord Paul, and the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, to the sub-committee. In addition, the House Committee in January discussed the extent to which the Clerk of the Parliaments in conducting these investigations should rely on written assurances from Members. The committee agreed that he would be,

“justified in relying on explicit written assurances”.

In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, no such written assurances were provided, and the Clerk was therefore unable to reach a conclusion on the case. He therefore had no option but to refer the case to the sub-committee. I can give the noble Lord an absolute assurance that it was not in the least bit because the three Peers were Asians. I do not think there is anyone on the committee or the sub-committee who would not endorse that completely. I hope that helps the noble Lord, Lord Alli, on the points that he made.