2 Baroness Flather debates involving the Ministry of Defence

Queen’s Speech

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Monday 23rd May 2016

(8 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, how does one follow that? I had not intended to say anything about the referendum, but how can I avoid it, as so many noble Lords have started with the referendum? I have my own problems with it. I spent three years as a delegate to the Economic and Social Committee before I came to your Lordships’ House. At that time, the EU was a wonderful institution, because it was made up of countries which understood each other and had similar attitudes. I thought that that was a good thing. Now we have a huge number of countries, and it is the biggest translating machine the world has ever known or will ever know. The Parliament goes from one town to another, moving out twice a month. Can your Lordships imagine how much money and time that wastes? The budget has not been signed off for 25 years. Would we accept that from any other institution? The Commission is a small bureaucracy, which is not overseen by anybody, as far as I know. The CAP keeps the French countryside and French agriculture going: without it, both of them would collapse. There are a lot of things which are not right.

Moving on to what I wanted to say today, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for touching on two things which no one else has, as far as I know—although maybe they did when I was not in the Chamber—women and population. We go through life and do not focus on those two issues. I am hoping for enlightenment one day and that people will start connecting population with climate change. It is just amazing to me that nobody wants to do that. I was the first Member of your Lordships’ House who spoke in a climate change debate on population. In 1950, we were 2.7 billion. How many are we today—7.2 billion? So there is a difference and it will not remain unnoticed. The climate is going to change because, apart from anything else, there are so many people.

There are more than 1 billion women in India and Africa put together, and they have the kinds of lives that we cannot even imagine, sitting here. It is unbelievable. I will just give a few little stories, because stories fix things in one’s mind. In Haryana there is a difference of 11% between the number of girls and of boys, because the girls have been aborted or killed. There are two reasons for that: one is dowry, which is horrible, and the other is inheritance, because the laws allow girls to inherit. The unforeseen consequence of that is that the girls are killed so that they will not inherit anything. Especially in agricultural communities, they really worry about that.

Two girls were raped, killed and hanged from a tree in India. The police said, “Oh, they are only low caste”. A girl and a boy wanted to get married and were asked to pay £240 each to be allowed to go on living. The boy paid, but the girl could not and was raped by 17 men in the village. When you hear those things, you do not think they can be true, but they are. With honour killings, you hear the word “honour”, but whose honour are we talking about? Usually what happens is that a boy in one family does something to a girl in another family, and they then rape or kill the sister of that boy. So you kill somebody who has not done anything. In Pakistan, quite often, if you can prove that it is an honour killing, they do not bring any murder charges. A girl and boy were hanged by their parents in their living room because they wanted to get married. Some run away to Delhi, but Delhi and Bombay have agents who find these young people and bring them back. In Kenya, a woman went to work in the local town and was then not allowed back into the village and to see her family. Amazing things take place. Women are used and abused, and if we cannot do anything for them, we do not achieve anything.

I know that my time has almost run out but I must say one quick thing about the Commonwealth Development Corporation, which can now undertake development wherever there is need. Two watchdogs have said that it is not focused and does not do things which will bring down poverty or create more jobs. It says it has created 1.3 million jobs, but nobody has checked to see whether this is true or not. You can say anything. I can say to your Lordships that I created 10 jobs—I probably have, but your Lordships do not know that. It has been given £735 million of our money by DfID this year, and it is right and proper that every penny of that money should be looked at. We should be told what it does with that money, because all the things it has invested in involve fees—fee-paying schools, private hospitals and all those sort of things—and nothing which would help the poor.

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Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford (Lab)
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My Lords, I do not always agree with what the noble Lord says, but I very much agree with what he said about the role of this House in throwing pebbles into the water to see what sort of wave they create. We heard two wonderful speeches this afternoon: the valedictory from the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and the maiden speech from my noble friend Lady Jowell. We shall remember both for a long time.

We are now half way through the Brexit campaign and, on the whole, it has been a rather unedifying spectacle. On the one side, a notable feature has been the publication of some pretty heavyweight studies by academic groups, two by the Treasury—I have not read the one that came out today—and by two of the three most distinguished international organisations in the area of economics, the OECD and the IMF. The third institution, the World Bank, is focused only on the developing world, so it has not been involved.

Those studies have not been responded to at all by the Brexit camp. There has been no attempt at any substantive refutation or rival alternative projections of the grave economic prospects that would face us if we left the European Union. There has been only a series of whining complaints that it was unfair that the Government were allowed to produce a study at all—we heard that from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, earlier—and, far worse, a systematic tendency simply to denigrate and impugn the honesty and integrity of people who dare to produce advice to the British people in favour of remaining in the EU.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, I heard Dr Liam Fox on “Question Time” a week or two ago. He studiously avoided addressing any of the economic arguments put forward; on every occasion, he simply attacked the good faith of the people who had put forward those arguments or produced those studies. Christine Lagarde was merely a tool of the French Government—although she is the independent president of the IMF. The Governor of the Bank of England, which is an independent central bank, was merely the tool of the Chancellor. He actually said that the economists in the OECD and the IMF had been bought because the EU pays a subscription to those organisations. I have no idea whether it is true that the EU pays a subscription to them, but it is most unlikely that the scores of extremely distinguished economists in both those institutions, some of whom have an international reputation, would have the faintest idea what the subscription list was of the institution that employed them. The allegations were utterly ridiculous and absurd, but the fact that they were being made by a British politician was very discreditable and unfortunate—but there we are.

What is more, the Brexit camp will not tell us at all what alternative scenario we face if we leave the EU. We are invited to drive into a complete void. We have had Mr Johnson say that he thinks that we should have a Canada-type arrangement with the EU. Perhaps he regrets that now that he has discovered that the Canada arrangement scarcely includes services, when 80% of our GDP is in services. We have had Mr Gove saying that we should have no relationship whatever with the single market. We have had other people talking about Albania and so forth—Mr Gove talked at another moment about Albania; he seems to change his mind rather. So we are quite unclear.

It is serious because it is an open secret in Westminster—is it not?—that the people running the Brexit campaign expect that if they win, the Prime Minister will have to resign. I dare say that they may be right in that assumption. They then intend to try to take over the Tory party in fairly short order, which means taking over the Government of the day. There will not be a general election for four years, so the only chance that the British public have of deciding that matter is the vote they cast on 23 June. It is a bit much not to tell them at all what the plans are after leaving the EU, if that is indeed what happens.

It is obvious that those running the Brexit campaign want to get as far away as possible from the economy, and these are all methods of trying to change the subject or deflect people’s attention from the serious economic issues at stake. That is why they have focused on the whole business of immigration, which is emotively very powerful. We have had two examples of that just recently. One of them was the Turkey issue. I must say to Ms Mordaunt that the kindest thing that can be said about her remarks to the effect that enlargement was not a matter for unanimity under the EU treaty was that she was extraordinarily ignorant. But I have to tell her that there is no excuse for being ignorant in the MoD. In the MoD, you are surrounded by the most able officials, uniformed and non-uniformed. They will give you a briefing on anything as soon as you ask for it, more or less—within a few hours. All that was necessary for Ms Mordaunt to do if she actually wanted to discover the truth was to ask one of her civil servants to arrange a briefing and tell her what was in the treaty. So the whole episode is very worrying and concerning.

The truth is that in relation to immigration from outside the Union, we have complete sovereign control today and we have no problem about it. If we left the Union, the difference would be that we would no longer have the co-operation of our partners in the EU as we would no longer be a part of the Union. The first casualty of that would be the Sangatte and Dunkirk camps. It is an extraordinary anomaly that the French have permitted the frontier of another country to exist on their territory, but that is what they have done. Anybody who knows any elected representatives, députés or élus locaux—mayors and so forth—from the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region knows that it is a very sensitive issue. The presence of those camps is regarded as a nightmare by the local electorate, and many of those constituencies are marginal between the Front National and the Socialists. They are all straining at the leash to find an excuse to get rid of those camps and to tell the British to take their frontier back. That is a real prospect that has not been identified very much in the discussions so far.

I want to say one thing finally, which is very important, about the other aspect of immigration, which is freedom of movement. It is said that we have control now over immigration from outside the EU but that if we leave the EU we will have control over immigration from the EU as well. We cannot, for two reasons. One is the reason that has often been quoted and has been cited in this House several times this afternoon, which is that, almost certainly, if we want to have some relationship with the single market, which we inevitably and naturally would have to achieve, we would almost certainly have to accept freedom of movement—which every other European country that has access to the single market, including Switzerland and Norway, has accepted. That is a high probability, but it is not a certainty.

However, there is one absolute certainty: we cannot physically leave the freedom of movement regime so long as the Republic of Ireland remains part of the Union and accepts freedom of movement. My noble friend Lord Dubs anticipated me here in putting his finger on this very important point. It is a critical point. The Irish have no intention of leaving the EU or of being bullied by the British to leave the EU or of giving up freedom of movement. Indeed, they have done very well out of freedom of movement. They had a large import of labour from eastern Europe during the Irish boom; then, when the economy fell away after the banking crisis, most of them went home; and now they are coming back again. So they have benefited from that. If you have freedom of movement into Ireland, anybody from Romania, Poland or anywhere else in the EU can go into the Republic of Ireland and, once they are there, they can take a bus or a train or walk across the frontier into the United Kingdom as easily as I can walk into St James’s Park after the debate if I feel like it.

We cannot possibly create a permanent controlled frontier across the island of Ireland, hermetically sealing off the six counties from the 26 counties. That would be regarded as a horrific affront by nationalists in Ireland north and south of the present border. Indeed, it would be regarded by some nationalists as a declaration of war by the British. We did not create such a border even in the days of the Troubles. How could we possibly create it now? It is out of the question. Equally out of the question is to create a border across the United Kingdom itself, dividing Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom. That is simply not a possibility. It follows that so long as Ireland remains in the EU—I will give way in just one second—it is simply not a practical possibility for us to leave it without very serious consequences for the island of Ireland and serious risks to the Belfast peace process and to the progress that has been made over the last few years in that part of the Kingdom.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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My Lords, I find it quite annoying that the noble Lord has spoken for nine minutes when the advisory speaking time was five minutes. I cut short a lot of things I had to say, yet we sit here and listen to one noble Lord for nine minutes.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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How long did the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, speak for?

Gurkhas: Anniversary

Baroness Flather Excerpts
Wednesday 10th June 2015

(9 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for getting this debate. I appreciate this opportunity to say something from my own point of view.

First of all, we have spoken about the earthquake, but it is a real tragedy for Nepal and for Gurkhas, and we have not taken it as seriously as we should have because of our connection with the Gurkhas. I hope noble Lords know that Gurkhas are only a part of Nepal; not all Nepalis are Gurkhas—they are from a section of that country. I cannot say that I have ever served with any Gurkhas or been in the Army, as noble Lords can imagine. However, I will start by telling noble Lords something about the history of the Gurkhas before they came to serve with the British and with the Indians—that was the same thing at that time.

Groups of Gurkhas used to come to a place called Lahore. Anyone who has read Kim will know that Lahore was the crossroads for many parts of that world at the time, and people used to congregate there for all sorts of reasons—and not always very good ones. They used to come in groups of 10, 20, 40 or 50 to be hired by any warlords who needed somebody to fight for them. Therefore, in a funny sort of way they were doing that long before the British started having Gurkhas in their Armed Forces. A very clever British person must have seen the opportunity at that time to get all the Gurkhas together and to get them into the East India Company’s sepoys. Therefore, there is an interesting history. Originally they were known as “Lahures”—from Lahore. As I come from Lahore, I feel very proud of that.

That is how they started, but how have they gone on? They have gone on to serve Britain, and now Britain and India. I was very upset at the time when there were reductions in general in the British Army. More Gurkhas were laid off in proportion than the indigenous soldiers—British soldiers—which was upsetting in itself. Nepal is a very poor country. Nepalis need their soldiers to earn money and send it back, and as a country it is very dependent on the people who serve in the Indian army, in the British Army, and we should never forget that. They do not serve just out of niceness—“Oh, we like the British”. They need the money—they need to be fighting for the British—and they need us as much as we need them. However, we are not standing by them. They are being reduced in numbers, and there are some wicked rumours going round that the intention is to reduce their numbers further. We should take a step back and think about what they have done for the British Empire and decide whether that is fair—not just what they did for the empire but after; even after India and Pakistan.

But Nepal was never a colony, and that was a problem for us with regard to the memorial gates. Originally I had not intended to include Nepal, because it seemed wrong to have a non-colony along with the colonies. However, then somebody suggested, “Why don’t you put ‘Kingdom of Nepal’?”, so we did that. When the kingdom fell some clever ambassador said, “You have to take that off now!”, as if you can rub off something that has been engraved into stone. Therefore it reads “Kingdom of Nepal”, and it will always be like that on the memorial gates. The other thing is that when you look at the names of the Victoria Cross and George Cross recipients in the pavilion next to the memorial, you see how many names of Gurkhas are there. People who have shown such bravery and commitment should be treated with much more respect—although it is about not only respect but consideration, with regard to keeping them on and how their lives are.

We have heard that they can settle in this country—one or two noble Lords said that. Do those noble Lords know what the criteria are? They are so strict and difficult that the campaigners have decided that probably only 100 Gurkhas will meet them and be able to settle in this country. That is quite upsetting after all the lives they gave and all the fighting they did. I will quote the criteria, because noble Lords will probably not know them. The first one is:

“Close family in the UK”.

That seems very unlikely, does it not? The second is:

“A bravery award of level one to three”.

That may be possible. The third is “Service of 20 years”—yes; or, finally, “Chronic or long-term” illness. Are they really likely to have close family ties here? I would have thought that very unlikely. Therefore, there are issues that still need to be looked at.

Some years ago, I think at the end of the 1990s, there was a big discussion about pensions, and we were told then that it was a tripartite agreement—the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, mentioned that—and nothing could be changed. However, I say, “Then negotiate with the third party as well”. You cannot just say, “We can’t do it”. I do not believe in “we can’t do it”. When I started on the rather foolish journey towards the memorial, almost everybody said to me, “You can’t do it”. Well, it is there and I have had a lot of help. The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, was a trustee; my noble friend Lord Bilimoria was chairman of the council for several years; and my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham represents somebody—I hope I will be forgiven for forgetting who it is—at the ceremony. So it is there and I hope that it will stay as a reminder of all the people who have been instrumental in helping this country. Indeed, in the Second World War, it was crucial that the colonies were able to support Britain in its hour of need, as one might call it.

The key things now are, first, to decide whether the Gurkhas mean enough to keep them on and not reduce their numbers any further and, secondly, to do whatever we can to help them following the earthquake. It is unbelievable that there have been not one but several earthquakes, and the terrain is difficult. I hope that the noble Earl will tell us that the Government are going to do more and that somebody senior will visit Nepal. That would mean a lot for morale. I have been to the two camps—the British and the Indian—in Nepal. We were able to spend time at both camps and it was very interesting.

That is about all that I can tell your Lordships about my connection with the Gurkhas, but I finish with a short iconic story, although I am sure it is untrue. Somebody said that the Gurkhas were asked to jump into a pool of water. They could not swim but when they jumped into the water they swam. I do not believe it but it is a nice story.