4 Baroness Mallalieu debates involving the Leader of the House

Wed 16th Mar 2022
Health and Care Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard _ Part 1 & Report stage: _ Part 1
Wed 31st Jan 2018
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords

Health and Care Bill

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Lords Hansard _ Part 1 & Report stage
Wednesday 16th March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Winston Portrait Lord Winston (Lab)
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My Lords, I have repeatedly opposed assisted dying and it is well known that I feel, and have felt, strongly about it. I also feel that this is quite a different situation. I do not want to argue my case here, but serious issues are raised by the amendment. I am not persuaded that voting for it would make a difference, because the Commons can still consider what we have said this evening. However, it is clear—I completely agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer—that we as a Parliament have to discuss this issue.

I remember, when I first came into this House 27 years ago, in the Prince’s Chamber there was a notice recording an Act of 1620, I think—under Charles I—that argued that we should not use intemperate language in the Chamber. In this situation, I believe this is inevitably important. I regret very much that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, spoke in the terms he did. I do not think it is helpful to the argument. I think it probably destroys his argument to some extent. What the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, says is a very different matter—and I regard the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, as a friend. Above all, it seems that as a Parliament we have to discuss this, and this is something burgeoning in the public. Therefore, it is a duty to discuss this in Parliament. If we happen to introduce this Bill, which the Commons can then consider, whether it is passed at this stage or not, that would be utterly justifiable, and I support this amendment.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab)
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My Lords, this amendment surely goes to something of importance to all of us in this House, whether we support assisted dying or not, because it is about the role of Parliament and the proper exercise of the duties of an elected Government. The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that Parliament, and not the courts, should consider whether in some circumstances assisted dying should be legal. But so far, this Government have fought shy of doing so either of their own volition or by giving Private Members’ Bills time. There is now clear evidence that the public opinion has changed and wants Parliament to face up to this question and express its will. Yet the door is effectively being shut in the face of that opinion.

Dying is surely an issue of general public importance as it concerns every single one of us. Yet this subject is consistently and currently being starved of the oxygen of time in Parliament in order for the Government to avoid a controversial topic. This amendment does not require the Government to take sides or promote a Bill themselves; it merely requires them to prepare and lay a draft to enable Parliament to consider any possible change properly. I shall support this amendment, and I would hope that noble Lords, whatever their views on assisted dying, do the same, because this amendment is essentially about democracy.

Baroness Davidson of Lundin Links Portrait Baroness Davidson of Lundin Links (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Forsyth. I do not do so lightly, because in 10 years of parliamentary politics, despite sometimes being seen as a bit of a rebel or trouble-maker, I have never actually broken a Whip before, that I can remember. It does help that I was a party leader for eight years and wrote the Whip, but it is still quite a big step for me. But for me here tonight, I have to, because I cannot believe, or understand why, the Government have whipped this in the first place, particularly when the amendment from my noble friend Lady Sugg, which is equally an issue of conscience, tonight is not whipped.

The reason I cannot believe this has been whipped is the reason that has been given—that of neutrality. I am absolutely content for the Government to be neutral on the issue of assisted dying. That is not just defendable but completely understandable, but not allowing time for discussion is not a neutral act. When contentious Private Members’ Bills attract clear tactics from oppositional Members to affix a deluge of wrecking amendments to slow progress through the House, denying such discussion time is not neutral. This is a convention that previous Governments have understood, and they have acted. The decriminalisation of homosexuality, the repeal of the death penalty, the legalisation of abortion: none of these measures would have passed without the Government of the day allocating suitable parliamentary time for their debate and discussion. To deny that time here is not a neutral act. It is to guarantee that this issue is killed by procedure and killed by practice. It is a de facto opposition to change.

For these reasons, I will break the Conservative Whip this evening. I encourage all people, no matter which side of the argument they happen to be on, who want us to have the deep, broad and considered debate we need on an issue as important as this to do exactly the same. I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and I urge him to press it.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab)
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My Lords, in common with just under 70% of those who voted in the area from which I come, in the referendum I voted to leave the EU. It appeared to me, for many of the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, has just given, that political power had moved into the hands of an unelected, over-regulatory bureaucracy, which was out of political control and had no willingness or ability to reform. Further, it was heading in the direction of a single state for which it has no mandate and, in this country at least, very little support. I therefore support the Bill. But I am acutely aware that the referendum divided members of the same political parties, close friends and, as I know personally, family members, some of whom cannot or will not accept the result, like some Members of this House.

I have either listened to or read every speech that has been made in this debate so far, and I have heard powerful speeches from noble Lords with far greater knowledge and experience of the EU and its workings of government, law, finance and industry than I have. I have heard powerful speeches from powerful people. But, for me, louder than all of their arguments is the voice of Colonel Rainsborough, one of the Levellers, speaking for one man, one vote, in 1647. He said:

“the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he”.

How often have I listened in this House to noble Lords speaking of the need to encourage people to register and vote. The usual response from those who do not is, “My vote doesn’t count”, and they are usually right, especially in constituencies with large majorities. In the referendum, every vote did count. People voted in all-time record numbers. They were told, among others by the Prime Minister of the day, that that vote was a binding one and that it would be acted on. So, for me, the Bill is about giving effect to democracy. Being in Berlin recently made me reflect, as other noble Lords have during the course of this debate, on the political history of the last world war. When the governing elite stop listening to the people, the people are drawn to and eventually turn to extremism. That is a lesson that we must not forget.

The Bill, passed by the elected House is, as most noble Lords have said, far from perfect. The law-making powers of Ministers need to be defined and restricted on the face of the Bill. There needs to be clarification of the status of EU legislation to create legal certainty, and there needs to be much clearer devolution of powers to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. I will support the amendments that seek to improve the Bill, but not those designed to put a spanner in the works. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, will not press his amendment. We always knew that the negotiations for our exit would be difficult. Without our contribution to the budget, the EU is insolvent and there are other member states with at least very strong reservations about membership. The Commission was always going to make life difficult, even at its own expense, and I am afraid it is further encouraged by those who tell them, hopefully, that Brexit may not happen.

I think that we can all agree that the biggest threat to our economy is uncertainty and to be plunged once again into another divisive contest of a second referendum, with all the acrimonious campaigning again, would be bad for our economy, our national unity, and democracy. As I recall, we had a general election only a short time ago. The party that campaigned to stay in was as good as annihilated, except of course in this House. My party, which did a great deal better than expected, campaigned on a manifesto to leave both the single market and the customs union and, I am glad to say, no repeat referendum. I am particularly grateful for the restrained and reasonable way in which my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon opened on behalf of these Benches. The prevailing message that I get from people who voted on both sides of the referendum from outside this House is, “Just get on with it”. Let us do just that.

Outcome of the European Union Referendum

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Tuesday 5th July 2016

(7 years, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab)
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My Lords, there has been a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the House this afternoon. It seems only a very short time ago that Members on all sides of the House were urging the British public to register to vote and to use that vote. We are all aware that low turnout at elections of all kinds is of great concern and dangerous to future democratic engagement. I cast my vote in the referendum in west Somerset. The turnout there was 79.1%, which was extraordinary and excellent; the result was 39% remain and 61% leave. If democracy is to survive, it is essential that Parliament respect the will of the people. What message would the electorate receive from, and what would their response be to, voices who call for another referendum, a general election, a delay in the hope that something will turn up and change their minds, or those who tell them that their vote is advisory only and that, in effect, parliamentarians know best?

I am grateful for all that the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal said in opening this debate. I agreed with every word. Whatever our views, those on both sides of that past argument now have to do their best to give effect to the vote. Not to do so would not just cause irreparable damage to future political engagement and respect for the parliamentary process; even more seriously, when the electorate already mistrust politicians like us and those in another place, we would risk holing parliamentary democracy below the waterline. Political involvement is, of course, heady stuff. We all know that emotions ran high during the campaign and they still do, as can be seen in this House. They cut across friends, neighbours, work colleagues and even families. However, democracy surely means government by all the people. That includes those who do not agree with you, those whom you think got it wrong, those whom you believe were misled by your opponents, and those who were too stupid or insufficiently well-educated to understand—and those are all arguments I have heard in the last week.

The increase in reported racial hatred and abuse is utterly shameful and is rightly condemned by all of us. We should also know that abuse of those who voted to leave is sadly not uncommon as well. As the right reverend Prelate said, there is an enormous amount to be done on both sides to heal the gap that has now arisen. Unless people were deeply unconscious during the whole of the campaign, the electorate cannot have been unaware that serious consequences would follow a vote to leave. It was spelled out in spades; it was amplified; it was repeated every day and embellished almost to the point of farce. Few voters could have been unaware of the possibility—even probability—that they personally might be worse off. Whether one agrees with the majority view or not, people voted for what they believed was right for our nation. That took real courage, in the face of the campaign.

What happens now? Other noble Lords have spoken about the damage that uncertainty is currently doing. That is obvious: talk to anyone in retailing, business or manufacturing. They all have things on hold because they are waiting to see what is going to happen. We have to do what we can to end uncertainty where we can. That means there has to be a clear timetable, which everyone understands, and a clear process which is agreed. People cannot plan their lives if government delay taking action. We have got to get on with it. Secondly, as others have said, EU nationals who are currently here have to have their minds put to rest—not in September, but now. We have a Prime Minister; could he not leave the packing cases for a very short time? At a stroke, he could remove a great deal of distress for many people and their families, and their employers.

Finally, a significant feature of the campaign was cross-party campaigning on both sides. I have lost count of the number of people who remarked favourably on seeing the Prime Minister campaigning with Sadiq Khan—politicians working across the party divide. I believe that the public are utterly fed up with the major political parties obsessing about their internal affairs. On these complex negotiations, I believe that the public want to see co-operation, putting the nation first and above party. That is also essential to heal the divisions which the result has inevitably left. We have surely now had quite enough of recriminations, negativity, hand-wringing and pessimism. Brexit is going to go ahead. However we voted as individuals, we are all of us in a different place now. For goodness’ sake, let us get on with it and make a success of it, as I believe we can.

Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Monday 17th January 2011

(13 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble
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My Lords, I had thought of intervening during the speech of the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, but it occurred to me that the comments I was going to make would not be appropriate to address to him, as they relate to earlier speeches. I want to share with noble Lords the fact that a few moments ago I received a text message from my younger son, who is a university student. He told me that he is watching this on BBC Parliament and his comment is that Labour are consistently waffling.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu
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My Lords, I hope that the House will forgive that I was unable to speak on Second Reading on the Bill and that this is the first time that I have intervened in Committee. It is not intended to be in any way discourteous to the House. I shall try to avoid waffling and I shall try to be brief.

Surely, what all sides of the House want to achieve is a figure which will enable the House of Commons to carry out its work most effectively and at reasonable cost. What we have in the Bill—and I say it to my noble friends who have put down amendments with specific figures—is horse-trading, and that is no way to change the constitution of our country. The thought that it is only Members of this House or another place who should be making that decision, without assistance or consultation from outside, seems to me to be insulting to the electorate. It is the electorate who must decide what they want their Members of Parliament to do and how many of them are needed to do it. The failure to consult independently on the Bill in any proper or meaningful way seems to me to greatly diminish what the Government intend to do with the Bill as at present.

What cannot be decided, surely, is how many Members of Parliament are required until we are clear what we want our Members of Parliament to do. That is what my noble friend Lord Winston said earlier in relation to the medical profession and I think that we sometimes lose sight of it in politics.

We have heard conflicting evidence in the course of what I have found a fascinating evening. On the one hand there have been noble Lords like the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, who have said that there is no difficulty in representing a constituency of 96,000, I think he said, and the noble Lord, Lord Maples, who said that he could not understand what either the Scottish or the Welsh MPs were doing with their time because they had so little to do. On the other hand, I have listened to others—on this side, mainly—who have spoken of huge workloads, caused sometimes by complex legislation such as on immigration.

I have never had the good fortune to be in the other place—not for the want of trying a couple of times—but I have had second-hand an opportunity, over a considerable time, to see the way in which the job of an MP has changed and is continuing to change. That is why I feel that to set in stone a particular figure for the numbers is wholly wrong.

I was born in 1945, which, coincidentally, was the year that my father was elected as a Labour MP to another place. At that time there were 640 Members of Parliament and, I think, an electorate of some 33.5 million. That electorate has shot up many times since then, whereas the number of MPs has not. My father, as I understand it from those who knew him, was regarded as an excellent constituency MP.

None Portrait A noble Lord
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Hear, hear!

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu
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I am grateful to that person who knew him. In those days, a Member of Parliament was not required or indeed expected to be totally full-time. He was expected to have another job, and the hours of the House were designed with that in mind—indeed, frankly, people were paid with that in mind—and the burden on those people was very much less. My father was a good constituency MP because he went once a month to his seat in Huddersfield, which was his home town but where he did not live; he had surgeries there, and he reported back on what had happened in Westminster, where he considered his main job was. He dealt with constituency problems but he did them one afternoon a week, when his secretary, Mrs Whibley—how could I forget her name?—used to come to the house and sit down and deal with the whole of his parliamentary correspondence when he dictated the replies to her. As I understand it, when I was asked as a child, “What does your father do for a living?”, my answer was, “He cuts the grass and sometimes he writes articles”. I saw an awful lot of him because Members of Parliament were not required to be in the House at that time until later in the day, and my father followed his profession as a journalist.

What I have seen of my friends who are in another place, though, is that it is a wholly different world now. Some have spoken of the difficulties of Members of Parliament attending committees. When I first came to this place—which, I am reminded by my noble friend Lord Desai, who came at the same time, was nearly 20 years ago—I was mildly irritated, to say the least, by the fact that whenever one went to a meeting, particular all-party groups and so on, Members would inevitably come in late and leave early. I thought that it was some sort of bid to appear to be very busy and important, but the more I have seen of it, the more I have realised that it is genuinely a problem. They have such a great burden, not only because of meetings to attend but because the hours of the House have changed so radically over the past 50 years or so that they are genuinely pressed to devote the amount of time that is required, particularly, by committees and Select Committees of the House. They are also dealing now not just with a vastly increased workload from constituents but with a much more sophisticated political lobbying system and with pressure groups, all of which require attention. Others have spoken of e-mails, faxes, mobile phones and other things that simply did not exist all that time ago.

To put it frankly, although I have heard from others in the House today that they have no problem in dealing with huge constituencies, the Members of Parliament who I know best seem the whole time to be pushed to achieve what is required of them. I do not know whether reducing the number would make that harder. I do not have the ability to make that decision; all I can do is listen to the conflicting accounts from both sides. It seems that there may be considerable constituency variations, some where it is possible for a Member of Parliament to deal with a much larger number of electors, and others where the workload is almost unbearable, even given the considerable support that MPs now have. If it is intended in this part of the Bill to reduce the costs of the electoral system for the general public, I just wonder whether the general public really appreciate that if the burden is great, they will not receive the service that they currently have unless there is also an increase in expenditure on staff.

I am coming to the end of what I want to say. Ultimately, whether the figure is arrived at by horse trading, as I suspect, or whether it is plucked from the air, that is wholly wrong, but even more wrong is setting the number in stone, as the Bill does. We need flexibility. We need independent people, such as boundary commissioners, looking at the whole process and deciding what is right and, above all, we need the public to be involved in the debate.

For the life of me, I cannot understand the Government’s attitude in refusing to split the Bill. It seems to me that, if they were to do so, it would be perfectly possible in a relatively short time for us to have the debate and for the public also to have their say on what they want of their MPs and whether they want to see a reduction in the size of the Commons and, if so, to ensure that they understand the consequences. It may be that they will do that, and it may be that, having heard those arguments based on the evidence that the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, called for—we have not seen any of it tonight—I will come to the same view. However, I cannot accept that the Government are seeking to make a major constitutional change without any proper consultation or pre-legislative scrutiny and without giving us any explanation of how they have determined that this vital change should be made.

[For the continuation of today’s proceedings, see Official Report, 18 January 2011.]