House of Lords: Remote Participation and Hybrid Sittings

Debate between Lord Inglewood and Lord Gardiner of Kimble
Thursday 20th May 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Inglewood Portrait Lord Inglewood (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, I welcome this debate and the work of the Constitution Committee that lies behind it. I am speaking from my office in rural Cumbria, which is just further away from London than Paris. In my remarks I will focus on remote participation and voting.

First, however, I think that it is a mistake to assume that the hybrid proceedings, which, as so many of your Lordships have said, have been so skilfully arranged by the House’s staff—I pay tribute to them—are a consequence of Covid. Covid has of course played a part, but so has the development of the technology, which until recently did not exist. If the pandemic had happened a few years ago, things would have been very different. I hope, pray and believe that the pandemic will come to an end, but the technology will endure and will get better.

At the risk of oversimplifying, it seems to me that during my period of membership of your Lordships’ House there have been basically two types of Member participation. First, there is full-time, which is Front-Benchers, Officers of the House et cetera; then there is a group of other Members, who are also engaged in outside activities that inform membership and contributions and are set within the framework of the rules relating to declarations and conflicts of interest.

In my own case, I live 300 miles away in northern England, where I work on my own account and play a part in public life that is really quite relevant to what we are doing here in the Chamber. Travelling to London and spending time there involves an enormous amount of wasted time that is dead time away from home. I believe that it is no incentive for those from the further-flung parts of Britain to come to play a full role in the House’s activities if the banks of the Thames are a ball and chain around their ankles. It is a form of London capture. It can, of course, be argued that those like me should, quite simply, retire or take a leave of absence and go away. It might seem a fair point, but it is very “southist”, especially in the days when voices outside London are particularly important.

Obviously, Parliaments cannot work exclusively remotely. Human interaction is extremely important, as numerous noble Lords, following the lead of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, have repeatedly pointed out. It is important and central to political discourse and parliamentary activity that people interact with each other. Whatever is done in the future, there has to be at least some real human contact and involvement between Members—all of them—as part of the whole.

However, what I believe is needed—I am the first to concede that I do not have the answers—is some way to marry two apparently conflicting aspects. For what it is worth, as well as thinking about the use of technology, we ought to think about procedures, timetables and the whole way we work. It is legitimate to think about how changes in technology might affect the way we do our business, which, after all, has been continuously evolving since the Middle Ages. We are now in the 21st century; technology has transformed everything else in life today and it would be rather odd if it did not have the same potential in this context.

I suspect that the implications of some of the points I have touched on may be thought quite radical—possibly far too radical for some—but when we are trying to reduce a London-centric bias in the way this country is organised, I do not think that an excessive metropolitan bias in the character of its Parliament is necessary or, nowadays, desirable, not least when novel approaches for dealing with it are becoming ever more possible day by day. While the purpose of and rationale for Parliament is unchanging, the way we do it can and should change if appropriate.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Senior Deputy Speaker (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Non-Afl)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Hannan of Kingsclere.

Agricultural Transition Plan

Debate between Lord Inglewood and Lord Gardiner of Kimble
Tuesday 8th December 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con)
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I understand that today the co-chairs of the EU-UK joint committee have announced their agreement in principle on all issues with regard to the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. I think this will have some impact on some of our areas, and further details will be given. I believe that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is making a Statement tomorrow. I put that in the context of the recognition that agriculture is devolved. If one remembers, we included provisions in the Agriculture Act respecting the devolved arrangements of all parts of the United Kingdom, the importance of ensuring that Northern Ireland can make its own provisions as a devolved part of the UK and respecting the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. Our manifesto pledge was to maintain the current annual budget to farmers, and that would mean that the total farm support provided to Northern Ireland farmers was £330 million. It is within the scope of the Northern Ireland Administration to ensure that they have the policies that they would wish for Northern Ireland farmers.

Lord Inglewood Portrait Lord Inglewood (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, I must draw attention to my agricultural interests in the register. Like all other speakers, I welcome the publication of the agricultural transition plan, but, like them, I also recognise that it leaves a huge number of questions still unanswered. Can the Minister confirm that all the money taken away from the BPS each year will be transferred to schemes which will pass it on in its entirety to farmers and land managers and will not be used for the government administration of the scheme? Furthermore, can he confirm that the new arrangements will not lead to additional bureaucracy imposed on the payees, which in turn will cost them money?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con)
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My Lords, as I said at the outset, and as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in his announcement, it is designed so that the reductions in the legacy direct payments will be transferred into a whole range of schemes within the agricultural budget. These might be productivity schemes, environmental land management schemes or slurry schemes, and this will ensure that farmers and land managers have that resource available within the amount of that budget that was promised for every year of this Parliament. The money being transferred from the direct payments will go into the schemes that I have outlined.

Picking up the point about bureaucracy, I assure noble Lords that all Ministers are determined not to replace one sort of bureaucracy with another. Complaints such as “We have not got the detail” are, I believe, precisely allayed by us wanting to ensure that at every turn—whether in simplifying the BPS or in having ways in which we do things differently—the schemes are not bureaucratic, and that their design is straight- forward. This is so that people such as me can understand them, and not have to read them three times or employ someone to help with that.

I assure my noble friend Lord Inglewood that the whole point of what we want from the codesign is for all farmers to feel that these are their schemes, because for so many it may involve retirement, new entry or productivity. It is about environmental land management in all its component forms. All the tests and trials in that area involve working with farmers, precisely to ensure that they are not bureaucratic and that we are not asking for mission impossible. We want farmers to have a sense of achievement not only because they produce public benefits, but because they feel that this is a worthwhile part of their joint endeavour in producing food for the nation.

Flood Response

Debate between Lord Inglewood and Lord Gardiner of Kimble
Monday 10th February 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My understanding is that the property flood resilience recovery fund was part of the package following November’s flooding. The grant allows eligible local authorities, with 25 or more properties flooded in this timeframe of flooding—as in South Yorkshire and the north Midlands—to run a local property flood resilience scheme. Each eligible property under it would be able to receive £5,000 to fund changes that would help it become more resilient to any future flooding. To my knowledge, a number of insurance companies will also assist with that resilience. Having been flooded, one thing to do is to move obvious things such as the electric points. Where are they and can they be further up, particularly in areas that traditionally flood? That is why the pub in York, for instance, has its bar on the first floor.

Lord Inglewood Portrait Lord Inglewood (Non-Afl)
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Does the Minister not agree that a good place to start would be to have a simple, blanket moratorium on constructing houses and other sorts of buildings in areas proven to flood? No ifs or buts; it should just be no.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I think that would mean most of London could never have been constructed. I do not mean to be facetious by saying that, but the truth is that many parts of our towns would be so deemed now. That is why we have the Thames Barrier and the hard flood defences that we do, and the Environment Agency is absolutely key to this. While I do not have the statistics in front of me, I think that very few planning applications that would be in a flood plain are permitted, precisely because of the point that my noble friend has alluded to.