94 Lord True debates involving the Leader of the House

Prorogation: His Majesty’s Speech

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Friday 24th May 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

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My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.
Lord True Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, by virtue of His Majesty’s Commission which has now been read, we do, in His Majesty’s name, and in obedience to His Majesty’s Commands, prorogue this Parliament to the 31st day of May, to be then there holden, and this Parliament is accordingly prorogued to Friday, the 31st day of May.

Parliament was prorogued at 8.46 pm.

Royal Commission

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Friday 24th May 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

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The Lords Commissioners were: Lord True, Lord McFall of Alcluith, Lord Laming, Lord Dholakia and Baroness Smith of Basildon.
Lord True Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, it not being convenient for His Majesty personally to be present here this day, he has been pleased to cause a Commission under the Great Seal to be prepared for proroguing this present Parliament.

When the Commons were present at the Bar, the Lord Privy Seal continued:

Business of the House

Lord True Excerpts
Thursday 23rd May 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

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Moved by
Lord True Portrait The Lord Privy Seal
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That Standing Order 47 (Amendments on Third Reading) be dispensed with in relation to the Victims and Prisoners Bill.

Lord True Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, I had intended to perhaps say a couple of words, but after a whole Parliament your Lordships have probably got fed up with me standing up and saying things. This is perhaps the last time that I stand at this Dispatch Box and address your Lordships—in this Parliament. Since it is the end of the Parliament, it would only be fair that I speak, as I may not have another opportunity to do so—in this Parliament, as I said.

It has been a strange Parliament. It did not start in the way many expected. We had one surprising general election result starting this Parliament, so who knows? It did not proceed as anyone expected. We must all acknowledge that it has been an extraordinary Parliament, and your Lordships have retained their customary calm with all the waves and noise going on the other end, which never seem to end. I confess that it has not ended in the way or at the time that most of us expected, but here we are, approaching the end of the Parliament. Tomorrow, we will do the great proceeding of Prorogation, which will take place in this Chamber. How that proceeding is viewed is a matter for personal reflection.

It has been a great and humbling honour for me to have the opportunity to lead your Lordships’ House, which I love with a deep passion. Maybe on another occasion I can express fully the personal feelings I have on this matter, but now I thank your Lordships for the trust and kindness that they have displayed. It is appreciated tremendously.

This is also the occasion to briefly give thanks to so many others. Having started in this House well below the salt, crawling around the floor of the Opposition Whips’ Office, stapling the Whip in the days before email, and ending up standing in this place where Winston Churchill stood during the darkest days of the war, I think I have a sense of the whole greatness of this House. Its greatness rests on everyone who serves it, from those who come in on the dark winter mornings to clean it, those who stand here patiently as we pass by and protect us and care for us, right up to the majestic dignity of our Clerks—with or without their wigs—who sit at the top of our ceremonial tree, and of course the people who cook our grub as well. This is an extraordinary community, which it is a privilege to serve and be part of.

The noble Baroness opposite was very kind in what she said about my noble friend Lord Ahmad and other members of my team. I feel very privileged to have led a team of Ministers and Whips who—whatever noble Lords might have thought of some of the words that have come out of their mouths—I know have always considered it their first duty to serve your Lordships’ House, to respond in engagement and to make sure that our legislation is carried forward in a consensual, understanding and supportive way. I have been honoured to lead those good people, led by my wonderful Deputy Leader, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the splendid Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, who created a new uniform never seen in the history of this kingdom—that of a female Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms.

I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said; I hope it is a good-humoured general election. When we all come back to this place in response to the Summons of our King, let us all come back, wherever we sit and wherever we go, with the same sense of honour, good humour and dedication that all of your Lordships have shown in the course of this Parliament.

This is a truly remarkable institution. I thank all noble Lords—not just my team, but those who work in the opposition parties and on the Cross Benches, and every single one of your Lordships who comes to this great Chamber and does the business of the British people.

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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I am just consulting the Companion; is it not correct, in accordance with paragraph 8.74, that manuscript amendments can be moved on Report?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, that is correct.

Lord Newby Portrait Lord Newby (LD)
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My Lords, as the House is aware, the noble Lord the Leader, when the words “Liberal Democrat” are mentioned, is normally at his most benevolent. I have found that, during the time in which he has been Leader of your Lordships’ House, that has indeed been the case in his relations with me. I have greatly appreciated that, whatever differences we may have on great issues of state, when it has come to how we manage your Lordships’ House, he has been a model of helpfulness. It is worth reflecting briefly that, in your Lordships’ House, leaders of the parties and the Chief Whips work closely together and try, to the best of our feeble abilities, to ensure that we manage your Lordships’ House in a way that is helpful to Members.

This has been an extraordinary Parliament; what we achieved during Covid was truly remarkable, but it was only because of the history of working together that it was possible in those circumstances. I echo the Leader’s thanks to all those with whom I have worked across parties to try to ensure that, even though differences on issues of state have been very deep indeed, as always, we have been able to manage the way we have dealt with them in a grown-up way and without personal relations suffering, even though we do not always agree. I equally thank my colleagues—my Chief Whip, and Front-Bench and Back-Bench colleagues, who have worked very hard to make the lives of the noble Lord, Lord True, and his colleagues such a misery—very much indeed.

Business of the House

Lord True Excerpts
Thursday 23rd May 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

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Moved by
Lord True Portrait The Lord Privy Seal
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That Standing Orders 38 (Arrangement of the order paper), 40 (Postponement and advancement of business), 44 (No two stages of a bill to be taken on one day), and 74 (Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments) be suspended until the end of the Session so far as is necessary to allow His Majesty’s Government to arrange business.

Lord True Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Lord True)
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My Lords, although I agree with all that we have just heard, it had a rather valedictory tone. I must tell the House that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, may well be back—like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I understand that noble Lords wish me to move the Motions I had set down separately. In moving the first Motion in my name on the Order Paper, it will be useful for the House if I set out how we expect business in your Lordships’ House to work over the next two days.

Following agreement between the Government and the Official Opposition in both Houses, we expect to focus proceedings today on four Bills: consideration of the Commons amendments on the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill; Committee and remaining stages of the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill; Third Reading of the Victims and Prisoners Bill; and the remaining stages of the Media Bill.

The tabling deadline for amendments to the first three Bills has already passed. The deadline for tabling amendments to the Media Bill is noon. Tomorrow we will sit to consider the finance Bill, some Private Members’ Bills and statutory instruments. Members can now sign up to speak at the Second Reading of the finance Bill, and the list for that will close at 4 pm today. If any of the Bills I have listed above are returned from the Commons, we will also consider their amendments or reasons.

We expect the House to be prorogued on Friday—tomorrow—and we will announce any changes to business and the associated deadlines in the usual ways. I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords for their forbearance and understanding in this unusual process, and we will endeavour to keep all Peers fully informed at every stage. I beg to move.

Earl Attlee Portrait Earl Attlee (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend the Leader of the House for explaining what will be happening. I oppose my noble friend’s Motion, but in respect only of Clause 50 of the Media Bill, which seeks to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act.

Section 40 is crucial to the system of press regulation proposed by Sir Brian Leveson and has largely been implemented already by a royal charter. This is a highly controversial and important piece of legislation. We know it is important because Owen Meredith, the chief executive of the News Media Association, has been writing about it in the national newspapers. We know it is important because, when I won a Division on a similar amendment to the Data Protection Act a few years ago, national newspapers devoted several whole pages of detailed and unhelpful coverage to noble Lords who had the moral courage to support me in the Lobbies.

The House should not get confused about how few noble Lords are prepared to debate the subject of press regulation. I have had to draw on huge amounts of moral courage to pursue these amendments. Unfortunately, this, combined with the proposed changes to our Code of Conduct, made me simply run out of moral courage on Tuesday. I am sorry to say that I left the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, largely on her own yesterday. I stress that nobody, inside or outside this House, has applied improper pressure to me.

There is simply not the time available to plan and draft a proper Report speech when the Committee amendments were debated only yesterday. For instance, I understand that my noble friend Lord Black made a very interesting speech, but I have not been able to read it. The Government should either drop the relevant clause completely or, better still, accept Amendment 84 from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. If they did the latter, they would still meet their manifesto commitments in full. Relaxing the Standing Orders against the wishes of several Members of the House to suit the needs of the usual channels, and some frantic horse-trading down the other end of the Corridor, is not acceptable to me.

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, very briefly, in one sentence, I want to broaden the support for the points made about the controversial elements of the Media Bill. The Green Party is also opposed to the Bill in its current form.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful for the points raised. One understands the strong, sometimes proprietorial, feelings and long-held dreams that different Members of the House have. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said, this matter has been agreed. It is uncomfortable but, at this time of a Parliament, the raw realities of politics apply, and things can be done only which have the agreement of the Official Opposition and the Government. That is the fact of the matter. As the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said, it does happen and it has happened, and he has had experience of it on many occasions.

There are many people who will regret that certain Bills are not proceeding—speaking on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, I would have loved to have seen our full programme completed—but what we are proceeding with today is such business as has been agreed. The Media Bill has had examination: it has completed Committee stage, and Report stage—a late stage of the Bill—is today. Members had the longest of all today’s deadlines to table amendments. Discussions on all legislation are continuing, but I would not hold out too much hope for too many changes at this stage.

I appreciate the concerns expressed. Obviously, when a new Parliament meets, it will be able to take whatever view it wishes on whatever matters are put before this House and the other place.

There were an exceptional number of Private Members’ Bills brought forward in your Lordships’ House and the other place this Session. Even with the best will in the world, not every one of those Bills would have made it to the statute book, but some will proceed. I have heard what noble Lords have said today, but, unfortunately, all the hopes that many people may have had, including His Majesty’s Government, will not be fully fulfilled. I must stand by the Motion that I put to the House, the terms of which have been agreed in the usual channels with His Majesty’s Opposition.

Motion agreed.

Business of the House

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Monday 20th May 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

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Moved by
Lord True Portrait Lord True
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That Standing Order 38(4) (so far as it relates to Thursdays) and (5) (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be suspended until the end of the session so far as is necessary to enable notices and orders relating to Public Bills, Measures, Affirmative Instruments and reports from Select Committees of the House to have precedence over other notices and orders on Thursdays.

Lord True Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Con)
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Would the Leader of the House be willing to discuss with his colleagues in the usual channels a debate on the ongoing review into the Code of Conduct? As noble Lords will know, the Conduct Committee is conducting a wide-ranging review of the code, and the outcome of its deliberations will affect all Members of this House. It is therefore very important that the committee can hear views from Members from across the House before it concludes its inquiries and reports.

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, many noble Lords might have some sympathy with some of the things the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said, but I must remind him—we all are conscious of this—that the procedures of the House of Commons are exclusively a matter for that House itself. I am sure that Members of the House of Commons read our Hansard assiduously and will take note of what the noble Lord said.

So far as this House is concerned, we sit on Fridays from time to time, obviously, to take Private Members’ Bills. We will continue this convention until the summer. I can tell the House that we will sit on Friday 14 June, and on 5 and 12 July to take Private Members’ Bills. So far as my noble friend the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms is concerned, we will seek to make progress. I am sure she will be happy to discuss any individual request, but obviously the House of Commons is the guardian of its own procedures.

On the point my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach raised, I am grateful to him for giving me notice that he intended to do so. Other noble Lords have also made views known to me on this subject. The Chief Whip and I have taken the liberty of discussing this with some colleagues in the usual channels and, of course, with my noble friend Lady Manningham-Buller, the chair of the Conduct Committee, in whose work I think I fairly say the House has the fullest confidence and trust.

I am pleased to say that we can enable a debate of the kind that my noble friend asks for on the Code of Conduct review in time for the conclusion of the evidence-taking part of the review, and this will be scheduled for 10 June in Grand Committee. The Motion will be neutrally worded to enable all Members to express their—no doubt varying—views before the evidence-taking period concludes. The purpose must not be to rake over the coals of specific cases but to assist the review and assist Members by enabling discussion of the principles and actualities underlying the Code of Conduct.

Motion agreed.

Litigation Funding Agreements (Enforceability) Bill [HL]

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Monday 22nd April 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Moved by
Lord True Portrait Lord True
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That the order of commitment of 15 April be discharged and the bill be committed to a Grand Committee; and that the instruction to the Committee of the Whole House of 15 April shall also be an instruction to the Grand Committee.

Motion agreed.

Iran and Israel

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Monday 15th April 2024

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Lord True Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, I intend no inconvenience to the House and those taking part in the debate in coming to the Chamber at this time. I hope that it is understood that the position was agreed by the usual channels. I will repeat the Statement made by the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, before I start, I would like to express my deepest sympathy, and, I am sure, that of the whole House, on the death of your father. He was a true giant not just of this House but the other place too”.

I am not supposed to go aside from the Statement, but I think we would all agree with that.

“I also want to express my solidarity with our Australian friends after the horrific and senseless attacks in Sydney in recent days. Our thoughts are with all those affected.

On Saturday evening, Iran sought to plunge the Middle East into a new crisis. It launched a barrage of missiles and attack drones over Iraq and Jordan and towards Israel. The scale of the attack, and the fact that it was targeted directly at Israel, are without precedent. It was a reckless and dangerous escalation. If it had succeeded, the fallout for regional security and the toll on Israeli citizens would have been catastrophic. But it did not succeed.

In support of Israel’s own defensive action, the United Kingdom joined a US-led international effort, along with France and partners in the region, which intercepted almost all the missiles, saving lives in Israel and its neighbours. We had already sent additional RAF Typhoons to the region as part of our existing operations against Daesh in Iraq and Syria. I can confirm that our forces destroyed a number of Iranian drones. We also provided important intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support for our partners. Our pilots put themselves in harm’s way to protect the innocent and preserve peace and stability. I spoke to the RAF earlier today. They are the best of the best and I know the whole House will join me in expressing our gratitude.

With this attack, Iran has once again shown its true colours. It is intent on sowing chaos in its own backyard and on further destabilising the Middle East. Our aim is to support stability and security because it is right for the region and because, although the Middle East is thousands of miles away, it has a direct effect on our security and prosperity at home. We are working urgently with our allies to de-escalate the situation and prevent further bloodshed. We want to see calmer heads prevail, and we are directing all our diplomatic efforts to that end.

Yesterday I spoke to my fellow G7 leaders. We are united in our condemnation of this attack. We discussed further potential diplomatic measures, which we will be working together to co-ordinate in the coming days. I will also speak to Prime Minister Netanyahu later today to express our solidarity with Israel in the face of this attack, and to discuss how we can prevent further escalation. All sides must show restraint.

Our actions reflect our wider strategy in the Middle East, which I have set out in the House previously. I believe there are three vital steps to putting the region on to a better path. First, we must uphold regional security against hostile actors, including in the Red Sea, and we must ensure Israel’s security. That is non-negotiable and a fundamental condition for peace in the region. In the face of threats such as those we saw this weekend, Israel has our full support.

Secondly, we must invest more deeply in the two-state solution. That is what we have been doing over the past six months, including working closely with the Palestinian Authority, so that when the time comes, it can provide more effective governance for Gaza and the West Bank. It is significant that other regional partners actually helped to prevent a much worse attack over the weekend. It reminds us how important the attempts to normalise relations between Israel and its neighbours really are, and it holds out precious hope for the region.

Thirdly, the conflict in Gaza must end. Hamas, which is backed by Iran, started this war. It wanted not just to kill and murder but to destabilise the whole region. This weekend, it rejected the latest hostage deal, which offered a road to a ceasefire. It is Israel’s right, and its duty, to defeat the threat from Hamas terrorists and defend its security.

I want to be clear: nothing that has happened over the past 48 hours affects our position on Gaza. The appalling toll on civilians continues to grow: the hunger, the desperation and the loss of life on an awful scale. The whole country wants to see an end to the bloodshed, and to see more humanitarian support going in. The recent increase in aid flows is positive, but it is still not enough. We need to see new crossings open for longer to get in vital supplies.

I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the three British aid workers who were killed in Gaza: John Chapman, James Kirby and James Henderson. They were heroes. The children of Gaza whom they were risking their lives to feed need a humanitarian pause immediately, leading to a long-term sustainable ceasefire. That is the fastest way to get hostages out and aid in, and to stop the fighting. Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve to live in peace, dignity and security, and so do people across the entire region.

In conclusion, Saturday’s attack was the act not of a people but of a despotic regime, and it is emblematic of the dangers that we face today. The links between such regimes are growing. Tel Aviv was not the only target of Iranian drones on Saturday; Putin was also launching them at Kyiv and Kharkiv. Which was the sole voice speaking up for Iran yesterday, seeking to justify its actions? Russia.

The threats to stability are growing, not just in the Middle East but everywhere, and we are meeting those threats, time after time, with British forces at the forefront. It is why our pilots were in action this weekend. It is why they have been policing the skies above Iraq and Syria for a decade. It is why our sailors are defending freedom of navigation in the Red Sea against the reckless attacks of the Iran-backed Houthi militia. It is why our soldiers are on the ground in Kosovo, Estonia, Poland and elsewhere, and it is why we have led the way in backing Ukraine, and we will continue to back it for as long as it takes. When adversaries such as Russia or Iran threaten peace and prosperity, we will always stand in their way, ready to defend our values and our interests, shoulder to shoulder with our friends and our allies. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

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Lord Newby Portrait Lord Newby (LD)
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My Lords, I too thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. I join the condolences that have been expressed to the family and friends of Lord Hoyle and Lord Rosser, both of whom were great servants of Parliament and this House. I also associate these Benches with the expression of solidarity that the Government gave to our Australian friends after the horrific attacks in Sydney.

Since the appalling attack on 7 October, one of the ever-present fears has been that the conflict would spread beyond Gaza to involve the wider region. Sadly, that is exactly what happened, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Houthis in the Red Sea, and now the first direct attack by the Iranian regime.

On last Saturday’s attack, we join the Prime Minister in expressing our gratitude to the RAF personnel who performed their role, as usual, so professionally and successfully. We support the Government in their work, in co-operation with international partners, to stand up for Israel’s security. We also support the Government’s priority, at this point, of seeking to de-escalate the situation and prevent further bloodshed. There is nothing to be gained by further retaliation on either side. We must hope that the pressure exerted by the UK, the US, EU member states and others on the Israeli Government and on Iran results in calmer heads prevailing.

The Government are right to seek to uphold regional security, including, as the Statement points out, in the Red Sea. Can the Minister inform the House about recent activity there? Has there been any increase in Houthi attacks in parallel with the Iranian strikes on Saturday? More generally, what has been the level of Houthi attacks on naval vessels and civilian shipping in the recent weeks since we last discussed the issue in your Lordships’ House?

It is of course right to seek a two-state solution for the benefit of both the Palestinian and Israeli people, but also for the stability that it would help bring to the wider region. In that respect, the Statement rather intriguingly refers to the involvement of “regional partners”, which it says

“helped prevent a much worse attack over the weekend”.

I realise that he may be unable to do so, but can the Leader of the House say anything further about what this actually involved?

It is depressing that it has so far proved impossible to negotiate a ceasefire in Gaza. Of course, we support all attempts to do so. In the meantime, the threat of famine continues to increase. Food shipments are also increasing, but at nowhere near a level to meet needs. Will the Government keep up the pressure to open up the additional routes by land and via Ashdod which the Israeli Government have promised, but which have so far failed to materialise, so that the threat of famine can finally be lifted?

The Statement rightly points out that Iranian drones were in action over the weekend not only in the Middle East but in Ukraine. The position there is desperately worrying and getting more so. Can the Minister update the House on the Government’s assessment of the likelihood of resumed military support from the US to Ukraine at a significant stage, particularly in the light of the Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to the United States?

There are a limited number of unilateral actions which the UK could take against Iran, but we could finally proscribe the Iranian Revolutionary Guard—a sponsor of terrorism across the region—as a terrorist organisation. Will the Government now do so?

It is clear that there is a large measure of agreement across the House about the nature of the crisis in Israel, Gaza and the wider Middle East, and about the broad approach needed to resolve it. Whether it is about strikes against the Houthi or the Royal Air Force’s action at the weekend, the convention that Parliament should have the opportunity—albeit retrospectively—to express its view formally when the UK takes military action has not been followed. We therefore urge the Government to have a debate, with a Commons vote, not least so that all the actors in the Middle East are absolutely clear about British resolve on this issue.

After Saturday’s attack, the prospect of a lasting peace in the Middle East looks further away than ever. For the UK, this must simply mean that our efforts to try to reach one are redoubled. The Government will have our full support in this endeavour.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I thank both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their responses. I will not be able to deal with specifics on some of the points they raised. As the noble Lord, Lord Newby, conceded, there are certain sensitivities over who does what in particular places and times, including—obviously—particular details of our own operational activities.

I thank both parties opposite and, by the way, I must add my own and our side’s sympathy for the loss of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I have indicated this privately to the noble Baroness opposite. He will be greatly missed on all Benches of this House. He was the ultimate exemplar of a courteous servant of your Lordships’ House.

The noble Baroness was quite right to say that one of the few encouraging aspects thus far is that it is clear that the Iranian action, unjustified as it was, was a failure. This does not mean that its gravity can be in any way underestimated—and nobody has suggested that. I echo the Prime Minister and others in calling for restraint on all sides. This is a grim and difficult situation, where all wish to avoid further escalation. It must not be forgotten that this whole grievous episode started with a merciless lack of restraint by the Hamas terrorists who burst into the homes of civilians and murdered women, children and old people in the most brutal and despicable manner. However much we deplore and rightly express concern about ongoing developments, we must never lose sight of the real naked horror of Hamas terrorism.

Both responses asked about sanctions, specifically on the IRGC. The Prime Minister touched a little on this in his Statement in the other place. I have said before, and it is true, that we have already sanctioned more than 400 Iranian individuals and entities, including the IRGC in its entirety for roles in weapons proliferation. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, rightly referred to the very disturbing evidence—there is a good deal of it—of co-operation between Iran and Russia in the deployment of weapons in the Ukrainian theatre.

The IRGC has been involved in fomenting regional conflicts, violating human rights and terrorism. We have introduced a new Iran sanctions regime to give us more extensive power to designate, and the National Security Act—I was asked about domestic security, which we take extraordinarily seriously—implements new measures to protect the British public, including new offences for espionage and foreign interference, and tougher powers to arrest and detain people suspected of involvement in state threats.

The option of proscription of the IRGC obviously remains open to us, but the British Government’s position remains that it is not helpful to speculate on whether a group is being considered for proscription. We recognise the threat from Iran. The police, security services and courts have all the tools they need to sanction, prosecute and mitigate those threats and, as I said, the IRGC is sanctioned in its entirety.

On sanctions more generally, following the welcome convening of the G7 by the Italian Government, for which we are grateful, it was agreed in the communiqué that

“we demand that Iran and its proxies cease their attacks, and we stand ready to take further measures now and in response to further destabilizing initiatives”.

Obviously, the most effective actions are those taken on an international basis.

I was asked about diplomatic activity. There has been a great deal of diplomatic activity, including the Prime Minister speaking to G7 leaders on Sunday when, as I just said, Iran’s attack was unequivocally condemned. We have expressed our full solidarity and support to Israel and its people, and the G7 reaffirmed its commitment to its security.

I recognise the other points made—the other side of the coin, as it were. We will also strengthen our co-operation to seek to end the crisis in Gaza, working towards an immediate and sustainable ceasefire, the release of hostages by Hamas—something it refuses to do—and increased humanitarian aid to Palestinians in need. Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary spoke to his Israeli and Iranian counterparts, expressing continued support to Israel and condemning the Iranian attack, making it clear that Iran must take immediate action to de-escalate. We will continue to make those efforts.

Humanitarian aid is vital. The UK’s humanitarian support this financial year stands at over £100 million and we are working with our international partners to develop that further. As the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said, Israel has committed to significant steps to increase the amount of aid getting to Gaza, including delivery of aid through the Port of Ashdod and the Erez checkpoint, increasing the number of aid trucks to at least 500 a day, increasing capacity through the Jordan land corridor, extending the opening hours of the Kerem Shalom crossing and approving more types of aid, including fuel to enable more bakeries to open and hospitals to function.

The UK has urged Israel to take these steps for a long time and they are welcome, but, although these commitments represent significant progress, I agree with the noble Lord that we must see further action to ensure more aid actually gets over the border, as the noble Baroness emphasised. The UK is calling on Israel to make progress on the following additional action: a major change in the conduct of hostilities to protect civilians and reform of the deconfliction mechanism to ensure the safety of aid workers. The situation in Gaza is dire. The entire population faces famine.

The Houthi attacks have continued, but shipping continues to go through the Red Sea and we will continue to protect that.

As far as Ukraine is concerned, I have little time to respond—I apologise for that—but the MoD remains fully engaged with industry allies and partners to ensure continuation of supply to Ukraine. If I have the opportunity, I will write to noble Lords setting out in detail some of the actions we are taking there.

I thank both parties opposite, and I urge restraint on all in this very difficult and dangerous situation.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB)
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My Lords, the air defences were spectacularly successful and, for once, they rebutted that old air power adage, “The bomber will always get through”. However, will His Majesty’s Government heed the stark lesson for the air defences of the United Kingdom? Many weapons might be fired overnight by an aggressor, from land or sea, at the United Kingdom. What steps have the Government taken to protect London and the rest of the United Kingdom, to deter any serious attack, to retain our own air supremacy, and, indeed, to avoid facing defeat in a second Battle of Britain?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I thank the noble and gallant Lord for his remarks and I repeat what I said about the role of the Royal Air Force. The defence of the realm remains, obviously, one of the prime duties and responsibilities of His Majesty’s Government. Defence spending has been increased substantially in the various reviews since 2020, and I can certainly assure the noble and gallant Lord that the most careful consideration has been given to the continuing air defence, of all types, of our United Kingdom.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, on Saturday night, I experienced three emotions: fear, pride and hope—fear, because I have close family in Israel and I was worried for them and about them; pride, when I heard that our planes, with their brave pilots, had taken part in protecting Israel from Iranian attacks; and hope, when I heard that the royal air force of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan had also participated. Does my noble friend agree with me that that last point is absolutely key? If we want to see peace in the Middle East, which we all pray for and work for, we should be supporting those bilateral alliances between Israel and Jordan and Israel and Egypt, and multilateral groupings such as the Abraham accords, because that is the way, in the long run, to bring peace to this region. -

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I certainly sympathise with my noble friend. I do not have the direct engagement that he does, but it so happens that, because of family reasons—some Members of the House will know that I have connections in Egypt—a number of members of my family are in the Middle East at the moment, so I do understand those personal feelings.

The fundamental point that my noble friend makes is absolutely right: ultimately, this great region of the world, the cradle of human culture and so much of our spiritual and historic strength, needs peace. It needs people who wish for peace, and the vast majority in that part of the world crave peace. The evil people who wish to unleash violence are in a minority—and, unfortunately, in powerful positions in some places. But I wholly agree with him that the evidence of growing understanding and friendship between Israel and partner nations in the Middle East is a great sign of hope in these times.

Lord West of Spithead Portrait Lord West of Spithead (Lab)
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My Lords, de-escalation is clearly in everyone’s interests, but that might well not happen. Last week, we saw the Iranians take down a neutral ship in the Strait of Hormuz. Basically, two of the world’s key maritime choke points are under threat. Have we discussed with the Americans deployment of the UK carrier? They are very stretched and have only one carrier in the region at the moment, and we need to cover both these choke points to be able to respond to the Houthis. Then, should things not de-escalate, we will have forces in place to assist in ensuring that shipping can move in that region.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, again I will not comment on specific discussions as to deployment or strategic deployment. Obviously, we are already involved in the protective operations in the Red Sea. I know that the noble Lord loves to talk about the deployment or non-deployment of UK aircraft carriers. I am very proud of the world-leading Royal Navy, which remains a great service and hopefully will be an even greater service as we go forward. I am not going to discuss the potential deployment of HMS “Prince of Wales” in any particular place, but the aircraft carrier, as he knows, will be a part of combined exercises involving NATO forces in Steadfast Defender. Obviously, its availability is obvious, but deployment is a matter for another day.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, has already talked about the brave pilots as part of Operation Shader and asked whether the United Kingdom is sufficiently defended. However, linked to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord West, there is also a question about how much more naval deployment we might need in the Red Sea and the Strait of Hormuz. Our own service personnel have done a fantastic job, and we must pay them a great tribute. However, as we look to what is happening in the Middle East, do we not need to think about ensuring that we are increasing our defence positions to support trade continuing and to support our allies in the Middle East? I need to declare that I was in Israel as part of a parliamentary delegation just before Easter.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness. The Royal Navy is one of the top five in the world. Of course there is a need to defend our country and act co-operatively with other nations. The overall Ministry of Defence equipment plan for the next decade is £288 billion, including £41.5 billion for the Royal Navy. That will include a Dreadnought, Astute and AUKUS submarines, fleet support ships, ocean surveillance capability and Type 26, Type 31 and Type 32 frigates. As far as the RAF is concerned, the plan is that it should become increasingly a digitally empowered force. The future combat air system will provide us with sixth-generation fighter jet capability, building on what is currently provided by typhoons and the F35. We are in a close partnership with the Italian and Japanese Governments in relation to future fighter capacity.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, I would like the Minister to take the long view on this. First, in relation to Gaza, it must not be forgotten that this is happening against a history of nearly two millennia of persecution. There is no other people in the world who have been persecuted for so long and against whom there is a constant existential threat. Therefore, the priority in Gaza must be for Hamas to come out of the tunnels and hospitals and release the hostages if they have them, and then you get your ceasefire.

Secondly, with Iran—taking the long view—we seem to have forgotten the nuclear plan, the JCPOA. We have taken our eye off that. Iran is within minutes of getting nuclear capability and is mad enough to use it. We must return to sanctions. If the Government are not going to ban the IRGC, then at the very least visas should not be granted to those so-called clerics that go forwards and backwards between Tehran and London and foment trouble in London. So, please, let us remember the priorities in Gaza and, secondly, stop the flow of malevolent individuals into this country.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, there is much to be desired in what the noble Baroness says. As a historian and someone with a sensitivity to all the genius of human culture, of course I understand what she says about the experience of the Jewish people. It is clear that Hamas cannot remain in charge in Gaza: the British Government have made that clear, and the Foreign Secretary has said that it is a requirement.

On her important remarks on Iranian nuclear ambitions—if there be such, and the objective observer suggests that there might be—there is no credible civilian justification for enrichment at the levels that the IAEA has reported in Iran. The British Government remain determined that Iran must never develop a nuclear weapon. We are considering next steps with our international partners and we are committed to using all diplomatic tools available to ensure Iran never develops a nuclear weapon, including using the snapback mechanism if necessary. These matters, as I said earlier, must be carried forward in co-operation with our international allies, and that is our diplomatic objective.

Lord Moore of Etchingham Portrait Lord Moore of Etchingham (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I am sure that no one in your Lordships’ House would advocate escalation, but I wonder whether protesting against the idea of escalation does not come a bit too easily to the lips of Israel’s allies. Should the Government not reflect that, if you were in Tehran today, you might be quite pleased that the immediate reaction of the western allies is to call for Israel to restrain itself, when Israel is not the problem. Is it not the case that we would not think in this way about an attack on any other country in the world? It would not be our immediate response to aggression against another country that we would urge the victim to do nothing.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, that is a slight elision of what I have said from this Dispatch Box; indeed, I said that one must not forget where this whole matter began with the most atrocious eruption by terrorists into private and peaceful civilian life. The Government are absolutely clear that threats to destroy what some term the Zionist entity, the State of Israel, are wholly unacceptable and unforgivable, and can be no basis for any way of going forward to a long-term peaceful solution. We express our full solidarity and support to Israel and its people. We have reaffirmed our commitment to its security, and we condemn the Iranian action. But every human part of us would wish that somehow a road can be found to peace—and a road to peace must ultimately come from restraint and forgiveness. May all those involved see that.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, I refer the House to my registered interest as president of Conservative Friends of Israel. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby; I have countless times called for the proscription of the IRGC. All I can say to the Lord Privy Seal is: if not now, when?

A Jewish Chronicle investigation by journalist David Rose revealed that academics at a dozen UK universities were working alongside Iranian counterparts on drone research. As a result, on 23 June 2023—10 months ago—the Prime Minister announced an inquiry into these allegations that scientists at British universities have been helping Iran develop technology that could be used to upgrade its suicide drone programme. In light of the appalling Iranian attack on Israel, can I ask the Lord Privy Seal to write to me urgently with an update on this inquiry?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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Yes, I will do so. On my noble friend’s initial point about proscription, I did tell the House that the IRGC is sanctioned in its entirety. Also, if he looks at Hansard, he will see that I did say words about the consideration that is being given in international fora as to what further action might or might not be taken.

On UK universities, it is true that it appears that there has been co-operation on drone technology. My noble friend is right to say that the UK Government launched an investigation into such allegations. No universities were singled out when the investigation was announced.

We will not accept collaborations that compromise our national security. We have made our systems more robust, expanded the scope of the academic technology approval scheme to protect research from ever-changing global threats and refused applications where we have had concerns. We look at all allegations of suspected breaches of our sanctions policy. Under the new UAV trade prohibitions, it is illegal for a UK business, UK national or anyone in the UK not just to export UAVs and their components but to provide technical assistance, financial services, funds and brokering services. So I give my noble friend the assurance that this matter is being taken very seriously indeed.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Lab)
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My Lords, while the Government are absolutely right to condemn the attack on Israel by Iran and to place their emphasis on avoiding escalation of the conflict, I noted that the Lord Privy Seal referred to intensifying diplomatic efforts and that the Governments of Belgium, France and Germany summoned Iranian ambassadors to their places of work, so to speak. I therefore ask the Lord Privy Seal what consideration has been given by the UK Government to having immediate discussions with the Iranian ambassador in the UK to de-escalate tensions and get back to a situation in which we can forge peace, prosperity and an end to violence, particularly in Gaza. There is need for access of aid to the people there and, above all, to end all forms of conflict.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the Foreign Secretary spoke yesterday to both the Israeli and Iranian Foreign Secretaries. He expressed to both the United Kingdom’s continuing support for Israel and condemnation of the Iranian attack. The UK Government have already summoned the chargé d’affaires of the Iranian embassy to the Foreign Office to make it clear to the Iranian authorities that they must take meaningful action to halt their reckless behaviour. They have been left in no doubt as to where we stand.

Baroness Janke Portrait Baroness Janke (LD)
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My Lords, given the situation in Gaza that the Minister mentioned, where we have had lots of assurances that aid will be allowed in but very little action, and given that this is fuelling instability in the region, made worse by attacks on Palestinian villages in the West Bank, could the UK Government perhaps make some conditions on their unequivocal support for Israel? A lasting peace will happen only if both sides are willing to discuss it. At the moment, the already inflammatory situation and worsening, so would the UK consider making conditions on its support for Israel? The situation seems to be growing out of control and the humanitarian situation will make things even worse in Gaza if there is a famine and people are starving.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I have referred to the importance that we attach to humanitarian aid and said something of what we have discussed with the Israeli Government. However, the fundamental truth is that the Israeli Government have sought to deconflict wherever possible in relation to civilians, which is very hard in this brutal situation. It is the position of the British Government that Israel has every right to defend itself against the kinds of attacks that it has had and the further attack it had at the weekend.

Of course we wish to see restraint, but one simple step could be taken: Hamas could lay down its arms, drop its evil propaganda calling for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews, get out of Gaza and let the Palestinian people get on with their lives.

Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston Portrait Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston (CB)
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My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, I was in Israel a couple of weeks ago, and we actually saw the RAF flight that dropped aid over northern Gaza. One of the things, as the Lord Privy Seal has mentioned, is the ability to distribute the aid that is going in. We saw that it is going in, and there is some responsibility on Hamas to allow that aid to be properly distributed. Will the noble Lord assure the House that we are taking steps such that the aid that is going in should be recognised and that the conditions of hostage release have to be associated with any negotiations of a ceasefire and further support going in?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I agree with the noble Baroness on the continued holding of hostages. It is never justifiable to take or hold hostages. I repeat that Hamas can end this by taking a whole series of actions. Interfering with, and indeed seeking to abscond with, aid is equally unacceptable. Obviously, we make every effort through our counterparties to ensure that that does not happen, but Hamas’ activities do not make the delivery of humanitarian aid easy.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, I try to think of how I would feel about being told to exercise restraint, if I were living in Israel at the present time and had been subject to this attack, knowing that this evil regime, which has now come out into the light, supported these vile groups that were responsible for 7 October and other attacks. Of course, restraint is important. But I would also be worried that this evil regime is developing a nuclear capability. I very much welcome what my noble friend said—that efforts will be made internationally to deal with that—because no one in Israel can sleep safe in their bed at night knowing that this regime might have the capability of developing nuclear weapons. I think, with hindsight, that we have perhaps been a little less determined to deal with this problem, through sanctions and other matters, than we could have been.

I warmly welcome my noble friend’s Statement, which has exactly the right kind of balance and sensitivity that we have come to expect from him. But I think the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Moore, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, are very important.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I fully understand that, and can sympathise with that. I sympathise with it deeply. There is a wound there which cannot be removed, but ultimately we have to find a way for wounds to heal. They cannot heal while the kinds of actions being taken by Iran continue.

Dealing with Iran is a matter for international agreement. The question of how to deal with it has been going on since the original discussions between President Obama and the Iranian Government. Attempts were made under the present US Administration to table viable deals in relation to the Iranian nuclear programme in 2022, which would have returned Iran to full compliance with its commitments and returned the US to the deal. But Iran refused to seize that diplomatic opportunity in August 2022 to conclude such a deal, and although we remain committed to a diplomatic solution, I have to say that Iran’s actions over the past months have made the prospect of progress much more difficult, which informs the other comments I made earlier.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, for highlighting the development of a nuclear capability in Iran and calling for the proscription of the IRGC, the Minister’s noble friend Lord Polak and I were sanctioned by the Iranian regime; therefore, it is not passing strange that we would press again about the proscription of the IRGC. However, can I ask specifically, first, about the 25 attempts over the past two years to kill British nationals or Iranians dissidents in this country, as recently as last month, leading to an Iranian dissident journalist bleeding on the streets of London and his three assailants able simply to leave this country immediately afterwards? How could that happen? Secondly, on the question of sanctions, companies that are making Shahed drones that are going to Moscow and then being used against Ukrainian civilians have western links. What are we doing to ensure that they are sanctioned? We look as though we are doing far too little in the face of a country that has aligned itself with North Korea, China and Russia in an axis that threatens the democracy and freedoms that we enjoy.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with much that the noble Lord said. Indeed, he is right to say that since January 2022 we have identified at least 15 threats towards the lives of UK-based individuals. We are stepping up our response to Iranian regime activities. Last December, my noble friend Lord Cameron summoned Iran’s most senior diplomat to the Foreign Office in relation to reports of Iranian plots to kill two Iran International employees. We will not tolerate these kinds of threats. The Foreign Secretary reiterated to the Iranian Foreign Minister that these threats are unacceptable and must stop.

So far as drones and Russia and Ukraine are concerned, we have sanctioned 18 Iranian individuals and three entities for their involvement in the manufacture and transfer of drones used in Ukraine, as referred to briefly by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, adding to our existing sanctions on the Iranian drone programme. I referred to the illegality of assisting with these threats to our national security. At the Wassenaar Arrangement meeting in October last year, we called out Iran and Russia’s unacceptable collaboration in proliferating weapons, and as recently as last December we held Iran and Russia to account at the Security Council for this unacceptable collaboration, sharing evidence of the drones that Iran has provided to Russia to other Security Council members, and in meetings on Resolution 2231. We will continue to expose this rather desperate and, frankly, despicable alliance and to press this issue at the United Nations and elsewhere.

Lord Harris of Haringey Portrait Lord Harris of Haringey (Lab)
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My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register. I am grateful to the Lord Privy Seal for the comments that he has made. He has praised the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy and, no doubt, he will get round to mentioning the Army in a moment. Is he not aware of the widespread feeling of disappointment that there was in our armed services about the failure to increase the defence budget in the recent financial statement? In the context of widening international tensions, not just in the Middle East but in Europe itself, and China’s threats against Taiwan, is he really satisfied that we are doing enough to prepare for some of the threats that might happen in terms of international relations? A specific point has been made about drones. Three years ago, I looked at the capacity of this country to respond to drone incursions. There was some good work being done, but it was still fairly narrow. What has been done in the intervening three years? Would we as a nation be able to deal with 300 incoming drones?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I am slightly saddened by the normally delightful noble Lord’s slightly jaundiced question. I referred to the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force because I was asked about them, first by the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, and then by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup. Of course, this Government support all the armed services. What the noble Lord left out of account is that in the spending review 2020, the MoD received an uplift of £24 billion in cash terms over four years, which was the biggest defence investment since the end of the Cold War. In 2023, we confirmed an additional £5 billion to the Ministry of Defence over two years and further funding has been cited.

We also expect, if you take into account the use of reserve funds, a further increase in spending on defence in 2024-25 over 2023-24. Some of the comparisons here are not actually comparing like for like. This Government remain committed to the long-term objective of spending at least 2.5% of GDP on defence, and the figure actually spent has been well over 2% in recent years.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord will recall that an Iranian woman, Narges Mohammadi, received the Nobel Peace Prize last year for her efforts to fight for democracy and human rights in Iran. There has been a huge, brave effort on the part of many people in Iran—particularly women—to resist the misogynist, autocratic and theocratic regime. Will the Government seek to refer to the Iranian regime or the Iranian Government, rather than just using the word “Iran”, acknowledging the difference between the Iranian people and the Iranian Government or regime when speaking against their vicious attack on Israel and other actions?

Secondly, the Statement makes no reference to the Israeli attack on the Iranian embassy in Syria. That is unfortunate. Can the noble Lord reassure me that the Government are stressing to Israel the need to avoid escalatory actions, given the perilous current state of the region?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, it was not actually an attack on the Iranian embassy in Syria. I am not sure whether that embassy is the embassy of the Iranian Government or the Iranian people, but the people who were caught in Syria, in whatever way we would like to describe it, were involved actively in warlike activities against the State of Israel and were encouraging terrorism.

However, I agree with what the noble Baroness said about the courage and heroism of the people in Iran, and particularly many Iranian women. One’s heart stirs when one sees the enormous courage of those people. I am often struck by how little opportunity we are given to see Iranian women when we see the serried ranks of the IRGC and others saluting the members of the Iranian regime who have been responsible for these deplorable events in the last few days.

Allowances

Lord True Excerpts
Wednesday 27th March 2024

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Moved by
Lord True Portrait Lord True
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That:

(1) Members of this House, except any Member who receives a salary under the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975 and the Chairman and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees, should be entitled to an overnight allowance in respect of each day of attendance on or after 15 April 2024 as provided for below.

(2) Members are eligible to claim the overnight allowance—

(a) if the Member’s registered residential address is outside Greater London,

(b) the Member has a recorded attendance,

(c) for reimbursement towards the expense of hotel or similar accommodation costs in Greater London incurred in staying overnight away from their registered residential address where it is necessary to do so for the purpose of attendance.

(3) “Attendance” means attendance—

(a) at a sitting of this House,

(b) at a meeting of a Committee of this House, or

(c) on such other Parliamentary business as may be determined by the House of Lords Commission.

(4) The maximum daily amount payable to a Member should be £100.

(5) The maximum daily amount can be claimed for each day of recorded attendance or each night which falls immediately before a day of recorded attendance. Members cannot claim for more nights than days attended.

(6) The provisions of this Resolution apply in accordance with guidance issued under the authority of the House of Lords Commission.

(7) In relation to the year beginning with 1 April 2025, and each subsequent year beginning with 1 April—

(a) any formula or mechanism included in the IPSA determination for the year as a result of section 4A(4) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 (adjustment of MPs’ salaries) should be treated as applying for the purposes of adjusting for that year the amount of the allowance payable to a Member of this House, and

(b) accordingly, the amount of the allowance payable to a Member in respect of a day of attendance in that year should be—

(i) the amount obtained by applying the formula or mechanism to the amount payable by way of allowance (under paragraph 4 or this paragraph) in the previous year, or

(ii) where no formula or mechanism is included in the determination, the same amount payable by way of allowance (under paragraph 4 or this paragraph) in the previous year.

(8) In paragraph 7(a) “IPSA determination” means a determination under section 4(4) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009.

(9) Any fraction of a pound in an amount obtained under paragraph 7(b)(i) should be rounded up to the nearest pound if the fraction is 50p or more, but otherwise should be disregarded.

Lord True Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, on 13 March, the House of Lords Commission agreed to restore an overnight allowance scheme to provide specific accommodation support for Members who live outside Greater London. The resolution that I move as Leader today will put into effect the proposals agreed in the commission report published on 21 March.

The original impetus for this came from the chairs of the Back-Bench party groups in your Lordships’ House. Having reached a cross-party consensus as to the principle and extent of any additional financial support, as I suggested would be necessary, they approached me to present their case to the commission. I agreed to do so. The commission agreed the proposals and I am putting them to the House today. The resolution that noble Lords see before them reflects the recommended proposals of the party chairs and the usual channels. I know that they do not meet everyone’s aspirations, but I submit that they represent a compromise and a balance.

For the avoidance of doubt, as an officeholder and a resident of the Greater London area, I have no personal interest whatever in this change. Indeed, I supported my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in the design of the current approach to allowances. It was intended to be, in my noble friend’s words,

“direct, transparent and accountable, a scheme that is simple and not open to abuse”.—[Official Report, 20/7/10; col. 916.]

In the same way, I submit that the current measure before your Lordships passes those tests as simple, transparent and accountable, and is appropriate to meet the changing burdens currently faced by many Peers.

To summarise, if this Motion is agreed to, Members whose registered address is outside the Greater London area may claim towards the expense of overnight accommodation in Greater London in a hotel, club or similar accommodation while away from their registered residential address for the specific purpose of attending sittings of the House. The maximum that can be claimed for each eligible overnight stay is £100, and it will be reimbursed only on production of a receipt. If the room costs less than £100, only the receipted cost of the room will be paid. The number of overnight claims cannot exceed the number of recorded attendances a Member has in a given week. A review will take place of this new scheme after 12 months.

As many Peers travel daily from far beyond the M25, and Members who seek accommodation inside London pay an increasing price for undertaking their parliamentary duties, I pass over the fact that it is far more sustainable to have Peers staying over rather than commuting daily. But I submit that this House must be accessible to all, regardless of financial status and location. We have, and I mean no offence, become far too much a House of the south-east of England. It is not right that some noble Lords may be deterred from coming to this House because attendance would impose a significant financial burden on them. In responding to this, the commission seeks to ensure that geographic and economic disparities do not dictate the conduct of Parliament.

I believe that the proposal strikes a balance. We must all be mindful that money we spend in this place is not our own. Any scheme that seeks to support parliamentarians must be proportionate to both the purpose it seeks to address and the implications for the public purse. In this case, the commission considers that a flat rate that sits below the average cost of London hotel accommodation is a proportionate figure. This proposed ceiling is well below—indeed, less than half—that which is offered to our good colleagues in the other place.

I return to my first point: the scheme is simple, easy to check, and aimed to avoid abuse. This House will rightly come down hard—very hard—on any who may seek to abuse it. We have placed a review of the scheme after 12 months to ensure that the allowance is working as it should, and the House will expect that every Peer will stand on their honour in this regard.

If this resolution is passed, the scheme will come into effect after the Easter Recess. I will of course continue to welcome Members’ views on this matter, though I know that very many have fed into the cross-party consultations in the various groups, and I thank them for that. I hope that this scheme may support participation in this House, and I thank the noble Lords who worked on the proposals, the usual channels and the convenor for their support for this resolution. I commend it to the House and I beg to move.

Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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I welcome this proposal, and the points I wish to make are made in a friendly manner, not a critical one. I am concerned about the interpretation of the words “similar accommodation”. I wonder whether the noble Lord the Leader of the House would consider whether a requirement that the accommodation is registered for VAT should be part of the scheme. I understand that this is fairly common within the Civil Service. I also wonder why we are reinventing a wheel and why we do not just adopt the same system as applies to Treasury officials who come to London for meetings and are part of the Home Civil Service. This seems a very easy thing to incorporate into our rules. I am concerned that the absence of any mention of VAT and the loose wording “similar accommodation” could lead to loopholes. As a person who was responsible for closing many loopholes in the European Parliament scheme, I am well aware of where loopholes can be found.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for bringing this forward today. He has heard the mood of the House, and it is warmly welcomed. I also put on record our thanks to the chairs of the groups and the convenor. They have consulted around the House about the difficulties caused for those who travel some distance to get here and stay overnight. I am grateful to them for their efforts in putting forward a scheme.

This scheme recognises three things. First, when the rules on the initial daily payment were changed, it was not kept in line with inflation for around 10 years, meaning that it fell behind what was reasonably expected when it was set up. At the same time, the cost of hotels and other accommodation increased significantly above inflation during that period, meaning that those paying for accommodation are paying a significantly greater proportion of the daily allowance than they were when the scheme was set up.

To answer the noble Baroness, Lady Fraser, the difference between us and the Members of the House of Commons is that they are salaried employees, and we are not. We receive a daily allowance for days on which we attend and are here working. So, there is a difference in the arrangements for the two Houses.

The scheme also recognises that this is a contribution towards the costs, which fluctuate enormously; in that sense, it is fair to all colleagues. It also recognises the work of your Lordships’ House. Too often we talk about allowances in the abstract, but allowances enable Members of this House to fulfil their responsibilities. Members who have to dash off early to catch the train home because they cannot find a hotel within their price range are disadvantaged and cannot play a proper role. The bottom line is that we need to ensure that the House can do its work properly. I am grateful to the Leader of the House and to the chairs of the groups, who, as I said, have done a lot of work in producing something which is fair and reasonable for all. It has the support of these Benches.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. In my opening remarks, I expressed gratitude to the chairs of the various groups. I should have explicitly included the convenor, but I was including the Cross-Bench group as well. Mature, sensible discussions have contributed to this.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for what he said. I must not go back over old times, but the reality is that the current scheme came out of what was an emergency brake on a system that was being abused. We were trekking down a road which led the other place into considerable disrepute at that time, and there was widespread agreement in the House that we should move to a simple, transparent and accountable system. With the test of time and having spoken to the noble Lord and to others, I think it was right to undertake these conversations and this review. As the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said—I am grateful to them—we have arrived at a scheme which, although not perfect, is direct, transparent and clear.

My noble friend Lord Balfe spoke of loopholes. Being an expert, he will no doubt advise the finance department if he detects any. I have written to him privately about his VAT question but, since he raised it in the Chamber, I will give him the same reply. What he suggests would not necessarily achieve the desired result because there may be commercial premises that are below the VAT threshold and therefore not registered. There are far more likely to be Airbnb operations which cross the £85,000 threshold and charge VAT. This is a complexity that may not create a clear line between different types of property. There is broader guidance about this system; it is not too complex.

With respect, I do not fully agree with my noble friend that this is how Civil Service rules work. From an initial search, this does not appear to be the case in every department. In the Cabinet Office, for example, civil servants need to go through an approved agent to secure hotels.

I return to the fundamental point: this is proportionate and clear, and it is also testable. We will have a review and if it is misused, that will be seen and the House will wish to address it.

My noble friend Lady Fraser asked why we are treated differently from the House of Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, gave the answer. Being a Member of your Lordships’ House is entirely different from being a Member of the other place; their range of duties, responsibilities and offices is completely different.

My feeling, the feeling of the commission and the feeling of the Back-Bench groups was that while this may not please everybody, as I said in my opening remarks, we need to reflect on the context that we are in. There is a point at which we need to enhance participation in the House, to get more Peers being better able to come from outside London to take part. I repeat that this is a proportionate, reasonable, clear and transparent system, which will be reviewed and tested.

Motion agreed.

Business of the House

Lord True Excerpts
Monday 18th March 2024

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
Lord True Portrait Earl Howe
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That Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Tuesday 19 March to enable the National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) (No. 2) Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day and that, in accordance with Standing Order 47 (Amendments on Third Reading), amendments shall not be moved on Third Reading.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal, I beg to move the second Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper. It may assist the House if I set out the plan for this Bill agreed in the usual channels.

The Bill’s Second Reading will take place today, with the debate in the name of my noble friend Lady Vere on the Spring Budget. Noble Lords have until 11 am tomorrow, Tuesday 19 March, to table amendments for Committee on the Bill, and should approach the Public Bill Office in the usual way. Committee and all remaining stages will take place tomorrow. If there is a need to have further substantive stages after Committee, these will be announced in the Chamber in the usual way.

Business of the House

Lord True Excerpts
Tuesday 13th February 2024

(5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
Lord True Portrait The Lord Privy Seal
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That Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Wednesday 21 February to allow the Finance Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.

Motion agreed.