All Calm on the Westminster Front

Baroness Murphy 03/03/2012 – 11:39 am

Murphy at sea

Were you wondering where I’d gone? Well I’m back now from Central America and the Caribbean and mightily pleased I missed all that cold weather. I was in some remote spots and got news from Britain only intermittently. But the health bill figured in almost every bulletin. Turmoil, Coalition falling apart, political storms at Westminster, doctors and nurses noisily opposing the reforms and a beleaguered Andrew Lansley on the brink of being sacked. Or so ‘twas said.

So the moment I landed I got out Hansard on line and read through the debates in the Lords that I’d missed. No political storms, no significant challenge, Earl Howe working away negotiating some sensible changes and generously responding to amendments. Of the 6 votes so far, only the minor first amendment was lost by a 4 votes. The rest were won by the Government with a very comfortable majority, which means there were few Lib Dem or Conservative rebels (the maximum number of coalition rebels for any one vote was 4 and that occurred only once) and the crossbenchers largely supported the Coalition. The turn-outs were good.

The week I returned was recess but Earl Howe asked if he could meet me with the bill team that week. He’d been pondering over an amendment that Lord Warner and I had spoken to in Committee and were due to speak to again at Report. We wanted a mechanism to ensure that the Secretary of State could ensure that NHS monies could be transferred to Social Care, or Housing or indeed other organisations if it was in the best interest of patients. There are mechanisms in place at grass roots level but they are rarely, indeed insufficiently used. The bill team came up with the idea of inserting a Secretary of State’s direction to that effect in Schedule 4, which addressed my concerns perfectly, and I was able to table it in time for the debate on Monday. We also had a good discussion about how to achieve a satisfactory process to monitor and intervene in failing hospitals before they get to crisis point. By Wednesday Earl Howe had produced a mechanism which Lord Warner and I felt was an excellent solution.

So in spite of the media hype, in spite of the apparent opposition generated by sackfuls of misinformed briefings and letters, so far the Lords have been listening more carefully to the arguments in the Chamber than the barrage outside. This may not last…we are getting to some controversial bits of the Bill next week  and after all the duty of the Opposition is to oppose.


Repression of Peace and Democracy Party in Turkey

Lord Hylton 02/03/2012 – 11:01 am

I asked HMG this Question about recent arrests in Turkey (see HL 15667 under 27 Feb 2012 : Column WA325)

Israel – Illegal and Provocative Behaviour

Lord Hylton 02/03/2012 – 10:59 am

Please follow this link to my Questions and Answers re Israel -particularly HL 15557; HL15558; HL 15700; HL 15697; HL15881

Also   HL15698

Cutting communications?

Baroness Deech 02/03/2012 – 12:20 am

There was a great debate in the Lords today on the governance of the BBC.  It was initiated by Lord Inglewood, chair of the Select Committee on Communications.  I am very fortunate to be a member, fortunate because there are relatively few committees and many peers would like to participate, and fortunate because there are few issues as vital and topical right now as Communications.  The debate drew attention to the 2011 Report of the Select Committee on BBC Governance and Regulation, which made recommendations about internal and external aspects of the BBC and how it is scrutinised.  Not unexpectedly, the debate included contributions from the many peers who have specialist knowledge of the BBC and broadcasting – journalists, broadcasters, former Governors, Chairmen and Director-Generals.

One of the most interesting and controversial recommendations of the Report was that the way the BBC handles complaints from its audience should be clarified, speeded up and more objective.  Some thought that all complaints should ultimately be settled by OFCOM, others that the last word should lie with an external Ombudsman (most public services and industries today have an Ombudsman to give an impartial ruling on complaints). The BBC response to this recommendation was unenthusiastic, but it is now moving towards a review of complaints handling.

The Select Committee on Communications was set up by the House in 2006 and its establishment was, to quote Lord Fowler, “a triumphant piece of good judgment by the House, for we are now living through the most tumultuous period in media history in modern memory.” Now and in the next few years we are all involved with the issues of phone hacking, the Leveson Inquiry, injunctions, digital technology, social media, broadband, plurality of media ownership, the freedom of journalists to report in war zones (remembering the terrible death of Marie Colvin in Syria), a big new Communications Bill and the renewal of the BBC Charter.  Never was it more important to have a Lords Committee examining these matters and questioning the government about them.  Yet rumours abound that the Communications Committee is to be wound up and replaced by a series of ad hoc committees looking at media issues.  This would be a failure of responsibility and a diminution of democracy.  Ad hoc committees would be too much under government control, for the ministers would choose the topics, whereas the Select Committee chooses its own subjects for survey.  They would also lose the continuity, collective memory and expertise of the staff and the Committee members.  Nor would such a move save money.  It should be recalled that Select Committees  belong to the House, not to the Government.  I can think of no innocent reason for wanting to disband the Committee, and there will be a terrific fight if anyone tries to.

Leveson Inquiry

Lord Soley 28/02/2012 – 11:00 pm

Well – I knew there were some pretty dodgy operations going on at News International but I didn’t think the payments to the police and other organisations were as extensive as they apparently are.

In the past I was hearing rumours of hacking, dodgy payments and off course, sexual harrassment  at the Sun but I was only able to prove the latter. When I look back at it now it is worrying that other people must have heard rumours too but again if they couldn’t prove them you were in difficulty.

The main failing must fall on the senior management and the owner. They would have pursued anyone else in authority to resign on half the evidence now coming to light. A newspaper, the News of the World has been closed – wrongly in my view. It was the management that should have fallen on their swords – the newspaper could have lived on.

There is more to come out on this. I have given written evidence to Leveson but I cannot publish it until the inquiry has decided if it wants to call me for oral evidence and I won’t know this for some time yet.