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These are truly uncertain times. We do not know what the outcome of the talks with the European Union will be. We do not know whether the measures contained in Her Majesty’s Speech will receive the approval of this House. We do not know when we will be facing a general election contest, whereby the content of this speech, and others granting a legislative programme for a sitting Parliament to discuss, amend or scrutinise, will transform into the basis of a future Conservative manifesto. I welcome the fact that the Government have outlined their planned programme, and that, over the coming days, the House will have the opportunity to debate and scrutinise the Government’s intentions.
“Britain’s place in the world” is the title of this debate. I welcome what the Minister said about the commitment to education across the world for every young girl and woman. As others have said, the issue of FGM has to be addressed, as does the issue of access to the best medication to prevent TB, typhoid, HIV and all the other things that come with that. The Government have given that commitment, and I welcome that.
I am concerned about one thing has been omitted from the Queen’s Speech, which is the provision on armed forces veterans. I wish to take this opportunity to express my disappointment that that has not been included. A great many people up and down the length of the United Kingdom are deeply uncomfortable with the pursuit of elderly armed forces veterans for actions undertaken when serving in Northern Ireland. The Government should have taken this opportunity to protect those people, because I believe that that is the will of this House and that it has cross-party support. In relation to the Belfast agreement, people from all quarters have had to swallow hard and accept the release from prison of people who were guilty of the most horrendous crimes after serving a mere fraction of their jail sentence. In that context, it is wrong to see soldiers who were only ever in Northern Ireland to prevent the place from descending into anarchy being hounded in their old age, so it is my sincere hope that the Government will deliver very soon on protecting those who served the community and help to deliver the peace. For me, this is really important. The Government have omitted to do that, even though they have given a commitment to myself and others on both sides of the House that that will happen.
In relation to Brexit, I welcome the commitment outlined by the Government to work towards a new partnership with the European Union, based on free trade and friendly co-operation. As the representative of a constituency whose fisheries have been at the sharp end of policy decisions taken in the halls of Europe, it is my sincere hope that we will soon have control over our fisheries policy back in British hands. Over many years under the common fisheries policy, the industry has contracted sharply. In my Strangford constituency, in the fishing village of Portavogie, we now only have 40 boats in the harbours, whereas some 15 or 20 years ago we had almost 100 and, going back further, even more than that.
The Government have put forward legislation that will bring back the licensing power after the UK leaves the EU. Foreign boats will no longer have automatic access to UK waters. That is what I want to see and what the Government want to see; the quicker that happens, the more all those who represent fishing villages across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will welcome that policy.