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Queen's Speech — Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:55 pm on 27th May 2010.

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Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour 2:55 pm, 27th May 2010

Very quietly. Even Willie Whitelaw had to pause for breath in the middle of the Statement. The brief silence that followed was filled by Enoch Powell who said, "Eat them more slowly, Willie". I do not need to editorialise on that.

Some of us were fully involved in the heat of the election campaign and were busy canvassing while others-those who are more sunburned-were not so. The reflection of many was dismay that we were not allowed to have a vote. This is not the occasion to debate that fully but surely Members of this House, like other citizens, ought to be allowed the right to vote because we should have some influence on the nature of the Government and who they will be.

I welcome two things that the Government have done, one of which was referred to by the right reverend Prelate, which is the commitment to ending child detention in immigration cases. That is a good thing but I hope that it follows that families with children will also not be detained so that children are not separated from their families. I have been involved with other people in campaigns on this for a long time and I welcome the Government's Statement. I also welcome the Statement made by the Foreign Secretary that the Government will fully investigate allegations of complicity in torture by members of our security services.

I now wish to raise something entirely different on a specific matter about the Palace of Westminster. I do so with the knowledge of the person involved. I refer to the wife of the Speaker in the Commons, Sally Bercow. Because she was a candidate in the recent Westminster City Council elections she was not permitted to go on living in Speaker's House and had to move out during the campaign and rent a flat nearby. She has three young children aged six, four and two. The eldest, who is autistic, was particularly disturbed at having to move out of their home in Speaker's House. There is something unfortunate about that and it reflects badly on the Palace of Westminster as a whole.

I shall now turn to the substance of the gracious Speech and the Government's policies. I welcome the commitment to have an elected, or mainly elected Lords Chamber. I doubt, though, whether a period of 15 years is the right way in which to deal with it. Surely the point about elections is accountability. If one is elected once, one is then not accountable to anybody for the remainder of the 15 years. It would be better if we had three goes of five rather than be elected just once without accountability. I am dismayed, as many Members of this House are-I know that this is shared across the House-at how many more appointments are to be made. I quote from the coalition programme, which states:

"In the interim"- before there is a newly elected Chamber-

"Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election".

That is a very disappointing policy. My noble friend Lord Richard has already said that the coalition has an adequate majority for all purposes. You do not need more than that. It will simply look ridiculous if the Government appoint another 100 or 150 Peers in order, in the interim-I am careful about the word "interim", but it is used in the coalition programme-to abolish the House and change it to an elected one. That does not make any sense.

I like the idea of fixed-term Parliaments. I do not know why they should not be for four rather than five years-I simply ask that question. I find the dissolution arrangements for 55 per cent totally confusing. I have read the debate in the Commons the other evening and I was left as confused at the end as I was at the beginning.

I understand that the Government have said that they want to abolish identity cards. Fair enough. I wonder whether the Minister can explain what is said in the coalition programme:

"We will ... halt the next generation of biometric passports ".

I had always understood that biometric passports were increasingly becoming an international obligation. If we want to visit other countries, we will have to have biometric passports. Never mind ID cards, what are we going to do about biometric passports, or do the Government now have information that we do not need them any more? I, too, would like occasionally to visit the United States and do not want to be kept out because of government policy.

The coalition programme also states:

"We will introduce safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation".

I wonder what that means in relation to the use of intercept evidence-something about which the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, knows a great deal. I understand that under the previous Government, officials were looking into the possibility of using intercept evidence in criminal courts. I understand the difficulties about disclosure, and so on, but it was being considered. I wonder whether the Government will consider whether we could have intercept evidence in criminal cases.

Finally, I turn to Northern Ireland and again quote from the coalition programme for government. It states:

"We will work to bring Northern Ireland back into the mainstream of UK politics".

I do not know what that means. Terminology matters a great deal, especially in Northern Ireland. I hazard a guess that the different communities in Northern Ireland will interpret that statement, quite differently one from the other. It is certainly ambiguous. Some clarification would be welcome. The coalition programme goes on to say that this will include,

"producing a government paper examining potential mechanisms for changing the corporation tax rate in Northern Ireland".

Frankly, I am in favour of that to bring it in line with taxation in the Republic, but it is slightly odd to say that we will bring Northern Ireland more into the mainstream of UK politics and then immediately bring out a policy that takes it away from us. That is slightly confusing.