Queen’s Speech — Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:25 pm on 2nd June 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 3:25 pm, 2nd June 2015

I turn, first, to the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, covering local government, devolution within England and housing.

In order to boost economic growth and rebalance the economy, closing the decades-old economic gap between the north and the south, the gracious Speech includes a Bill to deliver radical devolution to the great cities of England. The Bill will put in place the primary legislative framework to enable us to deliver deals devolving major powers to cities, alongside providing for a metro mayor to act as a powerful point of accountability. This will include delivering the historic deal for Greater Manchester. These deals will allow cities to take greater control of and responsibility for the key things that make a city work, be it transport, skills or housing, and boost local growth. In conjunction with existing legislation, this will also allow us to empower our towns and counties with devolution deals across the country, helping to create thousands of jobs for people and greater prosperity for the areas.

The gracious Speech also includes a Bill to support home ownership and give more people the chance to own their own home. This Bill is a key part of delivering the ambitious housing package in the Government’s manifesto. It will extend the right-to-buy levels of discount to housing association tenants, helping thousands of people and families who aspire to home ownership. To date, more than 33,000 new homeowners have been created since the right-to-buy scheme was reinvigorated in 2012, and every additional home sold is being replaced with a new affordable home for a social tenant. This has ensured that more council housing has been built since 2010 than in the previous 13 years.

The Bill will also take forward a range of measures to increase the supply of housing. It will reform the statutory planning framework to support the delivery of 200,000 starter homes, to be made available to first-time buyers under 40. The Bill will bring forward measures to require local authorities to dispose of high-value vacant council houses as they become vacant to fund new affordable homes, simplify and speed up the neighbourhood planning process, and take forward the right-to-build scheme and statutory register of brownfield land.

With almost 90% of people aspiring to own their own home—a percentage that has been steady for more than two decades—it is right that the Government take action to encourage and enable home ownership. I know that there is a range of views across this House on the merits of these ideas but we must be of one mind that home ownership should not be a distant dream for our children.

I will move on to matters of home affairs and turn to the counterextremism Bill. Our pluralistic values make Britain a great place to live. They mean that we are free to live how we choose, wear what we choose, worship according to our beliefs and take advantage of our world-class education and employment opportunities. Extremists try to undermine these values. Their poisonous views have no place in modern Britain. We will no longer tolerate those who promote hatred, intolerance and division. We will create a new partnership of every person and organisation in this country to defeat them. I am sure that the whole House will join me in deploring the fact that, in Britain today, people suffer hatred and violence because of their race, religion or sexuality; women are denied equal access to rights that most take for granted; and children are taught to despise the values that we should be proud to live by. That is why the Government are taking forward a comprehensive new counterextremism strategy to defeat all forms of extremism, violent and non-violent, Islamist and neo-Nazi. As part of our strategy, the gracious Speech contains a counterextremism Bill, which will strengthen our powers to confront extremism and protect the public.

I turn now to the immigration Bill. To cut net migration we need to ensure that we have a tough system that does not tolerate illegal migration. The successful implementation of the Immigration Act 2014 has already started to have a positive impact. More than 800 foreign criminals are being deported under the “deport now, appeal later” measures, and the introduction of the immigration health surcharge means that migrants are now making a direct financial contribution to the NHS. The immigration Bill will build on these reforms to complete the work of strengthening our controls against illegal immigration and supporting working people.

The gracious Speech also contained a commitment to bring forward legislation on communications data. As your Lordships will be aware, this is unfinished business from the previous Parliament. The legislation will cover the full range of investigatory powers and build on the review that has been undertaken by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC. His report will be published shortly and the Government will want to reflect upon it, as I am sure will all noble Lords. There will be a full consultation on the legislation and this is a matter of the greatest importance. We must ensure that law enforcement and intelligence officers have the tools that they need to keep the public safe.

The gracious Speech includes a Bill introduced in your Lordships’ House last Thursday to provide for a blanket ban on the supply of new psychoactive substances. During the previous Parliament, we took a number of significant steps to tackle the harms caused by these unknown and untested substances. In particular, we strengthened the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to provide for temporary class drug orders. Using these and other powers in the Act, we banned more than 500 new psychoactive substances. However, with these existing powers we are always playing catch-up, banning new psychoactive substances on a reactive, substance-by-substance basis, while the suppliers always stay one step ahead and create new substances outside existing controls. The introduction of a blanket ban in the Bill will ensure that law enforcement agencies have the necessary criminal and civil powers to put an end to this trade and protect our young people from the harm caused by these untested, unregulated substances.

The gracious Speech includes a Bill to reform the police and criminal justice system. We are all fortunate in this country to have the finest police men and women in the world, who, on a daily basis, put their personal safety on the line to protect ours. During the last Government, we took steps to make the police more transparent and more accountable to their communities. In this Parliament, we want to finish the job. The Bill will reform the police complaints and disciplinary systems; it will put a stop to people remaining on bail for months or even years with no independent oversight; it will ensure that 17 year-olds who are detained in police custody are treated as children for all purposes under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984; and it will improve the response to those experiencing mental health conditions.

These measures will ensure that the police are more accountable for the decisions they take. They will ensure that the public are able to act when they feel that the police fall short of the standards that they expect. They will ensure that police honesty and integrity are protected, and that corruption and misconduct are rooted out. The Bill will continue to reform the criminal justice system to protect the public better, build confidence and improve efficiency.

Finally, on important matters of the UK’s energy supply, the gracious Speech includes an energy Bill. The Bill will give the Oil and Gas Authority the powers it needs to become a robust, independent and effective regulator. It will ensure that the UK’s continental shelf resources are developed and key infrastructure is well managed to secure the maximum amount of economically recoverable oil and gas from UK waters.

The energy Bill will also make changes in relation to new onshore wind farm applications. The majority of the population does not live in the vicinity of a wind farm. For those who do, we have seen many examples of local community groups vigorously opposing wind farm developments for a variety of reasons. The energy Bill will give local authorities and local people more power to decide whether a wind farm is built in their area.

The measures set out by Her Majesty last week will help this Government support working people, keep Britain on the road to economic recovery and give everyone the best chance of living a fulfilling and good life.