Queen’s Speech — Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:32 pm on 2nd June 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 7:32 pm, 2nd June 2015

My Lords, I start with a sentence almost at the end of the gracious Speech, which states:

“Other measures will be laid before you”.

That wonderful catch-all phrase is beloved of Governments of every hue. I say to my noble friend the Minister that I hope that the Government will not be tempted down that road because it seems to me that the legislation outlined in the gracious Speech is already very heavy and, if all the measures are to be considered thoroughly, carefully and without making mistakes, that will be quite sufficient for this session. I have noticed in the past that where mistakes occur it is partly because legislation has been hurried or too much has had to be got in in too short a time. What happens is that in the next Session or the one after that, there has to be another Bill in order to put it right. I make that observation to my noble friend.

Sometimes, only half in jest, I say that if I had a vote, I would vote for a party which says firmly, “We will pass no new legislation for five years. We will get rid of outdated and useless legislation, as on a bonfire. We will consolidate the good that remains into reasonably sized Bills dealing with one main topic”. That brings me to another of my beefs; that is, the habit of Governments of all complexions to put disparate subjects into one almighty Bill. I suppose one could call it a portmanteau Bill, although, more down to earth, I prefer to call it a dog’s breakfast. I encourage my noble friend not to go down that route either in so far as it lies in his power.

Another temptation for Governments is to seek to legislate the moment a scandal arises. The cry goes up, “We must have a Bill. We must have legislation”. I urge the Government always to look to see what is already available on the statute book before going down that road. I give a little example from the Communications Committee, on which I served in the last Parliament. Noble Lords will recall that there have been some very unpleasant incidents on social media. There have been horrible expressions of hatred against others, on which I will not dwell, and even the sending of photographs of an intimate nature, which were intended for very private circulation but which, when a partnership breaks up, are circulated widely. I think that that is called revenge porn.

The committee looked at this and spoke to a special adviser who knows a great deal about the laws relating to this issue. We found that the victims, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service already had legislation in various forms on the statute book that could deal with this. I am not of course referring to the matters raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, because they are different. It is just an illustration of what can often be done with what you already have.

I turn to a part of the gracious Speech where no legislation is proposed; namely, that dealing with the environment and climate change. Other noble Lords have dealt with this at a high policy level. I will look at it in exactly the opposite direction; that is, what ordinary people can do if they are sufficiently mobilised. I am well aware that major projects to prevent flooding are beyond the reach of ordinary people. However, they can certainly do something in their own gardens in urban areas where there is a real problem with run-off because people have concreted over their front gardens to take cars. It is perfectly possible to have a car in your front garden without getting rid of the garden altogether. I do not know whether anyone saw either in person or on television an exhibit at the recent Chelsea Flower Show. A designer, who I think was an amateur, did a wonderful front garden using Welsh slate. It had little runlets of flowers on either side of and between where the wheels of the car would go. Exactly where the wheels would go had been worked out and there was earth between through which the water could drain.

The Royal Horticultural Society has been advocating something of this sort for some years now. I have been a member for more years now than I care to remember. It is doing its utmost to encourage this kind of thing. It can be done simply as well as more elaborately. It would help enormously if Ministers at Defra were to give a real boost to this suggestion.

Another issue relates to the problems faced by bees. I am not sure how many people except the agriculturalists among us know much about the severe threat to bee populations. The horror is that, if the bee population should become extinct, we would see our food crops disappear totally. It is a nightmarish scenario but I hope that it will not come to that. Certainly, we need to be worried about it. People can help immensely in their gardens by growing the right flowers to give succour to the bees over a long period of time. They can do an awful lot in that way. I am not good on figures but I know that the number of back gardens, if not front gardens, is an enormous part of our total area. This suggestion could have a major effect but it needs the contributions of individual gardeners. Since we are a nation of garden lovers, surely we can harness that. On that point, I am aware of the time and I will sit down.