My Lords, my noble friends will speak in detail on all the matters raised in the gracious Speech but I hope to touch briefly on a range of issues, concentrating mainly on home affairs and associated matters. However, first, I associate myself with the remarks of the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, expressing concern for those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire and the terrorist outrages in London and Manchester, and thank the emergency services, whose members risk their lives to protect us.
This gracious Speech was as much about what was left out as what was included. A prisons and courts Bill having previously been proposed, prison reform appears to have been dropped. Counterextremism legislation having been proposed in the previous two Queen’s Speeches, it is now replaced with a commission. A British Bill of Rights having previously been proposed to replace the Human Rights Act, there is now silence. Even where non-Brexit legislation is proposed, the legislative programme begs more questions than it answers, an example being the domestic violence and abuse Bill. Of course everything must be done to protect victims of domestic violence, domestic abuse and coercive control but, as with the proposed review of counterterrorism, the Government appear to be going for the low-cost or no-cost option by introducing legislation rather than addressing the real need—for more resources.
Central government funding for local authorities has been drastically reduced and, with it, local authorities’ ability to provide the local services that are increasingly needed. So it is with domestic violence, with refuges desperately needed by those affected being outsourced to private contractors in order to save money. Privatisation of these services and poorly drafted contracts inevitably result in the minimum level of service being provided, with little or no provision for the emotional, legal and childcare needs of survivors.
That appears to be a recurring theme in the Queen’s Speech. Of course, in the light of the recent spate of terrorist attacks, a review of the Government’s counterterrorism strategy is necessary. But seemingly before the ink is dry on whatever the Queen’s Speech was written, the current Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Max Hill QC, appears on the BBC’s “Today” programme to say that existing counter- terrorism legislation is sufficient—something that the Home Secretary appears to accept. Again, it is not legislation that is required but resources. If the Home Secretary will not listen to the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, who says that her force is struggling for lack of resources, who will she listen to? Perhaps it will be the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, who says that community policing is in danger of disappearing—an essential source of community intelligence that thwarted a recent attempted attack in Westminster, where the alleged perpetrator was apparently caught on his way to commit a terrorist attack.
It is not the police and the security services alone who will defeat terrorism, but communities working with them. The nature of the recent attack shows that it is those closest to the perpetrators—friends, families and neighbours—who are most likely to prevent such attacks by noticing changes in behaviour. But communities will not pass on their suspicions unless they trust the police and the security services through restoring community policing, and by an independent, evidence-based review of the Prevent programme. There is a great deal of suspicion in some communities of Prevent, justified or not, yet the Government will not even publish their own internal, Home Office review of Prevent. The former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, before he recently stepped down called for such an independent review. Those determined to undermine Prevent are being given all the encouragement they need by not carrying out such a review.
The other aspect of the Government’s review is to look at the severity of prison sentences for those convicted of terrorism offences. For the most determined terrorists—the suicide attackers we saw in Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge—no prison sentence will act as a deterrent. Yet again, legislation is being substituted for resources. There is a crisis in our Prison Service, with a Victorian estate, overcrowding and increasing levels of violence and suicide. The Government do not appear to know the difference between tactics—dealing with what is currently the public focus—and strategy: having a long-term plan to deal with underlying issues. One of those issues is the current crisis in the Prison Service. Brexit is the dominant issue, and unless the Government rethink their approach, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has alluded to, we will be both poorer and less safe as a result.
The Government appear to have abandoned plans to scrap the Human Rights Act, and will accept the jurisdiction of the court which adjudicates it—the European Court of Human Rights. They have also signalled their intention to adopt the EU general data protection regulations, incorporating them into UK law. That is essential if the flow of data between the UK and the EU is to be maintained for security, law enforcement, medical research and commercial purposes. However, they should also accept that the UK needs to remain within the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which adjudicates on these common standards. A free trade deal, a European arrest warrant and a host of other issues essential to our prosperity and security depend on the ECJ.
Yesterday’s announcement about the status of EU nationals resident in the UK did little to quell their anxiety. They are being been offered second-class UK settled status rather than permanent leave to remain, and all that subject to a deal with the other 27 member states. In the past, having the stated aim of making the UK a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants, the Government succeeded in making the UK a hostile environment for all immigrants, including foreign students and overseas workers in the National Health Service and social care, who no longer feel welcome. I dread to think what the proposed new immigration policy will contain.
Finally, we have the commission for countering extremism. One of the first things that the commission should do is to distinguish between a religion such as Islam and Islamism, which is a political ideology that believes in the violent overthrow of democracy and liberal values, replacing them with a totalitarian state. As the press spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Service following the
In its 2015 counterextremism strategy, the Government described extremism as,
“the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values”,
including “our belief in equality”, which,
“followed a history in which we have seen injustice, misery and damage caused by discrimination on the basis of religion, race, gender, disability or sexual orientation”.
Do the Government stand by that definition of extremism as including those who vocally and actively oppose equality for LGBT people? I am asking for a friend—of Dorothy.