Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:01 pm on 27th June 2017.

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Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Liberal Democrat 6:01 pm, 27th June 2017

My Lords, I think that all parts of the House wish Northern Ireland well. A number of speeches today have been made by politicians from Northern Ireland and those with experience of it.

The electorate’s decision not to give the Prime Minister the parliamentary equivalent of a blank cheque means that the Government need to make a genuine attempt to make a success of cross-party co-operation across a range of the policies under discussion today. Leaving the EU will require not only the great reform Bill but an estimated 10 to 15 other Bills to create new policy frameworks in areas that are currently governed by EU law. That will not be achieved by the Government sanctimoniously invoking parliamentary conventions or trying to bully or intimidate this House.

My noble friend Lord Tyler will deal with these matters in more detail but, like him, I was a member of the Cunningham committee on conventions, which reported in 2006. For me, the committee’s most important finding was that, in rare and exceptional circumstances, this House must retain the right to say no. Without that right, although it has been rarely used over the past 70 years, we become a debating society and the House of Commons becomes what the late Lord Hailsham described as an elective dictatorship. I urge the Government really to address the problem and the need for co-operation between the parties to get this massive amount of legislation through properly. The Hansard Society says in a briefing note that it sent today that it is about to publish a range of proposals on how the matter may be dealt with properly and in an orderly fashion. I urge the Government to grab with both hands the initiative by that society and to involve all parties in taking it forward; otherwise, we will have a car crash.

Like others, I regret the omission of the prisons and courts Bill from the gracious Speech. I have great admiration for the new Justice Secretary, David Lidington. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, I think that the Justice Secretary’s open letter on the matter, published on 21 June, was a welcome assurance that penal reform has not disappeared from his radar. I hope that he will note the great wave of positive good will that greeted Michael Gove when, as Secretary of State, he positioned himself as an out-and-out prison reformer. As the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, indicated, legislation is not always required to take forward penal reform.

Fortunately, Mr Lidington does not have to look far for good ideas. There is the Corston report on women in the criminal justice system; the Laming report on looked-after children; Dame Sally Coates’s suggestions on education in adult prisons, which my friend Lord Dholakia mentioned; and the parallel report about education in the youth justice system by Charlie Taylor, my successor as chair of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales. There is the report by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, on the experiences of young black and Muslim men in our criminal justice system, with a further report from David Lammy MP expected in the autumn. There is the report by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, on deaths in custody and the report by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, on mental health provision in prisons and the criminal justice system. All those excellent reports are brimming with good ideas, many of which do not require legislation. What is needed is a Secretary of State to give impetus, direction and leadership, and I hope that David Lidington will provide that.

There are also areas where the House can give that impetus and leadership. I am pleased that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, has already tabled a Question on the backlog of IPP prisoners. I look forward to supporting my noble friend Lord Dholakia in the passage of his Bill to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14.

I welcome the announcement in the gracious Speech that a commission for countering extremism and a counterterrorism strategy review will be established. I was pleased to see the news that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, had been involved in discussions on those matters. It is absolutely essential to hear the communities’ voices in mapping the way forward in both areas and to avoid undermining the counterextremism work by creating counterterrorism powers that act as recruiting sergeants for extremism because things are being done to, and not with, the communities involved. My noble friend Lord Paddick gave that warning.

A hung Parliament is not a disaster; a disaster is when the election result produces a Government that, while claiming to be strong and stable, are simply arrogant and unwilling to listen. That is the bullet that we dodged on 8 June.