Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:40 pm on 27th June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat 7:40 pm, 27th June 2017

My Lords, I noticed that the gracious Speech was very clear about something to do with fairness, which the Minister raised. It said that the Government,

“will make further progress to tackle … discrimination against people on the basis of their race, faith, gender, disability or sexual orientation”.

We have made much progress on equality for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual. There is still a way to go but great progress has been made. In fact, on Saturday I was very lucky to be able to marry David, my new husband and partner of 21 years. That was thanks in particular to my noble friend Lady Featherstone and Nick Clegg, the former Deputy Prime Minister and former MP for Sheffield Hallam, who were in the coalition. It gave me great happiness to be able to reaffirm our love and commitment of 21 years.

However, yesterday my happiness turned to some concern due to the deal that the Government had done with the DUP, not in terms of trying to get stable and strong government but because of some of the social attitudes that that party has. It is particularly galling that in its last vote on equal marriage, the devolved Assembly of Northern Ireland having narrowly passed that people like me in Northern Ireland should be able to cement their love, it was stopped by a petition of concern. It was even more galling to read the BBC story about somebody called Josh, who cannot marry and cement his relationship in his home town simply because he lives in Northern Ireland. Therefore, I wondered how the deal that I saw progressed equality, particularly in relation to sexual orientation, and I will tell the Government why.

That deal sends a very strong signal to many LGBT people in Northern Ireland that this Government believe that the right of thousands of people in Northern Ireland can be sidelined or ignored so that the right of Theresa May to hold the key to No. 10 is upheld. That sends a very worrying signal. This is guilt by association and the Government need to understand that. They need to understand that it is not just what they say but what they do that sends strong signals about equality across the whole United Kingdom. It is really important that we do not just say things but that strong action is taken through legislation. Even though those words are in the gracious Speech, I have seen no mention of legislation to further the rights of LGBT citizens across the United Kingdom. I make that point particularly in the light of the Stonewall report, published today, which has found that nearly half of LGBT pupils are still bullied at school. I ask the Ministers what kind of legislation will be coming forward to further the rights of those pupils and tackle their discrimination.

I want to move on not just to domestic issues relating to LGBT citizens but to immigration issues relating to those who seek asylum on the basis of their sexual orientation. Great work has been done by an organisation called the UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group, which supports people seeking asylum on the basis of their sexual orientation or identity. However, one issue that comes back time and again is the number of LGBT asylum seekers who can be held in detention for as long as those holding them see fit. The Government have been asked for about four years—particularly by Anderson—when they are going to stop detaining people who flee persecution because of whom they love here in the UK. As the Anderson report showed, they are fleeing persecution only to be held in situations of great danger, with prejudice and potential threats to their safety within detention.

I hope that the Government will take heed of these issues. Rhetoric and words are good but they do not solve the problems of many LGBT people, whether they are here in the UK living in Northern Ireland or fleeing persecution. Therefore, I ask the Government what specific legislation will be coming forward to meet that commitment to ensuring that further progress is made on tackling discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.