Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:17 pm on 27th June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 10:17 pm, 27th June 2017

I am sorry to disappoint noble Lords opposite, but it will be five years. Some of the legislative adventures, many of which I very much identify with, will be brought in henceforth.

Before I turn to some of the specific comments made, I should like to make a few personal remarks. First, the Prime Minister has been very clear, and noble Lords have appreciated that, that this Queen’s Speech is about recognising and grasping opportunities that lie ahead for the United Kingdom as we negotiate withdrawal from the European Union. It is very important that we do that in a pragmatic way, bringing in many of the views that have been expressed today. Of course, this is a negotiation. What we are seeing at the moment is not necessarily how things will end up, but we cannot expect anybody in negotiations to show all their cards, or to say, “This is our bottom line”. That is clearly not in the country’s interests, the people’s interests or in the interests of anybody here. Certainly there will be challenges, but I want to assure noble Lords today that the Government are determined to work hard to achieve withdrawal from the EU on the best terms available for the United Kingdom, but at the same time to ensure enduring relationships with friends and allies in Europe. It is a new relationship at which we are working, and I believe that we can and must all work together to achieve it. I say that to all noble Lords, some of whom have perhaps indulged in a little bit of sabre rattling against all the other parties here. We cannot ignore what happened in the referendum; it would be unwise to do that—but I appreciate that within that result there are different ways of achieving the withdrawal. That is clearly what we need to work on.

Events in the past few weeks have shown that now is indeed a time for us to work together and focus on what unites rather than divides us. Many noble Lords have referred to that. As Minister for Faith, I have had the privilege over the past few weeks to speak to leaders of different faiths from across the country. I have heard and seen first-hand how communities from all sorts of different backgrounds have responded to recent terror incidents, supporting each other in the face of cruel and unspeakable terror. That was referred to by my noble friend Lady Williams, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, opposite, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for the Liberal Democrats, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. We have seen selfless acts from countless people. We have seen charities, the voluntary sector and individuals working hard. Others have spoken about the emergency services. The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, spoke about the role of the police, but it is true of the other emergency services—the ambulance service and the fire service, certainly, as seen in the context of Grenfell.

When I went down to speak with faith leaders after the atrocious terrorist attack on Muslims in Finsbury Park, there were Rabbi Gluck and Rabbi Pinter of the Haredi Jewish community in Stamford Hill. They were not just there; they had been there all night, standing alongside their Muslim brothers and sisters— in particular Mohammed Kozbar and Mohammed Mahmoud of the Finsbury Park mosque. There were members of the Christian community there too. It was truly inspiring.

We have spoken today of many issues facing us as we negotiate withdrawal from the European Union and how we must work constructively with the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Indeed, that is the case. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, for his welcome. I also thank my noble friend Lord Dunlop for the massive work, as I am finding out, that he has done in Northern Ireland, and indeed, in Scotland. I will come back to Northern Ireland shortly.

On the repeal Bill, the Government have been clear that this piece of legislation establishes the mechanism through which we can ensure the decision-making powers returning from the EU are allocated within the UK in a way that works. The guiding principle behind this Bill has been, and will continue to be that no new barriers to living and doing business within our union are created. Many noble Lords have referred to particular areas that will need attention, and I accept that. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, referred to vulnerable children. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, referred to some of the criminal and arrest procedures, which was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. I share their concerns, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Marks. These are discussions that we need to have. No doubt there will be fierce debates— that has been indicated, certainly by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and others.

I take very much what my noble friend Lord Sherbourne said about listening and consultation. That is extremely important. There is also the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, about construction workers in the EU. That too we must take on board. I accept that, and in areas where there will be shortages of labour, we need to take that into account as we move forward. This guiding principle will apply to the immigration Bill, which will repeal EU rules on free movement. We will then consult on what is put in place as the UK’s policy. As my noble friend Lady Williams has said, our objective is to put in place an immigration system which is right for the UK economy and right for the country as a whole. We will be very much in listening mode as we consult on and discuss that. EU citizens have made and continue to make significant contributions to economic, cultural and social life in the United Kingdom. The Government have made clear that we want to provide as much certainty as possible to the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and the discussion on that goes on.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made points on the specific issue of asylum. Lest anybody thinks otherwise—and I can understand that this is an issue where emotions rightly run high—I say that we have done a significant amount. In 2016, the United Kingdom granted asylum or other form of leave to over 8,000 people and it has been over 42,000 since 2010. That is not to say we cannot do more. The noble Lord has rightly focused attention on this and put a terrific case for action: we are moving towards that 480. I can confirm that we have checked and there is no bar at all for children who are mentally ill. I would like that message to go out very clearly. We are happy to continue to engage with the noble Lord, who always puts his case politely but forcefully. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, also raised some points on that and I hope this is helpful to her too.

We have taken action to help victims of domestic abuse, but we can and should go further. Many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Goschen, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, have contributed on this, welcoming this action and raising issues. My noble friend Lady Newlove asked whether we are consulting on the scope of this. We are and are very happy to engage on it. My noble friend Lady Seccombe gave a particularly powerful speech with a historical view on the issue. I thank her for her forceful and moving contribution. It is important that we act in this area. We will be coming forward with a statutory definition of domestic violence. Questions were asked about how much we have committed to this. We have committed £100 million in this Parliament to violence against women and girls and, in addition, we are supporting 76 projects through the DCLG with a £20 million fund for domestic abuse. Some of these issues may also feature in the racial disparity audit. This has not really been touched upon, but we are going forward with it, as we committed to before the election. There will be a bit of slippage because of the election period but we will be moving forward with it.

I will say something about the devolved Administrations and turn first to Scotland. There were notable contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Reid, and my noble friends Lord Dunlop and Lord McInnes. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Beith, I can confirm that we are taking forward the issue of the border lands area. It is very much in process and is being led by the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is the port of call for more details. We hope and believe that will help with the Scottish economy, which my noble friend Lord Dunlop said, quite rightly, was central to progress. As was said, it appears that Nicola Sturgeon has been listening. The Government welcome that—as did all noble Lords who spoke on this issue—and the fact that she has responded and the referendum will at least be postponed. That will make relations easier in terms of discussing Brexit with Scotland, which of course we want to do. We are very happy to engage but we do not want the megaphone diplomacy which it sometimes can be. I hope we can go forward and engage meaningfully.

I turn next to Wales. We had a very powerful contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, who has great distinction in both Wales and Northern Ireland. I thank him for that. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, was uncharacteristically somewhat unfair in his caricature of the Wales Act 2017. It is worth noting that this was the subject of a legislative consent Motion in Cardiff. I think that it was passed with the support of all the political parties there—albeit that some in Plaid Cymru did not vote for it, but some of them did, and all the other political parties did vote for it. There were only two votes in this Chamber on the Wales Act 2017, one of which was won by a decisive majority by the Government and the other of which was a tied vote. I am very happy to give way to the noble Lord.