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Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:21 pm on 21st October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice) 3:21 pm, 21st October 2019

My Lords, it is a privilege to open this day of debate on Her Majesty’s most gracious Speech.

The focus of today’s debate is home affairs, justice, constitutional affairs, devolved affairs and local government. The debate will enable us to explore some of the key themes of the gracious Speech, including laying the foundations for a fair, modern and global immigration system by seizing the opportunities of Brexit, doing more to redress the balance in the criminal justice system, and ensuring that victims receive the support they need and the justice they deserve. Both my noble friend Lady Williams and I look forward to hearing noble Lords’ contributions, given the wealth of experience represented on all sides of the House.

The Government are committed to making neighbourhoods safer and to ensuring that punishments fit the crime. People across the country are, rightly, appalled at the rise in violent crime. For that reason, the gracious Speech included a commitment to introduce legislation to ensure that the most serious violent and sexual offenders spend more time in prison, to match the severity of their crimes. The Government will also seek to strengthen community orders so that they deliver an appropriate level of punishment, address offenders’ behaviour, support people in addressing the potential underlying causes of their offending and provide reparation for the benefit of the wider community.

As well as getting tougher on criminals, the Government are determined to ensure that victims receive the support they need and the justice they deserve. To do that, we are accelerating plans to enshrine in legislation the rights to which victims are entitled, as set out in the victims’ code. We will publish the revised code in early 2020. We recognise that rights are meaningless without the means to enforce them. We want to legislate to ensure that victims understand the minimal level of service they can expect from criminal justice agencies and to increase the powers of the Victims’ Commissioner, who is already a powerful voice for victims. The Government will legislate for the new victims’ law to be consulted on early in the new year. These changes will ensure that victims of crime receive the very best support as well as the information they need at every stage of the criminal justice system.

For the families of murder victims there can be many unanswered questions. No one should endure the anguish of having a loved one murdered and then be denied the dignity of giving them a final resting place. That is why the Government have brought forward legislation to make sure that the Parole Board must take into account an offender’s failure to disclose the location of their victim’s remains. This legislation also addresses another situation where a failure to disclose information about victims causes particular distress: where offenders fail to disclose the identities of children who are the subject of indecent images. The Parole Board will similarly be required to take into account any failure to disclose the identity of victims when assessing offenders’ suitability for release.

Marriage will always be a vital aspect of our society and it is sad for those involved when a marriage fails, but when people take the decision to divorce, the legal process currently incentivises one spouse at the outset to make allegations about the other’s conduct to avoid otherwise waiting for at least two years of separation. The new process will remove the requirement to evidence a fact to prove that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. In the gracious Speech the Government reaffirmed their commitment to reform the current legal process, which can be especially damaging to any children of the relationship. As well as removing the conflict flashpoints inherent within the current legal process, the Bill will introduce a minimum timeframe for it. This will allow for greater reflection on the decision to divorce and for couples to approach arrangements for the future as constructively and co-operatively as possible.

Domestic abuse shatters lives and tears families apart. It is estimated that in the year ending March 2018, some 2 million adults between the ages of 16 and 59 experienced domestic abuse. The Domestic Abuse Bill and wider action plan will help to ensure that victims have the confidence to come forward and report their experiences, safe in the knowledge that the justice system and other agencies will do everything they can both to protect and support them and their children and to pursue their abusers. We need a society in which there is zero tolerance when it come to domestic abuse and which empowers people to confront it. This Bill will be a step towards doing that.

The Government are determined to seize the opportunities of Brexit and bring an end to free movement to ensure that the UK can deliver a new points-based immigration system which will prioritise people’s skills and contributions to our society. For years, politicians have promised the public an Australian-style points-based system. We will actually deliver on those promises. We also remain committed to ensuring that resident European citizens, people who are our friends, neighbours and colleagues, and who have built their lives here and contributed so much to this country, have the right to remain.

After Brexit, the Government will take forward measures to provide certainty and stability to ensure that the UK is a world leader in private international law. We will ensure that we can continue to have clear and effective legal rules in place for resolving cross-border disputes. For example, if a UK citizen is divorcing and seeking child maintenance payments from another parent living abroad, we will have an agreed international mechanism for resolving this. If a UK business is contesting a contract with an overseas party, an international framework will be available for resolving it. The availability of agreed international rules will give UK businesses, citizens and families the confidence to work, live and trade across borders and will help the UK to flourish as a trading nation as we leave the European Union.

I know that the House will want to join me in paying tribute to the brave police officers up and down the country who do so much to keep us safe. The tragic killing of Police Constable Andrew Harper this summer starkly illustrated how police officers put their lives on the line and sacrifice time and again to help others. In July, the Government committed to the recruitment of 20,000 police officers over the next three years. It is now only right that we give all police officers the protections they need to keep the population safe. That is why we are putting our commitment to a police covenant on a statutory footing. We will also introduce measures to strengthen the legal protection given to police drivers when pursuing a subject or responding to an emergency. This will ensure that the police have the protections they need to continue their vital work.

As well as further protections for our police officers, we will invest them with the power to arrest individuals wanted by trusted international partners. As it stands, people wanted for serious crimes by countries outside the EU cannot be arrested if the police come across them on the streets of the United Kingdom. This Bill is about making clear that, where a person is wanted for a serious crime in a country such as Canada or America and may be a danger to the public, we will get them off our streets faster and in front of a judge within 24 hours to allow extradition proceedings to commence.

We will also introduce measures to improve the justice system’s response to foreign nationals who abuse the system by committing crimes. Anyone coming to our country seeking to do so should be in no doubt of our determination to deport them. The Government are already working hard to improve the efficient and effective removal of foreign-national offenders from the UK, but tougher action is needed to stop abuse of the system, speed up the process for deporting foreign-national offenders and deter foreign criminals from coming to the UK. This Bill will significantly increase—from six months to five years—the maximum penalty for those who return to the UK in breach of a deportation order. This will send a clear message to criminals who seek to return to the UK in breach of the law: if you return, you will go to prison for a long time.

This Government have always been clear that we will tackle serious violence and make our streets safer. That is why, together with strong law enforcement, we are determined to stop young people being drawn into crime. We need to understand and address the factors that cause someone to commit violent crime in the first place. The new legal duty we will deliver will ensure that all agencies work together to share intelligence and identify warning signs so that we can intervene earlier, protect young people and prevent and reduce serious violence in local areas.

Nothing is more important than ensuring that people are safe in their homes. This Government will legislate to put in place new and modernised regulatory regimes for building safety and construction products, and ensure that residents have a stronger voice in the system.

One of this Government’s key priorities is the integrity and prosperity of the union that binds the four nations of the United Kingdom. We will continue to work with all parties in Northern Ireland to support the return of devolved government and to address the legacy of the past. We want to unleash the potential of every corner of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland by bridging the productivity gap, levelling up opportunity and prosperity across the nation and starting an infrastructure revolution.

As set out in the gracious Speech, the Government will bring forward our offer on devolution in England and a White Paper, along with refreshed strategies for the northern powerhouse, the Midlands engine and the UK shared prosperity fund. We are committed to invest in every area of the UK to boost jobs, productivity and living standards and, once the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, we will have a unique opportunity to devolve and empower regions across the country.

The measures outlined in the gracious Speech set out a clear direction for the future of Britain: a country with safer streets where punishments fit crimes but criminals are supported to overcome the causes of their behaviour; one where victims are supported throughout the justice process and after, so that they can move on and rebuild their lives; a society that values marriage but accepts the modern realities of divorce and has no tolerance when it comes to domestic abuse; one that gives the most legal protection possible to brave police officers who risk life and limb to keep us safe; a nation that values immigration and has enough control of its borders to welcome the skills it really needs and reject foreign criminals from our shores; one that addresses serious violence at its root causes to keep our young people safe from harm; a United Kingdom where every constituent part and region has the necessary political will, the right infrastructure and the ability to make decisions in its own best interest; one where opportunity is levelled up and every single person can thrive. Over the coming weeks and months, I look forward to debating with your Lordships the many measures that I have outlined today.