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Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:20 pm on 21st October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour 4:20 pm, 21st October 2019

My Lords, I congratulate the Government and welcome their initiative on the NHS. I assure them that, if they have the chance to put this in place, some of us on this side will ensure that it is well scrutinised and applied. I also welcome the long-awaited Domestic Abuse Bill. I hope that both Houses can come together to find the best way to ensure that this scourge is brought to an end.

I will pick up one minor point in this context. I welcome the Government’s initiative in bringing forward an SI on the alcohol abstinence monitoring requirement. When this was being debated about six years ago, I was involved, with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in persuading the Mayor of London to run a trial with it; another trial was introduced in another part of the country. Under this scheme, those found guilty of offences, in many instances involving violence, but who manage to avoid prison, are given community sentences to which are attached a requirement that they should not be taking drugs or alcohol. Monitoring, to make sure they stay sober, has been introduced on an experimental basis. Last week, I had a meeting with the Minister responsible and I am pleased that this is being embraced with enthusiasm and it is now intended to roll it out around the whole country.

This helpful development links to the Domestic Abuse Bill, because much domestic abuse is linked to drugs and, more particularly, alcohol abuse. My major criticism is that people will be kept under review and required to be tested for a period of 120 days. In our jails, people who have problems with drugs and alcohol are given assistance to get sober while they are inside, but when their sentence is over and they go back into the community, they frequently go around in the same old circle and end up recommitting offences, in many cases linked to drug and alcohol abuse. I therefore question whether looking at people for 120 days is enough. I have suggested to the Minister that he should convene a meeting of interested charities and voluntary organisations. Recognising the pressure on resources, we have to look to all the areas where we can get additional assistance. This might involve the voluntary sector, perhaps using organisations such as AA, which have tried-and-tested experience in assisting people to get permanent recovery. A small conference, bringing together interested parties, might find a way to give longer-term assistance and support, well beyond the 120 days. That would benefit not just those individuals but also their families, who are so often affected by the violence arising from drug and alcohol abuse. That is my major, modest contribution to this debate.

From listening to the debate so far, I have a few comments. I listened particularly to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and others who picked up the issue of democracy. I spoke on Saturday about our failure as leaders to respond to changes taking place in our communities. Technology is moving quickly and we find ourselves falling behind. People are expressing views and participating by using technology in a way unthought of five to 10 years ago. My guess is that this will move even faster, yet we are very slow in responding to it.

We talk about the constitution, and Scotland immediately comes to mind. There will be a referendum in Scotland. There will have to be an amazing change if there is to be a shift in public opinion in Scotland away from that, so it is an important issue. Northern Ireland and Ireland looms up again, with big changes possible. Even Wales is now splitting in its old party system, leading to completely new ideas emerging there. I suggest that we must spend more time in this Chamber, where we have so much expertise in the constitution and the law, and look at what is around the corner and how we can adapt and try to embrace it in a way that we have not done so far.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, talked about the problems we have: the country is split between from one region to another and we have to address this and find ways for people in those areas to express their views. In turn, we must be more open to change than we have been so far.