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Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:11 pm on 21st October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Conservative 5:11 pm, 21st October 2019

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, whom I know well from the National Assembly and who always has valuable insights, for which I thank her very much.

This is a very interesting time to debate a Queen’s Speech. We have waited a long while for one and now I suspect that there will be two along in close succession, just like the proverbial buses. It is also interesting that it gives us the ability to look beyond the pathological obsession that we have had with Brexit as a House, and indeed as a Parliament, to some of the important things that need doing in our country. Let there be no doubt about it: out there, down at the Dog and Duck, people want us to get on to other things, and this gives us an opportunity to consider some of them.

There is much to welcome in the Queen’s Speech. I particularly welcome the Domestic Abuse Bill, which has massive cross-party support and will be one of the lasting legacies of the previous Prime Minister, Theresa May. I very much welcome it. Following on from what the noble Baroness said about devolution, it is important to note that we need some constitutional underpinning for the devolution settlement. It is important that the different arms of government speak together to exchange best practice on different policy areas, and it is important that we have some institutions to do that. In a very small way, in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, I set up a devolution forum whereby Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England, or Westminster, could come together to discuss different policies. It was very valuable to be able to encourage other parts of the union in saying, “This works”, or, “This doesn’t work”, and I think that that should be picked up by other government departments. It is something that we really need to look at—it is unfinished work.

I personally welcome metro mayors, although there is more work to be done there. There is a gap in West Yorkshire, for example, that needs filling, but elsewhere it will be good to see what these proposals bring forward. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that the English part of this dimension is the dog that has not barked, and we certainly have to look at that.

Perhaps I may say a few words about housing, which we have not touched on but is vital and is, believe me, one of the topics discussed in the Dog and Duck. We need not just action on building more houses but when doing so—we are in control as a Government on garden towns and villages, for example—we need to make sure that practice in best design is embedded there. We need to ensure that we improve our accessibility standards; there is a classic opportunity on the back of the Hackitt review to help both the disabled and all of us as we age. It just makes sense to do that. I know that the Minister is personally committed to these things but I would welcome some reassurance from her that we are committed to good design—I know that the Secretary of State is—to accessibility improvement for homes, to doing something on energy improvements in homes to meet our climate change targets and to providing cheaper energy for the people who live there. This is imperative; somebody—I think my noble friend Lord Duncan during Questions—said that the climate change agenda is the most important challenge we face as a world. That is certainly the case.

Integration is vital, and tied in with concerns about population growth is the important work we are doing on that. Some of this is driven by statute and some by government policy, but I would welcome reassurance on resources for the teaching of English to people whose first language it is not. There are a lot of those people, and this is something that people are very concerned about out there—our surveys have shown that there is unity on this.

The race disparity audit, which is also very much to the credit of the previous Prime Minister, Theresa May, has shown what we all suspected: that those with the worst life chances in our population by some margin are Gypsies, Roma and Travellers. They have atrocious outcomes in health and education. It is high time that we really did something for these communities. I know that we are committed to this, but I would welcome some timeline on what we are doing because it really is important.

There is also the definition of Islamophobia. This country led the world on the definition of anti-Semitism; it is very important that we do the same on Islamophobia. I am not sure whether this will be given statutory effect, but it is important and we have started that work. It would be valuable if the Minister could give some timeline for this and restate that commitment.

In this same area, hate crimes have gone up atrociously. The very important anniversary is coming up in 2020 of remembering Srebrenica and the dreadful genocide that happened there 25 years ago. It is an important commemoration year. We have a valuable British Bosnian population; as a Government we have a commitment to ensuring that this is properly celebrated, so I would like reassurances on what they are doing to back up Waqar Azmi, head of Remembering Srebrenica, in this crucial year.

There is much to welcome here, particularly on domestic abuse and climate change, on which there is much to do in terms of our commitments. We have the Conference of the Parties in Glasgow in 2020, which is a great opportunity to lead the world on this issue. These are the challenges that will face us when we are through Brexit. I know we will not be through all of Brexit for some time, but, at least when we are through the major decision on it, for heaven’s sake, let us begin to tackle the things that really matter to the people of this country and will matter for years to come.