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My Lords, the great Freddie Trueman once played in a match against Oxford University. The young student coming out to face him was immaculate in his whites and absolutely perfect in his approach to the delivery to come. Trueman bowled and hit the middle stump; the wicket went clattering down. The young man adjusted his cap, walked past Trueman and said: “A damn fine ball, Trueman”. “Aye; it was wasted on thee”, said Freddie. I feel a bit like that speaking today, because this gracious Speech is a sham. The Times gave it away the day after the Speech, with its headline:
“Queen’s Speech sets out PM’s election manifesto”.
We are playing charades while the real battle takes place down the Corridor in another place. Even this afternoon, the Prime Minister, acting like Violet Elizabeth Bott, is threatening to pull the Brexit Bill if he does not get his way. The Government’s media claque grows ever more hysterical as Parliament resists being bounced into agreeing to a Brexit which is light years away from what was put to the country in 2016. I understand the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, to get on with things, but this decision will have an adverse impact on the prosperity and well-being of the people of this country for decades to come. It has been presented to the country with all the integrity of a second-hand car salesman trying to flog a car with a dodgy milometer and no logbook. To make the first priority of the Government, in the first line of the gracious Speech,
“to secure the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on 31 October”,
is no way to deal with the deep divisions Brexit has caused. On these Benches we will continue to argue for a people’s vote, with a clear choice between the Johnson deal and remain.
Noble Lords’ contributions today have been of high quality, exposing the gaps in this election manifesto in disguise. I will refer to one or two of these. The online harms Bill was not directly mentioned in the gracious Speech, but a parallel statement assured us that a draft Bill will be published shortly and be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, which I welcome. In the meantime, I urge the Government to reconsider their decision not to provide immediate protection for children from online pornography. I was astounded to see in last Sunday’s Observer an article quite out of the blue and with no explanation, with the headline:
“Farewell the ‘porn block’—a PR exercise and lousy policy”.
That did no justice to the work that has been done by my noble friends Lady Benjamin and Lord Clement-Jones, the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and others. It is a strange article for the Observer. There has also been an ambiguous attitude on the Labour Benches. I look forward to a clear statement of Labour’s policy on protecting children from porn. There is a real risk that we will talk for years while the danger is immediate. I urge this House to do what we can while we can, then get on with the pre-legislative scrutiny.
The gracious Speech, because it is designed to give some red meat to the Tory law and order campaign, has lots of promises of tougher and longer sentences in the fight against crime. But there is no mention of the strategy espoused by Michael Gove when he received the report on prison education by Dame Sally Coates in 2016, and endorsed by David Gauke less than a year ago, which determined to,
“put offenders on a path to employment as soon as they set foot in prison”.
The approach mirrors the attempt by my successor as chairman of the Youth Justice Board, Charlie Taylor, to run an education-led facility for young offenders. I make this reference because I believe that within our education policy rest a lot of the solutions to the problems facing the criminal justice system.
There is no mention in the gracious Speech of the need to extend the powers of the Freedom of Information Act to cover private companies carrying out outsourced public functions, as recommended by the Information Commissioner. Likewise, the gracious Speech is silent on the ongoing failure of the Conservative Party to carry out the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry into our press. The recent treatment of Ben Stokes, Gareth Thomas and the Duchess of Sussex is clear evidence that the press is still up to its bad old ways.
Finally, and returning in a way to education and to the theme that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned, we have to set in train the education and training to allow all our citizens, but particularly our young people, to be able to handle new technologies and new ways of receiving and giving information. I very much welcome the announcement today of the House’s Democracy and Digital Technologies Select Committee, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, but here again there is a real, live and present danger to our democracy. What worries me about the point the noble Lord, Lord Howell, made is that although we may say that small is beautiful, the power is still in the hands of the big corporations and they are misusing that power.