Debate (5th Day)
Moved on Tuesday 11 May by
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, it is a privilege and pleasure to open this fifth day of debate on Her Majesty’s most gracious Speech. Today’s debate on justice, home affairs and cultural issues will allow us to explore some of the key themes that Her Majesty expounded in her Speech last week. Many of these matters are central to a well-functioning society, including the recovery of our justice system in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic; the prevention of violent crime and the delivery of justice for victims; the basis and operation of our constitutional settlement; the way that our immigration and asylum systems work in practice; and how the United Kingdom will respond to digital and technological developments, including online safety and the security of our communications. Given the wealth of experience on all sides of the House, my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford and I look forward to hearing the contributions that will be made by noble Lords in today’s debate.
The last year was like none in recent memory and has been difficult for everyone. None the less, this Government have remained steadfast in responding to the Covid-19 crisis. The pandemic affected all areas of life, both private and public, and the justice system is no exception. The past year has been particularly challenging for our courts and tribunals, so I first, and importantly, want to express my gratitude to those working across the justice system, whose efforts over the last year meant that the wheels of justice never stopped turning. They are now turning faster: almost all jurisdictions are now completing cases at pre-pandemic levels.
However, we are aware that there is much further to go—so, as we begin a new Session and social distancing restrictions ease, one of our top priorities will be to accelerate the work already taking place to address the effects of the pandemic on courts and tribunals, and we will also use this opportunity to secure further improvements for our justice system. As such, we will implement measures to ensure that the Crown Courts are running to their maximum capacity, using every judge and courtroom available, with no limit on sitting days this year. We will learn from our experience with remote hearings and seek to retain them where appropriate. These measures will enable us to deliver swifter outcomes for victims who might otherwise see their cases delayed. We know the old adage: justice delayed is justice denied. We do not want to see justice denied to anyone, so we will work hard to speed up the justice system, as it emerges from the pandemic.
However, our commitment to delivering justice for victims does not end at trial, and it certainly does not begin there. We want to ensure that victims are supported and their rights recognised at every stage of the criminal justice system. During the last Session, we published a revised victims’ code, which set out the rights to which victims are entitled. We will now go further: we will work to ensure both the standard and the availability of victims’ rights, beginning with a consultation on a ground-breaking victims’ Bill that will enshrine the new code in legislation.
We are acutely aware that crimes such as domestic abuse, rape and sexual violence, which disproportionately affect women and girls, shatter not only the lives of the victims but also those of their families. The whole country was shaken earlier this year by the death of Sarah Everard, which was a harrowing reminder of the violence to which many—far too many—women and girls in our society are subjected. As such, in addition to the landmark Domestic Abuse Act passed last Session, we will continue to make supporting victims and survivors of these crimes a priority. We will publish the end-to-end rape review action plan, working to ensure that, at each stage of our justice system, from reporting and investigation to trial and sentence, rape cases are considered with the diligence and gravity that they deserve.
We will publish a new tackling violence against women and girls strategy and a domestic abuse strategy, which will work in tandem to drive real change in this area. We received 180,000 responses to our call for evidence to inform these strategies. The views of victims, survivors and the public will be at the heart of our approach. We will also review our national statement of expectations, to ensure that police and crime commissioners approach these crimes in a collaborative and robust way.
This approach reflects our wider strategy. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which has been held over from last Session, will further our commitment to being tough on crime and its perpetrators. We will give our police more powers to tackle crime, we will protect our emergency workers and increase sentences for those who would harm them, and we will establish a new, smarter approach to sentencing that sees our most dangerous criminals spend longer in prison.
I am aware that there has been a lot of discourse about the public order provisions in this Bill, much of which is based on a misunderstanding of what the provisions actually do and the genesis of the legislation. These measures have been portrayed by some as draconian and a dismantling of our civil liberties; this is both misinformed and wrong. The right to protest is a fundamental and important freedom—but so is the right to go about your business unhindered. These provisions allow police to take a more proactive approach in managing disproportionately disruptive protests, which place an unnecessary burden upon our citizens.
It is that sense of balance that permeates a lot of the work which this Government plan to deliver over the next Session, and nowhere is this more apparent than in relation to our work on the constitution and judicial review.
I am sure everyone will agree that our uncodified—I did not say unwritten— constitution is something to be both celebrated and preserved. That includes examining the fine and critical balance between the Executive, the judiciary and the legislature.
That is why we plan to introduce a judicial review and courts Bill, which will not only introduce many of the court recovery measures I mentioned earlier, but will work to restore the balance between our institutions of state. We want to protect the judiciary from being unnecessarily pulled into political matters. Let me be clear and unambiguous: this is not about abolishing judicial review. We will ensure the integrity of the judicial review process. But the idea, put about by some who should know better, that the judicial review process cannot be improved or that it must remain a no-go area for government is false. Public law is too important to be left only to public lawyers.
We are still considering the submissions made to the recent consultation, which itself built on the work by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, and his team, and considered further areas for reform. We expect to increase the flexibility provided to judges by ensuring, among other things, that more flexible and effective remedies are available, and to review the merits of the Supreme Court’s decision in Cart.
Our desire to ensure that our society’s vital systems function as fairly and as effectively as possible extends to our plans for the borders Bill that we will introduce. This will implement the most significant overhaul of our immigration and asylum systems for decades.
At the heart of this Bill is a simple principle: fairness. Presently, we have a generous asylum system that offers protection to the most vulnerable people around the world through defined safe and legal routes. But this system is collapsing under the pressure of parallel, often extremely dangerous, illegal routes to asylum, facilitated by criminals smuggling people into the UK.
We believe that access to our asylum system should be based on need and not on the ability to pay people smugglers. When people are dying, as they are, we have a duty to act. The Border Force already has a range of powers and capabilities to deal with maritime threats, but we will use this legislative opportunity to strengthen them further. We will introduce new powers to target the increasing use of vessels by criminal gangs to facilitate illegal entry to the UK.
Over and above that, our ability to enforce immigration laws, passed by and with the authority of Parliament, is being impeded, contributing to a downward trend in the number of people, including foreign national offenders, being removed from the UK. Our Bill will enable us to remove more easily those with no right to be here. Our time and resources should be directed to protecting and supporting those in genuine need of asylum, and to reclaim control of our borders.
Cicero’s maxim, “Salus populi suprema lex esto”—your Lordships will of course require no translation—remains absolutely true. The safety and security of the people of this country must be, and will be, the primary concern of this Government. We live increasingly in an online world, as the television screens above me show, so we also want to ensure that the United Kingdom is the safest place to be online as well as offline.
That is why we will deliver on our manifesto commitment to introduce an online safety Bill to set a global standard for safety online. It will include the most comprehensive approach yet to online regulation, requiring platforms and search engines contained within its scope to tackle illegal content and protect our young people from harmful material.
Major platforms will also be required to set out, with clarity, their own terms and conditions about legal but harmful content for adults, and to enforce these rules consistently and transparently.
The Bill will also enshrine in law safeguards for free speech. We will use this opportunity to defend freedom of expression and promote the valuable role of a free press that now exists online as much as it does in newsprint. This will allow us to usher in a new era of accountability for technology giants, and to protect our children, ensuring that future generations have a healthy relationship with the internet.
We are also aware of the importance of ensuring the long-term security and resilience of our telecommunications network. The Telecommunications (Security) Bill will create one of the most rigorous telecommunication security regimes in the world. It will protect and future-proof our networks as technologies grow and evolve, shielding our critical national infrastructure both now and in the future. It will allow us to manage the risks posed by high-risk vendors.
We will also ensure that the national telecommunications system flourishes. We will introduce a second Bill, the product security and telecommunications infrastructure Bill, to allow us to deliver on our connectivity ambitions by making sure that telecommunications equipment can be installed, shared and upgraded as quickly and efficiently as possible, and by assuring consumers that the smart devices that we all now bring into our homes—the so-called the internet of things—are secure. This legislation will underline the UK’s continued global leadership on cybersecurity and allow consumer-connected technology to continue to grow.
We also have to look at the threat posed to us by hostile activities from other states—a threat that is ever-growing, diversifying and evolving. Unlike terrorists, who rely on grabbing the public’s attention, this sort of hostile activity operates in the shadows and remains hidden. Although these acts fall short of open conflict, the consequences for our democracy, economic security and prosperity are real. To address this threat, we will introduce a counter state threats Bill, which will modernise our existing counter-espionage laws to reflect the modern threat and introduce modern legislative standards. It will create new offences, tools and powers to detect, disrupt and deter hostile activity in and targeted at the United Kingdom. We will do this through reform of the Official Secrets Acts 1911, 1920 and 1939, as well as the Official Secrets Act 1989, and the creation of a foreign influence registration scheme. The Home Secretary has published a public consultation on our proposals in this area, and the response to that consultation will help us shape the tools and powers at our disposal to make sure that they balance the protection of national security with the important rights and values that we all enjoy in the United Kingdom.
Lastly, we will introduce two new Bills to support the voluntary sector by reducing unnecessary bureaucracy for charities, and to unlock additional funds for good causes. The first is a charities Bill. Charities occupy a special place in our society, and the law should both protect and regulate them. The reforms that we introduce will remove or replace inappropriate and unnecessary burdens while safeguarding the public interest in ensuring that charities are properly run, so that charities will have more time and more resources to spend on their charitable objectives.
The second of these Bills is the Dormant Assets Bill. The dormant assets scheme has already released £745 million, including £150 million for Covid relief last year. Expanding the scheme using this Bill has the potential to unlock a further £880 million over the coming years.
These measures, as outlined in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, will set a clear direction for the future of our country. By implementing them, we will ensure that we are a country where swift justice is delivered to victims and meted out to perpetrators of crime, and that victims’ rights are respected and enshrined in the law of the land. We will ensure that our police, judges and border officials have the powers necessary to secure our society and protect our citizens. We will ensure that when they are online, as well as offline, our citizens are protected, and that our systems are robust and secure. In the wake of a life-altering pandemic, and a year of prolonged difficulty and disruption, we will ensure that our country has all the resources needed to build back better, stronger and safer. Over the coming weeks and months, I look forward to discussion, discourse and debate, with your Lordships and with others outside this House, about the many measures which it has been my privilege to outline today.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing today’s debate. It is a privilege for me to respond and open for the Opposition. I remind the House that I sit as a magistrate in London.
I look forward to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Fleet, who brings unparalleled experience in the arts, particularly music. I look forward to her maiden speech, and I also look forward to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook. She has a background as a former MP and in local government, and I note that she went to the same university as my daughter, which is no doubt a good omen.
I shall speak on the justice-related Bills and refer briefly to the DCMS Bills, and my noble friend Lord Kennedy will speak on the Home Office Bills. By way of background, a decade of cuts by the Conservative Government has left our justice system weak and vulnerable—and that was even before the pandemic began. Half of all courts in England and Wales were closed between 2010 and 2019; today there are 27,000 fewer court sitting days than in 2016. The Crown Court backlog, now more than 57,000 cases, has increased from 39,000 before the pandemic. Rape prosecutions are at an all-time low. Victims are being told to wait up to four years to get their day in court, which of course leads many to drop out of the system. Convictions for rape, robbery, theft, criminal damage and arson, drug offences and fraud have fallen to a 10-year low.
The Labour Party has called for the rapid extension of Nightingale courts and war juries of seven jurors, in an attempt to reduce the backlog, but the Government have not accepted our proposals. Beyond the pandemic, we need to increase sitting days to clear the backlog, provide greater support for legal aid, embrace technology where it works and restore victims’ faith in the justice system.
On judicial review and the courts Bill, the Government propose to introduce reforms to judicial review to, as they see it, protect the judiciary from being drawn into political questions. The Government are unhappy that their own panel has not advocated the widespread changes that they wanted, so they have announced further consultations on various aspects of judicial review to get a different answer. I have a specific question for the Minister. Why have the Government announced a further consultation on the use of ouster clauses, when their own review explicitly said not to do this? The Labour Party believes that judicial review is a key part of our constitution since it gives members of the public and organisations a legal forum to challenge the Government and public bodies when they act unlawfully.
On the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is a carryover Bill, the Government say that this legislation will increase sentences for the most serious and violent offenders and ensure the timely administration of justice. This is a large Bill which is poorly thought through. It is a mess and could lead to unintended consequences; for example, we could have harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman. In recent months and years, the Labour Party has worked constructively with the Government to, for example, increase maximum sentences for front-line workers and increase sentences for terrorists. We would like a similar constructive approach to this Bill, and call on the Government to drop their poorly thought-out proposals and focus their legislation on tackling violence against women and girls. Why not use this Bill, as well as the victims Bill, to enact a more comprehensive strategy to protect women and girls? Indeed, yesterday the Labour Party published a “green paper” with a number of suggested policy proposals to end violence against women and girls, which could be adopted through this and Home Office legislation.
Having said that, we believe there are good and important parts of this Bill. Some of those have come from Labour MPs: Stephanie Peacock on dangerous driving, Holly Lynch and Chris Bryant on protecting the protectors, John Spellar on reform of the DBS system and Sarah Champion on sexual abuse by people in a position of trust—all this as well as reforms taken from the Lammy Review. We believe that the Government are undermining the parts of the Bill that we support through unnecessarily draconian measures on free expression and the right to protest. There is no evidence that I have seen that these more severe measures will do anything to reduce reoffending. The Minister said that many of the protests are misinformed, and I hope that he is right; we will look forward to exploring that when we come to the legislation.
I move on to the victims Bill. It has been a long wait for this Bill, which was first announced in the 2016 gracious Speech. In fact, Keir Starmer, when he first became an MP in 2015, introduced a Private Member’s Bill, co-drafted with the Victims’ Commissioner for London, which in many ways underpins this Bill. Speaking as a magistrate who sits in both adult and youth jurisdictions in London, I rarely see a victim in court, and it is also relatively unusual to have a victim impact statement read out in court—although I acknowledge that this has improved in recent years.
There are many things that we can do to improve the legal rights and the experience of victims, both inside and outside court. I look forward to working constructively with the Government to enshrine victims’ rights in legislation and protect those who suffer persistent anti-social behaviour.
I will briefly refer to the four DCMS Bills. The charities Bill will introduce a range of Law Commission recommendations. We support this Bill; we will be focusing on the issues of governance and transparency and on ensuring that they are not watered down through the Bill.
With regard to the Dormant Assets Bill, the Minister said that he hoped to get £880 million by unlocking further assets. We support that and look forward to working with the Minister on it.
Next is the product security and telecommunications infrastructure Bill. As the Opposition, we would be concerned about reforms to the electronic communications code. There is a lot of detail in this Bill, and we will wait to see it before we consider our approach.
The Telecommunications (Security) Bill is a carryover Bill. While there were some amendments in the Commons, we agree with its general thrust.
Finally, I want to talk about the online safety Bill. The Minister used some expansive language in talking about this Bill: he spoke of setting global standards to which other countries could aspire. However, nobody knows better than the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, the great strength of feeling in this House on the slowness of the introduction of the Bill. During the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act and many other bits of legislation there has been constant frustration at the fact that we are not getting on with this Bill. We understand that there will be pre-legislative scrutiny by both Houses, and that the intention is to enact a statutory duty of care, to be enforced by Ofcom that would require companies to prevent the spread of illegal content and activity online.
The Bill is presented as a once-in-a-generation opportunity for legislation, and the Government’s thinking appears to be a continuation of the self-regulatory approach that we have seen to date. This approach has failed our children. Online crimes are proliferating, and people’s rights online remain confused and unclear. The Government’s decision to water down its legislative proposals and hold back on criminal sanctions for company executives will continue to put children and others at risk.
This will be a complex piece of legislation, and it will be one of the most important in recent years. Although Ofcom has been named as the regulator, it is far from clear that it will have the powers or resources needed to address the issues that it will face. The noble Lord gave a good example of disinformation. We see it on an almost daily basis—in fact we see disinformation being spread about, for example, vaccines and their use literally daily. That is another reason why this legislation is so important.
Keeping children safe is the most important task we have. If children were being abused and put at risk in the same way offline as they are online, people would rightly go to jail. Criminal sanction for senior executives is the most direct way to get large corporations to take their responsibilities seriously.
We routinely co-operate across parties to amend legislation in this House. Sometimes the Government say that they welcome this approach. I hope that we can continue to co-operate with all corners of the House to improve this legislation.
My Lords, I first pay tribute to her Majesty the Queen as we enter her Platinum Jubilee year. Her example of a lifetime of public service at the highest level is extraordinary. I am also greatly looking forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady Fullbrook and Lady Fleet—the first of many valuable contributions to this House, I am sure.
As we consider the home affairs, justice and culture aspects of the Queen’s Speech, I remind the House of the comments of my noble friend Lord Newby, who said last week:
“The Queen’s Speech contains many Bills of second-order importance but none offering fundamental change”.—[Official Report, 11/5/21; col. 16]
I would go further. The Government seem to be continuing along the same path, following policies where the broadsheet analysis of the right-wing tabloid headline shows the negative unintended consequences of government policy.
One of our strongest sectors is culture, yet the only legislation in that space is the online safety Bill, which is an inadequate reaction to protecting children and other vulnerable internet users who are being exposed to things online that they would be protected from in the physical world. Meanwhile, there is nothing to encourage or facilitate our musicians and performers, who are facing the disastrous twin impacts on their livelihood of a global pandemic and restrictions on their ability to tour in the European Union.
We on these Benches believe in freedom and fair play—what some might call traditional British values. That includes the freedom to succeed no matter who you are or what your background or backstory is, and the freedom of the individual from unnecessary interference by government. Yet this Conservative Government seek to unfairly discriminate, further marginalising minorities and the poor, further limiting challenges to government overreach, and pursuing populist policies where the evidence clearly shows that they do not work. This is a Queen’s Speech of promising headlines with unintended negative consequences.
Proposals to ensure that speakers are not “no-platformed” in universities make it more likely those with radical views—ones that need to be heard, challenged and debated—are not invited in the first place. The electoral integrity Bill is a solution in search of a non-existent problem, and is likely to disproportionately disfranchise the poor and ethnic minorities.
Whether through the extension of treason offences, or longer and longer prison sentences for existing offences, not only are the Government pursuing a policy that has proved to be ineffective in deterring criminals, they are adding to overcrowding in prisons, making rehabilitation more difficult and radicalisation easier. Sedition has its roots in the perceived unfairness of society, and draconian punishment is one of those unfairnesses.
In their immigration proposals, the Government seek to penalise legitimate asylum seekers, contrary to our international obligations on refugee resettlement. This is not because they do not have a valid and lawful right to seek sanctuary in the UK, but because they arrive here by what the Government consider the wrong route. For the majority of those desperate enough to put their lives at risk by crossing the channel, there is no alternative safe and legal route to take. There is currently no way for those being bombed in Syria by their own President, or those caught between warring factions in Yemen, to claim asylum within their own country. All UK resettlement schemes are currently closed, with no plans or timetable for reopening them, nor for establishing new ones.
Instead of first establishing or re-establishing resettlement schemes and setting targets for the number of asylum seekers to whom the UK will give sanctuary, the Government are spending millions of pounds on barbed wire and enforcement patrols on the French coast. They are forcing legitimate asylum seekers into the hands of people traffickers—the only people who know how to get around the increased security measures.
One people smuggler, quoted by the Guardian, said:
“We thank your government for our full pockets.”
If you say to voters in the red or blue wall, “Look at these illegal immigrants crossing the channel”, you encourage xenophobia. If you say, “This is the only way these desperate people, who are not safe in their own country, can seek sanctuary here”, you encourage understanding. It is a choice, and the Conservative Government, through their immigration proposals, are choosing the former.
In the year of the 40th anniversary of the Brixton riots, this Conservative Government choose to ignore the recommendations of the Scarman report and instead condone enforcing the law over maintenance of the Queen’s peace, as we saw at the Clapham Common vigil. At the same time, they fail to address the unfairness, discrimination and waste of scarce police resources on disproportionate stop and search.
Placing further restrictions on protests might seem reasonable in the light of the Extinction Rebellion protests last year. I know from years of experience as an advanced public order-trained senior police officer that it takes several degrees of magnitude more police officers to enforce a ban on a demonstration than it does to work with organisers to ensure compliance with conditions. Outside London, the majority of police leaders consulted by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said that it was not a lack of legislation but a lack of police resources that was the limiting factor in policing protests.
What are the consequences? Following the tragic case of Sarah Everard, the Mayor of London claimed that women and girls were not safe on the streets of London. The commissioner of the Met barely qualified that statement last week, when she said that the streets were
“not safe for everyone all of the time.”
The streets of London are not safe because police officers are increasingly being withdrawn from their beats to enforce bans on demonstrations and because they are targeting stop and search on black people, looking for drugs. You are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs if you are black, but no more likely than white people to be found with drugs. The overwhelming majority of stop searches are for drugs, not for knives. No wonder the black community still feels “overpoliced and underprotected”, as a black clergyman told the Macpherson inquiry into the tragic death of Stephen Lawrence.
We all want the freedom to be able to walk our streets in safety and for our women friends and family to walk safely down any street at any time. For this to happen, we must restore a visible policing presence, as the National Police Chiefs’ Council said yesterday. We do not want even more of our police officers sitting in police vans, ready to enforce a ban on a peaceful protest —which is the likely consequence of the Government’s proposals. We do not want our police officers wasting their time stopping and searching innocent people in the vain hope of finding a small quantity of drugs. We want violent criminals to be in fear of the police, not for women and girls to be in fear of men.
Fair play is not just about protecting the most vulnerable. It is part of what makes us proud to be British. Fair play is not just about ensuring lawful protest and that black people feel welcomed and protected. It is about focusing scarce police resources on ensuring everyone’s freedom to walk the streets in safety. Freedom and fair play are what make our country great. This Government’s proposals are in danger of undermining that greatness.
My Lords, I shall focus not on asylum but on immigration. I declare a non-financial interest as president of Migration Watch UK.
Noble Lords may have seen a recent article in the Times by the noble Lord, Lord Hague. He referred to extraordinary events in France, where two groups of retired military officers have declared that their country is disintegrating—yes, disintegrating. A subsequent opinion poll found that nearly three-quarters of the French public agreed. The main theme of the article by the noble Lord, Lord Hague—with which I entirely agree—was the vital importance of a shared national identity. His view is that its promotion in the UK has become a matter of urgency.
I have three important points to add. First, this will not be possible unless and until immigration is sharply reduced. For the time being, the public believe the Government’s claims that they are taking measures for this purpose. For reasons I have set out elsewhere, the Government will fail in this matter.
Secondly, recent work has shown that high migration, combined with the higher birth rates in some immigrant communities—and a generally younger age structure—are driving major changes across the UK. We now find that about a third of all children born in England and Wales have at least one foreign-born parent. In both primary and secondary state schools in England, around one-third of all pupils are from an ethnic minority background. In the population of Great Britain, the share of ethnic minorities, including other Europeans, has nearly doubled to 21% in just 20 years. In more recent years, more the 90% of our population increase has been due to immigration.
Thirdly, there can be no doubt that the whole nature of our society is changing very rapidly and at an accelerating pace. Meanwhile, the public are instinctively aware of this and are, albeit privately, very concerned. A recent YouGov tracking poll found that nearly 60% say that immigration has been too high during the past decade. That is about 30 million adults.
That is enough about numbers. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, will be a valuable addition to this House. She put it very well in her report of December 2016:
“It is not racist to say that the pace of change from immigration in recent years has been too much for some communities.”
People are understandably uncomfortable when the character and make-up of a town change out of all recognition in five or 10 years.
In calling for a sharp and sustained reduction in net migration, I am conscious that I shall be strongly opposed by those who profit from immigration, whether politically or economically. My answer is clear: these are vital issues for the future of our country. Having been appointed to your Lordships’ House for my work in this area, I think it no less than my duty to speak for those who have entirely valid concerns which our political system is simply not addressing.
My Lords, I too look forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook and Lady Fleet. In my few minutes, I shall briefly mention women in the criminal justice system, the Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill, violence against women and girls and the online safety Bill. I refer to my interests in the register, as Anglican bishop to prisons.
I begin by asking: when will we see a renewed timetable for the 2018 female offender strategy? While I welcome the implementation of some of the deliverables, analysis by the Prison Reform Trust shows that the Government have met less than half the commitments. The concordat published last year does not appear to have been progressed. Then there was that shocking announcement of 500 new prison places for women, totally at odds with the strategy’s direction to reduce the number of women in prison. What evidence is it based on, and why is the designated £150 million not being spent on women’s centres and implementing the concordat?
The Government have pledged to give every child the best start in life. I am a big proponent of prioritising the early years. But, related to today’s subject, I would say that if one of the justifications for the new prison places is to allow children to stay overnight with their mothers, this seems a strange way to implement the Farmer review findings. It would be far better if those mothers who do not need to be in prison were supported in the community with their children. Again, why are policy proposals seemingly ignoring evidence and expertise?
Perhaps that is a good segue into the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. In our scrutiny, we will need to ask whether it is supported by the evidence available and reflects a clear strategy and ethos that can be justified ethically. While I welcome certain proposals, such as diversion and community cautions and empowering problem-solving courts, other aspects raise serious concerns. For example, the use of life sentences for younger offenders seems to undermine any chance of reform and redemption. The measures relating to longer sentences seem to ignore the fact that decades of lengthening sentences have done nothing to improve outcomes for offenders or prevent cycles of reoffending. Yet the myth is perpetuated that longer sentences will provide greater public protection. Rather than policies being driven by evidence, it seems that they are driven by populist views and some headline cases. Furthermore, there is a woefully little focus on rehabilitation and what happens during someone’s sentence. Thus, victims and communities, as well as offenders, are poorly served, and longer sentences will only put more pressure on our overcrowded prisons. It is also troubling that after all that has transpired in recent years, little attention is paid to racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
We did good work in this House on domestic abuse with the Act. Yet a number of issues remain, not least the vulnerability of migrant victims. The pilot project must be closely watched. I look forward to the publication of the violence against women and girls strategy, and, once again, I commend Australia’s framework for primary prevention. I would also welcome greater consideration of the contributions of faith groups in the future VAWG strategy.
I want to end by commenting on the draft online safety Bill. Within the commendable commitments to safety, there is still work to do. From my conversations with young people around physical appearance and self-worth, I urge the Government to encourage more diverse representation in advertising and to ban, or at least restrict, the use of altered images.
I must close. I will finish by encouraging the Government to ensure that future legislation is based on evidence and research and underpinned by a clear ethos of the flourishing of all people.
My Lords, it is the greatest honour and privilege to address your Lordships for the first time. I have received such a warm welcome and so much helpful advice from all sides of this House. I thank noble Lords. In particular, I thank Black Rod and the doorkeepers, who have answered all my questions with knowledge and cheerful courtesy. I must also offer my thanks and gratitude to both my supporters—my noble friends Lord Trimble and Lord Arbuthnot. I was the council leader in the constituency of my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot when he was a Member of the other place. His guidance, intellect and good humour saw us take on many issues together. My noble friend Lord Trimble is an inspiration of mine.
As a Glasgow-born descendant of Ulster Scots with strong ties in both Scotland and Northern Ireland, I was seen by my company as ideal to be sent to Belfast for my first ever audit assignment—my first ever proper job—as a young woman in the 1980s. That assignment lasted for two years during the hunger strikes and the Troubles, and I saw the devastation brought to all people of Northern Ireland during my time there. I went on to spend over 20 years in senior management roles with several international blue-chip companies, working mainly in Europe and Africa and, latterly, in the Middle East.
But back home, having never considered elective politics, I experienced first-hand the fear, misery and devastating impact that illegal encampments have on the lives of law-abiding people. But what truly astounded me is that local victims of this criminal behaviour came second to the lawbreakers by a long way. This experience dramatically changed the direction of my life, as I put myself forward and was elected as a councillor to Hart District Council in Hampshire. Within a year, I was leading the council.
Before entering the other place in 2010, I was for several years the first executive director of Women2Win, working alongside my new Whip, as well as my noble friend Lady Jenkin of Kennington and the former Prime Minister, the right honourable Theresa May. By the time I had stepped down, we had seen Conservative women MPs triple in number, not through quotas or women-only shortlists, which I totally oppose, but through support, advice and training so that good, able women could navigate the political world—for women to contribute to their fullest. Many of those Women2Win alumni are still serving proudly in the other place.
I was the first female to represent the constituency of South Ribble in Lancashire. But through my passion for law and order I was drawn to the home affairs brief, and I was fortunate to serve on the Home Affairs Select Committee for five years in the other place, with a personal focus on policing, counterterrorism and the trade in narcotics. Given my experience of local government and on the Home Affairs Select Committee, I would like to take this opportunity to state my support for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill outlined in Her Majesty’s most gracious Speech. This Government are committed to protecting and empowering our police by passing the police protection Bill and introducing new powers to tackle unauthorised Traveller camps while empowering the courts to tackle crime and ensuring a fair justice system. It is clear to me that this Bill contains several important measures to support the delivery of those commitments. I would like to mention some specific elements of the Bill.
Experience has taught me that unauthorised encampments create significant challenges for local authorities and cause distress and misery to those who live nearby. Unfortunately, as I have found all too often, current law enforcement provisions are simply inadequate to deal with the scale of the disruption these invasions have caused. Therefore, I support the measures to create the criminal offence of residing in a vehicle on land without permission. A person guilty of this offence will be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale—currently £2,500—or both.
If we are to look after our communities, we must ensure that the police are provided with sufficient powers to effectively and efficiently enforce against a range of harms caused by unauthorised camps. I believe this new offence and strengthened police powers will also deter the setting up of unauthorised camps in the first place. As we emerge from this tragic pandemic, it is right that the Government seek to lead with a programme that does just that.
I thank noble Lords again for their kind welcome to this House, and I look forward to working with all noble Lords for the good of the country.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Fullbrook. We have been friends for many years, since long before her distinguished career as a councillor, council leader and Member of the other place. She led her council with great style, committed to producing quality services at an affordable price. That commitment to public service was further evidenced by her time in the other place. Her full title refers to Dogmersfield, which is Anglo-Saxon for a field of waterlilies—a fitting title for a noble Baroness.
I would like to say a few brief words in support of the election Bill. Many of the measures are based on recommendations that I made to the Government a few years back. Voter fraud is, by its very nature, covert and difficult to prove. A system that relies on trust is vulnerable to manipulation. We have ignored those concerned with the administration of elections, and overseas observers, for too long. Now is the time to make our ballot boxes safe.
The most important provision is on postal votes: banning party campaigners from handling postal votes altogether; stopping the practice of “harvesting” by limiting the number of postal votes that one person may hand in on behalf of another; extending the secrecy provisions that currently protect voting in polling stations to absent voting, so that it will be an offence for anyone to attempt to find out who a postal voter has chosen to vote for; and requiring those registered for a postal vote to reaffirm their identities by reapplying for a postal vote every three years. Postal voting will remain on demand but require renewal every three years. The total number of people for whom someone can act as a proxy would be limited to four, regardless of their relationship.
There seems to be opposition verging on hysteria to the sensible provision of voter ID, which would bring the United Kingdom in line with other democracies. In this respect, the Government have moved further than I recommended by insisting on photo ID. I am relaxed about this for two reasons. First, the number of people possessing photo ID has increased since my report. The pandemic has given that a push. Secondly, the Government have shown flexibility about what photo IDs are permissible. We are no longer restricted to passports and driving licences, but a much wider selection—including various concessionary travel passes, work pass cards, Ministry of Defence cards and blue badge parking permits, and even my OAP bus pass—would qualify. The result is that 98% of the voting population has a form of ID that would qualify. That figure, for ethnic minorities, goes up a further percentage point to 99%. The Electoral Commission and the OSCE support the measure; both organisations have warned about Britain’s vulnerability to voter fraud for years. Neither organisation would support voter suppression.
I agree with the Labour Minister’s assessment introducing this same measure for Northern Ireland in 2003:
“The measures will tackle electoral abuse effectively without disadvantaging honest voters.”—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/01; col. 739.]
I also agree with the Labour official on the introduction of photo ID for Labour Party elections when he said,
“It is rare members have no form of ID.”
The Bill contains sensible measures that will make our ballot boxes safe.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on her maiden speech and look forward to clashing with her over the years to come. I look forward to the noble Baroness, Lady Fleet, making her maiden speech today.
The right honourable Member for Haltemprice and Howden, speaking on the Queen’s Speech, said that he was concerned about an
“illiberal solution in pursuit of a non-existent problem.”
He was talking about the Bill to which the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, has just referred, but he might have been talking about several elements of other Bills as well. As with so much, there are elements of each of the pieces of legislation that have been put forward in this Session of Parliament with which you can agree; other parts lead to very grave concerns.
Very briefly, I will mention the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. I have got no problem dealing with anarcho-syndicalists who misuse and abuse the privilege of freedom to encourage others to do things they would never otherwise have done. I think we need, however, to be absolutely sure that we do not put the police in an impossible position, where they are making impossible judgments based on changes in the law, which will either not be implementable, and therefore ineffective, or will cause the exact opposite of the problem that they were trying to resolve. I hope we will be able to deal with this in your Lordships’ House effectively, amending those parts relating to public order.
I want to concentrate, in the short time available, on the issue of immigration. The Minister referred to border officials having the resources. Tell that to the people, in the limited numbers that are currently allowed in, coming through Heathrow. Either the decision by the Home Secretary is because of incompetence or indifference or intent. It has to be one of those three, and if it is intent, then the lack of application of resources is causing not only major hold-ups but, in doing that, causing the likelihood of a greater spread of infection. If we cannot get that right in the months ahead, how on earth are we going to deal with the complex piece of legislation that creates two tiers of asylum seekers, in circumstances where we claim that we can send people back to countries that will not have them and were not aware of their presence in the first place? Having pulled out of Europol, no longer having the European arrest warrant, having disengaged effectively from working on organised crime across borders and detached ourselves as an island, it ill becomes the Government to then say that we are going to find ways of returning people to countries that will not have them.
We need a much more sophisticated approach. In the year leading up to the pandemic, 32,000 people were turned away because of the measures that were taken in 2003 to put immigration and security officials on European soil, enabling us to turn people back not just on Eurostar but at the border itself so they did not actually reach Britain. More of that effective work, across countries, tackling the criminals that the Minister quite rightly referred to in his speech, would be the way forward. I hope we will be able to do that in a way that, in reference to the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Green, does not counterweight the decision to welcome Hong Kong residents—27,000 to begin with, but possibly half a million over the five years ahead—by making it impossible for other people to make their way to this country and claim their international rights. That would be a great disservice to the name of our country as well as, by the way, to those we are welcoming from Hong Kong.
In essence, there is a great deal we can do in this Queen’s Speech that will be extremely welcome out there—the victims Bill is an obvious one, and the online safety Bill is another. But let us also be clear that, if we do not get the measures right, instead of the bluster and frippery that substitutes for clear thinking and positive action, then we will let people down. In making it possible to take practical measures, we build trust. When we tell people—as I know from my time in Government—that we are going to do something that in our hearts we know is impossible, we lose their trust. While the Government are riding high at the moment, in a few years’ time some of the measures that have been outlined in the Queen’s Speech will catch up with them, and people will realise that they have been misled.
I join in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on her maiden speech.
The Government say they want to build back better— an aim we share, as we do levelling up—but I have a major concern, already mentioned by my noble friend Lord Paddick. There is a deafening silence about the creative and cultural sector, whose contribution to the economy was £111.7 billion pre pandemic. Its huge contribution to well-being is not so easily demonstrated through figures, but we all know it to be true. It is a sector whose very nature is about levelling—about the communality of humanity—and it is a sector for which Covid has been nothing less than catastrophic. While the Government have been generous with their rescue packages, there is much that has left a terrible legacy.
First, there is the effect on individuals. The vast majority of cultural workers are self-employed; they are the ones who fell through the gap and who have largely found themselves ineligible for the support on offer. This has led to a damaging migration of people from the creative workforce. The Government’s skills agenda must recognise this and, in particular, that those hardest hit have been from lower-income, diverse and disabled communities. Does the Minister not agree that addressing this is an essential part of levelling up?
Secondly, live events were inevitably particularly affected. Help is at hand—introduce a Government-backed insurance scheme, as has been done for TV and film. But the Secretary of State has provided a positively Catch-22 response to this request: no support until live events are possible again and it becomes clear, which it will, that they cannot happen because of insurance market failure. This is too late. Live events involve planning; it is not a matter of switch on, switch off. Does the noble Baroness not agree that an indemnity insurance scheme should be put in place right now? It is not expenditure but investment.
Then there is the major problem faced over touring. Here, the restrictions of Covid have been exacerbated by the fact that the creative sector was dealt a no-deal Brexit. Can the Minister report on progress towards achieving a bespoke visa waiver agreement with the EU and bilateral agreements with member states that do not offer cultural exemptions?
Returning to skills, the acquiring of a skill begins at school, but successive Conservative Governments consistently and persistently undervalue and undermine arts education, first via the EBacc, then via proposals to scrap the performing arts BTEC, and now HE and the announcement that there is to be a 50% funding cut to arts subjects. “STEM not STEAM” has been the mantra—totally ignoring the fact that there should not be a choice between arts and science: they are symbiotic. The success of the iPhone is as much about the design genius of the UK’s own Sir Jonathan Ive as the tech genius of Steve Jobs, yet this Government say that arts subjects are not strategic priorities. This is the same Government whose industrial strategy prizes the creative industries as a “priority sector”. This is baffling. Can the Minister explain the disconnect? Will she listen to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, last week that the cuts are “misguided and ill judged”?
Finally, among the most successful drivers of our world-beating creative sector are our PSBs, in particular the BBC. PSBs held us together during the pandemic, providing news that people could trust and, in the case of the BBC, essential support for home schooling. What the PSBs need is prominence extended to all digital TV platforms. What they do not need is an underfunded BBC and a privatised Channel 4. This is a world-leading sector that we have. Global Britain needs it—so support it, do not unravel it. Culture, creativity and our public service broadcasters will be central to getting us through this next period, both the recovery and the renewal.
My Lords, there are two sentences in the gracious Speech on which I should like to comment. The first is:
“Legislation will be introduced to … restore the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the courts.”
The second is:
“Measures will be brought forward to establish a fairer immigration system.”
The first I understand to be a reference to proposals in the Government’s response to the Independent Review of Administrative Law under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. The second is a reference to the proposals in the Government’s New Plan for Immigration.
Both of these documents were issued by the Government in March. They were both put out for consultation, but the consultation period in each case was only six weeks. Given that this period included the Easter bank holiday weekend, this surely was far too short to allow sufficient time for all those affected or interested to comment in detail on these far-reaching proposals—and, of course, the time allowed today is far too short, too. I do hope that time will be found for this House to debate them fully before the legislation is introduced. In the meantime, I will make the following points.
First, with regard to any reform of judicial review, it is important to note that most of these proposals can apply to England and Wales only. I leave it to others more familiar with that system than I am to comment, but Scotland has its own system of judicial review, which is devolved. On the whole, Scotland has been able to align itself fairly closely with the system in England, but it may not be willing to do that if the reforms are pressed too far. That could lead to forum shopping, as I was able to do under the then current rules when I was still in practice to successfully challenge the Government’s policy on aviation in Scotland. It should also be noted that the justification for the abolition of the so-called Cart reviews, which is questionable in England and Wales, is even more so on the figures that relate to Scotland.
Secondly, on the New Plan for Immigration, there is much to be concerned about. The new two-tier system that is proposed appears to be based on discriminating against asylum seekers depending on how they arrived in the UK. Those who use irregular routes of entry, involving passage through a third country, will be considered to be inadmissible. This seems to run counter to the overriding objective of the reforms, which we are told is fairness and access to asylum based on need. For most asylum seekers, unauthorised entry is the only means they have of entering the UK, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, pointed out. Further, the fact that no successor agreement to the Dublin III regulation has been developed means that there are currently no safe and legal routes for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to enter the UK from the EU—so they too will be discriminated against under the proposed two-tier system. I find myself in full agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, that a more sophisticated approach is needed to deal with these problems.
There is also an absence of detail in the plan about how the Government would secure a returns agreement with the safe country through which those who have used an irregular route will have passed, or how they will be protected when they get there. The proposal to remove support from those who arrived by an irregular route but cannot be returned is also very worrying. For them, that would mean destitution. Are we turning our back on our treaty obligations once again?
My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of Members’ interests. In the gracious Speech, the Government have promised measures to ban conversion therapy. No one should seek to justify dangerous medical or other practices that are abhorrent, coercive or humiliating in the name of so-called conversion therapy, but freedom to carry out legitimate religious activities, such as preaching the gospel, prayer and pastoral support, must not be hindered or criminalised. People have a right to seek spiritual counsel, and threatening preachers who fulfil their God-given duty is a serious denial of religious freedom. Indeed, the coverage of this issue is quite prejudiced against biblical Christianity.
Preachers who faithfully expound God’s word and call people to repentance and salvation—will the Government’s proposed legislation limit or criminalise them? I note that the Education Secretary in the other place has heralded the Queen’s Speech as a “milestone moment” and that universities could be fined if they fail to protect free speech on campus. But recently a 71 year-old pastor was forcibly pulled down from the steps on which he was standing in west London and led away with his hands cuffed behind his back for exercising his religious liberty to preach. He suffered some injury to his wrists and elbow. Recently, Blackpool Council banned adverts from the Lancashire Festival of Hope and it took a court’s intervention to overturn that decision. Also, the Robertson Trust terminated a contract to rent its premises to Stirling Free Church and ordered it to leave. There is open hostility to the Christian belief in marriage. It makes me wonder: are we losing our religious liberties here in the United Kingdom? I challenge this Government to reaffirm their commitment to freedom of speech and religious belief.
In the gracious Speech the Government promised to increase sentences for the most serious and violent offenders, yet many in Northern Ireland fear that we are being told that those who brutally murdered our loved ones may never have to face the possibility of a criminal conviction or imprisonment. After the release of the report into what was termed the Ballymurphy massacre—I offer my genuine condolences to those families—I received a text which included photographs of 30 innocent victims of IRA terrorism with these words: “Where is our truth and justice?” The answer is, they have received none. There has been no justice for the families of Teebane, where 14 innocent construction workers were blown up. Eight were murdered and the rest still bear serious injuries. On that unforgettable night, I personally walked among the dead and assisted the injured into the ambulances. What about justice for the massacres of Kingsmill, Enniskillen, Warrenpoint and so on? Yet no Sinn Féin leader has been ordered to any dispatch box to unreservedly apologise for their evil deeds; nor have they offered to go and look the innocent families of their victims in the eye and tell them why their loved ones had to die, as Mary Lou McDonald asked our Prime Minister to do. There is one law for them and another for everybody else.
As for Ballymurphy, I note that no one has mentioned that, prior to those killings, seven British soldiers were murdered by the IRA, when it is widely accepted that Gerry Adams was the so-called officer commanding. I will read out their names lest we forget their sacrifice: British soldier George Hamilton, aged 21; Stephen McGuire, 20; Alan Buckley, 22; Eustace Hanley, 20; George Lee, 22; James Jones, 18; and Brian Thomas. They were all murdered in Ballymurphy by IRA gunmen.
I acknowledge that the pain and heartache experienced right across the community is the same but I will not allow Irish Republicans to equate British soldiers with terrorists. Neither will I allow to go unchallenged the vexatious claims against veteran soldiers or police officers simply for the promotion of anti-British propaganda. Successive Governments sent our young soldiers out for the purpose of protecting the community and preserving law and order, but every terrorist went out with lust for blood, deliberately aiming to leave some home in grief or a child fatherless. Justice demands that the legacy of our past in Northern Ireland is tackled, but to rely on some supposed truth-telling exercise is totally unacceptable. Remember that Gerry Adams still denies that he was ever in the IRA. My appeal to this House is that justice is not for the chosen few, nor for those who shout the loudest, but for all.
My Lords, we heard a beautifully balanced maiden speech by my noble friend Lady Fullbrook. I congratulate her and look forward to more.
The gracious Speech commits the Government to addressing “racial and ethnic disparities”. Bravo! Britain is not an outrageously racist society. My own personal life has been overwhelmingly enriched and indeed transformed by the opportunity to embrace friends and loved ones of a different colour and culture. I am not an exception; that applies to millions. I am not making an argument to sit back and be self-satisfied but an argument for balance, context, and for looking for the abundant good in society and building on it, not pretending that things are worse than they are and exploiting ignorance. Yet, sadly, we live in a post-truth world of fabricated hatreds, such as the anti-vaxxers, who deliberately and despicably target non-white communities, trying to weaponise Covid. Black lives matter—of course they do—along with Asian and Chinese lives, and Jewish lives. Yes, our commitment must include the fight against anti-Semitism, too.
Even the vocabulary of racism has been weaponised: a violence of language used to intimidate and browbeat ordinary, sensible people into assuming that they must be wrong. Even Tony Blair says that he no longer knows what he is allowed to say and think. Although why do we still refer to minorities? Is that the right word? Does it imply that anyone who is not white is somehow a little juvenile or less equal? Perhaps we need to look at things like that.
We have been making a right modern mess of some of this, allowing zealots to take hold of the argument and to throttle common sense to death like some modern-day thought police. We, the sensible, decent majority, need the confidence and sometimes the courage to remember that we stand on the shoulders of giants such as William Wilberforce, who was wise enough to denounce those who turn a blind eye to unpleasant reality:
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
There is only one certain way to defeat racism—by levelling up, offering everyone equal opportunity, where colour is no longer used as an insult or an excuse. We must find the language, means, schools, jobs, inspiration and innovation to bring our communities together, to extend an open hand rather than the clenched fist. We must change the dialogue.
Nearly 60 years ago, another giant, Martin Luther King, caused the world to hold its breath. Sixty years ago—but we all remember it, do we not?—he said:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
It was a proposition he gave his life for: a proposition—a dream—that was worth dying for then, just as it is worth a new generation living by today. Levelling up, not tearing apart: I embrace that prospect—I cannot wait.
One of the proposals included in the gracious Speech is the statement that legislation will be introduced to
“restore the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the courts”.
The suggestion is that certain decisions of the courts on applications for judicial review are responsible for this alleged lack of balance. Having been personally involved in judicial review since its inception, I question whether this alleged lack of balance of power exists. I furthermore suggest that legislation, far from restoring the balance of power, could create a lack of balance which at present does not exist.
I can state this with added confidence because the Government set up an independent review of administrative law, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, which as recently as March of this year published its report which set out its conclusions. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, will shortly speak to the House and I look forward to hearing what he has to say. The report made no suggestion, as far as I could identify, that there was any lack of balance that needed to be addressed, saying:
“Judicial review is considered an essential ingredient of the rule of law … an essential element of access to justice, which is a constitutional right”
“On balance, little significant advantage would be obtained by statutory codification, as the grounds for review are well established and accessibly stated in the leading textbooks”.
I have the privilege to be editor of one of them. In their response to that report in March of this year the Government said:
“This does not mean we think there needs to be a radical restructuring of Judicial Review at this point. Rather, there are aspects of the current system and the doctrine applied by the courts where it would be useful for Parliament to intervene and clarify how Judicial Review should give effect to statute.”
If there is no clear case for intervention, I strongly urge the Government to think again before intervening.
Judicial review was uniquely crafted—not by government and not in the first instance by Parliament, but by the judiciary—to achieve and preserve the proper balance of power between the different arms of government. If there is a need for fine-tuning, it is better that this is left to the judiciary to remedy rather than legislation. In saying this, I do not refer to the procedural amendments recommended by the Faulks committee; those I would warmly welcome in the majority of cases.
My Lords, the Government’s legislative programme is inseparable from a well-functioning courts system. In its report, COVID-19 and the Courts, the Constitution Committee, on which I sit, applauded the monumental effort by all those working in the courts to maintain a functioning justice system during the pandemic. But recognition of those heroic efforts cannot obscure the scale of the challenge that courts in England and Wales face. Court funding fell by 21% over the preceding decade, the courts modernisation programme struggled to deliver, and legal aid cuts increased litigants in person. Therefore, when Covid-19 suddenly rendered courts reliant on remote technology, those very vulnerabilities exacerbated the devastating impact of the pandemic, and the need for more investment in the justice system was laid bare.
The Lord Chief Justice described the rapid adoption of new technology during the pandemic as
“the biggest pilot project that the justice system has ever seen”
and said that the shift to remote hearings provided an opportunity to
“take the best of this new way of working to improve access to justice”,
but the information to support improvements to the courts service was “just not available”. The pandemic shone a light on the absence of quality data. An opportunity to capture users’ experience in that “biggest pilot project” has been lost—yet without adequate data, the fundamental questions about the operation of our justice system remain unanswered.
The sudden move to remote hearings during the pandemic has been uneven in its impact. Senior courts and those dealing with commercial cases adapted relatively well. The lower courts, particularly those dealing with criminal and family cases, have had a much more difficult time.
The evidence reveals the practical challenges facing ordinary people in virtual hearings, including—among other things—limited broadband access; phones or iPads shared between users in a household; no private space; a dependency on pay-as-you-go phones and expensive data packages; sensory impairments; and limited digital literacy. Yes, they may use email, but electronic document management may prove impossible for many lay users. Remote hearings can make it difficult for lawyers and their clients to communicate, frustrate users if they cannot see or understand what is going on, and undermine litigants’ ability to engage. On the other hand, there was clearly evidence that court users with special requirements have benefited from remote proceedings.
The backlog of cases, which predated the pandemic, has reached record levels, undermining access to justice and public confidence in the justice system. In the criminal courts, the backlog now exceeds 530,000. The prison population fell by 6%; those in prison awaiting trial increased by 28%. Litigants and victims wait longer for justice. Unsentenced children in custody grew in number. More than half of children and young people in custody and 87% of children on remand in London were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. In family courts, the backlog exceeds 10,000. As the public advisory group of the Family Justice Board observed:
“For children who remain stuck in the middle of the court system, the detriment to them is immeasurable.”
The Government have committed to modernising the justice system and improving the experience of court users, but what targets are being set and resources allocated to reduce the backlog of cases? What is the time limit for the collection of key data points across all court services—physical and digital—needed to assess the vulnerability of court users?
My Lords, as a number of noble Lords have said, the gracious Speech referred to the possibility of restoring balance in the constitution. It is well known that the constitution is not always easy to identify. In fact, one of my revered colleagues on your Lordships’ Constitution Committee—the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy—says that he has spent his lifetime looking for it.
The combination of Brexit, a minority Government, division in the Conservative Party on the approach to Brexit and the rigidity of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act amounted to a constitutional crisis. The purported Prorogation of Parliament by the Prime Minister resulted in a decision by the Supreme Court that he had acted unlawfully and that Parliament should return. This was the second occasion on which Brexit had caused the Government to lose a major constitutional case before the Supreme Court.
It may be that these reversals were a factor in the Government’s decision to set up the independent review. They convened a panel, which I was invited to chair. The terms of reference were broad; the timescale short. Having received an enormous amount of very high-quality material, the panel was not ultimately convinced that judicial review needed radical reform. We set out our reasons, probably at too much length. While some of the panel, including me, preferred the decision of the strong Divisional Court to that of the Supreme Court in the prorogation case, we considered that it was very much a one-off and an unreliable basis on which to conclude that there was something structurally awry with judicial review, which is a vital ingredient in the rule of law.
However, we did accept that it was perfectly legitimate constitutionally for the Government—any Government —to legislate to reverse particular court decisions, whether they were the result of judicial reviews or, indeed, in any other context. We specifically pointed out two areas which we thought were ripe for reform and would need legislation, and they both involved reversing decisions of the Supreme Court. The Government have accepted our recommendations, and some of the judges involved in the decisions have graciously acknowledged that they did perhaps need revisiting. The question remains: will the Government go further?
I understand why the Government are concerned about judicial review. In his Reith lectures, Lord Sumption memorably described “law’s expanding empire”. But as we conclude in our report, it is inevitable that the relationship between the judiciary, the Executive and Parliament will from time to time give rise to tensions, and a degree of conflict shows that the checks and balances in our constitution are working well. We must trust our judges to identify cases which are—to use the words of a Court of Appeal judge—using judicial review as “politics by another means”.
A theme which we also hope emerges from our report is that the issue should not be characterised as merely a conversation between the Executive and the judiciary. We emphasise the importance of Parliament. If legislation is clear, there is little scope for judicial review. But while Governments continue to use framework Bills and Parliament does not prevent them doing so, it cannot be altogether surprising that government decisions are challenged in the courts.
I briefly mention one other constitutional principle: free speech. The online safety Bill, as it is now called, is an exciting and unprecedented piece of legislation. Our newspapers are mostly regulated—I declare an interest as the chair of IPSO—and it is time that social media, where most people gather their news and other information, should also be regulated to protect the vulnerable and safeguard the integrity of the news-gathering process. This legislation is to be the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny and no doubt will be closely scrutinised by both Houses. However, the Secretary of State, Oliver Dowden, was right when he said last week that it was vital that the Bill did not compromise freedom of the press, whether in print or online.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook—who is not now in her place—on her excellent maiden speech. I also mention a maiden speech made last week by the noble Lord, Lord Lebedev. He said that, coming from Russia, he did not take freedom of speech or the rule of law for granted. Neither should we.
My Lords, I will talk about fraud, which is one of the great scourges of modern life but was largely ignored in the gracious Speech. More than 822,000 frauds were reported to Action Fraud in 2019-20, totalling £2.3 billion, but only a fraction of frauds are reported. It is estimated that the real number is around five times that. That is seven frauds every minute, and accounts for more than a third of all crime in England and Wales. These numbers represent people losing their life savings, their pensions, their house deposits. It is not just about money; being the victim of a scam is deeply traumatic and wrecks lives.
Why has fraud become so commonplace? There are two reasons: it is easy and it is low risk. Why is fraud easy? It is because so many businesses profit from facilitating it and have little or no incentive to stop it. I will give a few examples. Search engines and social media platforms take money to advertise fake pension and investment sites, fake online shopping sites, fake holiday letting sites and so on. To add insult to injury, they then make more money from the regulators. The FCA apparently paid £600,000 last year to post warnings on Google.
Web-hosting platforms are paid to host the scam websites. Telecom providers are paid for the calls and texts that plague us, and make things worse by failing to prevent false caller IDs. The banks are also facilitating frauds. All that stolen money has to be received somewhere, and most is processed through UK bank accounts. Instant payments allow the stolen money to be whisked away through multiple accounts and overseas before the victim has even realised that they are a victim.
Why is fraud low risk? The statistics speak for themselves: fewer than one in 13 reported frauds is actually investigated and less than 4% lead to a prosecution. Anyone who has dealt with the laughably named Action Fraud will understand why that is.
I welcome the fact that the Government have at last agreed that the online safety Bill will cover user-generated frauds, but they have chosen—it is a choice—to exclude most types of economic crime from the Bill, including frauds arising from fake adverts. It is perverse that the tech companies will be responsible for scammers’ social media posts but not for the adverts they are actually paid to publish.
The Government say that they will publish a fraud action plan, but only after the 2021 spending review, and that DCMS will consult on online advertising, but only starting later this year. This is not good enough. Every day that passes without action means more than 10,000 more frauds, more than £6 million more stolen, and more people losing their life savings and having their lives wrecked. We must push the risk of fraud back on to those facilitating it. The big tech companies, telecoms companies and the banks, with all their resources and know-how, could easily find ways to make life harder for the fraudsters, but they have proved that they will not do it voluntarily, so the time has come to create a real financial stick to encourage them.
At the same time, we must stop blaming the victims and make it easier to recover losses. The banks’ voluntary code has failed and should now be replaced with a compulsory code, under which the bank that received and processed the stolen money has to refund the loss automatically. Policing of fraud is critically underfunded. Training and resources are urgently needed so that scammers actually face some risk of being caught and prosecuted.
Fraud has become an epidemic that is wrecking lives. It must be made a much more urgent priority.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Woolf and Lord Hope, quoted the Government’s expressed desire to
“restore the balance … between the executive, legislature and the courts.”
It is also a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, with whom I largely agree on this topic. It is misleading to talk in terms of balance rather than of function. In our constitution, the legislature makes the laws, the courts interpret and apply them in specific situations and, in theory, the Government obey them. The problem arises when the Government do not wish to obey the laws that Parliament or the common law have created and seek to reject courts’ interpretation of them.
It is not a question of balance. In a judicial review, the scales of justice do not weigh the interests of the Executive against the strictures of the law. The concept of the scales of justice in a court setting is that, where an individual or organisation seeks judicial review of a government decision, the judge’s duty is to apply the law without favour to either side. If the Government’s purpose in introducing a judicial review Bill is to carry out the recommendations of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, it will be unexceptional. No doubt we can argue about the details of the two main areas he recommends. If, on the other hand, the Government pursue the aims outlined in the Lord Chancellor’s statement setting out the further consultation to make areas of policy non-judiciable, that is an entirely different matter. The noble Lord’s committee would not support it, as he has made abundantly clear.
Ouster clauses are not effective because the courts assume that Parliament does not intend to give licence to a Government or to a Minister to break the law. Mr Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, attempted to introduce clauses that expressly involved the Government in illegality by breaking the Northern Ireland protocol. This episode demonstrated that Parliament will not stand for it. The attempt was defeated overwhelmingly by all parties, including former Prime Minister Theresa May and responsible and experienced Members on the Government Benches in this House.
I suppose it would be possible for the Government to introduce into a Bill or statutory instrument a clause that reads, “On questions of policy, a Minister can do what he likes”—or, to put it rather more formally, “A decision by a Minister under this Act shall not be set aside or voided by reason of illegality”. I very much doubt whether such a clause in its naked simplicity would get past a competent Attorney-General, never mind Parliament itself.
The Government can huff and puff when they lose a case, but that does not change the reality that they function within the rule of law as interpreted by the courts. As for the courts themselves, their decision in a particular case may have implications for the policy that the Executive wish to implement, but it is well understood that the system of judicial review does not permit a judge to substitute his own views or his own decision on the issue. All he or she can do is quash the decision that has been made and invite the decision-maker to think again. As for ousting the jurisdiction of the court, you can sum it up in seven words: “If it is illegal, it is justiciable.”
My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register, in particular as a partner in the international commercial law firm DAC Beachcroft, and as chairman of its financial services division.
I warmly welcome the Queen’s Speech and, in particular, the atmosphere of renewed positivity and optimism in which our debate is taking place. Let us hope it does indeed prove to be the solid foundation for our nation building back better as we bounce back from the Covid-19 pandemic. A mass of criminal justice reform is adumbrated in the Speech, and I think we all confidently foresee some lively debates on matters including sentencing, online safety and immigration.
In contrast, the Speech is understandably quite light on civil justice issues. We are, however, witnessing the creation of numerous obligations and rights. We must therefore be mindful of the need to ensure that those do not spawn mass litigation in the civil justice sphere. The compensation culture—blame and claim—insidiously undermines civility within our society and is not in any sense a victimless activity. Someone has to pay for every settlement, not just the compensation that goes to the complainant but the full legal costs. It is an all-too-common characteristic of claims inspired by claims farmers that the lawyers earn more from cases than the claimants do. Might the Government therefore issue a call for clarity on the use of alternative dispute resolution to help avoid legal costs exceeding damages, which is the catnip for claims farmer activity and which we have all been trying to avoid?
I do not intend to focus unduly upon the recent indication on restricting the small claims limit rise for employer’s liability and public liability injury claims to just £1,500. We should entirely support restraint in employer’s liability claims where it is important that the rights of employees are protected. I would, however, urge everyone to be mindful of the possible unintended consequences of the injury limit for public liability claims, where claims farmers forage for rich pickings—no doubt all the more so, post whiplash reform.
We are also discussing cultural matters and it is a matter of considerable regret for many of us that there was no mention in the Queen’s Speech of reciprocal, visa-free travel and work for UK and EU performers and their crews. It was a great achievement—in no small part UK led—when the old era of complicated ledgers, carnets and other expensive and time-consuming paperwork was swept away, and a new and welcome freedom ruled for creative artists. Touring is the lifeblood for creative artists—musicians in particular—and it seems to be purely a question of whether the will exists to create a mutually beneficial arrangement. Particularly in light of the welcome news that quarantine requirements may imminently be waived for fully vaccinated UK citizens going to the EU, I join others in urging Ministers please to sort this problem out with the utmost urgency.
Finally, I strongly support the tribute to Her Majesty by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. For some time, I was honoured to be Treasurer of Her Majesty’s Household, for which she kindly gave me four-and-a-half yards of British cloth, which my wife had made into this suit that I now proudly wear for the debate on the gracious Speech.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his special suit and the two noble Baronesses who will make their maiden speeches.
This past year has certainly thrown up a whole range of important issues for both Parliament and government to confront. I am privileged to be a member of your Lordships’ Select Committee looking at life after Covid and some of the long-term problems that we have to deal with, not necessarily through legislation. Noble Lords will be aware of our recently published report on the pandemic and the internet, which concluded that internet use over the past year had accelerated by a decade the changes in that world and exposed alarming inequalities in the digital society. It also exposed a lot of the problems with online life that have already been referred to in this debate.
One perhaps less immediately obvious topic on which the Select Committee has received powerful written evidence but has not discussed concerns the sensitive questions about how we care for the dying and our choices at the end of life. The tragedy of the daily death tolls reported on the evening news and the extraordinarily sad stories about bereavement in lockdown seem to have crystallised and stimulated a new interest—a determination that we must make changes for the better. These issues bring together the legal, ethical and medical dilemmas that we in this House have often debated.
However, I am convinced that there is now an appetite for a more open, evidence-based approach. Somehow, the pandemic has enabled us to talk about death in a way that reduces superstition and taboos. The organisation Compassion in Dying reports that calls to its information helpline have increased by almost 50% in the past year and that the number of people making so-called living wills—that is, refusing treatment in certain circumstances —has soared by 160%.
We are all, of course, acutely aware that the coronavirus has put unprecedented burdens on our healthcare professionals and their resources. At the beginning of the pandemic, there were disturbing stories about inappropriate rationing of intensive care and “do not resuscitate” decisions being made without proper consultation. That was troubling but it prompted open and honest discussion which has, in turn, produced useful developments led by the Care Quality Commission. It reported earlier this year and there is now, for example, a new ministerial oversight group established to improve the use of “do not resuscitate” decisions.
In our new post-pandemic world, we must also respect those people who want neither resuscitation nor intervention but whose preferred choice at the end of life may be a medically assisted death—still, of course, illegal here. Over the past year, the situation in which those who want to exercise that choice are forced to travel to Switzerland has become even more intolerable. Outsourcing this emotionally and practically difficult option to another country has always been regrettable and unethical. Today, Covid restrictions have made it almost impossible. We must now look again at our own law and its cruel blanket ban, which has led to an increasing number of reports of desperate suicides by dying people.
It is therefore extremely helpful that the Health Secretary has now asked the ONS to look at those reports and examine the statistics on suicide among the terminally ill. Mr Hancock has committed himself to ensuring that, in general, good factual evidence is available for future parliamentary debate on assisted dying. In this House, we will have that opportunity when the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on this subject is introduced. She is speaking almost next in this debate and I look forward to her contribution and, most importantly, to her Bill. Noble Lords will remember that five years ago, we supported the proposal of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer on assisted dying and I very much hope that we will support this similar Bill. The pandemic experience has created the circumstances for safe, compassionate legislation to give dying people the right to choose the death they want for themselves.
My Lords, tourism has been the sector most affected by Covid-19 and it will be the last industry to reopen. One in 10 jobs depends on it, yet there was no mention of tourism in the Queen’s Speech or the accompanying 163-page policy briefing, and there were no Bills that directly support the UK’s tourism industry. It has been taken for granted as a national cash cow for years but government policy is now slaughtering the UK’s £31 billion inbound tourism sector because the new traffic light system favours people leaving the UK to holiday abroad while doing nothing to encourage tourists to come here.
With many people working from home and businesses allowing more flexible working, UK residents will be able to travel to amber countries and then self-isolate on their return while working from home. In contrast, people in amber countries who want to travel to the UK for a holiday will have to remain in their hotel for 10 days, meaning that there is no point at all in coming.
The Government’s present position also risks making overseas travel the preserve of the wealthy. The cost of a Covid test for people travelling even to a green-list country is £150 per person, vastly increasing the cost of a family holiday. Travel to an amber country involves £450-worth of tests per person. Meanwhile, there is a baffling range of potential test providers all making a pretty penny from the process. Given that the UK’s testing capacity was radically expanded in 2020, there must surely now be scope to permit UK citizens, say, one set of NHS tests per year for travelling purposes.
The overall effect of the present arrangement is that the UK loses its most lucrative domestic travellers to overseas holidays and gets hardly any inbound tourists to make up for them. The potential inbound tourism revenue from green-list countries—the only countries whose residents can credibly visit the UK—amounts to just 3% of the UK’s normal inbound tourism revenue. The Government could boost that figure and support the half a million—or more—people in the UK whose jobs directly rely on inbound tourism revenue. They could allow fully vaccinated people from the UK’s main tourism markets, such as the USA, to come to the UK without having to quarantine, and they could also provide targeted support for businesses reliant on inbound tourism to protect jobs in this sector.
The industry also needs the Chancellor’s £1.6 billion business rate support, promised in March for the most severely impacted businesses that have not been eligible for other rates relief. Coach operators, tour operators and English language schools are desperate for this support, but there is still no word from the Government on which businesses are eligible or how they can apply.
The Queen’s Speech is always the product of negotiations within government, with Ministers and departments vying for a slot, but without a Cabinet Minister for tourism this sector misses out time and again. This year, of all years, surely the Queen’s Speech should have included a tourism Bill. The fact that there was no mention whatever of tourism is a bitter disappointment but, sadly, not a surprise.
My Lords, I swapped my slot with my noble friend Lady Meacher, at her request.
In the gracious Speech, Her Majesty the Queen referred to
“measures to increase the safety and security of … citizens”.
I pick for comment from that broad aspiration the proposed legislation to make it easier to counter threats to this country from other states: the counter-state threats Bill, to which the Minister referred at the beginning of this debate. We do not yet have a Bill, although we can get a reasonable sense of it from the Home Office consultation. The Minister described the aims of the legislation and—for once, despite the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that Cross-Benchers always disagree with the Government—I wish to reinforce what the Minister said in his opening remarks: modern tools and powers are needed to detect, prevent and respond to threats from states whose aim is to undermine the safety and interests of the UK.
In thinking about what I wanted to say at this very preliminary stage, I reflected that in my dozen or so years in your Lordships’ House I have rarely spoken about hostile state activity, despite many years of experience of trying to counter it, mainly in the Cold War. The fault is mine; my excuse is that successive Governments have not had the appetite to tackle the problem, rather preferring to rely on creaky legislation from the last century designed to deal with German espionage in the run-up to the First World War and Nazi espionage in the run-up to the Second World War. The Government moved to fill some of the legislative gap in the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, but then recognised that more was needed. I strongly welcome their intention to legislate, and I look forward to seeing what the Bill says.
Why do we need it, and what are we talking about in 2021? I start with what we are not talking about. As a young intelligence officer, I remember interviewing a Russian intelligence officer who was distressed to discover that the papers in his carefully chosen dead letter box—a hollowed-out tree in which his agent was going to stow top-secret documents—had been eaten by squirrels. That is not what we are talking about any more; we are talking about activity at scale—industrial, economic and academic espionage, and cyberattacks to steal our secrets, distort data, spread lies, amplify disinformation, and, as I hope is of particular concern to this House, to interfere with and undermine democratic process.
I look forward to the scrutiny of this overdue legislation. I do not anticipate that it will have an easy passage, as it is a complex subject, but we need a law that is balanced and proportionate, recognising the public interest while allowing us to better defend ourselves against covert attacks, of which the scale and cost of the damage are not well understood.
My Lords, I am deeply saddened that I am not following on from my noble friend Lady Fleet, whose maiden speech we were much looking forward to. That she has been unable to speak is clearly the result of an administrative glitch and, for my part, I think the treatment of a new colleague in this way is unforgivable. I wish to say a word or two about the impact of the measures outlined in the gracious Speech on the media and, in doing so, declare my interests as deputy chairman of the Telegraph Media Group, and note my other interests as set out in the register.
One thing the pandemic has certainly taught us is the need for reliable, verifiable news from trusted sources of information. But while the need for trusted journalism has never been greater, the threats to it are becoming existential as the revenues which fund it evaporate. More than 260 local newspapers have disappeared since 2005 and, in the past year alone, there have been more than 2,000 job cuts across the media in the UK. The situation is grave, particularly for the local and regional press, which are now in real peril.
How do the measures outlined in the gracious Speech help? The online safety Bill is welcome. It starts a journey of levelling up, if you will forgive me adapting the phrase; that is, levelling up the essential duties and responsibilities of the platforms to those to which traditional publishers have long been subject, both in terms of legislation and regulation. The draft Bill includes a robust and comprehensive exemption for news publishers from its framework of statutory regulation, as my noble friend Lord Wolfson said earlier. That is absolutely right. During pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, we must ensure that this exemption is both watertight and practical so that news publishers are not subject to any form of statutory control, and that there is no scope for the platforms to censor legitimate content. We have the opportunity with this legislation to lead the world in ensuring proper regulation of news content on the internet, and to show how that can be reconciled with protecting free speech and freedom of expression. It is an opportunity we should seize.
Although the online safety legislation will go some way to help support independent, trusted journalism, the measures to be contained in the health and care Bill relating to a complete online ban on advertising of HFSS products regrettably point in the other direction, and I shall not support them. Of course obesity is a real problem, but there really is no credible evidence that this ban will be an effective solution. In this House, we are always guided by evidence; let us see and scrutinise it.
Advertising bans are objectionable because of the interference with freedom of expression, but they are even more objectionable where no compelling case can be made for them. They appease lobby groups but rarely have real impact. In effect, the Government’s case is that a ban might reduce calorie consumption among children by one-third of a Smartie each day—fine. But at the same time, the TV ban will take around £200 million out of the UK TV market each year, as well as revenue from UK publishers, at a time when broadcasters face huge challenges from the market disruption caused by other platforms. I declare my interest as vice-chairman of the ITV APPG.
This will directly impact employment in the creative industries when we should be investing in them as part of our drive towards global Britain. There is no evidence that this measure will help tackle obesity, but it will gravely damage the media.
We have not yet seen the detail of the Bill, but I urge the Government to think again about how they approach this issue, in particular to see whether there is a self-regulatory and more proportionate response in place of the blunderbuss of statute brought forward with no evidence.
Finally, I mention one thing not in the gracious Speech: legislation to give the Digital Markets Unit statutory powers to underpin a code of conduct to ensure fair trading, open choices, trust and transparency in digital advertising and, above all, to compel tech companies to pay for the content they carry.
Reform is long overdue. It is now more than two years since both the Cairncross Review and the Treasury’s Furman review recommended radical change to ensure the future of quality journalism, and nearly a year since the CMA’s excellent report on the issue was published. They all reached the same conclusion: change must come, and soon, if we are to save the free press. There has been progress, including the establishment of the Digital Markets Unit within the CMA, but it is not enough.
We need a competition Bill as soon as possible to give the DMU the statutory powers it needs to tackle the platforms. It is an opportunity for the UK to show it is leading the world in dealing with a problem—
My Lords, in declaring my interest as vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Linguists, I highlight an opportunity to improve the criminal justice system for the benefit of victims and their families, witnesses, defendants, court officials and jurors that would enhance the quality of justice and save public money. I hope that impressive list of benefits has grabbed the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson.
The issue is the provision of interpreters in our courts and tribunals. The opportunity is to insert a simple amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. In a nutshell, the problem is that the chaotic system used by the MoJ and the Courts & Tribunals Service allows far too many cases of unqualified or underqualified, inexperienced pseudo-interpreters to do such a bad job that, quite apart from damaging the reputation of properly qualified linguists, it can cause mayhem in the courts, resulting in miscarriages of justice, adjourned hearings, defendants remaining in custody and an undermining of trust in an important public service.
The notorious case of Iqbal Begum led to the establishment of the National Register of Public Service Interpreters in the early 1990s. The Court of Appeal had quashed a conviction for murder against a woman when it was realised that the interpreter at her original trial had not known the difference between murder and manslaughter and, though fluent in English and Gujarati, could not speak Punjabi, the language of the accused. In another case the defendant was accused of perverting the course of justice, which the so-called interpreter managed to translate as, “You are accused of being a pervert”. In another, the interpreter’s English was so poor that he could not distinguish between a marital partner and a business partner, which led to the judge assuming the defendant was being evasive.
The national register is an independent, non-profit organisation whose purpose is to safeguard and regulate the quality and professionalism of interpreters. Registration depends on stringent criteria for training, qualifications and experience. There is a code of professional conduct and a disciplinary procedure uninfluenced by any political or commercial interest.
In 2011, however, the MoJ outsourced interpreting to reduce costs. Reduced pay and conditions for interpreters resulted in an exodus of the properly qualified ones and an influx of the unqualified. The MoJ list is not a patch on the national register. You can get on to this list just by having a GCSE pass or a low-level two-week foundation course, or just by being bilingual, even if you have never set foot in a court before. The list is outsourced to a private company and, despite the MoJ’s claim that compliance with targets has been high, the increase in aborted hearings and general dissatisfaction among lawyers and clients alike tell a different story.
The courts are out of sync with other parts of the justice system. The CPS continues to use the national register, and the new flagship Police Approved Interpreter and Translator scheme has blazed a trail for high standards. It respects all parties and, combined with the register, could be a really effective model for the courts too.
We could get all this right very easily. Part 12 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill provides for British Sign Language interpreters to assist jurors. I suggest just adding a new, simple clause to provide for spoken-word interpreters to be appointed only from the national register in order to raise standards, improve justice and save public money. It is ironic that one clause in the Bill creates a new offence for a BSL interpreter intentionally or otherwise to influence the jury. I contend that to continue to allow incompetent, unqualified spoken-word interpreters in our courts is itself, by default, a serious way of influencing the outcome of proceedings in the most negative way possible. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, even though he will not reply to this debate, will indicate that he is willing to meet me to discuss my proposal.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on her maiden speech and very much regret that we have not been able to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Fleet. I hope she will be able to address the House before too long.
Culture is listed as one of today’s subjects for debate, but the gracious Speech makes no reference to it. Of course, there is important legislation—notably the online safety Bill—coming from the department with “Culture” in its title, but culture in the wider sense, including the arts, once again has no place in the Government’s programme.
I return to funding for higher education and how it will affect the future of our hugely successful creative industries. In doing so, I remind the House of my interest as a deputy chair of the Royal Shakespeare Company and a trustee of the Artis Foundation.
The Government propose that funding to higher education courses in the C1 price group, including music, dance, drama and other performing arts, art and design and media studies, should be significantly reduced because they are not among the Government’s “strategic priorities”. This proposal is wrong-headed in so many ways that it is hard to know where to begin. The fact that the proposed reduction per student is not huge in cash terms is irrelevant. The wrong-headedness, so ably identified last week by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, resides in the attitude behind the decision. If followed through, this proposal will reinforce the message that schools, parents and students themselves are already getting, because of the narrowing of the national curriculum, that these subjects are of less value, in every sense, than others.
The Government supported the recent decision of the Russell group of universities to abandon its facilitating subjects list, which by excluding arts subjects had such a damaging impact on their status. Now the Government seem to be facing in the other direction. Why?
Furthermore, the proposal is likely to widen existing inequalities in higher education, decreasing participation rates among students with disabilities and from lower socioeconomic groups. The Office for Students consultation document makes that clear. How can it be in line with the Government’s levelling-up agenda to cut funding to the courses most successful in attracting such students?
Finally, the proposal is incomprehensible when viewed in the light of what the Government have done for the cultural sector over the past year, which has been generous and life-saving. More than £1.5 billion has been invested in supporting arts organisations through the Culture Recovery Fund, and yet more through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Despite some problems, which have been mentioned already, such as the continuing impasse over the provision of cancellation insurance for live events, these interventions were enlightened and I gladly acknowledge their significance, but what is the point of spending all that money on protecting our cultural infrastructure while simultaneously signalling that the skills needed to create the work that they present, for which the UK is celebrated throughout the world, are not worth acquiring? Who do the Government think will be leading these organisations and keeping them alive in future if not students from the very programmes that the Government are now seeking to sideline through underfunding? This is bad politics, bad economics and, above all, bad education. I hope the Minister will encourage her colleagues at the Department for Education to think again.
My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on her maiden speech.
It has been clear during the pandemic that we are increasingly dependent on digital technology and online solutions, but what is the reality in the digital economy of the Government’s levelling-up agenda? How are we mitigating digital online harms and digital exclusion? When we look at the risks and opportunities in adopting new technology, are we adopting the right values? The DDCMS Secretary of State, Oliver Dowden, has recently set out 10 tech priorities. Some of them are reflected in the Queen’s Speech but many do not yet measure up. Two of them are
“Rolling out world-class digital infrastructure nationwide”
“Levelling up digital prosperity across the UK”.
We were originally promised spending of £5 billion by 2025, yet only a fraction of this, £1.2 billion, will have been spent by then. Digital exclusion and data poverty have become acute during the pandemic. It is estimated that 1.8 million children have not had adequate digital access. It is not just about broadband being available; it is about it being affordable, and about devices being available.
“Unlocking the power of data”
is another priority. Yes to this, and to
“Championing free and fair digital trade”,
so I welcome today’s response to the national data strategy and the national data strategy forum, but this must go hand in hand with a strong commitment to data governance, increasing public trust in the sharing and use of data and the work started by the Open Data Institute in creating trustworthy mechanisms such as data institutions and trusts.
Another priority is
“Keeping the UK safe and secure online”.
Amen to that, and to the secure-by-design consumer protection measures now promised to meet the challenges of internet security, but the draft online safety Bill now before us is not yet fit for purpose. Protection should be risk-based, not platform-based. In particular, there is the exclusion of commercial pornography where there is no user-generated content and the societal harms caused by, for instance, fake news—misinformation—so clearly described in the report of the Democracy and Digital Technologies Select Committee of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. Educational and news platforms are excluded in total. In addition, there are no group actions, no focus on the issues surrounding anonymity—"know your user”—no reference to economic harms, no focus on enhanced PSHE or the promised media literacy strategy, and little clarity on the issue of the algorithmic pushing of content. Where is the commitment to working with the IWF?
On the question of
“Building a tech-savvy nation”.
I welcome a greater focus on FE, the jobs and skills White Paper and the new Bill, but the pace, scale and ambition of government action does not match the challenge facing many people working in the UK. I welcome the work of the local digital skills partnerships, but they are massively underresourced. Broader digital literacy is crucial, as the AI road map pointed out.
With regard to
“Fuelling a new era of startups and scaleups”
“Unleashing the transformational power of tech and AI”,
catapults should become more effective institutions as a critical part of our innovation strategy. I welcome the commitment to producing a national AI strategy later this year, but it should contain key elements, such as the development of approaches to AI audit, compliance, and risk and impact assessment, and proposals to regulate high-risk applications such as live facial recognition and deepfakes. I welcome the priority to
“Leading the global conversation on tech”
and the recent G7 digital communique, but we need to go beyond principles in establishing international AI governance standards and solutions and agree on a digital services tax.
In closing, there are a number of major omissions in the Queen’s Speech. Where is the commitment to set up a new digital markets unit, to develop our own sovereign data capability and to tackle the gig economy in the many services run through digital applications? This last should be a major priority, and it is a gaping hole in the Queen’s Speech.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on her maiden speech.
It is a privilege to contribute to this debate, yet once again we are obliged to come at the subject of culture somewhat obliquely, focusing on those areas where it ought to be but is not. Much is made in this gracious Speech, as in the last, about the UK becoming a global science superpower, a world-leading R&D environment with innovation central to tackling major challenges. We are told that the Advanced Research & Invention Agency will support the creation of ground-breaking technology with the potential to produce transformational benefits to our economy and society.
However, the central role of the arts, humanities and creative industries in delivering that vision is ignored. We know that research in these disciplines is not currently eligible for R&D tax relief, and I urge the Government to remedy that in their planned diversification of R&D funding. A unified definition of R&D that valued arts, humanities and social science alongside the scientific and technical would not only support legitimate research in the creative industries but ensure that technological solutions were informed by cultural and behavioural insights, making adoption more likely, and it would encourage knowledge exchange across disciplines, where innovation is most likely to occur.
In this context, the proposed cuts to funding for arts courses make no sense. Not only would they impact talent pipelines and deepen inequalities in the creative sector, they would impact on the wider innovation ecosystem, because other industrial sectors rely on a flow of creative workers to imagine, design and communicate new concepts. Cutting arts subjects at a time when we are nailing our colours to the mast of innovation is, sadly, further evidence that this Government consider arts education as “nice to have” and fail to understand the role of arts graduates in the innovation ecosystem. The Secretary of State for Education made that clear last week when he wrote:
“The record number of people taking up science and engineering demonstrates that many are already starting to pivot away from dead-end courses that leave young people with nothing but debt.”
What is in the Speech is the long-awaited online safety Bill. A key concern will be to ensure that the Bill effectively balances freedom of expression with protection for users’ rights online. In that regard, I will be interested to understand what is meant by a new protection for
“content of democratic importance”.
The Explanatory Notes say this refers to government policies and political parties, but it raises questions about how that would impact the freedom of individuals to initiate online debate or campaign on topics that are not “live political issues”—a quote from the Government’s press release—but, rather, issues that voters believe current policies overlook.
I am equally curious about the definition of “harmful content” as that which will have, or indirectly have,
“a significant adverse physical or psychological impact on an adult of ordinary sensibilities.”
The Bill adds that this ordinary adult should be assumed to have any combination of characteristics, but does not say if they are the protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010. If they are, how will the Bill protect from harms related to body image, weight or appearance, given that those characteristics are not covered by that Act? This threshold is central to the Bill’s powers over legal but harmful content, but is not elucidated. I foresee endless court time devoted to determining whether my sensibilities are more ordinary than the next person’s.
The online safety Bill has been a long time coming and, as our lives have moved increasingly online, the need for a regime that balances freedom of expression with the protection of rights has become more acute. I look forward to working together across the House to ensure that the Bill effectively meets those twin aims.
My Lords, this debate includes the work of the DCMS and thus enables us to focus on sport, recreation and an active lifestyle. I declare my interests as set out in the register.
I have constructed a 10-point plan to focus attention on what I hope will be cross-party support for action to promote these objectives. First is the formation of a new office for health promotion, mandated to drive improvement in the nation’s health, tackle obesity and improve mental health—not least that of the 1.5 million children predicted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists to need new or additional mental health support as a result of the pandemic. There is a major opportunity for a new start, leading to policy formulation for an active lifestyle at the heart of government.
Second is an education recovery plan, ensuring that no child is left behind as a result of the education and extracurricular activities that they may have missed out on during lockdown. This is against a background where almost 70% of parents have said that their children were less active during lockdown—and 10% have said that their children had been completely inactive. The creeping scholarisation of childhood continues to erode free play at school and home in favour of academic, sporting and cultural activities.
Third is laws to modernise the planning system, which plays a crucial role in providing access to high-quality facilities so that everyone can play sport and be physically active. In this Bill, there is the opportunity to put that mantra into practice.
Fourth is legislation to set binding environmental targets. Despite its ability to entertain and promote health, sport can also degrade the environment. To remedy this, we can turn sport and recreation into a positive force for environmental change by adopting sustainable practices.
Fifthly, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is an important measure for all of us who have long campaigned for an extension in the position of trust provisions to capture those who lead activities in sporting and religious settings. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, is not only an outstanding sportsperson but a true campaigner who achieved this change. Now, at last, the loophole in the law that meant that some adults who held a position of power over a young person, including sports coaches, could abuse that power will be remedied.
Sixthly, during Covid, there have been a range of welcome DCMS funding measures to support sports and clubs, including a £300 million sports recovery package to support major spectator sports in England. We will have the opportunity to assess how effective all these measures that are focused on sport have been and whether they have achieved their stated objectives.
Seventhly, the online safety Bill will establish a welcome duty of care to ensure the safety of users online. Sport has led the way. The recent boycott of social media by English football, supported by other sports and international governing bodies of sport, sends a clear signal that social media companies must be held to account for protecting their users.
Eighthly, Tracey Crouch MP is one of the very brightest and most knowledgeable Sports Ministers of her generation. Her fan-led review of football comes on the back of the Prime Minister’s commitment that government would do whatever it takes to tackle the problem of sports governance. There will be forensic consideration of ownership models, governance, financing and ensuring that supporters play an integral part in the running of football, combined with all-party calls for a football regulator.
Ninthly, the levelling-up White Paper will, I hope, lead to legislation to provide the opportunity for access to modern, built-for-purpose sports and recreation facilities, which should be central to this goal—for, as Danny Kruger MP said in his maiden speech, social infrastructure should be treated as seriously as economic infrastructure.
Tenthly, the Professional Qualifications Bill offers backing to ensure that regulators share information with counterparts to support them, as professionals move between jurisdictions—a key concern of sports coaches, British mountaineers and ski instructors looking to continue work in the Alps. Couple that to the need to reform modern-day ticket touting in the secondary online ticket market through the online safety Bill, and end on consideration of the recommendations of your Lordships’ National Plan for Sport and Recreation Committee, when completed in 2022.
This is a 10-point action plan—for it not just culture for which the DCMS is responsible.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, and I hope that she enjoys her time in the House as much as I do. I listened with great interest to the Minister, who delivered, in his usual emollient way, all these incredibly nasty pieces of legislation that the Government are bringing in. Although I will try to stay coherent as I speak, I am actually spitting with fury, so I ask for that to be taken into account.
We have to understand that there are a lot of Bills in this Queen’s Speech, and, given that this is the third Speech of the Prime Minister in two years and that most of the legislation that he has announced has not actually happened—sometimes it is on its third, fourth or even fifth iteration—I am staggered that there are so many Bills in it. Again and again, the really important stuff, like the Environment Bill, gets put off, which will be very embarrassing when we come to COP 26.
However, of course, the Government always find time for the really nasty bits of legislation, like the spy cops Bill and the overseas operations Bill. I worry about this trend of the Government, which is why I have chosen to speak today, on the topics of crime and justice and home affairs, because this is where the Government do some of their worst work.
Much of the proposed legislation is designed to fight political proxy wars, rather than trying to improve people’s lives and create a better future, which is probably what the Government’s job is. For example, the electoral integrity Bill is an excuse to make it harder for people—particular people, not just any old people—to vote, while giving the Conservative Party more power in an attempt to extend the life of this Government, possibly for decades.
The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill seeks to put financial penalties on universities and student unions for not wanting to listen to speakers with fundamentally stupid ideas. I do not understand it, and it gets a bit confusing when the Government, apparently so concerned about free speech, are also bringing in a Bill designed to criminalise and ban free speech and the right to protest—because protest is free speech. As such, we are being asked to crack down on free speech in one Bill but to force people to listen to speakers whom they fundamentally disagree with in another. It will be very interesting to see, over time, just how this plays out in court and how these two pieces of legislation interact.
Next up on the nasty list are the Government’s plans to make it harder for people to claim asylum and refuge, which are horrendous and plain cruel at a time of such global instability—much of which we have caused —especially because global migration will increase. We will carry on trashing the planet and will make huge areas uninhabitable, and, as we continue to sell weapons to tyrant regimes and war criminals, there will be more political instability in all sorts of countries. We are responsible for a huge number of the people who come to this country seeking refuge, and we should accept that and that it is our duty to make them welcome.
There are some important pieces of legislation tucked into the Speech, but I feel that those are the ones that will fall through the cracks and that we will probably not get around to. This is very distressing because it will be the most regressive laws that come through and that the Government support. This is really appealing to the darkest parts of human nature and it is not good for our collective psyche, not just here in the House but in the wider society. As such, I promise you strong and relentless opposition.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on her maiden speech. I start by echoing the pleas of my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, for more attention to be paid to culture and media issues in these debates. I hope that the good points made already by many noble Lords around the House will be picked up by DCMS. I declare an interest as a member of the Communications and Digital Committee of your Lordships’ House. However, what follows are my thoughts on the online safety Bill, prefaced in the gracious Speech.
In Our Digital Future, published yesterday, the Labour Party made it clear that we want empowered citizens who do not merely have access to the internet but are equipped with the skills and tools to make the most of technology and who are protected from those who use it to cause harm. The online safety Bill shares these aspirations, and, in so doing, reverses the history of international internet technology governance, based as it is on a 1990s presumption that this would be best left to companies and technologies, which had little legal ability to govern the things that people did on the platforms.
Thankfully, democratic Governments have begun, at last, to appreciate the extent of the harms that arise for citizens and businesses due to a loosely governed internet and its patchy adherence to human rights. In that spirit, I welcome the draft online safety Bill. The Government have got a lot right, particularly the adoption of the duty-of-care approach, the focus on systemic measures and the roles to be played by Ofcom, the DMU and the ICO. However, there are some gaps and concerns which have been referenced already, including the very long lead time before the Bill will actually reach the statute book, democratic accountability and a worry that the Bill underplays the current dangers to children and vulnerable users.
However, the welcome pre-legislative scrutiny will help sort out these issues. I hope it will focus on the following points. The internet gives everyone a voice—a really important point—but the resulting cacophony can mean that minority voices are lost in their entirety. Forms of expression which in the past were tolerable, even if they offended, are amplified to the point where action may be required to moderate volume and identity. But that brings real threats to freedom of expression and to quality journalism. How can these tensions be resolved? What content should be treated as illegal and who decides what should be treated as illegal but harmful? If there are forms of activity that were lawful in the past but should now be made unlawful, surely Parliament needs to set these new laws, lead and give clarity. If platforms are to determine their community standards, what role should be played by the regulator—or regulators—and will it have the resources and the powers it needs across the piece?
Online platforms have a responsibility to protect users against fraudulent and scam content as well as other harms. The Bill needs to rise to the broader challenge to democracy posed by digital technology itself, and we will need systems of regulation that protect that. As the Bill recognises, the platforms are a big part of the solution to online harms. They hold the technical expertise, the resources and the access to clean up online spaces, but they do not have the legitimacy to make decisions about what constitutes a free society and they should not be asked to do so without appropriate democratic oversight by Parliament.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, and the many distinguished speakers in this debate who fastened on the Government’s words that legislation will be introduced to restore the balance of power between the Executive, the legislature and the courts.
Try as I may, I cannot find anything in the gracious Speech which restores the balance by correcting or reducing the ever-growing power of the Executive. I can find plenty of examples of the opposite, in both legislation and policy. It is all about strengthening the already overmighty Executive. In four minutes, I shall try to give four examples.
First, there is judicial review, reviewed in an excellent report by the committee chaired very ably and knowledgeably by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, which the Government clearly intended should come up with severe curtailment of judicial review. It did not. In a courteous letter to me, the Lord Chancellor rather gave the game away. Having commended the committee for its empirical evidence, he said, “However, we feel that the analysis in the report supports consideration of additional policy options to more fully address the issues they identified.” In other words, “We’re from the Government and we are here to help you by protecting you, the judiciary, from yourselves and ensuring that you don’t do any more protecting of the people.”
In all their arguments on this, the Government fail to recognise that in a system where the Government so often control the Commons with a large majority, it is particularly important that the courts can insist on adherence to the law and, when rights are threatened, to see that there has been proper decision-making, and that what is proposed or done is clearly and explicitly within the intentions set out by Parliament.
The second example is the sentencing legislation that began in the previous Session. It gives the Home Secretary power to extend a prison sentence indefinitely on the basis of matters which have not been tested in court, subject only to whether the prisoner can prove a negative to the Parole Board—that he is not dangerous and did not commit offences for which he has never been tried. Serious issues of public safety are involved—I recognise that—but I do not see that we can leave the Bill in its present form without crossing a boundary between the role of the Executive and the role of the judiciary.
Thirdly, the Prime Minister is appointing lots of new Peers. This is not an attack on the noble Baroness whose maiden speech we heard earlier, but the overall effect of what the Prime Minister is doing is to block the means by which this House has agreed, voluntarily, to reduce its own size. I was a member of the group which advocated for the proposals. Failure to tackle the growing size of an unelected House undermines the reputation that the good work of so many Peers would otherwise earn. I think the Government like having a second Chamber whose legitimacy they can easily challenge, rather than a reformed House, which would be more widely seen as an appropriate body to hold the Executive to account.
My fourth example is in today’s other area: culture. I declare an interest as being involved in a number of heritage charities that have benefited, or need help to survive, from the recovery fund. I am worried by all the briefings from DDCMS that board-level appointments in national cultural institutions need to be the subject of closer ministerial attention to ensure that various areas and views are better represented. As a northerner—you cannot live further north in England than I do—I might welcome that, but not if it becomes more use of ministerial patronage to enforce politicians’ prejudices on highly valued institutions of precious national importance or just another version of patronage and jobs for the boys.
Ministers like power, and invariably want more of it. Legislating by decree and press conference during the Covid-19 crisis has given them even more of a taste for it. Our job is to do our best to restore the balance by defending the rule of law and restoring and deepening parliamentary accountability.
My Lords, it is now more than 15 years since I sat on a Select Committee in your Lordships’ House. It was established to look at draft legislation on assisted dying for the terminally ill. As a committee, we had the privilege of travelling to the Netherlands, Dignitas in Switzerland and Oregon, which then stood as the only state in the USA to have legalised this practice.
We were led with great distinction by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern as chairman and the 10 other distinguished members included the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who is in the Chair today.
We heard in Oregon that the practice there was working well and had been integrated into palliative and hospice care systems, and its safeguards were protecting against any possible abuse. Regrettably, in 2006 this House declined to support a new law based on Oregon’s experience, although it did lend its support to similar proposals in 2014 and 2015, only for the Bill to fall due to lack of time after three full days of debate, including two full days of consideration in Committee. As a House, we gave our support to tightly safeguarded legislation—that is, two doctors independent of one another would have to assess a person’s mental capacity and prognosis, and the entire process would be overseen by a High Court judge. These were, and continue to be, the most safeguarded and conservative proposals anywhere in the world. They were supported by your Lordships’ House and by more than 80% of the British public.
It is now more than five years since we have had a substantive debate on this issue and public demand for changing the law has not subsided. Nor, indeed, has international progress. Oregon’s example has been followed by 10 additional American states, with New Mexico becoming the 11th jurisdiction in the USA to permit assisted dying earlier this year. Altogether, over 70 million Americans live in states where assisted dying is permitted. Tasmania this year became the third Australian state to do so. New Zealand held a referendum on assisted dying last year, which passed with an overwhelming majority. In Europe, too, the Low Countries and Switzerland have long permitted euthanasia and assisted dying. They are being joined by Spain and Portugal, whose Parliaments have approved new laws in the past few months. Important court judgments are likely to lead to similar legislation in Austria and Germany.
Even closer to home, Ireland is currently debating assisted dying; a vote in the Dáil passed the Dying with Dignity Bill in October. In Scotland, too, Holyrood will tackle this issue again in the near future and looks likely to succeed in legislating for assisted dying.
Perhaps influenced by the growing clamour for law change and the mighty evidence that assisted dying can be introduced safely and fully integrated into modern end-of-life care, doctors’ views are shifting in support of assisted dying. Two years ago, the Royal College of Physicians dropped its long-standing opposition to assisted dying and the British Medical Association is poised to do the same later this year. In a survey of nearly 30,000 doctors the BMA found that 50% of its members supported a change in the law, compared to 39% against. This progress is fast spreading across the English-speaking world and in predominantly Catholic countries closer to home. As more and more countries legislate, we gain more and more evidence that assisted dying can be legislated for safely and with huge popular support, giving dying people the right to choose how they end their lives.
I say very simply: we did not ask to come into this world; might we now be allowed to say how we would wish to depart from it?
My Lords, I wish to move to issues of modern slavery. I declare an interest as co-chair of the All-Party Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery and as a vice-chair of the Human Trafficking Foundation.
The Government are rightly proud of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which is a splendid piece of legislation, but it urgently requires further implementation. The position that we hold as innovators in dealing with modern slavery across the world is slipping. I will refer to several parts of the Frank Field review of the Act, of which I was a member. The most important gap is in the supply chain. Much of the transparency of supply chain legislation—Section 54—requires it to be mandatory for the large companies to report effectively on their supply chain situation. Serious penalties are being discussed, but so far there has been no commitment by the Government and no action. They must act on the proposal for an enforcement body. The Home Office should look across the Atlantic to see how the USA is now dealing with hot goods and the measures that it has in place to stop the importation of goods or produce obtained by forced labour. The Government must make the legislation effective to ensure that goods and produce provided by forced labour overseas are stopped before they enter the country.
The guardian provision for trafficked children is excellent, but pilot schemes are no longer necessary; it should now be rolled out across the country. It extends only to the age of 18, although the review gave good reasons to provide support up to 21 or even 25. There is concern about the position of very vulnerable teenagers transitioning into adulthood without appropriate support. There is a real risk of those young people being re-trafficked. According to Safe Passage, there are 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children in Europe. They are in danger of abuse and of being trafficked. The UK has brought in a considerable number of children, which is admirable but not sufficient. Since Brexit, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said earlier, Dublin III is no longer applying, and under current and intended immigration rules it is estimated that 95% of children may not qualify to be admitted.
The proposal to penalise children who enter the country illegally is entirely contrary to the Government’s welfare commitment towards children. Compensation for victims, and reparation orders, appear to have made no progress. There remains a considerable lack of support after victims have received a positive NRM decision, only partly filled by the wonderful work of NGOs. This places victims in danger of being re-trafficked and leads to non-effective prosecutions where the main witness—the victim—cannot be found.
Finally, the dramatic cut in overseas aid has had a devastating effect on modern slavery projects. This should be a matter of great concern to the Home Office. The Government have, in the past, been generous in supporting the setting up, with the USA, of the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery in 2017. The impact of the cut in funding is to reduce the current year’s expected funding from an estimated £7.6 million to £1.1 million. Among its effects is the cancellation of initiatives in Bangladesh with the IOM to stop forced labour in unregulated clothing factories, which adversely affects 10,000 victims, including 1,000 children under 14, and a project in India to help 8,000 children in Mumbai. As chair of the National Commission on Forced Marriage, I remind the House that forced marriage is an aspect of modern slavery.
My Lords, I first congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on her maiden speech. I am especially pleased to welcome such a fine Ulster Scots lady into your Lordships’ House.
The pandemic has had a detrimental impact on the Government’s so-called levelling-up agenda. Indeed, following the gracious Speech, the Government admitted that a levelling-up White Paper will appear only at some point later this year. Meanwhile, by breaking his cast iron promise not to place a post-Brexit regulatory border in the Irish Sea, the Prime Minister made a conscious decision to level down Northern Ireland by making it more difficult for businesses there to compete and denying local shoppers access to many goods. I cannot overstate the sense of betrayal felt in the Province over the Prime Minister’s actions and the Government’s refusal to fully acknowledge the ever-growing list of problems that the sea border has created.
The subject we are dealing with today is culture. In the year of Northern Ireland’s centenary, I am sorry to say that Boris Johnson has chosen to undermine our British culture. He has placed on us a position where we must follow rules set by the European Union, over which the United Kingdom Government, Northern Ireland Assembly and local voters have absolutely no say. It is the greatest diminution of British sovereignty since a previous Conservative Government signed the Anglo-Irish agreement 36 years ago. That should not rest easy with Her Majesty’s Government, nor indeed with those who support them in the Lobbies of your Lordships’ House.
There are two references to victims in this gracious Speech, one being how the Government intend to
“address the legacy of the past”
in Northern Ireland. On the eve of the English local elections, the Government advised two friendly newspapers that they would ban future Troubles-related prosecutions against soldiers and police officers. What was less prominent in this briefing was that these rules also apply to IRA/Sinn Féin and loyalist terrorists. It is not often that all the Province’s political parties come together to agree on something, but they are united in their hostility to this news. Concerns were shared by victims’ groups right across Northern Ireland. What the Government were proposing was an amnesty that would have treated police officers and members of the UK Armed Forces in precisely the same manner as the terrorists who were seeking to murder them. It is appalling; it is unacceptable. Those who suffered loss want justice and they should receive it if we are to address the legacy of the past.
I am sorry to say that the Prime Minister’s dereliction of duty last week in the way he treated the families of those killed in Ballymurphy half a century ago does not augur well. His predecessor David Cameron may not be winning many friends at the moment but his Oral Statement delivered in another place on the day of the Bloody Sunday report was published in 2010 and gained him a huge number of admirers. Mr Cameron’s apology to the Bloody Sunday families was sincere, honest and offered in full public view. In contrast, Boris Johnson’s words to the Ballymurphy families were conveyed in what amounted to a circular email to their solicitor a full 48 hours after the report was published.
Victims on all sides deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. The Prime Minister’s—I would say—tactless behaviour was entirely the opposite. Legacy issues have bedevilled Northern Ireland for far too long and the Government must finally show responsible leadership to allow us to move forward.
My Lords, the new plan for immigration will, we are told, increase the asylum system’s “fairness and efficacy”. We certainly need more fairness and efficacy, but the Law Society and refugee and human rights groups warn that this plan spells the opposite, with
“dire consequences for children and young people”,
according to the Children’s Society.
I can do no better than to cite the UNHCR’s devastating critique. This
“discriminatory two-tiered approach … will undermine the 1951 Convention and international protection system, not just in the UK, but globally.”
A commitment to resettlement and improved safe and legal pathways, which are urgently needed but for which there is no detail, cannot,
“substitute for or absolve a State of its obligations towards persons seeking asylum at its borders”.
The inferior temporary protection status offered to irregular entrants who stay in the UK is incompatible with international refugee law. We are told that the
“human consequences …will be very serious’.
The UNHCR has offered to work with the Government
“to adopt a more sensible, humane and legally sound”
approach. Could the Minister tell us the Government’s response to this offer, how their plan will work, given the reported refusal of all EU countries to co-operate, and what are the plans to open up safe routes?
More positive is the commitment to correct what is described as
“historical anomalies in British Nationality law which have long prevented individuals from gaining British citizenship or registering for citizenship, through no fault of their own.”
This is a real injustice suffered by the children of British Overseas Territory citizens of a certain age, denied citizenship simply because their parents were not married. It should have been rectified years ago.
With regard to registering for citizenship, there has been a long-standing concern across the House about the barriers faced by children who were born or have grown up in the UK who have to register their entitlement to citizenship because of their parents’ immigration status. In February, the Court of Appeal ruled that the exorbitant fee is unlawful because it was set without consideration of the best interests of the child. Can the Minister assure us that the consequent Section 55 best interests assessment will be published, and say when?
This shameful policy reflects the failure to put children’s best interests at the heart of policy-making. Twice during the Queen’s Speech debate, ministerial responses have ignored calls for a Cabinet-level Minister for children. I trust this will not happen today. Among other things, such a Minister would help to ensure that children are treated as a priority for the levelling-up agenda.
Given the prominence of that agenda, it is incomprehensible, as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has commented, that there is no sign of the employment Bill, which we were promised would protect and enhance workers’ rights. The Government have responded that the Bill will be introduced when the time is right. But surely, if we are to “build back better” from the pandemic, this parliamentary Session is exactly the right time: the right time to address endemic insecurity, especially among the lower paid; the right time to introduce promised leave, which needs to be paid, for around 5 million informal carers who juggle paid work and care and who have borne such a heavy burden during the pandemic; and the right time to reform shared parental leave, so as to ensure greater paternal involvement, as mothers have paid the price during the pandemic due to increased childcare responsibilities. When will the responses to the long-standing consultations on both carers’ and parental leave finally be published?
The briefing note on the speech includes a welcome acknowledgement that levelling up involves living standards. This means that it must address poverty and in particular child poverty, which is worsening in terms of both numbers and depth. We need investment in what the Biden Administration term the “human infrastructure” of financial support. At a minimum, the Government should now commit to maintaining the £20 UC uplift and its extension to legacy and related benefits, and to improving support for children, given the mounting evidence of how families with children have suffered disproportionately over the past year. The forthcoming levelling up White Paper must address these issues—
My Lords, I make no apologies for drawing the attention of the House yet again to the state of our prisons. The United Kingdom continues to have the highest rate of imprisonment in western Europe. In England and Wales, there are 131 prisoners for every 100,000 people in the general population, compared with 90 in Spain and 69 in Germany.
Sentence lengths have greatly increased in recent years. The average sentence for an indictable offence is now 58 months, which is more than two years longer than in 2008. Mandatory life-sentenced prisoners now spend on average 18 years in custody compared with 13 years in 2001.
We still send large numbers of people to prison for short periods: 47% of those entering prison under sentence are imprisoned for six months or less. Community sentences are significantly more effective than short prison sentences in reducing reoffending among comparable offenders, yet the use of community sentences has halved in the past decade. As a result of the higher use of custody, most of our prisons are overcrowded: 80 out of 121 currently hold more prisoners than their certified “normal” population.
Safety in prison has deteriorated over the past decade, during which the number of deaths in prisons has risen by over 50%. For every 1,000 prisoners, there were 741 incidents of self-harm in the period 2010-2020, compared with 282 in 2014. Over half of British prisons have found it more difficult to provide resettlement support to help prisoners avoid reoffending on release. Over the past 10 years, there has been a marked decline in prison inspectorate ratings of our prisons for purposeful activities and resettlement.
Covid-19 has caused particularly acute problems for the prison system. During lockdown, the vast majority of prisoners have spent 23 hours or more out of every 24 in their cells—2,000 of them in conditions that amount to solitary confinement. But even before lockdown it was clear that purposeful activity in our prisons had suffered a marked decline in recent years.
The latest projections predict a prison population of over 98,000 by 2026. The Government have announced plans for a significant programme of prison building. Despite this, last year’s report from the Public Accounts Committee, Improving the Prison Estate, estimated that the demand for prison places could outstrip supply by the next financial year. We all know that prison building programmes take time to deliver additional places, and this one will be no exception.
Against this background, the Government are introducing the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which contains a raft of provisions for lengthening sentencing further, including measures to ensure that most offenders serve lengthy minimum sentences and to increase the time served under discretionary life sentences. The Government estimate that these measures will increase the prison population by a further 700—the population of a medium-sized prison—by 2028. The Government’s impact assessment of this acknowledges that there is little evidence that these measures will deter offenders or reduce the level of crime.
I have one simple question for the Minister: will the Government adopt a policy objective of reducing, or preferably ending, overcrowding in our prison system, with clear target dates? It is a question that can be answered with a yes or a no. If the Government were prepared to adopt a clear objective along these lines, they would gain the support of noble Lords in all parts of this House.
Tucked away in the gracious Speech is a sentence which will require lots of attention in coming months:
“Measures will be brought forward to address racial and ethnic disparities”.
Nowhere are these disparities more obvious than in prison sentences. I see that my time is up, but I intend to take this matter up in future debates, and I will write formally to the Minister on this issue.
My Lords, I shall keep this contribution brief and to the point. Your Lordships will not be surprised to learn that, as a former Metropolitan police officer, I shall confine my remarks to policing.
This past year or so has seen probably one of the most challenging times for British policing. Tasked with ensuring that people remain safe during the pandemic and act within the law, policing has often met with derision and contempt—not only from certain elements in our society but, I regret to say, from politicians at all levels. That was particularly evident immediately after the Sarah Everard vigil which, as your Lordships will recall, took place on Clapham Common on Saturday 13 March. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate report says that
“what began as a quiet, sombre affair, with a minute’s silence for Ms Everard at 6 pm became a rally, complete with microphones, a public address system, placards and a dense crowd. Police made nine arrests as they moved to disperse the crowd. Photographs and video footage of the scenes, including police officers detaining people, were widely circulated on social media and published in the media.”
My word, the main news channels had a field day. They were rapidly supported by politicians, keen to get on the critical bandwagon. I made a note of them, but there were far too many to recall here in a four-minute speech.
The inspectorate concluded:
“When the decision to move to enforcement was made, our review found nothing to suggest that officers acted inappropriately or in a heavy-handed manner. In fact, we found evidence of patience and professionalism during engagement prior to, during and after arrest … Our inspection has led us to conclude that police officers at Clapham Common worked, in sometimes challenging circumstances, to maintain public safety and keep the peace. Unlike the public, who chose to be there, the police were there because they serve to keep us safe.”
Sadly, none of the critics had the courage to come forward in light of the findings to withdraw or apologise for their remarks.
We parliamentarians task the police to ensure our safety during this pandemic. As politicians, the very least we can do is to offer our support in these challenging times. I look forward to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill coming before your Lordships’ House, in particular the elements of the Bill which balance the rights of protestors with the rights of others to go about their business unhindered. It will enable the police to better manage the highly disruptive protests of which we have witnessed and tolerated far too many of late in the vicinity of Parliament, with the accompanying criminal damage to our monuments. The Bill contains many new and welcome aspects. I support it, as I do the draft victims’ Bill which at long last acknowledges the current shortcomings in our responsibilities to the most important people in the whole of the criminal justice system—the victim.
I have no doubt that there will be much debate around these Bills. I look forward to lending them my support and, in particular, our very deserving police service.
My Lords, on 17 September 2019, I attended the first day of an historic sitting of our Supreme Court. It was subsequently to rule unanimously—as I had repeatedly warned and argued—that the Government’s prorogation of this Parliament was a grave and unlawful abuse of power. As I walked out into the lunchtime sun, with just one young female colleague, we were the target of a noisy, at times abusive, and even racist demonstration. Noble Lords may remember the mood. Despite a counterdemonstration, there was a negligible police presence; however, neither group surged. It was unpleasant, but I was unafraid for my safety and would never have dreamed of making a complaint. Nor did I hear a complaint from anyone associated with government—quite the contrary. I do not believe that the streets outside Parliament or our higher courts should be islands of tranquillity, nor that I should be protected from offence, let alone dissent. I fear that this Government display a thinner skin.
The Minister is a commercial lawyer of considerable distinction. I am merely one of the public lawyers whom he mentioned in his opening remarks. Indeed, I am one of the activist lawyers to whom his colleague, the Home Secretary, often refers disparagingly. However, I hope he will agree that I have always tried to disagree with him kindly and well.
In my view, the best way of protecting free speech and democratic dissent is to show and not tell. These values cannot be imposed, like some kind of one-way system, with the stroke of the town planner or a parliamentary draughtsman’s pen. Freedom of expression, liberty and equality under the law constitute the ultimate two-way street. I urge the Government to recognise this and not continue to prosecute a culture war in which there is one law for some—especially the Executive.
For many public lawyers and vulnerable people, including the desperate refugees some of us spend our lives representing, attempts to clip the wings of judicial review look nothing short of retribution for the prorogation case of 2019 to which I have referred. It is like losing 11-nil in the FA Cup final and coming for the referee with a baseball bat. Attempts in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to curtail peaceful but noisy and impactful protest by law seem like a response to the growing international recognition of the Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion movements that will just as easily be used against vigils such as that for Sarah Everard. It is an illiberal dog whistle at a time when the Government should be attempting greater post-pandemic unity and equality—the rule of law, not more divide and rule.
An essential government free speech czar for universities is an oxymoron indeed, not least when these institutions are bound by Article 10 of the human rights convention —our first amendment if you like—and subject to judicial review. Perhaps the Government would do better not to threaten such protections and demonstrate the tolerance and civility that they demand of others.
My Lords, it is a privilege to take part in this debate, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook—I thank her for her maiden speech. I warmly welcome the online safety Bill, referenced in the most gracious Address. I declare my interest as a board member for the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.
It is my view that the online safety Bill represents a major step forward in preventing harm to children, vulnerable adults and our wider society. The Bill places a robust duty of care on content-sharing platforms and creates a major new regulator by extending the remit of Ofcom. Those designing the Bill have listened carefully and have risen to the challenge of scoping a regulatory framework for new and rapidly changing technologies. The internet is used by over 90% of adults in the United Kingdom. There are many benefits to that use, as we have seen during the pandemic, but also great potential for harm. As the memorandum from DCMS indicates very clearly, this landmark regulation will end the era of self-regulation. The Bill is likely to prove a key benchmark, not only for the United Kingdom, but for governments around the world.
The technology is evolving rapidly, and the Bill provides flexible mechanisms for responding to new developments through the evolution of codes of practice and the powers given to the Secretary of State. The extra time given to develop the Bill has been well used; however, the legislation and frameworks are needed very urgently as other noble Lords have said. Will the Government set out their assessment of the timescale, from the publication of the Bill to the date when the regime will be working? Are there ways to accelerate this, including a request from the Government now to Ofcom, asking it to prepare to receive powers under the online safety Bill.
Will the Government please clarify what has happened about their intention to deal with the vital questions of age verification and access to pornography sites, which seem not to have been included, as I thought was promised? Finally, will they clarify the ongoing role of Parliament in further improving the legislation offered and in the SI-making process, where the Secretary of State seems to have the initiative?
The Bill will make a very substantial contribution in translating the deep values of our society, the worth of each individual, public responsibility and care for children into the online world, and I look forward to it becoming law.
My Lords, I must admit to being disappointed that the gracious Speech did not include details of the criminal justice catch-up and recovery plan, for which the Ministry of Justice is responsible, because one of the main effects of the Covid pandemic is that virtually all rehabilitation work with prisoners has ceased. Coming on top of Chris Grayling’s disastrous transforming rehabilitation programme that virtually destroyed our world-class probation service, that means that there is a great deal of catching up and recovering to be done, as the Minister admitted in his introduction.
For the last 26 and a half years, I have advised successive Home Secretaries and Justice Secretaries that if they did not introduce a strategy for imprisonment, coupled with the management structure common in every business, hospital or school, in which named people are made responsible and accountable for certain functions within that business, hospital or school, sustained improvement would not happen, which it has not. In the case of prisons, I have advocated that directors should be appointed for every type of prison and certain types of prisoners, such as lifers, sex offenders, foreign nationals, the elderly and those serving indeterminate sentences. Directors would be responsible and accountable to the Secretary of State through a chain of subordinates, starting with the Minister for Prisons and going down through the Director General of Prisons to individual prison governors, who would be responsible and accountable to the director of their type of prison. I now advise the Secretary of State for Justice that without introducing such a management structure, he will not be able to catch up on, let alone recover, all that has been lost. It is essential that prisons and probation are included in the Government’s job creation plans mentioned in the gracious Speech.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on her maiden speech, and I refer to my interests in the register.
As other noble Lords have said, the draft online safety Bill is an important part of the Government’s legislative programme, but I am extremely concerned that in its latest iteration there is no mention of gambling, despite earlier intentions. Two years ago, the online harms White Paper made numerous references to gambling, which it described as an example of “designed addiction” and as demonstrating a
“fragmented regulatory environment which is insufficient to meet the full breadth of the challenges we face”—
challenges which the draft online safety Bill was partially seeking to rectify. But now, it appears, gambling is to be omitted from the Bill. When she winds up, will the Minister confirm that this is the case and explain why? This absence is extremely worrying, since the Bill could provide a vehicle to address many of the growing concerns about online gambling.
I chair Peers for Gambling Reform, a group of over 150 Members of your Lordships’ House pressing for the reforms recommended in the Select Committee report on gambling. Those reforms range from curbs on sports sponsorship and advertising to the introduction of a mandatory levy to fund research, education and treatment, and from establishing a gambling ombudsman to classifying loot boxes as gambling and so regulating them accordingly. Of course, we also need measures to tackle illegal gambling, the advertising of legal gambling companies on illegal websites and the use of drones filming sports events to give their owners an unfair gambling advantage.
These and other reforms are urgently needed. Two million people are affected by gambling-related harm; over 60,000 children are problem gamblers; and, on average, sadly, there is one gambling-related suicide every day. But online gambling is a particular cause for concern. Smartphones enable 24/7 unsupervised gambling. Yet, in comparison to land-based gambling, it is far less regulated. After all, the key legislation was enacted before the first iPhone was launched in 2007. For example, there are limits on stakes and prizes for land-based games but not for those available on the internet, where over 40% of all gambling now takes place.
The Government’s gambling review is of course welcome, but it looks increasingly as though the Government are shying away from taking action. Unless available legislative opportunities, such as the online safety Bill, are used, it could be many years before the Government deliver on their promise to tackle gambling-related harm. After all, the last major gambling review began in 1999, but it took a further eight years before new legislation was enacted. Given the scale of current gambling problems, we simply cannot afford to wait another eight years.
Even gambling operators believe the online safety Bill should be used, for example, to crack down on unregulated gambling operators. But some reforms can be made without new legislation, yet even in such cases, there is evidence that the Government are not pushing ahead as quickly as possible. For instance, the Gambling Commission is using its existing powers to consider affordability—how to ensure that all gambling operators use a common system of checks to ensure that customers can afford to gamble at the level they choose. But newspaper reports now suggest that the Government want to take this responsibility away from the Gambling Commission and incorporate it into a wider gambling review, which will lead to unnecessary delay. Can the Minister confirm this and, again, explain why this much-needed reform should be delayed?
Reforms to gambling are urgently needed, and the Government must not delay.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Foster, and I congratulate the two noble Baronesses on their superb maiden speeches, which were a delight to listen to.
I welcome the overall thrust of the Queen’s Speech, and I thought the Minister was extremely impressive in laying out for the House exactly what the programme entails. I want to concentrate on that part of the Speech that referenced Northern Ireland veterans. I would like to give it a cautious welcome, with some concerns. When I was in the other place, I was the founder of the all-party veterans’ support group, which has now become a full-scale APPG. I took a close interest in the Dennis Hutchings case, and I declare an interest because I have met him a number of times and know him well. As noble Lords will probably recall, Dennis Hutchings was serving in Northern Ireland in County Tyrone in 1974 and was part of a patrol that resulted in the killing of one John Pat Cunningham. The case was fully investigated at the time; there was absolutely no question of any of the soldiers on patrol being charged, and they were told to get on with their military careers.
Fast-forward to 2010 and the Historical Enquiries Team, when these soldiers were investigated again, including Dennis Hutchings. He was told once again that there was no case to answer, that his case had been thoroughly investigated, and that he should get on with his retirement and enjoy the rest of his life. Eight years afterwards, in 2018, he was arrested in a dawn raid and has been charged with murder.
Obviously, that case is sub judice, but I can refer in detail to the Joe McCann case and the two members of the Parachute Regiment, Soldiers A and C. This case involved a notorious and wicked IRA killer. Soldiers A and C were charged with murder. The case was expected to last at least six weeks. As noble Lords will know, the case folded after a matter of days when the judge ruled that evidence gleaned from the original investigation and from the HET was not admissible. We now know that the former deputy head of the HET actually recommended that there should be no prosecution because no new evidence was available. Frankly, it is staggering that this case went ahead.
I am very concerned, because we are told that there are more than 200 cases in the pipeline involving veterans in Northern Ireland and that a number of them will go to prosecution quite soon. We know about the soldiers who have been charged as a consequence of involvement in the Bloody Sunday killings and the recent Ballymurphy inquest. I am concerned that no one has mentioned the impact on the lives of these soldiers and the fact that very few of these prosecutions will probably now have much chance of succeeding.
This leads me to the commitment in the Queen’s Speech on Northern Ireland veterans. The details are fairly sketchy, but HMG have made it clear that they are looking at some form of amnesty or truth and reconciliation commission. I am very nervous about this, because it would certainly imply at first instance some form of equivalence between soldiers and police officers doing their duty and those terrorists who had one sole aim in life: to go out there to maim and kill. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown, in his typically passionate way, pointed out that these soldiers and police officers had no alternative: they were doing their duty, whereas terrorists did have an option.
I suggest to the Minister that there is a way forward that does not involve new legislation. In future, the Attorney-General should sign off all future prosecutions. There should be an override for the UK AG in terms of national security, so that every single case, be it terrorists who killed or soldiers involved in killings, would have to be signed off by the Attorney-General. Victims would know that these cases would not go uninvestigated and soldiers, veterans and police officers would be able to sleep at night knowing that unless there was compelling new evidence they would not be prosecuted.
My Lords, I begin by reminding the House of my interests as master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, and chair of the Art Fund. Before I turn to issues of culture, I want to record my serious disappointment at one item in the gracious Speech: the decision to undertake a period of further consultation before bringing in legislation to ban conversion therapy for LGBT+ people. I have to ask the Government: what on earth is there to consult about? Conversion therapy is wrong. It is deeply damaging to those it is imposed on. It should be banned as rapidly as possible. This is an unacceptable delay and, worse, it might be a way of smuggling in exceptions to a ban. The legislation should be brought forward without exceptions now.
I want mainly to address issues of culture, especially the Government’s rather obvious decision that culture war is their thing. They are at it with universities, flagging up in the gracious Speech the imposition of a duty to promote free speech, with an enforcer appointed by government. I am all in favour of free speech, especially in universities, where education is surely enhanced by the expression and contest of ideas and opinions, examined, tested and challenged as appropriate. But the last thing we need is the Government deciding what free speech should be allowed and what should not.
Every bit as worrying, however, is what appears now to be a government-directed imposition of their version of correctness on our national museums and galleries. We have seen it in the recent decision not to renew a distinguished academic’s term of office as trustee of the Royal Museums Greenwich simply because his work focused on issues of decolonisation. We have seen it also in the letter sent by the Secretary of State a few months ago to museums and others telling them that they should not explore issues of contested heritage with a critical eye. The Government are trying to tell museums what they can and cannot do. This really is not on. There is a very precious thing called the arm’s-length principle, which is supposed to define the relationship between government and museums. The Government are tearing this principle apart.
Our national museums and galleries are the great storehouses of our nation’s culture, history, science and wisdom. They contain the things of beauty that we have collected over generations. They reflect our nation’s identity in all its complexity, diversity and glory. It is vital that this complexity, diversity and glory are displayed and explained to the public in the best and most effective way, and the people who know best how to do that are the curators and directors of those museums. The last people to know how to do it are Governments and politicians. I say this in all earnestness to the Government, as a former Secretary of State: I would not have dreamed of trying to tell museums what they could display and what they could not, or what they could say about it and what they could not. The Government, quite simply, must get out of the way.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, began this debate by saying that the wheels of justice never stop turning. I remind the House that in the last gracious Speech in December 2019, we had the promise of a royal commission on the criminal justice system. Subsequently, there were five Questions in this House, and every single time there was evasion from the Ministry of Justice, which said that the purposes of the royal commission were still under consideration. Now it has been abandoned, unless the Minister can tell us in his reply that it will be coming back. That is a massive disappointment to all of us who have been concerned about the reality of justice for those who feel that miscarriage rather than fairness is the normal experience.
This gracious Speech rightly and understandably prioritises victims, and everybody will have sympathy and understanding for that. But there is very little understanding of the needs of those who are in prison now or who may face prison and where miscarriages of justice are normative. I identify myself wholeheartedly with the brilliant speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Paddick, who both identified the treatment of prisoners. A junior Minister in the Ministry of Justice—Alex Chalk MP in another place—issued a statement just the other day saying that prison leaders should not refer to people in prison as “inmates” or “residents”; they must be referred to harshly as “prisoners” so that they can experience the reality of their vileness and crimes. This is not a right and responsible attitude to take towards those who must deserve dignity and human rights. The Government should not be playing to the agenda of the Daily Express, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph in seeking to constantly push up sentences and to make prisons harder and harsher.
There are those who would respond by saying, “So you are on the side of prisoners and the vile?” Well, let me cite the example of one young man who came to see me just three weeks ago. A young man by the name of Brandon, 24 years of age, was falsely accused and held on remand for 11 months in 2020, during which he was held in his cell for 23 hours and 45 minutes of every single day. When the charges against him were subsequently proved to be false, there was no apology, no compensation and no support. He was crushed as an individual and released with no recognition of the injustice done to him simply because police officers decided that he was to be a target. He now desperately needs support and help.
We see today in the newspapers the wonderful story of the brilliant law firm Hogan Lovells, which spent eight years fighting for compensation for two black men in North Carolina who have just received $75 million as a consequence of falsified convictions 31 years ago when both men were teenagers sent to prison on an inappropriate, inaccurate and non-just basis. This is the largest-ever payout in American criminal justice and the case was pursued entirely pro bono by the international law firm.
In the UK, we do not have a system whereby the Criminal Cases Review Commission brings forward such cases with any speed or determination. We simply allow those who are in prison to falter and fail. I have in my hand just one week’s worth of letters from prisoners telling me of issues of injustice and miscarriage in their cases. One man in particular, whose mother and aunt died as a result of the coronavirus, as a consequence sought to ask the prison if he could watch his mother’s funeral on YouTube. He was denied the opportunity to see his mother buried. That is not fairness and justice, treating prisoners with dignity or a recognition of their human rights.
We therefore urgently need a royal commission and for it to recognise that, yes, there are victims but there are also people whom injustice has locked away for too long.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook. As a woman of Glasgow heritage, that alone should undoubtedly make her a great asset to this House.
It is hard to select which pieces of the Government’s legislative programme are the most dispiriting, but let me start with the Lord Chancellor’s plan to ratchet up sentences of imprisonment. This is mere populist posturing. It has already been mentioned—I mention it again because it is about wider Europe—that we have the highest prison population in Europe, surpassed only by Russia and Turkey. We are not talking just about western Europe but about the wider Europe of members of the Council of Europe. We are up there at the top of the league table, and it should be no source of pride to us.
I was rather saddened by the Minister’s woeful slogan, “Tough on crime, tough on the perpetrators of crime”. I know that he seemed proud of it. However, while it may be a little jibe at the Labour aphorism, “Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime”, the difference between a slogan and an aphorism, which is why I choose the word “aphorism”, is that there is a nugget of truth in an aphorism. The truth in that aphorism about having to deal with and look to the causes of crime is because there one has a real sophisticated project on trying to drive down crime.
At the moment, our prisons are crammed full, with there being virtually no skills training, rehabilitation or education. Yet the level of illiteracy is high among our prison population. It means, therefore, that their ability to survive in society is harder. There are no anger management courses. It is truly abysmal that there is such an absence of courses to address drug addiction, alcohol addiction and misogyny, which is the backdrop to so much crime against women. We also have a depleted probation service, as was described by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. Probation officers are so hard-pressed that they have no capacity to carry out the risk assessments that are key to the prevention of reoffending.
My great friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, spoke of women in the criminal justice system, about which I, too, am concerned. In 2018, 62% of women in prison were serving sentences of less than six months. Since then, it is believed that that figure has increased. We have the extraordinary business of women being in prison, the vast majority of whom are serving sentences of under six months. Think about the consequences of that. A woman’s children are taken away from her and put into care; she loses her accommodation because the contract is terminated and she is evicted; and of course in prison, as I have mentioned, she is not able to avail herself of much in the way of support. Women in prison have usually been the victims of domestic violence, child abuse and all those things that we know often lead to people committing offences at the behest of controlling men.
It saddened me that, when the Attorney-General was asked on “Woman’s Hour” why we were creating 500 new places for women when the majority of women do not commit violent or serious offences, the response was that 50,000 new police officers were being created so that there would be many more arrests and therefore there was a need for many more prison places. That does not seem like a very imaginative way of dealing with criminal justice or preventing crime.
I turn to the other Bill that is an absolute travesty, the asylum reforms, which my noble friend Lord Blunkett made the arguments about very clearly. It is a shameful rejection of our obligations in international law. It should be remembered by everyone in this House—we are the last generation that really remembers this stuff; I remember my father, having coming back from the Second World War, telling us stories of the horrors—that the reason why the 1951 refugee convention was created was the problems that many had in getting out of Nazi Germany and away from persecution. The drafters of the convention made it very clear—
Sorry. They made it clear that we have to treat a person as a refugee, not simply according to the way in which they made their way to another country.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Smith: we cannot delay the business of dealing with the persecution and misery faced by homosexual people in conversion therapy. That is a promise that was made, and I hope the Government stick to it. This is not about a failure to protect religion; it is about preventing people from being treated horribly—exorcised and so on—in ways that are inhumane and do not recognise their essential sexuality and humanity. Please proceed with that Bill.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook. Maiden speeches are never easy, and in these circumstances they are very difficult indeed.
As a number of people have said, the gracious Speech foreshadows the internet safety Bill, which is intended to address some of the real harms inflicted on society, particularly on the young and the vulnerable, by the abuses and misuses that have become apparent over the nearly two decades since the Communications Act 2003.
I welcome the promised pre-legislative scrutiny. The Bill is large, complex and comprehensive but far from oven-ready. I hope, for example, that we will take evidence from the NSPCC about its concerns that the draft online safety Bill leaves out of scope a large number of commercial pornography sites that have the potential to cause harm to children. My noble friend Lord Foster has referred to the absence of gambling reform; the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, drew attention in his report to the absence of any attempts to curtail harm to our democracy; and the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, mentioned scams and fraud, so there is much for the Select Committee to consider.
Over the coming year, we will have the opportunity to produce legislation that is genuinely world-leading in bringing the internet within the rule of law, but much will depend on how Ofcom perceives its role. When Ofcom was first mooted as a regulator, I remember it being said that “Murdoch’s lawyers will eat them for breakfast.” That has not been the case, thanks in part to the amendment to its powers proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, during the passage of the 2003 Act, which gave Ofcom a hierarchy of responsibilities, the first of which was to protect the interests of citizens. It is that hierarchy of duties that gives Ofcom the power and flexibility to intervene where broader public interest issues are involved. It will be Parliament’s job to ensure that Ofcom retains those powers and that flexibility in the new regulatory landscape that we will be mapping out in the Bill.
Another success of the 2003 legislation was the carving out of the rights and responsibilities of our public service broadcasters. Among those responsibilities was to provide access to the work of the independent production companies. The result has been to see what was a cottage industry develop into a worldwide success story, employing some 75,000 people and attracting upwards of £3 billion a year in inward investment. There is a very real danger that the very successful ecology of our media industries could be irreparably damaged by financial interests and ideological vandalism. It is essential that the new broadcasting settlement recognises, as did the 2003 Act, the need to protect prominence and other benefits in return for the unique contribution to our culture, creative industries and regional and national identities which the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 provide.
As the noble Lord, Lord Smith, said, we are in a culture war between old values, which have helped shape our liberal democracies over the last 100 years, and the challenges to those values thrown up by the new technologies. It is the responsibility of Parliament now to make sure that we are in a good place to win that war.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, whose wisdom I look forward to hearing more often, for an excellent maiden speech. I also refer to my interests, stated in the register, in policing and housing.
A number of Bills mentioned in the gracious Speech will require our police to enforce new laws and regulations. We have already seen considerable disquiet expressed regarding what might amount to a very significant reduction in the ability of the public to engage in peaceful political protest, particularly where such protests directly or indirectly impact on others. I will reserve more detailed comments on this Bill for when it reaches your Lordships’ House, although I note the wise comments made earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. For now, I want briefly to lay it alongside my experience of 12 months of rapidly changing coronavirus regulations.
On many occasions, the precise boundaries between regulations—matters that police can enforce—and guidance, to which they can only direct our attention, have been seriously blurred. Meanwhile, ministerial statements have put pressure on our police to issue fixed penalty notices, but the Crown Prosecution Service is quite clear that an adequate chain of evidence will be almost impossible to achieve.
I fear that the nine Peelian principles, which have shaped UK policing since 1829, are being eroded. Behind those principles, carved out in the years immediately after the Manchester Peterloo massacre of 1819, lies the central tenet that the power and authority of our police come from the consent of the public, not the power of the state. The will of the people cannot be collapsed into the ambitions and policies of the Government of the day, no matter what mandate or majority it may hold in the lower House of this Parliament. Our police must never be turned from agents of the public into agents of the state, let alone the enforcers of mere ministerial policy. I look forward to some robust debates in this House during the forthcoming Session.
I turn briefly to two other matters. Several weeks ago, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, the Minister for Housing, assured me that he would arrange for national representatives of those living in unsafe apartment buildings to meet not only himself and his staff, as they have been doing, but representatives of Her Majesty’s Treasury. I know that the noble Lord has made strenuous efforts to fulfil that promise; meetings have been arranged but then postponed or cancelled due to the Treasury not being available. It is simply not good enough for a major department to delay and obfuscate in this way. I would be extremely grateful for reassurances, either in this debate or in writing straight after, that this matter will be promptly rectified.
Finally, I am grateful that legislation to ban conversion therapy is now under consideration. I share that sense of urgency of the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, who both spoke in the last few minutes, and pray that the necessary consultation will be focused and time-limited. The General Synod of the Church of England passed a motion to outlaw such therapy several years ago, and by massive majorities, including my right reverend friends on these Benches. However, I fear that too much emphasis may be placed on the methods such so-called therapies employ. Good criminal law concentrates on the impact on the victim; scrutiny as to the traumatic impact of the particular techniques used by perpetrators is far better entrusted to the courts, which can carefully weigh up the evidence in each case, rather than make it central to the legislation.
I look forward to our debates throughout what will be my first full Session as a Member of this House.
It is wonderful to be able to talk about justice, home affairs and culture. Based on my own experience, if you want to sort out justice and all the problems of people who end up in the justice system—often people from poverty and need, people who have a predictable road to failure from the very beginning—you do not sort it out through courts, probation and all those things. You give them something to do.
My own pathway out of wrongdoing was to become involved in culture. I became a posh geezer because I started to go to art galleries and read books. As I have told this House exhaustively over the last four or five years, I learnt to read at the age of 16 in a boys’ prison, in a library supported by the local authority. We know that local authorities support 3,000 libraries in England and 350 museums.
In my humble opinion, if you want to change something, you have to change it tangentially. If you go on looking after the poor by simply giving them money—not giving them an opportunity to move on, social mobility or the chance to read, write and learn all the skills necessary to get out of poverty—you end up with this almost arithmetical, dead, dry belief in what justice is. Justice is often something that happens because you have given somebody the chance of some education, some social training, some culture and some arts along the way.
I declare my interest not just in that I used this cultural system to become who I am today but in that I am a VP of the Local Government Association—I think we are all VPs of the LGA; there seem to be a load of them. I am fascinated by the fact that we have an industry that is bigger than the automobile or aerospace industries, oil and gas or life sciences. It is called the cultural industry and it brings in circa £111 billion a year. That is where we need to spend our money. Pre-Covid, it was growing faster than any other industry in the United Kingdom.
What is so beautiful about culture, the arts and sport is that they create social mobility. We know it is not fashionable to like social mobility, largely among people who have social mobility. However, I assure noble Lords that if you do not have social mobility, what you need is social mobility—then you can say, “I don’t like social mobility, because I’m now socially mobile.” Is that not brilliant?
I want the House to recognise the role of local authorities. They are the bedrock— they are the libraries and galleries. They are providing the necessary services that grow this enormous tree in the United Kingdom called the creative industries.
My Lords, what a pleasure it is to follow the great oratory of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, who I have not had the pleasure of hearing in person in this Chamber before. I think we are all very much looking forward to hearing more of that in person, rather than down a video link. On the subject in question today, I was really struck by the level of ambition and scale in the scope of the legislative agenda outlined in the gracious Speech—it certainly is a packed programme, as the late Mr Ronnie Barker might have said. Despite the breadth of the subject matter, I find myself following pretty closely in the footsteps of my noble friend Lady Fullbrook and, indeed, of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden. I compliment my noble friend Lady Fullbrook on her most excellent maiden speech. It seems that our arms will be closely linked in various provisions of the upcoming police and criminal justice Bill.
I will concentrate my remarks on the criminal justice area. It is imperative that at all times we ensure that legislation in this field aligns closely with the legitimate expectations of society to be properly protected and for the police to be given the authority to deliver common-sense, pragmatic solutions supported, in large part, by the general public. As my noble friend Lord Davies of Gower said, we are extremely fortunate to be served by highly trained, dedicated police officers who operate under tremendous pressure and, in these days, under a quite extraordinary level of scrutiny. The role of the police and the breadth of the areas in which they are now obliged to become involved often puts them in the unenviable position of having to act as umpires in very delicate fields which were previously not their preserve, but the public expect be protected, whether at home or online.
At home, burglary has an exceptionally low clear-up rate: I understand it is in the order of 3% or thereabouts, and it would be a matter of huge regret if the impression were to be given that this was not a high priority. Similarly, there is a perception developing that certain crimes are now just tolerated and treated more as an irritating part of modern life, rather than as the fraud, intimidation and theft they really are. I am talking now about crimes that are delivered through online, digital means. I do not think they should be referred to as digital crimes; they are not, they are fraud or theft that happen to be delivered through a digital medium, be it automated text messages, automated voicemails, emails or other methods of communication.
As I was writing this speech, two text messages came through to my device purporting to be from high-street banks advising of suspect transactions. Other members of my family at the same time, and other friends I checked, had received the identical approach for theft, essentially. I think there has to be a change of mindset around this. There must be hundreds of millions of such attempts at fraud happening every year in the UK alone. I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, that we should not tolerate this level of attempted and, no doubt, successful fraud. He is very much more of a technical and industry expert than I am, certainly, and very much of that activity may well originate from overseas, but this is a technologically enabled crime and I believe it is time that the UK authorities and their agencies took a more aggressive, technologically enabled approach to prosecute, disrupt and close down these gangs. I noted what the noble Lord said about the role of the banks in all this, and that is certainly an area where I would favour closer attention. Of course, I welcome the work of the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau and Action Fraud, but it is clear that an epidemic of digitally enabled fraud is under way and a new approach is required.
Finally, before I close I want to comment on the provisions of the reintroduced Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. It is very clearly wrong for groups of people to be able to commit trespass with vehicles, to drive on to land they do not own and do not have permission to be on, to set up camp, with associated very often serious criminal behaviour, doing what they want, disrupting the life of the law-abiding majority and sheltering behind the knowledge that legal powers do not exist to deliver a swift resolution. If ever there was one, this is a classic area where the public are bewildered that these powers do not currently exist. The Bill would correct this and give the police the powers they need to restore the peace, which would be a clear win for common sense and for justice.
My Lords, I first congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on an excellent maiden speech and, secondly, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Viscount.
This is the first time in five years I have not had to declare an interest when addressing the House. I stood down as Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicestershire and Rutland only last week, and from now I look forward to once again playing a slightly greater role in the House’s debates, not least on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which I suspect will take up quite a lot of time later this year.
Given the recent publication of the Home Office’s first report into police and crime commissioners, and, of course, in the context of the gracious Speech, I want to speak a little about my experience as a police and crime commissioner—perhaps setting out a few early thoughts on leaving the role.
PCCs, police and crime commissioners, are now an established part of the policing scene: after all, they have existed for eight and a half years and have been through three sets of elections. Their role is probably not what the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, had in mind when he persuaded the then leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, to introduce them. However, they clearly play a significant role in every police force area.
On the whole, PCCs have shown moderation and good sense whatever political party—or none—they belong to. The Home Office and the police have always been concerned that this would not be the case. Thankfully we now have an association that is worthy of the name. It is now well lead and provides an excellent service to all its members. However, I have concerns that now, for the first time, there are no independent PCCs and one party has many more police and crime commissioners than the other. There may be something of an outbreak of party-political grandstanding. I hope noble Lords agree that that would be a grave mistake. It would put the police in obvious difficulties as they are, of course, politically neutral, and members of the public—to put it mildly—would not like it.
While it is obviously the principal role of a police and crime commissioner to hold the chief constable in their force to account and to ensure that the force is efficient, effective and legitimate, there are other major roles that PCCs must treat as seriously. There is the requirement to protect all from harm, to make people feel secure and to care for victims of crime. This exciting and crucial responsibility can be done only in partnership with other public bodies: the police, local authorities, probation and the health services—not least the mental health services. Partnership is great and it is our best hope.
However, what makes this task so much more difficult than it needs to be are the bad decisions taken year by year by the coalition Government to dramatically cut the money the police had and that local authorities have. Of course, the present Government have changed their view as far as the police are concerned, but I have to end by saying that one can see the damage those early decisions did every day.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on her maiden speech. I was sorry to see the gracious Speech did not mention anything about the health and well-being of injured police officers, especially as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is being considered by Parliament at the moment and was touched on in the gracious Speech. For many years I was a trustee of the Police Rehabilitation Centre at Flint House in Oxfordshire, following which I was invited to become president of the Police Treatment Centres, which are in Harrogate and Auchterarder in Perthshire. So, I declare that interest and also my other interests as set out in the register.
The PTCs are a two-centre police charity, founded 120 years ago, delivering first-class treatment to police officers and retired officers who have been injured on or off duty, or who need special support. Attendance on the psychological well-being programme alone has increased 87% in five years—an indication of the increasing need for such support as our police officers face ever more serious and traumatic incidents. The PTCs cost about £5 million each year to run, and 90% of those costs come from individual officer donations. The rest of the money comes from commercial activities run by the charity and fundraising. Of course, it has been extremely difficult this year. Some forces also give us grants, and I would particularly like to mention the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which gives large grants to us every year, again from its own officers. However, we estimate we have lost income of around £400,000 since 2020 to date.
The Government do not give any grants or provide any financial support to the PTCs, unlike that which is given in huge amounts to the military charities, running into tens of millions each year; nor does the NHS give us any money, unlike that given to Combat Stress or Help for Heroes. Yet we save it considerable amounts of money by providing treatment that it would otherwise have to provide for these officers. Independent reports by Robert Gordon University on the efficacy of the PTCs, in 2017 and 2019, suggested that they delivered a cost benefit of £3.80 for every £1 spent, in terms of value back to taxpayers, which translated into a saving for forces and taxpayers of over £16.7 million. In 2019, we treated 3,777 police patients, of whom 2,935 were serving officers and others were retirees or day patients.
Our excellent CEO, Patrick Cairns MBE, a former senior army officer, has commented that from his personal experience, and speaking to thousands of police patients every year, he believes we deliver career-, relationship- and life-saving treatment. Some officers who contemplated taking their own lives have been helped so successfully that they have credited their stay as a turning point in their battle, after suffering extreme psychological trauma. Officers and patients who are entitled to treatment come from all over the United Kingdom. The demand for support from the centres increases every year, with a 7% increase in attendance from 2018-19 alone. The Government should be putting regular funding into the PTCs, so I hope the Minister will recognise that this is an exceptional charity which enables the return of more police officers to the front line as a result of the intervention and support given. I hope she will take this proposal back to the Secretary of State for consideration.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on her maiden speech. It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. I want to say something about refugee policy and add a few words, perhaps at the end, about the press and electronic media and, if time allows, a little bit about delays in the courts.
I hope when we get the borders Bill that, as a result of the consultation going on, it will be much improved compared with the policy statement of last March. My first point is that the Government propose to discriminate on the basis of how people make their journey to find safety. I believe firmly that the method of travel should not determine the right to asylum. I further believe that such discrimination would be illegal and a breach of the 1951 Geneva Convention. I am assured that this is so by many people, NGOs and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In any case, the policy would be unworkable. Is there any reason to think that European countries would accept the return of asylum seekers who, according our Government, have travelled here by the wrong route? Can we see the French Government accepting people who have come over here on dinghies or in the back of a lorry? I do not think so. If that policy—which our Government want—was adopted by all countries, the accident of geography would mean that Greece, Italy, and Malta would have had to accept thousands, indeed millions, of people who reached those countries for safety.
Obviously, we in this country cannot take all refugees. I argue, however, that we should take our share of responsibility along with other European countries. The Government have closed the two main routes for child refugees in Europe, both under my amendment to the 2016 Act and by not seeking to negotiate the continuation of the family reunion provisions of the Dublin treaty, which expired at the end of December when we left the EU. It is important that the Government ensure that there are safe routes to the UK for refugees. Of course, the Government are right in wanting to undermine the traffickers, who cause so much misery and so many deaths on the seas. It is the absence of safe routes that ensure that the traffickers are kept in business—it is a godsend to them. Clearly, we need safe routes for refugees to come into the UK.
Secondly, we should give priority to the family reunion rights for refugees. What could be a more fundamental right than the family reunion of people who have fled danger in their country?
Thirdly, what is to happen to the child refugees who are now in northern France or on the Greek islands? We cannot just say no to them and say that they have to take a legal route to the UK. In effect, we are saying, “There is no legal route for you and you have to take your chances on the back of lorries or in unsafe boats and dinghies”—something the Government have been anxious to prevent. The way to prevent it is by opening the doors again to safe and legal routes. That has been put very clearly by a British writer born to Somali parents in Kenya called Warsan Shire, who reached the UK at the age of one. She wrote that
“no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land”.
That seems a clear summary of what we should be about as a country.
I turn briefly to the internet safety Bill and related measures. It is ironic that at a time when the future of local and national newspapers is in doubt, many are struggling to survive because online giants such as Google and Facebook are paying nothing for news content. It is the social media or online platforms that should pay news providers for the news. In 2019, Google and Facebook took 80% of the £14 billion spent on digital advertising, and national and local news titles took only 4%. The Australian Government have shown the way to do it; we should do likewise.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Fullbrook on her wonderful maiden speech today, and my Front-Bench colleagues on the way they have introduced this debate.
I will focus on—and make a plea to my Front Bench that in bringing these Bills forward they look at—knife crime. I had a failed attempt to bring a Private Member’s Bill to look at knife crime monitoring; it did not get into the ballot. I hope that I can use these Bills to ask the Government to consider making sure that those who have gone to prison and have been released and those who have been cautioned for carrying a knife are monitored for at least six months after they have been released or cautioned—I think we will get cross-party support. I say this on behalf of all those families whose children have been murdered because of knife crime.
I bring this to the House after speaking to a mother who lost her 16 year-old son because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A person who had been released from prison and was carrying a knife—he had been in prison for knife crime—decided to stab this 16 year-old in the heart, and he died. That mother and her bravery in trying to find support for not just herself but other families has moved me to plead with my Front Bench to have a look at this.
I do not know how it would work; I am sure that the clever people that work with Ministers will be able to find a route. I hope it will not be a huge cost on resource. However, we owe it to the victims and their families to be able to assure them that people who have committed a crime are at least watched to ensure that they get the support that they sometimes need, or that the public are protected from another incident like the one that this lady in Leicester experienced. I am from Leicester, and Leicester has a high rate of knife crime. So I plead on behalf of all the families undergoing this kind of experience. This lady herself has reached out to other parents to see how she could support them. We should not, however, let people undertake this support among themselves without providing support ourselves. That is my plea.
I was not going to touch on this, but having listened to a few other speeches I will finish with a few comments on migrants. Most migrants do not make the dangerous journey because they want to. Nobody would want to leave their families behind and come across dangerous waters. The Home Secretary is absolutely right to say that we need to deal with this issue. However, I firmly believe that we keep looking at this the wrong way round. Let us help the countries build their own infrastructures so that people feel safe to live in their homes in their own countries. That applies to economic migrants. Where there is war and risk to life, the argument is very different. I hope, however, that in the 21st century we look at the levelling-up agenda not just in the context of the UK. Covid has taught all of us that we are only as safe as everyone else is, so we have to help level up not just in our own country but globally.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness. I had the privilege of being on the Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry, which reported in July 2020. I draw attention to my declaration of interests in that report, in particular to my work as a barrister in the field of claims by problem gamblers against gambling operators. I also sit on the executive committee of Peers for Gambling Reform. I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, as the chair of that body. What I will say now is a coda to the powerful speech that he made a couple of hours ago.
The Select Committee report—and, for that matter, just about everyone who has considered gambling in the online age—identifies the scale of the problem that we now face. The liberalisation of the statutory regime that occurred when the Gambling Act 2005 came into force went too far, even at that point, but in any case online gambling was at an embryonic stage then. Some noble Lords, but probably not all, may know that it is now possible to turn one’s smartphone into a casino within seconds and gamble on virtual slot machines, poker tables, roulette tables, whatever takes one’s fancy. The only limit, in practice, to the amount that you can wager is the amount that you are able to deposit by debit card. You can play multiple tables or machines. The speed of play is far quicker than anything available in the physical world. The games are artfully designed. Most people can resist the temptation and gamble safely and enjoyably—and the liberty to do so must be protected—but many cannot. It is not an easy thing to measure, but one not implausible estimate is that there are 2 million problem gamblers in the UK.
Realism is required, it seems to me. It is unrealistic and unfair, really, to expect gambling operators to take effective steps to minimise problem gambling. There is an obvious conflict, which can be briefly expressed as, “The bigger the problem, the bigger the profit on the bottom line”. The stakes are high for the operators. Gross gambling yield in the UK, which is defined as the amount retained by the industry after the payment of winnings before payment of operating costs, is now a little over £14 billion a year. It might have risen over lockdown; we shall see.
Fundamental changes are needed and they will have to be enforced. Some changes certainly require primary legislation. Many important and necessary changes do not, as the noble Lord, Lord Foster, said. The Gambling Commission has extensive powers and it can be required to use them. It is able to control or prohibit the use of so-called VIP schemes and is beginning to develop provisions based on the difficult but important concept of affordability. The 2005 Act itself provides machinery enabling the imposition of a statutory levy that could fund research and treatment. Inexplicably, that has not happened yet.
Primary legislation will probably be required to create a gambling ombudsman. This is essential. The ombudsman will have powers to call for documents and information that will bring to light any improper exploitation of problem gamblers. The operators will then be very strongly motivated to act appropriately.
To my mind, it is a little troubling that it seems the online safety Bill will have nothing at all to say about gambling. Like the noble Lord, Lord Foster, I hope that the Minister might be able to address that omission in her closing remarks.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on her maiden speech, and I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, because this is the first debate I have spoken in since he joined your Lordships’ House and has been sitting on the Front Bench. I will focus my remarks on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, and the contentious measures in it about protests and demonstrations. I support the Bill and those measures, although I regret that they are necessary. I will explain why.
Over the past five years, we have experienced a series of shocking political events that have exposed how divided our society has become. For me, the most graphic illustration of that division was the demonstrations and protests in April 2019 that brought parts of central London to a standstill for several days. To be clear, I am talking not about the subject of the protesters’ demonstrations but about how they went about their protest.
Until then, I think most of us assumed that it was not possible for people, in the name of any cause, however noble or important, to block other people’s rights of way and to get away with it. The inconvenience and cost of the disruption that the protest caused was reason enough to be angry, as was the inertia of the police in the face of such disruption. But what dismayed me was the realisation that common consensus among law-abiding people was breaking down—the common consensus that nothing justifies one group of citizens wilfully and deliberately obstructing other law-abiding people from going about their business.
One thing that has always united the vast majority of us, regardless of our differences, is what is acceptable behaviour in public, including when it comes to how we protest and demonstrate in support of things we believe in or are against. My regret is that we now have to legislate to make something that never used to be in doubt undeniable in law.
Of course, one thing that is still uncertain is whether there will be prosecutions or convictions in the light of this legislation. Only a month ago, a jury acquitted protesters who had caused criminal damage to private property, even though the judge directed the jury that there was no defence in law for their actions. I would welcome the Minister’s reaction to that.
That brings me back to what has caused this fracture in society and why I believe that Parliament has no choice but to act. As hard as it may be for some noble Lords—and Members in the other place—to accept, the political realignment we are seeing in Britain is in part because many voters cannot be sure that people such as parliamentarians and political and social campaigners, who may have different views, stand for and share the same belief in upholding common standards of behaviour which unite all law-abiding people. As regrettable as this legislation may be, it is necessary because these same citizens need us—Parliament—to stand up for them and what unites us with them.
The gracious Speech said that the Government will legislate to
“level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom”.
I believe that all sides of this House support this goal but, if we really want to achieve it, we should keep in mind that the inequality and unfairness that people feel is not only about lack of economic opportunities. It is also about the erosion of standards which all of us must uphold if we are all to have an equal opportunity to succeed.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on her maiden speech.
It is no surprise that there was no mention of the arts and creative industries in the Queen’s Speech, yet I wonder if we have not reached a critical juncture in their future. This is not just about Covid and the effects it has had on the arts. Organisations are struggling, and many freelancers have still not received any support, despite the welcome—if necessary—recovery fund. This is also about the longer-term effects of Brexit, alongside the Government’s stance on the future of skills in this country.
The Government should urgently reconsider the proposed 50% cut to the funding of higher education courses in arts subjects. This would be not only disastrous in its own right but destructive in ways the Government may not yet fully appreciate. The arts sector has been unanimous in its condemnation. Andrew Lloyd-Webber has rightly called the proposals “idiotic and short-sighted”. They are so for a number of reasons, not least because, as a society, we should not have to make a choice between science and technology on the one hand and the arts on the other. As the Incorporated Society of Musicians says in its helpful briefing, it is “a false dichotomy”. To say that such courses lead to dead-end jobs, as Gavin Williamson put it last week, is quite simply wrong. Apart from anything else, the arts and creative industries are of great financial worth to this country. They are—and should be—considered a significant aspect of its future.
There is too the incalculable, central importance of innovation and creativity of design, as the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, discussed in his excellent speech last week. This has also been mentioned by other noble Lords today. Design is both the bridge and glue between the arts and sciences. It gets no mention in the build back better plan. I raised a concern about design in education in an Oral Question on industrial strategy on 26 April. The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, replied,
“design and innovation are going to be key and crucial”.—[Official Report, 26/4/21; col. 2065.]
I agree. If so, there should be greater opportunities to study art and design in schools and beyond, not fewer. This is a strategic priority.
We still need a government-backed Covid insurance for live events, even at this stage, in mid-May. Festivals are still being cancelled. Hundreds will be cancelled without insurance. This will continue beyond the summer, for events both large and small. In response to my Oral Question on 27 April the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, said,
“we need to be absolutely confident that any scheme would result in an increase in activity”.—[Official Report, 27/4/21; col. 2146.]
With respect, is that not why we need insurance, because of the uncertainty which may yet persist? It is required until some form of commercial insurance can be made available. This is what Governments are for.
I raise again, as I did last year, the concern over whether new planning laws, which will encourage housebuilding and allow freer rein to developers, will also lead to the closure of community and arts buildings and spaces, including studio spaces, arts centres, theatres and music venues, as well as discouraging new spaces. We need to keep an eye on this.
With the continuing destructive effects of Brexit, the performing arts urgently need a bespoke visa waiver agreement, additional to the TCA, to be negotiated by the noble Lord, Lord Frost, alongside much else that needs to be resolved, including work permits, cabotage and carnets. These are not teething problems but a direct result of us leaving the single market. The Carry on Touring campaign has its online summit on these concerns on Thursday, and I hope that many Members, especially Ministers, will attend that important event.
Finally, as recommended in a new report by the Writers All-Party Parliamentary Group, we need a creators’ council, whereby many of these concerns can be directly communicated by artists, including freelancers, to government. This is an excellent idea which has growing support, and I hope that the Government take note.
My Lords, in response to the gracious Speech, I shall very briefly look at some issues concerning the police. I know only too well that policing is an area of public service that is rarely absent from the headlines; whether it be in reality or depicted on film or television, people will have their own perception of what policing is really like in the real world. I am often asked whether “The Sweeney”, “The Bill” or “Line of Duty” are true to life. I can put your Lordships’ minds at rest: murders do not get solved in an hour and junior officers, as much as they would like to, do not arrest senior officers, handcuff them and march them to the cells through the office past all their colleagues. It may be good for ratings, but it is not the real world.
It is sometimes said that a country is judged by how it treats its prisoners. I believe that it is also judged by the way in which the police treat the public. In the UK, thank goodness, we are policed by consent. This is demonstrated—to the astonishment of visitors—by the fact that in Britain the police are largely unarmed, apart from a baton and sometimes an unlethal taser. In my days on the beat, other than in large metropolitan areas perhaps, police officers lived in the areas that they policed; we lived in police houses in villages and towns, and local people knew who we were and where we were. There was often an office attached to the house, and we would get to know the locals, particularly the villains. There were no computers then, of course, few cars and a paper-based intelligence system, provided by an excellent relationship with law-abiding members of the community, who often tipped us off. It was epitomised by that excellent TV programme a few years ago, “Heartbeat”, which many of your Lordships will have seen.
Before I am reduced to tears, I shall explain the point that I am leading to. Policing is not about being an occupying army exercising force; it is about citizens in uniform acting on behalf of the community to keep order. I appreciate that society has changed, but I hope that our values have not. We need to get back to community policing where possible, but that requires feet on the ground, visibility and, most of all, approachability. I therefore welcome the previous commitment to recruit 20,000 more officers. When will that undertaking be completed? In modern Britain, police officers should also be representative, so could the Minister also comment on whether ethnic or racial minorities are applying to join in sufficient numbers?
Finally, as a training instructor I used to jokingly tell recruits that our customers were always wrong—but seriously, unlike in many other organisations, serious complaints are quite rightly dealt with independently. “Who polices the police?” is an important question. It is essential that such matters are seen to be dealt with fairly and appropriately, and above all speedily, for the benefit of the complainant and of the officer involved. Some of those investigations can drag on for years to the detriment of the complainant and the police officer concerned. In the interests of fairness and justice, can the Minister assure the House that the Home Office will try to ensure a far quicker turnaround in the complaints procedure?
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lady Fullbrook on her fine maiden speech.
I will touch on four areas in her Majesty’s gracious Speech. First, I share others’ reservations about the online safety Bill repealing Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act: despite its limitations, this would have prevented children inadvertently seeing online pornography on commercial sites. I understand that the Government wanted to cover user-generated pornography, but much work had already been completed on the planned DEA protections, which could have been in place for the last 18 months.
This new Bill must deliver, as a minimum, all the Digital Economy Act’s child-protection measures—yet it leaves unmentioned pornography or age verification. Can the Minister assure the House, first, that the clear and unambiguous research showing considerable harms to children of easy access to pornography will be given paramount consideration in this legislation; and, secondly, that cyber-libertarian ideology, which holds that internet regulation is impossible, unworkable and unwanted, will not hold sway?
Secondly, will the Government’s legislation to ban conversion therapy extend beyond uncontrovertibly cruel and coercive efforts to change someone’s sexuality or gender, risking criminalising faith leaders, parents and friends approached by those who are ambivalent and confused, say, about same-sex attraction? In Victoria, Australia, it is illegal to engage in prayer that does not affirm same-sex attraction. Yet, ironically, this discriminates against gay Christians who, for deeply held faith-based and other personal reasons, want to remain celibate but are, in a cruel twist of coercive liberalism, denied support to uphold a freely made decision. Ed Shaw, pastor of Bristol’s Emmanuel City Centre church describes how the only people exerting unwelcome pressure on him to change his beliefs and behaviour have been
“gay Christians who have rejected orthodox church teaching—and the wider culture that thinks I am crazy to embrace it.”
Thirdly, as a co-founder of the Family Hubs Network, I welcome the Government’s commitment both to ensure that children have the best start in life, including by rolling out family hubs, and to address lost learning during the pandemic so that every child’s education enables them to fulfil their potential. Speaking as an officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for 22q11 Syndrome, the second most common genetic syndrome after Down’s, I ask the Minister how educational catch-up will be achieved where learning difficulties associated with genetic conditions such as 22q make this far more difficult?
Finally, I welcome the integrating imperative of the health and care Bill. However, integration cannot mean overmedicalisation. If hospitals become the default hub for integrated care systems, this could make integrated services less, not more, available to those who struggle most to travel, such as those on low incomes and those with significant childcare responsibilities. Hospitals are not best placed to deliver social provision with significant health implications, such as family support. In Essex, local family hubs enable prevention by integrating paediatric health with all the other support families need to thrive.
Parenting impacts greatly on children’s health and is a recognised public health issue; well-functioning couple relationships are associated with many health gains for adults and help to make families safe, stable and caring for children. In summary, to be effective for people rather than systems, integration needs to include local support for good-quality relationships and nurture these health assets.
My Lords, I will speak briefly about a DCMS issue that I hope will lead to legislation in the current Session but was not in the Queen’s Speech: the outcome arising from the Government’s decision to establish a fan-based review of football, chaired by Tracey Crouch MP. Noble Lords will remember that this was prompted by the furious reaction of supporters to the monstrous plan by the six wealthiest clubs—the majority of them foreign-owned—to break away from the FA Premier League to form the European Super League.
That episode demonstrated the inability of the English game to reform itself. It has been given plenty of opportunities to do so over the past 30 years, with numerous reviews of the governance of the Football Association, and inquiries into racism, hooliganism and so much more, but little has happened. The power balance within the game is flawed, and there is chronic financial disparity and deep-seated unsustainability, with clubs driven out of business and much-loved community assets destroyed, as greedy owners have been allowed to profit from the sale of stadiums, with supporters ignored or treated with contempt.
The European Super League was the latest attempt to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a small number of owners regardless of the disastrous effect on the remaining clubs, but there have been others, such as Project Big Picture and the proposed expansion of the UEFA Champions League. In the face of all this, the organisation which is supposed to be the governing body of English football, the FA, has appeared weak and divided, its credibility shot to pieces. Vested interests have prevented football speaking with a united voice.
I mentioned the succession of reviews that have attempted to solve these issues. I declare an interest as I served as vice-chairman of the Football Task Force 22 years ago. We attempted to tackle the issues which alienated supporters, such as hyperinflating ticket prices and exorbitant prices for merchandise, as clubs declared themselves businesses and made fortunes for their shareholder chairmen by floating on the stock market. The Football Task Force published two reports which were broadly accepted, on racism and disabled access, but the third and final commercial report, which addressed issues ranging from replica shirts and ticket pricing to the involvement of PLCs in the game, and aimed to deliver a fair deal for supporters, was strongly opposed by the Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League. In that final report, the majority of us made it clear that if football could not reform itself, the Government should legislate and introduce statutory regulation.
Therefore, I welcome the inclusion, in the terms of reference of Tracey Crouch’s review, an assessment of the need for an independent football regulator charged with implementing regulation and compliance, backed by legislation. I am sure that one of the documents that she will study will be Manifesto for Change, published six months ago by a distinguished group that includes the former chairman of the FA, David Bernstein, former Sports Minister Helen Grant MP, who is promoting a Private Member’s Bill in the Commons to establish a regulator, Andy Burnham, the noble Lord, Lord King of Lothbury, and Gary Neville. I conclude with a flavour of what they say:
“Clubs take excessive financial risks to achieve promotion, particularly incurring huge salary commitments. Relegation leaves clubs with parachute payments that temporarily meet unsustainable wages. Competing clubs consequently have to match such wages, creating an inflationary spiral … Stadiums have been sold off for commercial exploitation, fit and proper person tests are carried out in a weak and inconsistent fashion, fans, the lifeblood of the game, feel let down and neglected.”
This has not changed.
My Lords, I confess that I felt a frisson of excitement at seeing the long-awaited Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill in the gracious Speech. At last, free speech is on the agenda. The Bill is a valiant attempt by the Government to counter the chilling effect of censorship on campus and to strengthen the legal duty to uphold open debate—hurrah for that. I have some reservations. Will it lead to an overly litigious framework that interferes in institutional autonomy? Can you really use fines and threats to guard academic freedom? I am always nervous of outsourcing political battles to lawyers, especially when the problem is less procedural and more cultural.
To those who insist that free speech on campus is hyped-up reactionary scaremongering, tell that the Lisa Keogh, a law student at Abertay University, facing a career-threatening disciplinary action for discrimination for merely arguing biological facts about men and testosterone and women and vaginas in a seminar on feminism. Or say it is exaggerated to the teacher training student at Manchester Metropolitan University who has been threatened with a formal fitness-to-practise panel after raising the disgraceful lack of educational solidarity shown to the Batley Grammar School teacher suspended and forced into hiding, and branded Islamophobic, for showing a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad in a lesson on religious tolerance.
Campus cancel culture is a real and present danger, but I have chosen to speak today because if the Government posit themselves as a champion of free speech on campus, I am worried that aspects of two of the Bills listed here seriously threaten free expression off campus. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill gives the police enormous new powers over public space and threatens, I would say, the very purpose of protest. It is most likely playing on the popular irritation with the undoubtedly anti-social, nihilistic and misanthropic tactics of groups such as Extinction Rebellion. It focuses on the noisy and disruptive process that may cause distress and may inconvenience public services. In other words, the police could stop any protest if assessed as a risk of being too noisy or disruptive. The police already have an armoury of draconian powers that frankly, it seems to me, they fail to enforce consistently. Is it because of a seemingly more politicised or partisan police force, or is it confusion about when or how to intervene? The police do not need more laws, but better leadership. What the public need is the freedom to demonstrate dissent—from Black Lives Matter supporters to anti-lockdown demonstrators—however unpopular their cause to some.
Parts of the online safety Bill have united civil libertarians across left and right, described as
“a frightening and historic attack on freedom of speech.”
The Bill imposes a duty of care on big tech providers to remove content that is lawful for adults but said to be harmful—harmful not in the JS Mill sense, or meaning physical harm, but using concepts stolen straight from the campus safe space canceller’s playbook. Harmful is anything assessed as risking
“a significant adverse … psychological impact on an adult of ordinary sensibilities”
—whatever that is. This vague and subjective diktat will inevitably mean Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram being empowered to double down on removing controversial or offensive views even quicker, and invites platforms to snoop on users more routinely. All of this is to be enforced by Ofcom, the state regulator that this year enlarged the number of protected characteristics, in its hate speech guidance for broadcasters, from four to 48—a catch-all so large that many speeches in this place would fall foul of it—creating ever more people who say they are a victim. That same Ofcom has shamefully elided gender critical feminism with transphobic hate speech too often. The Bill also gives Ofcom the power to police disinformation or misinformation. That should at least give us some pause, if not chill us. In a democratic society, citizens should be free to make up their own mind whether they trust what they read, sources and so on.
The Government boast that the online safety Bill will make the UK the safest place to go online. The danger instead is that it makes the UK a world leader in monitoring and sanitising dangerous views online. I have heard many eloquent and passionate speeches from my noble friends here, opposing laws used to criminalise protest and free speech, but usually they are talking about other countries, such as Hong Kong and Zimbabwe. I hope to hear equally compelling opposition closer to home, and that the Government will resolve their split personality approach. Are they free speech champions or world-beating censors?
My Lords, congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on a fine maiden speech. I am sorry that we will have to wait for that of the noble Baroness, Lady Fleet. Congratulations too to the Chancellor on the initial financial interventions he made to try to keep business and the arts still standing, but there is pitifully little in the Queen’s Speech on that desperately challenged creative industries—in particular music, in which I declare my interest as listed in the register.
The decision to concentrate the Chancellor’s resources on existing and proven organisation— understandable in many ways—has left many individuals to fall through the support net. I of course accept that one cannot please all of the people all of the time but, sadly, a confluence of government policies means that we now have a profoundly worrying outlook for the creative industries, despite the fact that the Government are always at great pains to point out that they value and acknowledge the billions of pounds that these industries generate for the Exchequer.
I have a quick question for the Minister. If 20,000 football fans can sing “Abide with me” at Wembley, why can a socially distanced choir still not sing together? If, indeed, real value is given to what creativity has brought to this country—not just financially but socially and aesthetically—surely we ought to be securing its future by investing in the opportunities and training that we give to succeeding generations. Yet we seem to be doing quite the reverse. First, disastrously, the arts came off the national curriculum and, while hubs do a certain amount for music, once again many fall through the system. Now we are told that there is to be a 50% cut in higher education for arts subjects. What are we to make of that? What do the Government think that says about their priorities, in particular for the less privileged—those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and who we are keen to see level up?
My noble friend Lord Bird potently made my point: social cohesion improves when people are given the creative means of self-expression. The number of children and young adults who find their way into music, art or dance because of enlightened exposure at a tender age is remarkable. Whether it is the London Symphony Orchestra, a string quartet or Radiohead, the ability to learn an instrument or read music at school had led to our having the musicians and composers who have brought this country worldwide admiration and income.
So what of these artists? Frankly, the post-Brexit agreement, or lack of agreement, on touring is disastrous. We are told that the DCMS is in consultation with representatives of our cultural organisations, and that advice will be offered on how to deal with visas and work permits for the 27 countries involved. However, that is shutting the stable door after the horses have bolted. We were assured by the Prime Minister that the problem would be sorted, and recent legal scrutiny commissioned by the Incorporated Society of Musicians suggests that it could and should have been. In fact, no visible progress has been made at all. Oliver Dowden’s statement to the Culture Select Committee last week did not, I am afraid, encourage me that we were about to see any significant change. The rules still vary from country to country. Some only allow up to 14 days’ stay and we still have no prospect of a solution to the road haulage problem. The Government seem to be paralysed, unable or unwilling to help.
I believe, and have been assured, that the truth is that the EU wanted this vital exchange of ideas and performances much more than our Government did, or do. Let me put it another way: in order to preserve the Government’s absolute obsession with their immigration red lines, the creative industries and musicians in particular were sold down the river—a river flowing now towards the open sea where they will doubtless meet the fishermen who feel that they too were sold unfulfilled promises.
My Lords, I am enthused by the fact that the online safety Bill will have pre-legislative scrutiny. Indeed, I am so enthused that, if the Whips are listening carefully, I am prepared to offer my services to sit on such a Joint Committee. One of the reasons for that is because I see a weakness in the Bill, not in its wording but in its structure. It is missing enabling powers to allow civil society to take action over online hatred. It has often been posed that we need the police to do this or that. Frankly, that is a logistical nonsense when it comes to online abuse and hatred.
I cite the example of football. If the perpetrators of the racist and other abuse that footballers receive had to have their identity provided by law, the banning orders that football could bring in would be a far heavier sanction, in terms of their impact on the behaviour of many individuals, than the fines the courts could apply. The football banning orders legislation of, I think, 1989 could be tweaked to add the concept of online harm so that, where there is a criminal conviction for football-related online crime, a football banning order for six to 10 years could be immediately added. That would have a huge impact on the behaviour of football supporters, both spectators and those online. Sky television and others, using their own civic powers, could well be persuaded to join in by removing the ability of the online abusers even to watch from a distance the football that they would be banned from attending. That is one example of how civil society could assist.
On the issue of football, I am hearing a lot of talk from politicians about how, with the European Super League, we could potentially emulate Germany. I spend a lot of time working with German football and have done for many years. I fully understand the tripartism that has been in Germany post-war, but it is not as simple as people think. People think that there is a 50+1 procedure in German football. If we take the 18 clubs of the Bundesliga, Volkswagen owns Wolfsburg, Leverkusen is owned by Bayer, and Red Bull owns Leipzig. Hoffenheim has a wealthy individual who has put in a vast amount of money. That has not been fan ownership. Bayern Munich is the classic example: every major German multinational is on its board. That is where the key decisions are made, not on the supervisory board. That is an illusion that some, in particular in the other House, are running on at the moment.
It would be far better to give powers by law to football supporters—I would deem the best definitions to be in the football banning orders legislation, which gives definitions; I would use season ticket holders as the empowerment group—to allow 75% of football season ticket holders in a particular club to veto new competitions the club goes into, shifts in location and changes in the registered colour of the club. That would give fans what they want. I am sure that could be tagged on to some legislation during this Session.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my interests, particularly as chair of 5Rights Foundation and deputy chair of the APPG on Digital Regulation and Responsibility. Like others, I welcome the long anticipated online safety Bill and the provisions it will make for children. The change in the Bill’s name from “online harms” to “online safety” reflects the journey the Bill has been on, and the widespread acceptance that we must stop arguing over what is and is not acceptable after children have suffered harm, and instead seek to tackle risks inherent in the technology they are offered and make it safe from the get-go.
Less welcome is the change of language from the promised “duty of care” to a list of “duties of care”. It is the expectation of parents, teachers and children up and down the country that the Bill will introduce a duty that, both philosophically and legally, requires the tech sector to think first before it puts its products and services in the hands of children. While specific duties can improve the safety, transparency and fairness of digital products, it is dangerous to set a path in which each special interest or expert group fights to include or omit every potential risk. Risks are interconnected and cumulative; they impact on different users in different ways; and they can expand and contract across different services and across time. We have been promised an end to the “Move fast and break things” culture of the sector, and the Bill must introduce a duty to care as a matter of principle, not a laundry list of pre-circumscribed duties.
As drafted, the Bill spends the bulk of its pages on rules that pertain to content. This undermines the stated ambition to tackle risk at a systemic level, as it leaves only cursory mention of the algorithms, functionalities and operating practices that drive user experience. No doubt we will revisit this, but before we lose ourselves down the rabbit hole of how to police content and who owns the truth, we must first ask whether companies are responsible for recommendations that they monetise. What is the legal status of a company’s published terms and community rules? What oversight does the regulator need to identify manipulative nudges, dark patterns or unfair practices? Or—my own personal favourite—if a company can confidently identify a 14 year-old child to target them with a Home Office awareness campaign on child abuse, should they simultaneously be able to recommend to the same 14 year-old self-harm content or extreme diets, or enable adults to direct message them with pornographic material? If the Bill does not take a systemic approach to curbing what have become industry norms, then children will continue to suffer the lack of what in every other industry is simply the price of doing business.
We have many months to scrutinise every line of the Bill’s 145 pages, but some things cannot wait. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, I believe that the Government must ask regulators to bring forward minimum standards and codes of practice on urgent matters such as age assurance, safety by design, child impact assessments and algorithmic oversight, with the stated intention that they will be absorbed into the Bill, just as they are planning for guidance for video-sharing platforms. We need this Bill badly, but it is cruel to make children wait years for protections they could have now.
There are some startling omissions, some unwelcome exceptions and some shifts in emphasis that we must contest, but ultimately the biggest work of Parliament will be to ensure the Bill’s enforceability. The current matrix of duties and responsibilities of the regulator are neither fully independent nor properly enforceable, and this must change. I understand that there are pressures from all sides, but the UK delivering systemic change on behalf of UK children that will, over time, become the new normal for children the world over is a great prize, and it is my sincere wish that that is the prize Her Majesty’s Government have in their sights.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this important debate and I begin by congratulating my old friend and now noble friend Lady Fullbrook on her excellent maiden speech—I know she will make a fantastic contribution to your Lordships’ House. I also refer to my entry in the register of Members’ interests. My speech will be in two parts. In the first one minute and 40 seconds, I intend to cover culture, and let me say how grateful I am to the Government for the support they have given culture during the pandemic, including the £1.57 billion they have invested in our many cultural institutions and, indeed, for taking a wider definition of a cultural institution, such as a music venue—something that I have long supported.
I have followed with interest my good friend the Secretary of State’s comments on the anti-woke crusade that he and the Government have embarked on. I noticed his interesting article in the Sunday Telegraph, which provoked some thoughts in my head about levelling up. I think he made a valid point about having more and varied trustees of museums, but my sincere yearning is that he and our cultural institutions use the lessons of the pandemic to really lean in—if I can use that colloquial expression—to digital. Digital is no longer an add-on, and the opportunities for our cultural institutions to provide fantastic, in-depth content for a wide variety of audiences, not just in the UK but all across the world, are almost infinite. The UK has a huge opportunity to take a lead here, because very few, if any, cultural institutions around the globe have seized this opportunity.
That is my one ask of the Government on the culture front, although I note the excellent remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, which resonated because of his enormous, high-tech microphone, both about touring in Europe, which really needs to be sorted out—we have gone backwards to the situation that still exists with touring in the USA—and about the bizarre attack on the arts and humanities in schools and universities.
Having run 16 seconds over my allotted time on culture, I now turn to technology and note the online safety Bill, which is due to come to this House. The Government have already received an offer they can barely refuse: to have the noble Lord, Lord Mann, on their pre-legislative scrutiny committee. They may well take up that offer, if only to keep the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, from scrutinising the Bill in the way she has scrutinised previous legislation.
It is quite clear from the remarks made during this debate that this Bill will receive a great deal of expert attention, not least in your Lordships’ House. I say simply that this is novel, new legislation in which the Government are attempting—quite rightly, in my view—to put in place a regulatory structure that is very much needed. It is so much more complicated than anything that has ever been done to regulate content. Regulating broadcast and radio content has been relatively simple up to now. As the impassioned speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, made clear, there will be some extremely complicated and grey areas.
Nevertheless, we should not resile from applauding the Government’s ambition to introduce what, in very simple terms, I think we all want: clear terms and conditions for the people who use these platforms and clear protection when they are assaulted and attacked on them. To be assaulted, attacked and taken down is very different from people expressing their views in an open society. It is quite right that protections are put in place by the platforms and that government and civic society have a role in policing how the platforms go about that.
Those are my two simple points, and I apologise for going 17 seconds over my allotted slot.
My Lords, I join in the congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on her excellent maiden speech. With her wide experience, she will clearly be an asset to your Lordships’ House.
For a time I was privileged to be the president of the Howard League for Penal Reform. That and other experience, including my 50 or so years as a criminal lawyer, have left me completely unpersuaded that increasing sentences and the population of prisons in general, and filling an ever more challenged prison estate, achieves any public good whatever.
When I was in another place in the 1980s, many of us were horrified that the prison population had passed 35,000. That horror attracted people in all parties at the time. It has now more than doubled, without any obvious sign of the country facing less crime, whether serious or not. Is the United Kingdom a better place because there are now more than 80,000 people in prison? I confidently say no, and there is no intellectual basis for saying that it is.
I urge Her Majesty’s Government to focus not on building more prison cells but on creating more and constructive opportunities for offenders to achieve a lawful life without serving time. I commend strongly the work already done by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, who spoke very eloquently in that regard.
I will add something that I and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, agree on—that young offenders should be able to graduate out of their criminal records. We heard a wonderful speech earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Bird, who has been able to reach your Lordships’ House, which I suppose is some height of achievement, despite having had a record as a youngster. But most youngsters do not reach your Lordships’ House. They cannot even get a job because when they apply for a job—for example, in the public sector—their old prison record is available to those who wish to employ them. Should that really happen to a 30 year-old found guilty of possessing cannabis when he or she was 15 or 16? I think not and I am astonished that the Government have ignored this device over a long period.
I turn next to treason, which has not yet been mentioned in this debate, but does arise from the gracious Speech. The Government wish to restore the law of treason in some amended form. It has not been used since the conviction in 1946 of William Joyce—Lord Haw-Haw, as he was known, although he was not a Member of your Lordships’ House. The motive for reintroducing treason is completely oblique and disreputable and the Government must recognise this. It is to avoid—to circumvent—the necessity of proving a specific crime or criminal intent by foreign terrorist fighters, such as the likes of Shamima Begum.
I regard as extremely serious and reprehensible the decisions and actions of British people who become foreign terrorist fighters. The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, mentioned a somewhat eccentric jury decision. It will be nothing compared with a jury faced with the option of convicting someone for treason who has been a foreign terrorist fighter. Indeed, I have heard it said—I may even have said it myself to juries over the years—that the most democratic thing most jurors ever do is serving on a jury. They are not going to let it happen in cases like that.
As a coda I will add this: both the noble Lord the Minister who opened this debate and the noble Baroness the Minister who will close it are very good listeners. I think we should listen to them. During the past year we have had the luxury of voting in huge numbers against everything, but we have seen the mandate the Government have. I urge your Lordships that we should now be responsible and go for the art of the possible, not the luck of the improbable.
My Lords, it is always good to follow my noble friend Lord Carlile, even though it does generally make me feel boringly understated. Before touching on judicial reviews, as I hope to have time to do, I want to say a little about the proposed penal legislation. I have time for only one or two headline points, really.
First, on the question of terrorist offenders, let me say this: I recognise that they pose particular problems. Unlike all other categories of offender, terrorists are driven ideologically; their very purpose in life is to commit murder and mayhem and on entering prison their sole wish is to be discharged so that they can resume those activities. They have absolutely no intention of being reformed or rehabilitated so their tendency is to feign reform, and we have seen an appalling illustration of that recently. In their case, therefore, life sentences and indeterminate sentences seem to be altogether more acceptable and logical than in the case of other offenders.
That said, like others, I say that the UK imposes far too many indeterminate and long sentences overall. We impose more indeterminate sentences than all the other countries of the Council of Europe put together. The most egregious of these, as I have said many times in this Chamber, are the IPP sentences. That scheme was abolished and discredited in 2012 and yet there are still nearly 2,000 people detained under it, almost every one of whom is years beyond their tariff terms, and ever larger numbers of those released are now being recalled. To those who have not read the Prison Reform Trust report No Life, No Freedom, No Future, recently published with a foreword by myself, I say please do so.
My last headline point on crime is to deplore, along with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and many others here, the Government’s almost invariable reaction to any public concern about some offence, which is to increase the statutory maximum. They often introduce a statutory minimum and then what follows is always inflation; the sentences and the prisons get ever more overcrowded, with all the problems that that creates. The result of all that is ever less opportunity for rehabilitation. In the longer term, these longer sentences will produce more crime, not less. What a crazy system that is.
I will say a word or two on the proposed rebalancing of the relationship between legislature, Executive and the judiciary. Although as a retired judge I am of course jealous of the judiciary’s role and independence, I take a rather less jaundiced view of the Government’s proposals following the Faulks report than some of your Lordships who spoke earlier in this debate and last Thursday. It seems somewhat absurd to regard the setting up of that review and the response to it as a power grab and revenge for Miller 2. Surely everybody accepts, as I certainly do, the two specific legislative proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Faulks: to reverse Cart—I am afraid I was one of the seven unanimously making that mistake, as shown by what has happened since—and to introduce suspended quashing orders, which are such a good idea because it is the inflexibility of judicial review that has proved a real problem over the years. The basic position has long been that if any impugned decision is found unlawful for whatever reason, then it is to be regarded as a nullity—nothing done under it has any effect. That has caused real problems.
I find nothing intrinsically objectionable in the sort of proposals that the Government are now contemplating in this consultation process, for things such as prospective-only overrulings, but that, alas, is for another day.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on her eloquent maiden speech, and look forward to future debates with her. In winding up this wide-ranging and challenging debate, I will concentrate on the proposals on justice, with some points on home affairs, although I will not try to add to what my noble friends Lord Paddick, Lady Bonham-Carter and Lord Clement-Jones said on culture and digital media, and their great importance to our well-being and economy.
Summarising the philosophy of our response to the Government’s proposals, today’s speeches from these Benches have been marked by a commitment to security and safety through freedom, the rule of law and compassion. As a society, we are more secure and safer if we respond to crime with a strong emphasis on prevention, real support for victims and the reform and rehabilitation of offenders. We are better governed if the Government are accountable in the courts for unlawful action; we are protected from abuse of power by our right to protest—witness Myanmar, Hong Kong and many others.
This approach is at the heart of the widely applauded Domestic Abuse Act, and the draft victims Bill, ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, has the potential for a similar achievement. We have long campaigned for the victims’ code to be given the full force of law, and we are heartened by the commitment to address violence against women and girls.
However, we do not approach the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill with the same confidence. Hostile reaction to date has largely focused on the proposed restrictions of the right to protest. Even the language of the government briefing has sinister overtones:
“Balancing the rights of protesters with the rights of others to go about their business unhindered, by enabling the police to better manage highly disruptive protests.”
The danger is that passivity and compliance may be encouraged by a disciplinarian Government at the expense of legitimate, if noisy, protest against injustice or abuse of power. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, forcefully supported this position. At best, the Bill is an overreaction to occasional unacceptable behaviour by protestors, which is probably illegal at present anyway—a point also made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley.
In the Bill, the Government’s consistent emphasis on the so-called tough crackdown, longer sentences and increased police powers never falters. But there is nothing in the Bill to improve our national performance in preventing crime or on reform, rehabilitation and reducing reoffending, except for a dubious commitment to a new form of secure schools, which is unsupported by solid evidence or the necessary resources. There is also nothing to address the de facto discrimination against black and ethnic minorities, particularly young men. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester made these points eloquently, and my noble friends Lord Dholakia and Lord Paddick, the noble Lords, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick and Lord Carlile of Berriew, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, all spoke of the inhumanity and overcrowding of our prisons and the disgraceful state they are in. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, also spoke of the desecration of our probation services. A number of noble Lords mentioned the welcome commitment to a police covenant report on police welfare, including my noble friend Lady Harris, who spoke of police treatment centres.
We wanted a commitment from the Government for a strong and wide-ranging anti-fraud measure to attack online fraud and scamming, as recommended by the Government’s economic crime plan in 2019. The noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, concentrated on this point, and it was covered by my noble friend Lord McNally and the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen. As the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, said, the limited U-turn on this issue in the online safety Bill goes nowhere near tackling this scourge of contemporary life—an epidemic, as the noble Viscount called it.
Turning to the judicial review Bill, the Queen’s Speech promises to
“strengthen and renew democracy and the constitution”,
and promises legislation to
“restore the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the courts.”
However, the Bill now proposed is limited to introducing suspended quashing orders and to ending Cart JRs in which the High Court reviews Upper Tribunal decisions. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, that suspending quashing orders will sensibly allow time for government to correct irregularities before implementing decisions, rather than quashing them immediately. My original reaction to the proposal to reverse the Cart decision was sympathetic, but I now rather doubt that the Government’s evidence on this stands up, so I look forward to debating the issue further in due course.
However, our greater concern, persuasively expressed by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope and Lord Woolf, my noble friends Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Beith and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, is that the language of the Queen’s Speech heralds a far wider reform of judicial review. The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, and his distinguished panel carried out a thorough and principled review of administrative law and effectively found that, in general, our system does not need radical overhaul, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, confirmed today. An attack on JR would threaten the rule of law and would be an unacceptable political response to a mistaken criticism of alleged judicial overreach, largely fuelled by the Government’s reaction to the Miller decisions.
On the proposed sovereign borders Bill, making asylum claims inadmissible for illegal entrants sounds, at first blush, justifiable. It is not. This proposal ignores the fact that many who run untold risks, sustain all manner of hardship and finally manage to find their way here, albeit illegally, have had no possible means of securing the visas that they would have required to enter legally. Without a workable and humane proposal for safe and legal methods of entry, as called for by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, this proposal would erect a barred gate against many who deserve our compassion and our welcome. We have a long tradition of offering sanctuary to the persecuted and to refugees. We are not talking only of justifiably outlawing people-smugglers but of making the grant of asylum dependent on authorised legal entry. On this issue, I strongly agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, whose passion on it I share.
As we witness the horrifying rise in anti-Semitism here and abroad, we should remember that welcoming the oppressed demonstrates our civilisation and our compassion. By shutting our doors to the oppressed we side with their oppressors. I would add that, for all the elegance of his language and his clearly good intentions, we profoundly disagree with the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, to immigration and changes in the ethnic make-up of our society, which we believe do not weaken this nation but enrich and enhance it, just as the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, described.
The Government’s plans for reform of the Mental Health Act are welcome, particularly the proposals to reform the process of mental health detention, to deal more humanely with autistic people and to improve the management of offenders with mental disorders. This is all in line with concerns long expressed from all around this House.
Finally, I add to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, said last Wednesday on the subject of criminalising coercive and controlling behaviour by charlatan counsellors or so-called psychotherapists who peddle their services to take over the lives of troubled young people, implant false memories of abuse by parents and families during childhood and create a dependence on themselves, alienating these vulnerable young adults from their parents and families in a damaging cycle of coercive control over their lives. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, highlighted many years of parliamentary endeavour on this subject, thwarted not by principle but by the “wrong Bill” argument—an argument that we should abhor. We also want to see a professional register that would support genuine professionals and their status, and encourage potential clients to seek help only from properly registered professionals. This is, perhaps, a small issue, but it is one on which this House has a great contribution to make. The Government should be in no doubt that many, throughout the House, feel strongly on these issues. This will give rise to amendments to the proposed legislation, and will not go away.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate, one that has included many speeches that are thoughtful, inquisitive and questioning of the Government. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fullbrook, on her excellent maiden speech. She speaks with experience of the other place and of local government and I look forward to future debate with her. In a debate that addresses the safety and security of our nation and its citizens, I pay tribute to the police, the other emergency services and all those who keep us safe in their many jobs and roles in these vital areas of work.
In my contribution, I intend not only to look at home affairs matters but to refer to contributions that noble Lords have made on a number of other issues today. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, rightly drew attention to the lack of support for artists and musicians, and the failure to get them proper access to the European Union. That is damaging for our economy and for a sector that brings billions of pounds into the UK.
I agree with every word of the contributions by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury and Lady Bull, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Hudnall. We have wonderful arts and cultural offerings here in the UK. I am proud that, when I was a young councillor in 1986, my first vote on Southwark Council was to end the ridiculous dispute with Sam Wanamaker and get the Globe Theatre built. Anyone who knows the Bankside area knows that it has been transformed by the arrival of the Globe, with the plays of our greatest playwright being performed where he himself performed them in the 16th century.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, spoke about the number of young people who have learned to read music and to play a musical instrument and who have had their eyes opened to the wonderful world before them. I was not good enough to play professionally, but I learned to play an instrument and to read music, and that has given me a lifelong love of classical music. I walk past the Royal Festival Hall every night on my way home. As a kid from a council estate, not only have I attended concerts there but I have played there many times. That was thanks to a wonderful teacher at a school I went to, Franz Busuttil.
I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, when he draws attention to the plight of freelancers. This is a group of people who have not been looked after at all in the pandemic, and lots of them have now gone into other areas of work. We run the risk that they will never be able to return to their professions, in which case we, the country and our economy will lose. It really is not good. Noble Lords’ contributions about the insurance cover for live events are also something that the Government need to listen to.
I was interested to hear the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Pickles. He spoke about proposals for postal and proxy voting. I am afraid that I take the view of my noble friend Lord Blunkett on these matters. I would be a bit more convinced of the intention of the Government if I had heard what we are going to do about the 8 million people who are not on the register, but there has not been a word about them. I want to hear how the people in our country who do not have a vote are going to get one, so when that Bill comes here we are going to look carefully at that issue.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, carried over from the last Session, contains provisions that the Labour Party not only supports but has campaigned for. That includes the police covenant—but the covenant must mean a real step change in support and protection for police officers—and the increase in sentences for assaults on emergency workers. We support the measures in the Bill on causing death by dangerous driving and on the extension of protection for young people under the age of 18 against those who want to have sexual relations with them. We will want to explore how we can widen the scope to maximise the protections for young people. We welcome other elements, such as the recognition that the remand of children must be used as a last resort and the reform of the criminal records disclosure regime. However, there are elements of the Bill in respect of protest and the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities that we have considerable concerns about, and we will seek to examine them fully and possibly amend them when we debate them in the House.
On the counter-state threats Bill, we on these Benches want to see measures in place that give our law enforcement and scrutiny agencies the tools that they need to keep us safe. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, that we need laws that are balanced and fit for purpose in order to combat the threats that we face from hostile states. We have a serious problem here that needs to be tackled: dirty money flowing into London; property being bought from states, despots and other individuals so that they can hide their money, their ill-gotten gains, in a safe jurisdiction; attempts to undermine our democracy, which the Government have done very little about; and people poisoned and murdered on our streets. The Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on Russia exposed the weakness of the Government’s approach, illustrating how badly the Government have done in underestimating the threats posed and the response required.
My noble friends Lord Faulkner of Worcester and Lord Mann raised the issue of football. We need to give fans much more influence and power regarding their local football clubs. Local clubs are the lifeblood of their communities—I have supported Millwall my whole life and the Millwall Community Trust is a fantastic organisation; Sean Daly’s team has done really good work there. Football club community trusts all over the country are key parts of their communities, and we need to support them in the work that they do.
The Government’s announcement of a strategy to combat violence against women and girls is welcome, but there is no timescale and many of the measures listed have already been brought into force so it would be good if the Minister could tell us more about what is proposed and give us some sense of the timescale that the Government are working to, because that is not very clear from the papers released so far. We on these Benches want to support the Government in tackling this huge problem in our society.
We support measures to give victims stronger rights, although I note that the Bill coming before us is a draft Bill. While it is good to carefully consider proposals, this is taking a very long time. I hope that in this Session we can make some real progress.
I have lost count of the number of immigration Bills we have had since I joined this House in 2010. Their frequency seems to be one in every Queen’s Speech. It is matched only by the frequency of planning Bills. What this tells me is that we have a Government who talk tough but who fail to deliver on the pledges they have made, and who preside over an incompetent and chaotic system, all of their own making. No one can suggest that the Windrush Compensation Scheme is going well. Look at the dangerous situation we have in the English Channel. Where is that comprehensive deal they keep talking about with France? What about the closure of the Dubs scheme, where only a few children have been beneficiaries? This is not the way to tackle these issues. I accept that they are challenging, but the solutions should be underpinned by agreement, firmness, fairness, competence and compassion, none of which is on display if we look at the proposals from the Government today.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, made reference to the need to update the law to combat modern slavery. I agree with those calls for change.
I further add to the calls made by the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, who is not in his place, to do more for victims. That is exactly right. When that Bill comes forward again, I hope that the Government look at those calls. If we can only match what has been done in Scotland and in Northern Ireland on these matters, we will be doing a good job. The noble Lord, Lord Morrow, who is also not in his place, made a great contribution to improving the laws there in Northern Ireland.
In terms of legacy issues, the Government must honour their commitments made to families and to victims. People need to learn the truth of what happened to their loved ones. The process must be rooted in the rule of law and based on support for victims and communities in Northern Ireland. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, will be able to set out what the proposals in the Queen’s Speech will deliver. We need some clarity there. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, made reference to the Ballymurphy families, who fought for justice for five decades. His description—that they received the official government apology from the Prime Minister by email—is appalling, and contrasts poorly with the way David Cameron apologised to victims following the publication of the Bloody Sunday inquiry reports.
The online harms Bill is very welcome as far as it goes, but it has taken a long time to get this far. We are still talking about only a draft Bill, as my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede made reference to. I very much support the aims of the Government to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online, with no safe space for criminal conduct or activity, to protect children from abuse, to protect us all from scams, to protect us all from fake news, misinformation and disinformation, and to make platforms face up to their responsibilities. Every time action is called for, the missing piece is the platform—the host not doing enough to tackle the menace that is the awful, corrosive, illegal and criminal side of the internet.
As my noble friend Lord Ponsonby said, the decision of the Government to hold back on criminal sanctions for directors is most regrettable. The most direct way to get powerful executives to take some action is to place responsibility firmly in their laps.
Look at the damage that has been done to people’s health and safety by conspiracy theories—the absolute rubbish that has undermined the Covid vaccination programme around the world. The reality is that vaccination is the only way out of the pandemic, not just in the UK; we need the whole world vaccinated. That is the route of safety to get us all back to something that represents the normality that we were used to.
We need urgent progress in this Session; we need a bold vision for safety, security and the protection of our citizens, putting measures in place to give people the confidence to thrive. What we get from the Government falls far short of that; it is particularly frustrating and disappointing to see proposals that are welcome but where the pace of change and reform is so slow. The draft victims Bill and the draft online harms Bill are two examples of where the Government have dragged their feet on proposals which we all agree are urgent and necessary.
In conclusion, there are measures that we support but where we want the Government to go further, and there are others that we have grave concerns about. However, as we always do, on these Benches we will work constructively with the Government to improve the legislation that comes before us.
My Lords, I thank all, I think, 69 noble Lords who have taken part in this debate on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech. It covers three ministries —Justice, Home Affairs and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport—and naturally I shall not be able to cover every detail of every last question. However, I shall cover the majority of the themes debated.
I join noble Lords from across the House in commending my noble friend Lady Fullbrook on her maiden speech. The two of us go back a long way; we are that rare breed, still—former women who have been in charge of local government. Sorry, we are not former women—we are women. [Laughter.] We are still women, but we used to be in charge of local government. Sorry, it has been a long day.
Before I respond to some of the points raised, I emphasise that at the heart of this Government’s agenda is an unwavering commitment, including to delivering for the public, ensuring that we have a world-class justice system that works for everyone in society, enriches lives and keeps the country safe.
I turn first to the theme of the police, courts and victims. The noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby, Lord McCrea and Lord Kennedy of Southwark, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Chakrabarti, all talked about the PCSC Bill, its unintended consequences, police resourcing and protest. I say right at the outset that the right to peaceful protest is fundamental to us as a society and should never be in question. I assure noble Lords that the measures in the Bill will not suppress the right to peaceful protest but will enable the police better to manage highly disruptive protests—we all know examples of them—which infringe on the rights of others. These very disruptive tactics are a drain on public funds and require police officers from around the country to step away from their regular responsibilities to police a protest instead. The measures in the Bill have been endorsed by the independent policing inspectorate, which has said that they would
“improve police effectiveness without eroding the right to protest”.
The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, talked about stop and search, and I have heard concerns about disproportionality and the impact of stop and search on members of the black community. Our aim is for these orders to enable the police to take a more targeted approach, specifically in relation to known knife carriers. Data from 2018-19 indicates that young black people are 24 times more likely to be victims of homicide than young white people. It is vital therefore that we build an understanding of the impact and effectiveness of the new orders, so they will be piloted before being rolled out across England and Wales.
My noble friend Lady Verma talked about people convicted of serious weapons offences and how the police can monitor them. The measures in the Bill build on the Government’s record to date, including putting an extra 8,700 police officers on our streets and making £130 million available to tackle serious violent crime, including murder and knife crime. The new serious violence reduction orders will give the police powers to stop and search those convicted of offensive weapons offences.
The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, talked about injured officers. Through the consultation, we have identified three focus areas in the police covenant: health and well-being—encompassing a wide range of issues including both physical and mental health—physical protection and support for families. We will establish a robust governance structure, made up of key policing representatives who will work with us to develop a well-defined programme of work.
The noble Lord, Lord Beith, talked about offenders referred to the Parole Board under PSCE powers, who will have to prove that they did not commit an offence to a lower burden of proof and not through a court. There is a small number of prisoners convicted of non-terrorism offences who would present a threat if released. The power contained in the Bill addresses this gap in legislation. It will mean that the Secretary of State can prevent their automatic release and take available evidence to the Parole Board for them to assess the risk independently. Where this power is used, these offenders will be detained lawfully, pursuant to the authority of the original prison sentence imposed by the court.
My noble friends Lady Fullbrook and Lord Goschen talked about unauthorised encampments. Let me make it clear that enforcement will not be based on ethnicity. As my noble friend Lady Fullbrook fully outlined, the new offence and the amendments will apply to anyone residing in a vehicle without permission and causing harm within the conditions specified.
My noble friend Lord Moynihan mentioned a position of trust. This was of most concern during our review of the law.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, talked about the criminal justice recovery plan, including the courts backlog. This Government had begun to increase sitting days in the criminal courts to address rising demand. Covid prevented us making this change and brought its own challenges, particularly in facilitating jury trials. Having invested more than a quarter of a billion pounds on court recovery, we have expanded Crown Court capacity and opened 60 new Nightingale courtrooms. We are also determined to build confidence in the system, which is why we have increased funding for support services. We are also working with partners to reduce the time spent at each stage of the criminal justice process. An end-to-end review, exploring how the criminal justice system responds to rape is to be published shortly, along with an action plan to drive improvement for rape victims.
At this juncture, I thought I might respond to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on a VAWG timetable. We have a continuing commitment to tackling violence against women and girls and domestic abuse. We will publish new strategies this year to help drive a step change in the response to these crimes, building on the existing landmark legislation in this area—the Domestic Abuse Act and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester referred to the victims Bill and particularly the extent of female offender provision. We are making good progress in delivering the female offender strategy which includes piloting at least five residential women’s centres. We have invested £5.1 million in 30 different women’s community services across England and Wales, supporting service provision and the development of new women’s centres.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Beith, and my noble friend Lord Faulks talked about judicial review, the courts Bill and the different views on it. Our constitution is a noble thing which must be preserved. In our manifesto this Government committed to examining in depth how judicial review was working. Having done so, we believe there is a need to restore the right balance between our institutions of state—Parliament, the judiciary and the Executive.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulks QC, and the panel produced an excellent report and it is the Government’s opinion that the analysis in the report of trends in judicial review gives cause for concern. There are areas where there is a balance to be struck in terms of how judicial review operates. As the Lord Chancellor set out in the judicial review consultation document, the Government are committed to upholding the rule of law. This means the courts should and will be able to hold the Government to account in the manner set out by Parliament, and the proposals set out in the Government’s response to the review bear that out.
The noble Lords, Lord Ponsonsby and Lord Thomas of Gresford, questioned the use of ouster clauses. The Independent Review of Administrative Law panel concluded in its report that while Parliament should not exclude judicial review generally as that would be contrary to the rule of law, it could in particular circumstances oust or limit the jurisdiction of the courts if there was
“sufficient justification for doing so.”
As such, the Government felt it was appropriate to consider this point further in their consultation and to see whether it may be possible to add clarity to the circumstances in which ouster clauses may be upheld or how they may be interpreted. We will set out the contents of the Bill in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, suggested that the royal commission was going to be scrapped. Establishing the royal commission on criminal justice process remains a priority for the Government. An independent review provides a meaningful opportunity to explore some of the key challenges affecting the system and to consider how these can be addressed to ensure the effective delivery of justice for victims, witnesses, defendants and the general public. We are considering the precise scope, terms of reference, membership and timing, and we will of course update the House in due course.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, talked about jurisdiction shopping for judicial review in Scotland. The Government are committed to respecting the devolved Administrations and we will work closely with the devolved Governments as our thinking develops.
The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, talked about the provision of interpreters and asked to meet my noble friend Lord Wolfson, which he is very happy to do. Court interpreters should be appointed only from the national register. We are absolutely committed to continually improving performance and ensuring the highest standard of language services for those who need them. All interpreters provided to the courts are registered and regularly assessed by the quality assurance provider, the Language Shop, and will be removed from the register if they fail to reach the required standard.
On culture, media and charities, the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh and Lady Bull, my noble friends Lord Moynihan, Lady Stowell and Lord Vaizey of Didcot, the noble Lords, Lord Bird and Lord Berkeley of Knighton, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, talked about cuts to arts and higher education funding. We are not cutting overall arts funding by 50%, as some have suggested. The Government have asked the Office for Students to reform the strategic priorities grant for 2021-22, which will help to correct discrepancies that have seen, for example, media students funded at a higher rate than mathematics or history students. For providers losing funding due to this reallocation, the income lost would account for approximately 0.05% of their estimated total income, based on the latest data available.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, talked about touring performers. The UK’s creative industries are the finest in the world, and this Government are determined to support them. Touring is a vital part of musicians’ and performers’ careers, providing not only a vital income stream but enriching opportunities for cultural exchange across the world. Being outside the European Union does not change this, but it means practical changes on both sides of the channel, which will require understanding and adaptation. As the Prime Minister has said, we are working flat out with the industry, including through the DCMS-led working group, on plans to support the creative sectors to tour in Europe. The Government are committed to supporting our world-beating creative and cultural sectors through these changes.
My noble friend Lord Black talked about journalists’ reporting. Again, press freedom is an integral part of the UK’s democratic processes. However, the Act is in need of legislative reform, as identified by the Law Commission. The Government are committed to ensuring that the right balance is struck between protecting press freedoms, the ability of whistleblowers to hold organisations to account when there are allegations of serious wrongdoing and adopting measures that protect the UK’s most sensitive information.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked about governance, in reference to the charities Bill. These reforms will enable charities to use their money and resources more effectively to promote their charitable causes. This is just one of many measures that have supported the charity and voluntary sector, including an unprecedented £750 million funding package specifically for the sector and access to cross-economy measures, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. These changes are not cutting regulation but refining and rebalancing it so that it works better. In developing these proposals, the Law Commission has ensured that important safeguards are retained to protect public trust and confidence.
On online safety, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked about the delay to the online harms Bill. I agree that it is taking a long time, but it is important that the Government get it right. We have taken a deliberately consultative approach with a wide range of groups, from children’s charities to the platforms themselves, to ensure that the legislation is as effective as it can be. We are working closely with Ofcom to ensure that the implementation period that will be necessary, following the passage of the legislation, is as short as possible.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and others talked about the freedom of speech element in the online harms Bill and determining what is harmful content. One of the overarching principles of our framework is to protect users’ rights to freedom of expression online. Both companies and Ofcom will have duties to protect free speech, for which they can be held to account. This Bill holds platforms to account for their significant influence over what content appears online. Platforms must consider and introduce safeguards for freedom of expression when setting out their safety policies.
The Bill will define three categories of harm to individuals: illegal content, content that is harmful to children and legal content that is harmful to adults. In secondary legislation, the Government will then set out priority harms on which companies must focus their efforts. These will be determined based on evidence of harm to individuals: Ofcom will advise government on which priority harms should be included in legislation, based on research and consultation with a broad range of stakeholders.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, and others talked about child pornography. The strongest protections in our online harms proposals are for children. All companies in scope of this regulation will need to seriously consider the risks that they may pose to children and take action. Pornography sites will be subject to the duty of care if they host user-generated content or facilitate user interaction.
The noble Lord, Lord Vaux, and others talked about fraud. We are deeply concerned about the growth and scale of online fraud and the devastating societal, financial and psychological impact that it can have on so many people. We have engaged extensively with a broad range of stakeholders, including the financial industry, consumer groups, law enforcement and other public bodies. We have listened to their views very carefully and decided that online fraud should be included in the scope of the online safety Bill.
The noble Lords, Lord Foster of Bath, Lord McNally and Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, asked about online gambling. The online harms regulatory framework will not seek to tackle gambling-related harm online. We have committed to a review of the Gambling Act to make sure that it is fit for the digital age and have received around 16,000 submissions to the call for evidence ahead of a planned White Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, asked about data governance. The UK now controls our own data protection laws and regulations in line with our interests after the end of the transition period. We will continue to operate a high-quality regime that promotes growth and innovation and underpins the trustworthy use of data.
The noble Lords, Lord Green of Deddington, Lord Paddick, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames and Lord Dubs, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, asked about immigration. Through our New Plan for Immigration, we will reform the system so it is firm but fair. We want to welcome those who come to the UK through safe and legal routes, and to crack down on criminal gangs that facilitate dangerous and illegal journeys. An asylum system should not reward those who enter the UK illegally while other vulnerable people, including women and children, are pushed aside.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, pressed me on where we are with the Dubs scheme. That scheme was defined and is now complete; it is not the only route, by a long shot, by which people can get safe passage to this country. We cannot help all the estimated 80 million people who are displaced worldwide, but global Britain will continue to show global leadership, welcoming those most in need. We will prioritise resettling refugees from areas of conflict and instability, rather than those who are already in safe European countries. We will maintain clear, well-defined routes for refugees in need of protection, ensuring that refugees have the freedom to succeed and the ability to integrate and contribute fully to society when they arrive in the UK.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked about our international obligations and returns agreements. This legislation will be compliant with our international obligations, including the European Convention on Human Rights and the 1951 refugee convention. We will continue to pursue returns agreements and arrangements with our international partners as part of future migration partnerships. We expect our international partners to work with us on facilitating the return of their nationals to their own country where those nationals have no lawful right to remain in the UK. This is an established principle of any functioning migration relationship and it enables us to maintain public confidence in our immigration system. We are very proud of our record on providing refuge to those fleeing conflict or persecution. It has seen 29,000 family reunion visas issued in the last five years, with more than half of those issued to children.
I am aware that I am probably over time, but I assure noble Lords that I will be finished very shortly. I want to mention a final point supported by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, about countering hostile state activity. As they both said, it is vital that the security services and law enforcement agencies have the tools they need to disrupt state threats. It is something we have been looking at for some time, to ensure that we have the powers we need to tackle future threats and evolving tactics. A significant proportion of the Official Secrets Act dates back to the early 20th century, with roots in an 1889 Act. They are not suitable for the modern world, as the story of the squirrels in the tree that the noble Baroness told us demonstrated.
I will stop there because I am well over time. I absolutely support the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, the noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester made on conversion therapy; and that my noble friend Lord Pickles made on voter fraud and identity at polling stations. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and my noble friend Lord Arran that assisted dying is one of those things on which there is a free vote in Parliament, and I am sure there will be another debate on it soon.
I apologise for going almost five minutes over time. I thank all noble Lords. There are issues that I have not responded to—such as the Northern Ireland issue that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, mentioned—and I will do so in writing.
Debate adjourned until tomorrow.
House adjourned at 8.21 pm.