Queen’s Speech Debate

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Department: Home Office

Queen’s Speech

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Thursday 12th May 2022

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
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My Lords, I echo the thanks that have been raised by many noble Lords to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales for delivering the gracious Speech on behalf of Her Majesty, supported by His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, in their capacities as Counsellors of State. I am sure that this year in particular we all want to send not just this humble Address but also our warmest wishes and our ever-deepening gratitude to Her Majesty, particularly as we prepare to celebrate the momentous occasion of her Platinum Jubilee, a unique event which it is the privilege of DCMS to help the country to mark. It is also one of the topics that was discussed at a meeting of the Cabinet today in Stoke-on-Trent along with the many ways in which the legislative programme outlined in the gracious Speech will help to make that part of the country and the rest of the UK safer, stronger and more prosperous.

Noble Lords have rightly noted that there are more DCMS Bills in this Session than ever before, and I look forward to spending a lot of time at this Dispatch Box in the company of your Lordships. It speaks to the huge contribution that DCMS and the sectors that it has the privilege of representing have to play in extending the prosperity and well-being of our nation. I pay tribute to its Ministers past and present and to the officials who have worked on the Bills that we will consider this Session so far.

The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, wanted to see even more DCMS measures. I note that the Opposition in another place did not select culture, media and sport as a topic for a debate on the gracious Speech, so I am very glad that we have had the opportunity to make good that omission today in a debate that has reflected, as ever, the breadth of expertise and wisdom of your Lordships’ House. Indeed, I see that today’s debate has attracted the largest number of speakers in any debate on the humble Address, so I will do my best to cover as many as possible of the points that have been raised.

Not for the first time, many of the speeches today dwelt on the role and nature of your Lordships’ House. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, may or may not have been in revolutionary mood, but he was certainly in an existential one, and he was far from the only noble Lord feeling that way. I have had the privilege of being in your Lordships’ House for only two and half years, but this is my third Queen’s Speech and, even in the short space of time that I have been here, I have seen multiple examples of the ways in which your Lordships amend, scrutinise and improve legislation. I had the privilege of speaking on what is now the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act and the Domestic Abuse Act—two important legislative measures which are far better for having gone through your Lordships’ House—so I am not as gloomy as the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and others about the difference this place can and does make. However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Strathclyde that there are also occasions on which your Lordships’ House must accept, however reluctantly, that it has not persuaded another place to think again and must recognise the mandate the elected House has for the legislation it sends this way.

I hope that one such incidence in this Session will be the measures in the Public Order Bill which were noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. The Government fully support people’s right to engage in peaceful protest, and we recognise that that is a cornerstone of our democracy, but guerrilla tactics by a small minority of protesters cause misery to the public, cost millions of pounds in taxpayers’ money and put lives at risk. We cannot have sections of our transport and other key national infrastructure brought to a halt by small groups of protesters. Nor can we have the sort of scenes we saw in the pandemic, when people who were on their way to get their vaccinations or to visit sick relatives were prevented from doing so.

The Public Order Bill will criminalise the dangerous and disruptive protest tactics of locking on and obstructing major transport construction works. A key concern raised by noble Lords in January, when these measures were being considered in the context of what is now the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, was that they had not been subject to proper scrutiny in another place. That place will now have an opportunity to do so. In the meantime, the actions of Just Stop Oil have provided further evidence of the need for these measures.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, rightly talked about the long-standing rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights set out that everybody has the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association. However, these rights are not absolute, and they have to be balanced with the rights and freedoms of others. These new measures will balance the rights of protesters with the rights of others to go about their business unhindered. The measures will achieve this by enabling the police to manage highly disruptive protests and, as with existing public order powers, the police will need to act compatibly with the human rights of protesters when using them.

The European Convention on Human Rights was mentioned by a great number of noble Lords in their contributions on the Bill of Rights. I echo the plaudits of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and others for my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, who showed again with his contribution today his great sense, shrewdness and good humour— things which will be very much missed on the Government Front Bench, but we are very glad to have his continued participation today. He was absolutely right to point out that human rights did not begin in 1998, that the United Kingdom will remain a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights—which was signed and ratified by a Conservative Government—and that convention rights will remain enforceable in our courts.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, who asked about Article 46. We fully acknowledge our international obligation under Article 46 of the European Convention on Human Rights to abide by an adverse judgment of the European court against us, but the Human Rights Act 1998 has been in force for almost a quarter of a century. It is entirely right that we should look at it again to see whether there is a need to update this important area of law.

The Bill of Rights will ensure that our human rights framework continues to meet the needs of the country and society it serves. We have a long and proud history of protecting and extending freedom in this country, and our proposals aim to build on this noble tradition. In doing so, we want to strengthen the credibility of and support for human rights, so that they are not dirty words in the minds of the public. As the introduction of our Magnitsky sanctions regime shows, this Government will continue to champion human rights, both at home and abroad.

The noble Lords, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick and Lord Ramsbotham, asked about the work to establish a royal commission on criminal justice. Understandably, that work slowed at the onset of the pandemic, as the Ministry of Justice stood up significant work and investment to keep our criminal justice system moving. That point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, as well. More than £1 billion has been allocated to boost capacity and accelerate recovery from Covid in Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service. In this financial year, we expect to get through 20% more Crown Court cases than we did before Covid-19.

The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, asked about no-fault divorce. In April, the Government commenced the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act, the biggest change to divorce law and practice for nearly half a century. Now that we have implemented the Act, we have turned our minds to consideration of the legislation surrounding financial provision on divorce. We deliberately kept that as a separate issue, and we will be announcing our intentions for the work in due course.

I welcome the support from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, and others for the National Security Bill. As he pointed out, our espionage laws date back to 1911 and do not account for how threats to the UK’s national security have evolved and diversified in the more than a century since. Russia’s action in Salisbury, China’s attempts to interfere in our democracy, and persistent efforts by foreign actors to steal intellectual property generated in the UK demonstrate why we need new laws to help the intelligence agencies and police to detect, disrupt and prosecute state-threat actors who seek to harm the United Kingdom. This legislation will support the extensive previous and ongoing cross-government efforts to counter state threats, including the recent economic crime Act, in the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the economic crime and corporate transparency Bill, which is also being introduced in this Session.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, asked when we would introduce a registration scheme. We will do that after introduction of the Bill, so we can take the time needed to ensure its effectiveness and that it properly protects the interests of the UK. He asked also whether it was our intention to reform the Official Secrets Act 1989. We have heard the strong views and concerns raised on the 1989 Act and reform of it in our public consultation; we need to take the time to give proper consideration to those concerns, so while the Bill will address the provisions of the 1911, 1920 and 1939 Official Secrets Acts, we are not proposing to reform the 1989 Act through this Bill. It is clear that reform in this area is complex and engages a wide range of interests; it is only right that proper consideration should be given to the views expressed in the consultation. Moreover, in light of the ongoing situation in Ukraine, we need to prioritise a wider package of measures to tackle state threats in order to ensure that our law enforcement and intelligence partners have the tools they need to keep us safe.

I was very glad to hear the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and others, for the Protect duty Bill. I was pleased, too, to hear her entirely justified tributes to Figen Murray, the mother of Martyn Hett, one of the many people and groups whose lives have been scarred by terrorism, with whom the Government have been working to develop proposals to improve security and ensure robust yet proportionate measures at public places. These are being considered further, in light of consultation responses, alongside other things, including the first volume of the Manchester Arena inquiry report—but the Government remain committed to the Protect duty and will bring forward legislative proposals as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Of course, those on the very front line of keeping us safe are the police, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, my noble friend Lord Davies of Gower and others pointed out. We have now recruited more than 13,000 additional officers and remain on track to deliver 20,000 additional officers by March 2023. The Government are also giving the police the resources they need to fight crime and keep the public safe, which is why in February the Government published a total police funding settlement of up to £16.9 billion for the financial year 2022-23, an increase of up to £1.1 billion when compared to the previous financial year.

My noble friend Lord Bridgeman and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern raised sensitive but important topics. My noble friend Lord Bridgeman discussed sharia marriage. The law has long made provision for couples, including Muslim couples, to marry in their place of worship in a way that gives them legal rights and protections. The Government share the concern that some people may none the less marry in a way that does not, and without appreciating the consequences. We will continue to explore limited reform and non-legislative options in this area with the greatest of care. This work will be informed by the forthcoming reports from the Law Commission on weddings and from the Nuffield Foundation on religious weddings.

My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay, as well as others, addressed the conversion therapy Bill. The purpose of that Bill is to ban conversion therapy practices that are intended to change someone’s sexual orientation. It will stop abhorrent practices which do not work and cause extensive harm, and will protect people’s personal liberty to love who they want to love. It will do so by strengthening existing criminal law, ensuring that violent conversion therapy is recognised as a potential aggravating factor on sentencing, and by introducing a criminal offence banning non-physical conversion therapies to complement existing legislation which protects people from acts which inflict physical harm.

This offence will protect people under the age of 18 regardless of circumstance and people over the age of 18 who do not consent and who are coerced or forced to undergo conversion therapy practices. We are conscious of doing this while protecting freedom of speech, ensuring that parents, clinicians and teachers can continue to have candid and important conversations with people seeking their support. This is, as noble Lords noted, a complex area, but some 16 countries have placed some sort of nationwide ban on conversion therapy practices, including Canada, France, Germany and New Zealand, so there are examples to which noble Lords will be able to turn when scrutinising this Bill. Recognising the complexity of the issues and the need for further careful thought, we will carry out separate work to consider the issue of transgender conversion therapy in further detail.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, raised the no less complex issues of legacy in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Troubles legacy and reconciliation Bill will address the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past by focusing on information recovery and reconciliation, providing better outcomes for victims, survivors and their families, delivering on the Government’s commitment to veterans and helping society to look forward. In line with the Sewel convention and associated practices, the Government will continue to work constructively with the devolved Administrations to secure their legislative consent where that is achievable and appropriate.

The noble Lord, Lord Stephen, raised the spectre of a second Scottish independence referendum. People across Scotland, quite rightly, want to see both of their Governments working together on issues that matter to them, including driving down NHS backlogs, protecting our long-term energy security and supporting our economic recovery so that everybody has opportunities, skills and jobs. That is the priority of Her Majesty’s Government.

I turn now to the bumper crop of DCMS measures in this Queen’s Speech, beginning with the Online Safety Bill, which attracted the attention of most noble Lords. The Bill had its Second Reading in another place on 19 April. This ground-breaking legislation delivers on our manifesto commitment to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online. For the first time, tech companies will be accountable to an independent regulator to keep their users, particularly children, safe. At the same time, the Bill will protect and defend freedom of expression and the invaluable role played by our free press. We are entering a new age of accountability for tech to protect children and vulnerable users and to restore trust in this important industry. The Bill will defend freedom of expression and the vital role of a free press, while unleashing a new wave of digital growth by building trust in technology businesses.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and others dwelt particularly on the importance of protecting freedom of expression, and the Bill contains strong safeguards for this. No platforms will be required to remove legal content and all services will need to have regard to freedom of expression when implementing their safety duties. Under the Bill, major platforms will no longer be able arbitrarily to remove content just because they deem it controversial or offensive. If users feel that their post has been taken down unfairly, for the first time they will have the right to appeal. Major platforms will also have to protect journalistic and democratically important content, to protect the free press and political debate. Ofcom will also have to ensure that all codes of practice it prepares are designed to reflect the importance of freedom of expression.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, asked about the role of Ofcom, which will have a range of powers at its disposal to help it assess whether companies are fulfilling their duties. These powers will help ensure that Ofcom is able to effectively assess whether companies are fulfilling their regulatory requirements, including in relation to the operation of their algorithms. If companies fail, Ofcom can make them take specific actions to improve their services, including using proactive technologies to identify and remove illegal material and stop children seeing harmful content.

The noble Lord also asked about post-legislative scrutiny for the Bill. I commend his optimism and enthusiasm for seeing it on the statute book. Having benefited greatly from the pre-legislative scrutiny provided by the Joint Committee of both Houses, we are keen to use the expertise in both Houses of Parliament to deliver post-legislative scrutiny as well. We will welcome further views during the passage of the Bill on the best way to achieve this, but I should say that we do not support the creation of a Joint Committee with a wider remit on digital regulation more broadly. Such a committee would cut against the work of existing parliamentary committees which are already well placed to scrutinise digital regulation.

The noble Lord asked about Twitter and the Equality Act. For activities which are carried out in Great Britain and fall within the sphere of the Equality Act—for instance, employment and the provision of services—Twitter would not be exempt from compliance with the Act. I will happily discuss his concerns further with him if he wishes.

A number of noble Lords touched on the media Bill. The UK’s broadcasting landscape is a domestic and international success story. Our public service broadcasters are at the heart of that success. This Bill will allow our broadcasters to continue to thrive in an age of rapid technological change and fierce competition, particularly from global platform giants. We want to find a new owner for Channel 4 so that it can become bigger, better and stronger in that rapidly changing industry.

This Bill will enable our broadcasters to thrive. That will be good for audiences, who will be able more easily to access and enjoy quality British-originated content, good for our economy and good for our ability to project British values globally. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, was right to point to the work of our public service broadcasters in providing high-quality impartial content which is accessible to all. This is more important than ever in that changing media landscape.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, raised a number of issues. First, on the importance of Channel 4 to independent production companies, it has played a crucial role in supporting the growth of our independent production sector. Thanks to that, the sector is now booming, with revenues growing from £500 million in 1995 to £3 billion in 2019. Independent production companies are less reliant on Channel 4 as they increasingly benefit from commissions from other sources. We want Channel 4 to have the resources to be able to continue to commission the very best content for its viewers. Channel 4 still has a part to play in supporting independent production and the creative economy. Our plans do not compromise our commitment to the independent production sector.

The noble Baroness asked also about Channel 4’s important role across the United Kingdom. The Government greatly value Channel 4’s role in supporting the growth of a creative economy right across the UK. I had an example of that during the Prorogation break in Bradford, when I met Channel 4 as part of my visits to the four shortlisted cities for the 2025 UK City of Culture. I should at this point mention County Durham, Wrexham and Southampton, which are the other three. There is no reason why Channel 4’s important role in supporting our creative economy across the UK should change. Its work with creatives up and down this country has made it the success that it is today, and we would expect a new owner to want to grow and develop those relationships. Channel 4’s network outside London and its ability to speak to such a diverse range of audiences is an attractive asset to nurture and develop for any potential buyer.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, asked about quotas. Channel 4’s existing obligations in terms of regional production outside London and England will be maintained, as will its remit to provide distinctive, educational, innovative and experimental programming which represents the breadth of our society, and the obligations to show original programmes and provide news and current affairs.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in a rare Thatcherite moment, asked about the potential for sale to a foreign investor. We expect a lot of interest in purchasing Channel 4 from a range of buyers. The right buyer for Channel 4 will be one who wants to build on Channel 4’s strengths and help accelerate and unleash its potential. Bids will be assessed carefully, and any new owners will have to pass Ofcom’s fit and proper persons test.

The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, spoke about the draft digital markets Bill, and, as I see from the Official Report, so did my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston in yesterday’s debate. Digital technologies make a huge contribution to our economy and the Government are committed to unlocking their full potential. The new regime will put in place clear rules for the most powerful tech firms and robust new powers to enforce those rules, including significant fines for breaches. The noble Viscount and my noble friend Lady Stowell asked why this is only draft legislation. This regime will tackle technical and complex issues and have an impact across our economy, so it is vital that we address the far-reaching market power held by a small number of firms which is harming consumers and businesses. The regime must also be proportionate and pro-innovation. The UK should be the best place to start and grow a technology business. The draft measures will allow interested parties to continue to engage on the details of the regime to ensure that the legislation strikes the right balance, and that is why we will publish draft legislation in this Session ahead of introducing legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, and others mentioned the fan-led review of football. The new independent regulator will be given the task of applying an enhanced owners’ and directors’ test, both ahead of the acquisition of the club and on an ongoing basis. This replaces the existing tests and will include a new integrity test for all owners and executives, and enhanced due diligence, including sources of funding on acquisition. Further details will be set out in the White Paper, which we will publish this summer.

Coming very soon is the gambling Act White Paper. As the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, knows, this is the most thorough review of gambling laws since the 2005 Act and we need to get it right. In the coming weeks we will publish a White Paper setting out our conclusions and vision for the sector; it will set out our policy proposals and we will work with others, including the Gambling Commission, to implement the changes as soon as possible.

The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and others asked about touring for artists. The UK took an ambitious approach during our negotiations with the European Union, which would have ensured that touring artists and their support staff did not need work permits to perform in the UK. Regrettably, this was rejected by the European Union. Our trade deal with the three EFTA countries was based on the very same offer and shows that it is workable and that we are fighting to help musicians and performers to tour abroad. The Government are committed to supporting this important sector to adapt to the new arrangements, and we are working with the sector and directly with member states to clarify what creative workers need to do to continue touring in these important industries.

The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, asked specifically about the work to designate the St Pancras station for Eurostar as a CITES point of entry. Defra is working with the Incorporated Society of Musicians, the Association of British Orchestras, the Musicians’ Union and others who are undertaking surveys to gauge numbers likely to use St Pancras as such a point of entry if it were to become CITES-designated. The results are due soon and once received Defra will work with Border Force to understand the operational implications of designating St Pancras. We will provide further updates in due course. I am grateful to the noble Earl and to Deborah Annetts from the Incorporated Society of Musicians for their engagement on this important issue.

I am close to the end of time. I have not had a chance to touch on the data reform Bill, the electronic trade documents Bill, or the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill, but taken together, the legislation in this gracious Speech is an ambitious legislative agenda which will support households by delivering economic growth, up and down our country. We will deliver on our promise to level up the United Kingdom. Our policies will deliver economic prosperity by giving local leaders the power they need to rejuvenate their communities by providing every part of England that wants a devolution deal with one by 2030. We will bring forward media legislation to boost that important sector and promote British-originated content. Our post-Brexit freedoms will enable us to make key data reforms to our regulatory environment which will promote growth and innovation and create a truly global Britain. In the face of growing international threats, we will also enhance the protection afforded to our people, our networks and our infrastructure against risks arising from insecure smart products. Our programme will deliver pioneering legislation, ensuring economic safety and security for this country, both online and on our streets. I look forward to debating much of it with noble Lords over the Session ahead.

Amendment to the Motion

Tabled by