Queen's Speech — Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:25 pm on 16th May 2012.

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Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 9:25 pm, 16th May 2012

My Lords, the fact that we have spent the past four sitting days navel-gazing is a disgrace, considering the other matters that surround us. The fact that two of the days of debate on the gracious Speech were devoted to the constitution when we have had to condense all the other important issues into fewer days has done the House no good.

Turning to the economy, we should all be grateful for the measures enacted by the coalition Government when they were elected to power in 2010-exactly the action and leadership that the right reverent Prelate the Bishop of Durham called for in his excellent maiden speech. The Government started in a good fashion to clear up the mess left by the previous Government. They positioned the UK well for what was to come and inspired confidence.

It is extraordinary that sterling and the UK are considered a safe haven at present. UK bond yields are at a record low of 1.9%, with inflation at 3.5%. That brings money and people to the UK, and we need more of that. Although the level of sterling is a challenge, it is also an incentive for us to become much more competitive. It is not something for politicians to weaken in order to avoid taking more challenging decisions. As my noble friend Lord Ashton of Hyde said in his wise maiden speech, gold-plated regulation is a severe break on business. My noble friend Lord Sassoon needs to address that, as does every Minister in every department.

In Europe we have been incredibly spoilt for the past 50 years. Yes, there have been occasional difficulties -we had to go to the IMF on one occasion-but by and large we have had good and continuous growth. However, imprudent management, a corrupt banking system and an increasing reliance on debt have led us to believe that the cloud-cuckoo-land we were in would never cease. "The end of boom and bust", crowed Gordon Brown as he led us deeper into the mire, but now we are facing the truth; the eurozone is in complete crisis, as the UK Government warned it would be in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but sadly political will overrode rational thought and argument. The Governor of the Bank of England calls it the "coming storm". As the euro train heads for disaster, too many people are still trying to preserve their seats in the first-class compartment rather than to stop the train and change its course.

I believe that in the near future our debates on the economy will be of a very different intensity from that of today. I hope that happens before the vote for separation in Scotland, as in today's world the one thing that Scotland would not be is independent, either politically or economically.

I welcome the Bill to implement the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Banking, but it is too little, too late. The Bill signifies a substantial change of thinking. I tried to do much the same thing in 2008 with my Safety Deposit Current Accounts Bill. I went further than the projected Bill, and if my Bill had been enacted we would not see many of the problems that we face today. However, I was derided by my now noble friend Lord Razzall, who called my Bill "volcanic", and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, termed it "explosive". My noble friend hardly mentioned that Bill today, and I await with anticipation the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham.

Our banking system is based on judicial decisions made in the 1800s, which legalised the theft of deposits by the banks and allowed bankers to print money and behave imprudently. On the one side, we have the EU; on the other, we have the USA. In his short time in office, President Obama has accumulated national debt more than 27 times as fast as in the rest of its entire history. That train, too, is heading for the buffers at speed.

The two speeches that I appreciated most on days 1 and 2 of our debate on the gracious Speech were those of the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Giddens. We are not masters of our own destiny in today's age, but the Government need to position us correctly for what will emerge from the current crisis. In that context, the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, is irrelevant, as she had nothing new to offer us today. Part of that repositioning must include a complete revision of our banking system.

I was hugely disappointed that my noble friend Lady Wilcox made no mention of tidal or wave power in what she said about the electricity market. If the Government want electricity prices to be fair, the considerable subsidy given to inefficient wind turbines should be scrapped.

I turn to the draft water Bill. At first, I thought that it was sad that it was a draft Bill, but having sat on EU Sub-Committee D, which has just looked at the EU blueprint for fresh water and the revision of the European water framework directive, I think that a draft Bill to be studied by a committee of both Houses is an excellent way forward. It needs to take our report into account. The whole subject of water is much more complex and intricate than many of us who sat on that committee realised.

The future of agriculture depends very much on the reform of the common agricultural policy. Again, Sub-Committee D has fed its thoughts into Europe, many of which have been accepted. However, I fear that there is a marked reluctance among many people in Europe to realise that, with the current crisis, the whole CAP system could collapse at very short notice and that the European grant structure for our farmers could be an anachronism within a short time.

It is hugely important that the Government encourage innovation in farming. Farmers have a very difficult job. There is huge competition for what can be done on the land and there are increasing restrictions. No more land is being created. Producing enough food to feed a growing population will need a whole lot more innovation and encouragement.

On the common fisheries policy, I hope that the European Commission will persevere with the suggestions that it put forward, which were also based largely on Sub-Committee D's proposals-that was before I was a member of it. If our fishing stocks are to be preserved for future generations, substantial changes such as those proposed by the Commission have to be enacted.