My Lords, I have to acquaint the House that Her Majesty was pleased this morning to make a most gracious Speech from the Throne to both Houses of Parliament assembled in the House of Lords. Copies of the gracious Speech are available in the Printed Paper Office. I have, for the convenience of the House, arranged for the terms of the gracious Speech to be published in the Official Report.
Motion for an Humble Address
Moved by Lord Lang of Monkton
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, when I first came to your Lordships’ House, I asked my noble friend the late lamented Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish what would happen after the State Opening. His answer was that some old codger on the Government side would be asked to propose an humble Address. Your Lordships may understand, therefore, that proud and privileged though I am to undertake this role, it brings with it a certain poignancy, as in the crossing of a threshold, as I come to realise that I am now a fully fledged member of SOCs, the society of old codgers. To my fellow members around the House I say this: we know who you are and we are all in this together.
The mood lifts instantly, however, since my first and pleasurable task is to express our gratitude and appreciation that Her Majesty the Queen has once again honoured this House with her presence to deliver the gracious Speech from the Throne. Her Majesty’s sense of duty and her vitality continue to inspire us all. Her example is followed to the letter by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, whose unstinting support of Her Majesty at all times earns our enduring admiration and respect. We were also honoured today by the most welcome presence of their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. His Royal Highness works tirelessly in support of countless good causes, as can be shown by just one example, that of the Prince’s Trust which is now celebrating 30 immensely successful years of helping young people to get a good start in life.
In our own world, another more modest but much cherished reign has ended with the retirement from the Front Bench of our former Leader of the House, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. His well-rounded style, if I may call it that, invested our affairs with a charm that turned away wrath, quality of judgment, and a grasp of the business of politics that has brought benefit to us all over his 25 years of public service. We shall miss his bounteous hospitality.
Happily, his successor, my noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford, is cast in the same mould—metaphorically speaking. He won instant recognition on entering the House when he so effectively secured the passage of the coalition’s important education legislation. His courteous manner at the Dispatch Box and the intense work he has undertaken in his new role as our Leader win praise, I believe, from all quarters. It is an encouraging sign that, in his room here, the Leader drinks from a mug that bears the legend, “Make tea, not law”. He shares with my peerless noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns, and, I feel sure, with the greatly esteemed noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, the strong conviction that courtesy and restraint are the essential watch-words for an effective self-regulating House. All three demonstrate it impressively.
The politics of any coalition are never easy, and parties can become frustrated. There are a few loose slates on the roof. However, I recall clearly how, after the general election, our two parties, acting in the national interest, each put aside its own agenda and combined in order to bring stability to the nation’s government after a near calamitous collapse of our economy. Looking back on that crisis, which was years in the making and will take years to surmount, put me in mind of the George Best school of economics. When the famous footballer was asked, towards the end of his life, how he had managed to lose his fortune, he replied that he had spent most of it on wine, women and song and the rest he had just wasted.
Putting the nation first was not mere rhetoric. We needed discipline and a new direction to avoid the abyss. To have reduced the deficit—although not yet the national debt—by one-third, and to have seen more than 1.25 million new private sector jobs created in the past two and a half years despite a state of chronic recession in the eurozone, our biggest export market, has been quite an achievement. I pay renewed tribute to Sir John Major, who won for this country the right to stay out of the euro. I welcome the continuing commitment expressed in the gracious Speech to promoting economic competitiveness through the rigorous reining back of unaffordable increases in public expenditure and to the maintenance of low interest rates. These constitute the two most fundamental of policies for growth. If we gave up on them, the burden of past extravagances would come back to haunt us. As a certain Lady once said, “There is no alternative”. In that regard, I acknowledge in particular the courage of my right honourable friends George Osborne and his Chief Secretary, the articulate and unflappable Danny Alexander. They personify the coalition at its best: stalwart, steady and united, they continue to put the nation first.
Some pundits thought that coalition would be a recipe for paralysis. However, at this half-way stage in the Parliament, it is notable how much really major legislation has reached the statute book. I am thinking of the giant strides of my right honourable friend Michael Gove in education and of my right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith in tackling the wasteful and damaging morass of the world of welfare. These are great and far-reaching breakthroughs, of Beveridge proportions, from which one may feel sure that the nation will benefit for years to come and of which many single-party Governments, over an entire term, would be proud. Now, in the gracious Speech, there is more to come in both areas.
Indeed, the gracious Speech reveals no loss of impetus, with many significant new measures, for example on pensions and immigration. There is the long-term care and support Bill, a matter surely of compelling interest to your Lordships—we will all have to declare our interest when speaking on it. It is a measure of vital long-term importance to a growing proportion of the population. Another Bill will tackle anti-social behaviour—to which the other place may wish to pay specific attention.
A pro-business agenda is reflected in the deregulation Bill and in the employment assistance proposals. As for the HS2 paving Bill, to bring London closer to the cities of the north, as Sir Humphrey would say, “Courageous, Minister”. As one who travels regularly by train between Westminster and my home in Scotland, I feel sure that my grandchildren may benefit from it—in old age.
Contentious though it may be, the need to upgrade our infrastructure and to improve access to the country away from the south-east must surely resonate with your Lordships. Business, too, will welcome that.
In my early years here, I used to raise Scottish issues—always to be told, “That is a matter for the Scottish Parliament”. Now when Scotland features in our deliberations, it usually means trouble: most recently the Scotland Act and the order to allow a Scottish independence referendum to take place. Troubles come not singly.
Scotland is a great nation but that greatness has been achieved within the United Kingdom. The Scottish Enlightenment came after 1707; so did the great industrial growth and the global breakout, when Scots travelled the world, keeping the Sabbath—and anything else we could lay our hands on. We are the land of inventions: from the steam engine to the bicycle, the mackintosh, the television, the Glenlivet, the Glenfarclas, the Glenfiddich and the Glenmorangie—and of course the cloning of Dolly the sheep. Not many people know that copper wire was invented by two Aberdonians quarrelling over a penny.
If the forthcoming referendum were to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom, we would all suffer, but Scotland most of all. Your Lordships will have noted the passing reference in the gracious Speech to,
“co-operation with the devolved administrations”.
One cannot tell yet what that may mean but co-operation is a two-way street. I believe that constitutional fracking leads to fragmentation, so I trust that Her Majesty’s Government will always concentrate on strengthening the United Kingdom and do nothing that might weaken it. In this Parliament of our nation state are found the emblems of all its parts. The thistle stands proudly alongside the rose. I welcome the strong leadership of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on this matter, and his commitment, echoed in the gracious Speech, to fight with unwavering determination to save the union.
It is an irony that might have delighted Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan that, in so elegantly moving this Motion last year, my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley was able to draw attention—with that subtle blend of loyalty and realism that is the province of all Chief Whips—to a proposed Bill for the reform of this House. That proposal was not altogether welcome here. This year, by contrast, many of your Lordships look eagerly for such a measure, but in vain. Of course, last year, for some it was a case of reform by abolition; for most, our ambitions are, I believe, more modest but more practical. One might argue that there is nothing wrong with this House that would not be solved by a little bit of quantitative easing, but there is no mention of reform of the House in the gracious Speech, so I should not speak of it and I will not—except to say:
“We are the very model of a Chamber constitutionalWe simply try to better Bills with changes quite profusionalWe are not revolutional; our aims are evolutionalNot to want to welcome that is surely just delusional”.
When King George V was asked by the minister of Crathie Kirk what he should preach about in his next sermon, it is said that he replied, “About seven minutes”. Happily, your Lordships have four days in which to debate the gracious Speech. The debate will range widely and one may be sure that it will benefit from the great expertise and experience to be found in all parts of the House but perhaps especially on the Cross Benches. There may even be time to contemplate those tantalising perennial words that appear at the end of every gracious Speech:
“Other measures will be laid before you”.
On one occasion, a Welsh farmer, watching the State Opening on television and hearing those words, turned to his wife and said, “Udder measures, Megan? The English must be having trouble with their cows again”.
Finally, I return to the terms of the Motion to recall that this year marks the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen’s coronation. But an even earlier occasion also springs to mind. In a broadcast marking her 21st birthday, Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth pledged her future life, whether it be long or short, to the service of this country. That vow has chimed like a clear bell through all the years since, as Her Majesty has fulfilled it with dedication and grace. Long may she continue to reign over us, for hers is a reign that will shine through history.
My Lords, it is a great privilege and a pleasure to second the Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Lang, especially after such a witty, clever and thoughtful address, which I am sure that this House greatly appreciated. My noble friend, as you will know, served with great distinction as a Minister. He held many ministerial posts, including two as Secretary of State. As well as holding the business portfolio, he was also Secretary of State for Scotland.
It may not have escaped your Lordships’ notice that this is a wholly non-English team commencing the debate on the humble Address. Your Lordships may be pleased that I will not dwell on the fact that 10% of the FA Premier League is now represented by Wales; nor will I dwell on the recent Six Nations triumph or on the captaincy of the British Lions—and all this with just 5% of the population. However, it demonstrates how important the link is between Wales and England—different but together. I know that both the noble Lord, Lord Lang, as he has just expressed, and I share a common aspiration: we are proud to be playing our part within the United Kingdom. Therefore, in the referendum in Scotland which is less than 500 days away from now—I suspect that this statement accords with the majority view of your Lordships’ House—Scotland’s interests will best be served by remaining within the United Kingdom. We are better together than apart. As Ernest Bevin put it in 1951:
“My policy is to be able to buy a ticket at Victoria Station and go anywhere I damn well please”.
Mind you, he may have thought again if he had seen the current price of second-class supersaver returns.
Just a few weeks ago, I was in Lesotho working with the charity of which I am the honorary president. Lesotho is a small mountain kingdom in southern Africa and a member of the Commonwealth. I discovered that, at about this time, they, too, will have a state opening of their Parliament. Their king, as constitutional head of state, will process with horse-mounted troops alongside to their Parliament to deliver the address containing the programme for the coming session. I discovered the pride with which people view this event and the importance of the occasion. Therefore, we can be justifiably proud of the events here today in London, which have been exported elsewhere in the world.
However, the similarities do not end there. Lesotho is also facing difficult times, but its crisis is one of food security. It has also recently elected a coalition Government, although it has gone one step further than us with a three-party Government. My noble friends in front of me and to my left can therefore be comforted by this export of our new British way of life.
The ceremonial that we have seen today would be recognisable across many centuries, with only slight differences. In 1854, for example, Ministers also took part in the procession. The Illustrated London News reported it as follows:
“Her Majesty’s Ministers drove rapidly along the line of route, and those of them who were recognised—were cheered”.
Ministers cheered in the streets, my Lords; there is a thing.
In a full legislative programme, the gracious Speech rightly focused on creating a stronger economy and promoting a fairer society. However, it is my observation that a real sign of strength of purpose is a Government prepared to take big decisions in difficult times. Perhaps being a coalition makes this easier. Members coming from different parties are required to hold a more open debate on the problems faced than the debate which happens within a single-party Government. Perhaps historians of the future will be able to observe on that possibility.
However, the gracious Speech that we have heard today faces up to two of the major problems of our time, problems which have lurked in the “too difficult” pile for many years. I refer to the announcement of measures relating to social care and single-tier pensions. Those are indeed bold measures in tough economic times. They put in place the architecture for major policy change that allows for financial improvement once times become better and extra money becomes available. An ageing but healthier society with greater longevity lies behind both those policies. The measure to deal with the problems caused by the high cost of social care is the culmination of a multitude of reports, commissions, studies and investigations, not least the one headed by Andrew Dilnot.
The most important matter to be dealt with is that of certainty—certainty of knowing what costs will fall on individuals, to replace the high costs which fall almost at random on many older people and their families, with many having to sell their homes. No one knows if he or she will be the one person in 10 who is hit with the enormous cost of long-term care. That problem is worsened as people live longer. I commend the Government for tackling a deep-seated issue, now finally to be addressed.
The reform to pensions will create a simple, decent state pension set above the basic means test. It is to happen sooner than intended. The new state pension will be fairer to the low paid, the self-employed and carers, and make it easier for people to understand what they will get from the state when they reach state pension age. However, regrettably, there are many noble Lords to whom this reform will not apply. It will not be retrospective. I know that your Lordships generally take a dim view of that practice, but I take comfort that I am not alone in your Lordships’ House in missing the boat.
By introducing the single tier in 2016, everyone affected by the changes that the Government have made to the state pension age in this Parliament will now have access to the new state pension. By starting the new pension a year earlier, about 400,000 more people will reach state pension age under the single tier, including every woman affected by the acceleration of the equalisation of the state pension age.
This reform is a once in a generation opportunity, providing justice for women and a massive simplification and reduction in complexity. People will pay the same rates of national insurance contributions and, in return, they will get the same pension. The single-tier pension, coming after the triple-locked pension and working alongside the rollout of automatic enrolment into workplace pensions, will encourage more people to save for their retirement. It will provide fairness for today and fairness for tomorrow.
I conclude with some remarks about openness, which is not normally mentioned in the gracious Speech, but it was today. It is a thread which runs through the fabric of this Government. It may be the case that having a coalition Government ensures openness; it might be a factor of the parties working together. However, this Government should be praised for their attitude towards provision of information. They have set the government information switch firmly to open, where that is possible and practical, rather than to close, with the outside world having to rely on leaks and squeezing out information in bits and pieces.
I began to wonder what Sir Humphrey would have made of that. Noble Lords may recall Sir Humphrey’s words in “Yes, Prime Minister”. I apologise to all noble Lords who have occupied Sir Humphrey-type positions in the past. Sir Humphrey said: “We should always tell the press, freely and frankly, anything that they can easily find out”. This exchange on Ministers also took place, with Sir Humphrey telling Bernard: “Ministers should never know more than they need to know. Then they can’t tell anyone. Like secret agents, they could be captured and tortured”. “Oh”, said Bernard, “You mean by terrorists?”. “No”, said Sir Humphrey, “by the BBC”. I rest my case.
I have a final “Yes Minister” quote, which is that Bernard said to Sir Humphrey, “I think the Prime Minister wants to govern Britain”. Sir Humphrey replied, “Well stop him, Bernard”. Despite all the pressures and difficulties, the Government have today demonstrated their resolve in governing this country to strengthen our economy and work towards a fairer society. They are to be commended.
Motion to Adjourn
Moved by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
That this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
My Lords, I wish on behalf of the Opposition to give my thanks to Her Majesty the Queen for delivering the gracious Speech. However, I am not so sure that I can extend the same courtesy for the content of the gracious Speech to the Government Benches that produced it.
Before I turn to the Government’s legislative programme, as set out in the gracious Speech, it is a great pleasure to congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Lang of Monkton and Lord German, for their speeches this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Lang, of course has a distinguished record, not just as a member of SOCs—an organisation whose membership I certainly aspire to—but as a former senior MP and Cabinet Minister. His membership of the Commons neatly coincided with the entire period of the previous Conservative Administration; he won his seat in May 1979 and lost it in May 1997. He rose through the ministerial ranks to be Secretary of State for Scotland—never the easiest job in government, especially not when succeeded in office by the now noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean. He then became President of the Board of Trade, which is also not the easiest job in government, particularly not when succeeding in that office the now noble Lord, Lord Heseltine.
However, navigating his way through such highly dangerous, shark-infested Tory waters meant that the noble Lord, Lord Lang, was a natural to play a central role in John Major’s “Back me or sack me” re-election campaign as leader of the Conservative Party in July 1995. The then Prime Minister was trying to rid himself of those in the Conservative Party who were on one side of the Tories’ fundamental divisions over Europe from the late 1980s and early 1990s onwards. I will not use in your Lordships’ House the term that the then Prime Minister used for them, but your Lordships may recall that it seemed to closely question their parentage.
The experience of the noble Lord, Lord Lang, in helping to handle that kind of thing means, I suspect, that he knows a thing or two about divisions. So it is probably of no comfort to him to be seeing something of a replay of those years in interventions such as that yesterday from one of the noble Lord’s then colleagues: the former Chancellor, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby. However, it is a replay with a difference. Last time, it was just the Conservative Party ripping itself apart. This time, with the prospect of an in-out referendum on our membership of the EU, the stakes are so much higher. The noble Lord, Lord Lang, has been a distinguished Member of your Lordships’ House for many years, and I take this opportunity to pay particular thanks and tribute to him for his role as the chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.
On behalf of the whole House, I thank the noble Lord, Lord German, for his speech in celebration of the coalition Government, or in celebration of coalition in general. When I worked, as at one point I did, for the European Commission in Wales I knew Mike German. I think lots of people, especially in Wales, will know him better as that. We worked well together on the enlargement of the European Union and I am of course pleased to see him as a Member of your Lordships’ House, even as a Liberal Democrat. Mike is a former leader of the Liberal Democrats in Wales—yet again, not the easiest job in the world—and his lifelong involvement and interest in education has led him inevitably to see all the ups and downs of public life.
As a Welshman, the noble Lord, Lord German, will, I know be interested in the Government’s attitude towards the Silk commission on fiscal devolution and the powers of the Welsh Assembly, but as a loyal Liberal Democrat I noticed that he was far too polite to mention its omission from today’s gracious Speech. As a former Deputy First Minister in a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition Administration in Wales who is now serving on the coalition Benches in Westminster, we can only speculate as to which coalition partner he has felt more comfortable with.
We now have before us the legislative programme from the Government for this new, coming Session of Parliament. It is such a thin programme that it was relegated to second position on the lunchtime news by the resignation of Sir Alex Ferguson, a great manager and a great Labour man. Little of the programme is new because so much of it has been very kindly leaked in advance by the Government. As the Government have found, however, briefing out policies in advance does not always work to their advantage.
The Government might expect the Guardian columnist, the ever excellent Polly Toynbee, to summarise the legislative programme in today’s gracious Speech as a collection of “dismal offerings”, but they might well not have expected similar flak from rather different parts of the political spectrum. So only this week, the normally Conservative-cheerleading Daily Mail newspaper described today’s legislative programme in the following terms:
“It’s a shame there’s so little to commend the rest of the speech’s predicted contents, which are largely measures we already knew about”.
The Daily Mail went on to describe the measures in today’s speech as “gimmicks”, and despite apparently hoping against hope that the Prime Minister would have a “few surprises” up his sleeve today, it summed up the Government’s legislative programme as: “Must do better.” Today the Daily Telegraph, in its online edition, goes even further. Commenting after the gracious Speech had been delivered, the Daily Telegraph’s view was that the Government have passed their “High Noon”. It concludes:
“The sun is setting on the Coalition.”
I pray the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph in aid not because they are supporters of my party, but for precisely the opposite point: with friends like these does the legislative programme we have before us today need enemies?
Today’s gracious Speech is important because it puts before both your Lordships’ House and the people of this country the final serious remaining legislative programme of this coalition Government. Final because this time next year the coalition Government—if they are is still in place by then as a single entity—will be bringing forward a legislative programme which will come to its conclusion in a wash-up ahead of the general election due in May 2015.
So what do we have in this year’s programme? Well, it is difficult to tell because we do not actually know what will happen to the measures announced today in the Queen’s Speech. Take, as an example, last year’s legislative programme. The centrepiece of the programme, as set out in the gracious Speech in May 2012, was reform of this, your Lordships’ House, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lang. The gracious Speech could not have been clearer:
As we know, a Bill was brought forward, but within months, the House of Lords Reform Bill was in trouble. The Bill was voted against by 91 rebelling Conservative MPs, and so much of a rebellion it was that the Conservative MP leading the supposed rebellion has now very particularly been favoured by the Prime Minister by being appointed to the Prime Minister’s principal policy review committee. Finally, it was abandoned and withdrawn by the Government. The Bill moved, within months, from being the flagship of the Gracious Speech this time last year to not being a Bill at all. So we have little idea whether, as with last year’s flagship measure, any of the measures in today’s legislative programme will survive the huge fissures of difference between the component elements of the coalition. They might, but they might not. We just do not know.
Even when we get Bills, we do not really know what is in them because of the way the Government deal with the legislative process. So we have the Government making significant amendments at the last minute, often in your Lordships’ House, when Bills have already passed through the other place. The Government’s pernicious abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board in the last Session was a clear example of a poor way of making policy. We have no idea, for instance, whether more Bills will come forward as a result of the spending review due next month.
To be fair to this coalition Government, they are trying to learn from experience. Rather than bringing forward measures which will fall apart because the coalition cannot agree them, this year the coalition has adopted an exciting new strategy of simply not including in its legislative programme measures which it knows it will be divided over. So, no legislation, shamefully, to put into statute the coalition’s explicit commitment to earmark 0.7% of gross domestic product on overseas aid. I am, however, delighted that the gracious Speech included the commitment that the Government will work to prevent sexual violence in conflict world wide.
Neither is there any legislation on establishing a register of lobbyists: what the Prime Minister once described, ahead of the general election in 2010, as,
“the next big scandal waiting to happen”.
Why not? We saw an appalling example of outrageous lobbying by News Corporation over its bid for BSkyB, for instance. The Government’s current proposals on lobbying are inadequate. They need to get serious about lobbying transparency. This Queen’s Speech was an opportunity to do so—an opportunity missed.
Neither is there any legislation on the sale of cigarettes in plain packaging—again, a commitment promised and abandoned because of the efforts of the tobacco lobby. It was also abandoned in the face of a political challenger, the leader of UKIP, who was seen in interview after interview last week, after so many Conservatives had defected to his party, celebrating that success with a pint in one hand and a fag in the other. One wonders about the influence of Mr Crosby, who lobbied so hard on the issue in Australia. Neither is there any legislation as floated on public health, or on minimum alcohol pricing. Those are just the measures which have been floated in advance of the Queen’s Speech, but which are not in the programme. What about anything on this Government’s other proud boasts?
Where is anything, for example, on the environment, from a Government who bragged that they would be the greenest ever? Where is anything on media plurality and ownership, or anything to help housing in this country—to help people who need social housing, as well as those aspiring to own their own home? We know that building houses rebuilds Britain and provides jobs.
Where is anything on child poverty? There is nothing, despite the coalition’s pledge to maintain Labour’s goal of ending child poverty in the UK by 2020, and today’s report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which says that one in four children in this country will still be living in poverty by 2020, and that this Government’s tax and benefit reforms, introduced since the last election, are responsible.
So what do we have? We have a gracious Speech which actually mentions 15 specific new Bills, as the Health Secretary, Mr Hunt, very helpfully told us on the “Today” programme this morning—insultingly, four hours before the gracious Speech was actually given. Mind you, given that the Prime Minister himself was out on Twitter this morning about the legislative programme, mentioning various Bills—again, well before the gracious Speech was given—I suppose that Mr Hunt’s behaviour, for this Government, is nothing special.
We have legislation promised in government briefings on social care, anti-social behaviour, dangerous dogs, local audit, pub management, consumer rights and asbestos-related cancer—all of which we, as a constructive Opposition, will look at and to which we will determine our response.
The proposed legislation on social care and carers, outlined by the noble Lord, is particularly important. That is age, you see. Our society would be in enormous difficulty without carers, but we will want to ensure that this issue is not used by this Government as a means of transferring extra responsibility to local authorities without the means to deliver. Today’s report from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services on the serious reduction in services due to budgetary cuts should be a stark warning to the Government.
We have legislation on pensions, on police powers, on HS2, on intellectual property, and on offender rehabilitation, which we will examine closely and measure against tests of fairness and effectiveness. We have legislation that is clearly aimed at attempting to stave off for the Tories what they see as the threat from UKIP—on immigration, for example—by proposing to put in place, among other measures, a bureaucratic nightmare requiring private landlords to check their tenants’ immigration status. I trust that this legislation will not waste the opportunity to deal with the big issue of exploited foreign workers undercutting local workers. But we shall see.
These are dismal offerings. This is a Government who legislated for a five-year Parliament, but as this legislative programme so clearly shows, they have run out of steam after only three years. This is a Government who have already lost momentum.
What we need, but do not have, is the legislation that we have proposed in Labour’s alternative Queen’s Speech. This includes, for example, a jobs Bill to put in place a compulsory jobs guarantee, and a finance Bill that would kick-start our economy and help make work pay with a 10p rate of tax. We also propose a housing Bill that would take action against rogue landlords and extortionate fees in the private rented sector. What we have, however, is a legislative programme that does not even begin to meet the economic challenges which people, families, communities and the country are facing. It does not begin to address the scale of anxiety and disillusion throughout the country, which was shown clearly not just in the results of last week’s elections but in the shameful 29% turnout. We have legislation that will not do much if anything for individuals, young people, families and communities who are now so hard-pressed by being squeezed by the Government’s economic policies that many of them barely know how to make ends meet. They have to borrow from family and friends, and take up people’s generosity by making use of the rapidly burgeoning number of food banks. They worry not just about themselves and their children’s future but about getting food on the table. Yet the Government just say there will be no change in their economic plans for this country, just more of the same—more friends appointed to No. 10 and more being out of touch with the reality of people’s lives.
We have a legislative programme that does not address people’s problems, that is about the coalition’s priorities rather than the priorities of the people, and that is out of kilter with the people of this country. We have before us today a Government who are running scared. They are running scared of themselves and of what the other side in the coalition will do, whether over reform of your Lordships’ House or boundary changes. They are running scared of the economic arguments that we in this party, on these Benches, have put forward, which have now been taken up by virtually every serious economic and international organisation that worries about the UK’s lack of economic growth. They are running scared of UKIP and their own defections to a fourth party. Above all, they are running scared of the people of this country. These people’s lives are hurting and they want something different. They want to see jobs and growth, and they know that this coalition is falling apart at the seams. They want to see real change.
They will get their chance for change in the general election that is due two years from now. If the rise of UKIP and the poor performance of both coalition partners in last week’s council elections and by-election mean that the parties on the Benches opposite are not looking forward to that point of decision, we on these Benches certainly are. In the mean time, we face the last even remotely serious legislative programme of this coalition Government. We the Opposition will support it where it is right and oppose it where it is not. We will take our work seriously, scrutinising and amending legislation and holding the Government to account.
We want the Government in this House to take their own responsibilities as seriously, so we urge them to return to the efficient practice—cost efficient and time efficient—introduced by the party on these Benches that aligned the sittings of this House with those of the House of Commons. We want to see the Government Benches manage their programme more efficiently than they did in the previous Session, so that the House will not be forced off suddenly into extra recesses. We want to see better answers from government spokespeople in the House. We want to see the open policy articulated by the noble Lord, Lord German. We want answers that are based on content and that respect the House.
We on these Benches will get on and do our job. As the Opposition in this House, we will scrutinise this legislative programme and look hard at what the Government propose. We will hold the Government to account, and we will start with the debate on the gracious Speech that will begin in this House tomorrow.
I beg to move that the debate be adjourned till tomorrow.
My Lords, it is a great honour to stand here as Leader of your Lordships’ House and to reflect on the previous Session and look ahead to the new one. My first few months in the job have brought home to me time and again the importance of the contribution that the House makes both to the legislative process and to our wider political debate. They have also made me realise how fortunate we all are to receive such outstanding support from those who work in the House. To that end, and on behalf of the whole House, I place on record our gratitude to Black Rod and all the staff for organising such a superb day.
Today is a great state occasion, which means one thing: briefly, I get to be nice about the Leader of the Opposition. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for moving the Motion to adjourn. For the first two minutes of her speech, I agreed with everything she said; and while she and I do not always agree on content of what is before the House, I know that we have a shared affection for it and a shared idea of how it should work. I am grateful to her for the professionalism and courtesy that she has always shown me and the usual channels. I know how hard she works on behalf of her party and Back-Benchers and, indeed, the House as a whole, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with her in the coming Session. I also greatly appreciate the parts played in the work of this House by my noble friend the Deputy Leader of the House, and the noble Lord, Lord Laming, as Convenor of the Cross Benches. They, too, are fundamental to what this House is about.
In praising the work of the usual channels of today, I should also like to pay tribute to my predecessor, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, who was a mainstay of the usual channels for almost 20 years. He was a quite outstanding Leader of this House and leader of my party and I, along with many others, am greatly in his debt. Now, I know that my noble friend was sometimes accused of being wily. That is an accusation that I categorically reject. It is a grotesque understatement. His explanation to me of what it would involve to be Leader of the House was not wily: it was a flagrant breach of the Trade Descriptions Act.
In looking back over my noble friend’s remarkable career in this House, for which he was rightly made a Companion of Honour, I was struck by an odd pattern. He first became a government Minister in 1988, the year when the SDP merged with the Liberal Party. In 1994, the year when the Liberal Democrats took Eastleigh from the Conservatives, he became government Chief
Whip. In 1998, the year when the Liberal Democrats overtook the Conservatives in local elections, he became Leader of the Opposition. In 2010, when he became Leader of this House, the first coalition Government for more than 60 years was formed between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Is this coincidence, or has my noble friend in fact been a Liberal Democrat sleeper for all these years?
That is not something of which I would ever accuse my noble friend Lord Lang. I am especially delighted that he said yes to the invitation to propose the humble Address, and I know I speak for the whole House when I congratulate him on performing his role with such wit and style this afternoon. For those who know of his early career, this comes as no surprise. A member of the Cambridge Footlights with John Cleese and Peter Cook, he went on to write scripts for “That Was The Week That Was”. What better preparation to be a Conservative Cabinet Minister than training as a satirist? First, as Scottish Secretary, and then as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my noble friend served in the Cabinet for seven years with great distinction. As a mark of his particular skill, he was the only Cabinet Minister I can remember appearing on programmes such as “Question Time” in 1997 without being booed. I say to my noble friend, “Don’t relax”—we might have to call on him again.
It is also a pleasure to congratulate my noble friend Lord German on his speech this afternoon. He may be a more recent entrant to your Lordships’ House, but he is no newcomer to the political world, with a career in Welsh politics spanning three decades. I see that he is also a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cyprus, where I fear his surname may prove something of an embarrassment at the moment. A former music teacher, he continues to put his musical talents to good use, until recently chairing the parliamentary choir. To coin a phrase, where there was discord, he brought harmony. I am particularly intrigued by what I understand is my noble friend’s party trick of singing the words of one carol to the tune of another. This is, of course, a great skill for life in a coalition government. I will be perfectly happy if from now on he sings from the same hymn sheet as me.
The year since Her Majesty last opened a new Session of Parliament has seen the success of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and, of course, the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Those in particular underlined the great affection in which she and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh are held. They continue to set an example of public service which is quite remarkable. It was a particular pleasure that this year they were accompanied by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall.
I cannot promise that the legislative programme of the coming parliamentary Session will be as enjoyable as the events of last summer, but I am sure that there will be fireworks of another kind. I think that noble Lords will agree that in the gracious Speech Her Majesty set out a full legislative programme designed to address some of the biggest challenges facing our country.
The gracious Speech included a range of measures to build a stronger economy, to cut the deficit, to invest in infrastructure and to remove unnecessary regulation. It offered help for parents with the cost of childcare, help for those who have saved for their retirement and help for those who find themselves faced with the costs of long-term care. It will address crime and rehabilitation, national security, immigration and defence. A number of measures will be published in draft in line with the Government’s commitment to consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny.
Five new Bills will start their passage in this House. These are Bills to reform the care system, to reform the way that offenders are rehabilitated, to make it easier for businesses to protect their intellectual property, to ensure that sufferers of mesothelioma receive payments and to close the Audit Commission. The early business of this House will also include four Bills from the House of Commons carried over from the previous Session. These are the Children and Families Bill, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, the Energy Bill and the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill.
I do not expect that all sides of the House will agree on every aspect of every Bill. I do, however, think we will agree that the Bills are certain to leave this House in better shape than when they arrived. Having taken legislation through your Lordships’ House, I know the very real change and improvement that its scrutiny brings. I know that this House will, in this Session as always, take its duties as a revising Chamber seriously and fulfil them wisely.
However, vital as it is, the business of this House is not just the passing of legislation. The previous Session saw a wide range of debates, some led by government Ministers and many more by Back-Bench Members, addressing issues of national and international importance, while our Select Committees have continued to produce excellent and thought-provoking work. Our new ad hoc committees have demonstrated the House at its best, complementing the work of the House of Commons and making use of a wider range of the expertise available among our Members. The same is true of the first dedicated post-legislative scrutiny committee that we set up last year to look at the statute law on adoption and consider draft clauses in the Children and Families Bill. Since the start of this Parliament, we have also seen an increase in the number of Joint Committees of both Houses conducting pre-legislative scrutiny, a trend which continued last Session, with five such Joint Committees appointed.
As Leader of this House, I am keen to provide opportunities for as many Peers as possible to participate in our work, especially newer Members or Members who are able to attend less frequently, so that as a Chamber we are able to make the most of their contributions. As part of this, I look forward not only to the House’s legislative work in the next Session but to the establishment of a series of new Select Committees, including three ad hoc committees and two post-legislative scrutiny committees, which will allow a wider range of Members to serve on a committee. We will also be creating new opportunities for Back-Bench Members to lead debates. This will include a regular weekly slot for a topical short debate on the Floor of the House as well as making more use of the Moses Room for short debates to double the number of opportunities for Members to have debates there, so I can safely say that we will be busy in this new Session. We will be busy with legislation, busy with scrutiny and busy in shaping our country’s political debate. As we set about those tasks, I look forward to working with the Leaders and Members of all Benches in your Lordships’ House. It is in that spirit that I am delighted to support the noble Baroness’s Motion to adjourn the debate.
Debate adjourned until tomorrow.