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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 King of Bridgwater
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 great privilege to be asked to move this humble Address of thanks to Her Majesty in the midst of her 90th birthday celebrations—someone who is so respected and admired throughout the world. Once again, she was supported by His Royal Highness Prince Philip, who himself continues an amazingly active role in so many fields. The presence also of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall confirms the increasing responsibilities they are taking on and how well they are discharging them. I had wondered whether we should give Her Majesty a present, but I realised we could not possibly match the Tesco gift token that so delighted Her Majesty at Windsor.
Looking at this debate today, as we start to debate the Queen’s Speech, I considered the situation in British industry and its commanding heights. There has been considerable criticism of the lack of women on the boards of many British companies, but as I stand here today—having listened to Her Majesty’s Speech, with the Lord Speaker on the Woolsack, the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition about to speak, and the debate to be concluded by my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston—there is certainly no lack of women in charge. However, there is of course going to be one change, and I am confident I speak for the whole House in expressing our warmest thanks to the Lord Speaker.
The House will realise how brave the Leader of the House was to invite me to move the Motion for the Loyal Address without having the slightest idea of what I was going to say. I fear I will take slight advantage of that, because looking at her always reminds me of one couplet—it might be a bit more than a couplet. As young Light Infantry squaddies given the day off from the Bordon training camp and coming up to London, we found that we could slip in and stand at the back row of the stalls for a brand-new American musical that had arrived in London. I remember particularly one part of it:
“A hundred and one pounds of fun,
That’s my little honey bun!
Get a load of honey bun tonight.
I’m speakin’ of my Sweetie Pie,
Only sixty inches high,
Ev’ry inch is packed with dynamite!”.
Whatever her height, she has grown in stature as a full member of the Cabinet, and coping with the difficulties of the composition of your Lordships’ House is one of the toughest jobs there is. I pay tribute to her and her leadership.
I am concerned about one aspect of what I just said, because I fear that if word goes out, “Dynamite in the House of Lords”, GCHQ will pick it up and all sorts of alarm bells may be ringing. I should think that Black Rod has already pressed the alarm button—unless there are some test devices still around the Chamber that he has not discovered.
That brings me to a serious point. The Annunciator this morning told us, as ever, that the threat is severe. After 9/11, 7/7, Paris and Brussels we know that it is. I pay sincere tribute as someone who has sometimes lived with problems of terrorism. I recognise how much more serious, difficult and challenging the terrorist threat now is. I pay tribute to all the staff, Black Rod and his whole team, for the efforts they make to try to ensure that we stay safe in our democracy here.
We meet today after a major series of elections throughout the country. Three particularly impressed me. I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, on a spectacular election result which swept all before him, and I am delighted to welcome him.
Secondly, and more seriously, I offer my best wishes to Sadiq Khan, the new Mayor of London. I want to say how impressed I was that almost his first action as the new Muslim Mayor of London was to have his signing-on ceremony in Southwark Cathedral in the presence of the Dean and, the very next day, to attend the Holocaust Memorial ceremony in the presence, I think, of the Chief Rabbi. Nothing could have shown more clearly his recognition of the importance of tolerance and respect for other faiths in a world beset by sectarian hatred and division. His leadership and example will be critical not just in London and the UK but throughout the world—to see how different sects and beliefs can work together for the good of all.
The third person I would mention is Ruth Davidson. I will not trespass on my noble friend Lady Goldie’s contribution; she obviously knows Ruth Davidson very much better than I do. I simply say that, having been born in Glasgow of a Welsh mother and an English father, and with my great affection for the Province from my time in Northern Ireland, I am a walking United Kingdom. I believe that Ruth Davidson will prove as doughty a defender of it as my noble friend Lady Goldie has been.
I would like to say a word about the end of the last Session of Parliament. There were some on our Benches who felt that the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, was perhaps stretching the normal understanding of the extent of revision and amendment that should be exercised by this House. I then realised what had happened. The noble Lord, who was a very senior Sir Humphrey in his time, until very recently, was following the advice of his fictional namesake in “Yes, Prime Minister”. When Jim Hacker became Prime Minister, a rather troubled Bernard, his private secretary, reported to Sir Humphrey, “I think the Prime Minister wants to govern the country”, and a shocked Sir Humphrey immediately replied, “Well, stop him, Bernard!”. I understand some of his frustrations, and the difficulties of dealing with Ministers. I could not help recalling the wonderful old campaigner on our Benches in the other place, Dame Irene Ward—some noble Lords may also remember her. She used to use a deliberate double meaning on occasion. I remember that when she was having a great row with the Secretary of State, she leapt to her feet and said, “My trouble is, whenever I’ve got my back to the wall, I find that I’m up against the Secretary of State”.
Having talked about the advice of Sir Humphrey and Mr Hacker’s unpleasant habit of thinking that he was going to govern the country, I come naturally to the Queen’s Speech and the Prime Minister’s proposals for governing the country. I have a couple of comments about things that are not in the Queen’s Speech. On Saturday, we will commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Jutland. On
Among the other things that I cannot find in the Queen’s Speech is Chilcot. We look forward to seeing something of the Chilcot report, which we understand is coming. We may even have some statement about a third London runway, but I do not want to get anybody too excited about that. However, I see that some 14 Bills are coming forward, and the House will be relieved to hear that I am certainly not going to talk about them all. I should just say to the Leader of the Opposition, regarding our exchanges on the Investigatory Powers Bill, that a number of us across the House tried to anticipate this some two years ago, and we must now carry it through.
I would like to say a word about corruption, as there is going to be a Bill about it. I can speak with some authority about corruption. I was the Member of Parliament for Bridgwater, and when I made my maiden speech I was followed by Willie Hamilton, a Labour MP at the time, who referred to it as a constituency almost continuously represented in the House. It was not continuously represented because, in 1870, the Bridgwater constituency, one of the oldest in the country at 600 years old, was abolished. That was very significant, because it was then discovered that one of the oldest constituencies had been subject to one of the oldest practices in British politics, which had continued for some years. A parliamentary commission was sent to investigate what had happened—and the people who provoked it were the Liberals, because they had bought the constituency. There was a small electorate in the town of Bridgwater in those days, so the Liberals offered £5 to anyone who promised to vote for them and had it all sewn up.
In those days, the election results and the votes were published. To their horror, the Liberals then found that not only had they not won but that a lot of the people who had promised to vote for them had actually voted Tory. There is an important lesson for the Government here on delivery. It was discovered that what had happened was that the Liberals had given £5 to anybody who promised to vote for them but the Tories had said, “We’ll give you £10 when you prove you’ve voted Tory”. The happy burghers of Bridgwater were nobody’s fools: they took their 15 quid and two Conservative Members were returned.
Having talked about the Queen’s Speech, we all know that the greatest challenge we now face immediately is in that single sentence:
“My Government will hold a referendum on the membership of the European Union”.
There is, I hope, no controversy over the fact that there is a growing realisation of the importance of this decision throughout the country, and this realisation has been accompanied by a growing cry across the country for more information and facts on which to base a judgment. I wonder whether there are any facts that can be generally accepted by all sides. I suggest that one is that every one of the 27 other counties wants us to stay and hardly any of them thought that there was any risk that we might vote to leave—which hardly helped the Prime Minister’s negotiations. The Commonwealth, which 40 years ago was less than enthusiastic about our membership, clearly values a friendly face at the EU table. Particular problems could arise for Gibraltar, and for Northern Ireland with the border issue.
On the security side, noble Lords may well have seen the letter in the Times signed by 13 United States Defense Secretaries and National Security Advisers— people well known to many of us in this House who are loyal friends of the UK. They say that, while recognising that this is a decision for the British people, they believe that,
“should the UK choose to leave the European Union, the UK’s place and influence in the world would be diminished and Europe would be dangerously weakened”.
Although Christine Lagarde’s comment,
“pretty bad to very, very bad”, has been challenged, I do not think that anybody queried her statement that every country she visits expresses deep concern about the UK leaving the EU.
This referendum is taking place in a period of acute danger and uncertainty in many parts of the world. The mass migration of people is on a scale that may prove to be the greatest the world has ever known. As my noble friend Lord Hague has said, it is not near the end but may be just the start, with the total disaster of Syria coinciding with upheavals throughout the Middle East and with the refugee crisis reinforced by the exploding population of Africa. Sometimes we do not realise the extent of that population explosion. When we saw Her Majesty the other day, some of us recalled where we were at the time of her coronation. I was in the Aberdares. I was serving in the struggle against Mau Mau terrorism. I came down from the Aberdares into Nyeri for a quick drink to celebrate. Kenya had a population of 5 million people. I have checked, and the latest figure I have is that the population of Kenya is now 45 million people.
That is reflected widely across Africa. Failed states proliferate, the unemployment of the young is horrendous, and the fall in the oil price has made many previously prosperous countries urgently reassess their programmes. The economies of the West are far from secure and the isolationist noises of the US presidential election, including Mr Trump hinting at leaving NATO, only add to our concern. In our economy we are close to a record current account deficit and some say that if we left, a sterling crisis would be inevitable. We are certainly not helped by the cloud hanging over our very successful car industry because of the problems with steel.
It is against this background that my own view is that we should remain but should immediately employ what I believe will be a very large Brexit vote to play a leading role in promoting the much more fundamental reforms that are clearly needed in the EU. If people do not think that this can be done, I shall give them one slogan to hang on to. I remember many years ago hearing Mr Larry Adler, the great harmonica or mouth organ player, telling a story about his ability to play classical music on his mouth organ. He was invited by the Bach society of Israel, a very distinguished and discerning body, to play the first Brandenburg concerto. He went to a wonderful concert hall in Tel Aviv and played it right through. There was not a sound until suddenly, at the end, there was great applause and cries of, “Again! Again! Play it again!” He was very moved and played it again. The extraordinary thing was that immediately he had done so, exactly the same thing happened. He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m very sorry but I really couldn’t play it right through again”. A voice from the back of the hall said, “You’ll play it till you get it right”. That could well be a slogan for those negotiations.
I know well that there are many in my party and elsewhere who hold strongly to the opposite view, although I trust that in the remaining weeks these arguments will be conducted with courtesy and respect—although, having looked at today’s newspapers, I think I may be a day or two late with that suggestion. I also believe very sincerely that your Lordships’ House has a major contribution to make. There are many people here with considerable knowledge and experience to bring to bear, not merely in presenting the arguments but in demonstrating to the country how tense and difficult arguments can be conducted and properly discussed with respect and integrity. Are the days following the Queen’s Speech not the ideal opportunity for that?
I have one comment to add. I appreciate, as I said, that not everyone agrees with the comments that I have made about the referendum. However, I also appreciate that they have been able to contain themselves without indulging in any of the traditional old English gestures beloved of my noble friend Lady Trumpington.
In the official invitation to propose this Motion, the guidance concluded with a stern warning to my noble friend Lady Goldie and me that while the debate may now continue for a further 12 days, neither proposer nor seconder may speak again. On that happy note, I will simply end by noting that some 70 years ago a young princess pledged her future life to the service of our country. As we meet here today, the whole country knows how magnificently that pledge has been honoured. I beg to move the Motion for an humble Address to Her Majesty.
My Lords, I beg to second my noble friend’s Motion for an humble Address. It is a great honour to be asked to undertake the task of seconding this Motion, which was so ably and eloquently proposed by my noble friend Lord King. By any measure this has been an extraordinary, memorable and wonderful day, and it has afforded me three unforgettable experiences. I felt that being in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen and being able to watch her discharge her obligations as monarch at the age of 90 with all the dignity and elegance which have been the hallmark of her long reign was a privilege.
I have often wondered about the secret of this royal resilience and happy condition of longevity, because whatever it is, I would like to be in on it. I think I have cracked it. It is down to two things: a combination of Her Majesty’s preferred lunchtime tipple of a gin and Dubonnet, and the corgis. In fact, I am convinced that my friend the Secretary of State for Health could save shedloads of money on the care of the nation by simply prescribing a lunchtime gin and Dubonnet for all hospital in-patients and presenting each of them with a corgi on discharge. Just imagine the enduring benefits of such an innovation. All these new corgi owners would have to get up and out for the morning dog walk, develop routine and expand physical activity, and then meet all their new corgi-owning chums, so socialising would increase. They would then all repair back to their own or each other’s houses for the lunchtime gin and Dubonnet, and a great sense of well-being would descend upon the nation. Meanwhile, GPs would be sitting with their feet up on the desk looking at empty patient lists, and hospital beds would lie unoccupied. If we ran out of corgis, once again Her Majesty could come to our aid; I understand that dorgis are the happy outcome of a frisky engagement between a corgi and a dachshund. The potential benefits of this modest change to the NHS are boundless, and I hope that the Secretary of State will pay close attention to my analysis and recommendation.
My second unforgettable experience is addressing a parliamentary Chamber where in number my Conservative colleagues exceed the entire complement of all Members in the Scottish Parliament. For someone like me, this is dizzyingly exciting.
My third unforgettable experience was a delightful and, I suspect, very expensive lunch on the terrace, which someone else paid for. The day just gets better and better.
This is a place of mysteries, idiosyncrasies and enigmas, so I am less than clear about why I have been selected to make this speech. I recall, when attending one of the delightful soirees so charmingly hosted by the Leader of the House, my noble friend Lady Stowell, making myself useful by trotting round with the plates of canapes. I thought I carried that off with some style, so perhaps this commended me to the powers that be. But if so, I have an uneasy sense of deception. I would like to say that I was on that occasion motivated to assist by social mores and a good Scottish upbringing, but that would be disingenuous. Quite simply, I had worked out that it was the only way I could maintain regular and discreet access to the food. This stratagem was entirely pragmatic. Having been exposed to Edinburgh during 17 years in the Scottish Parliament, I had no desire to find that the Edinburgh custom “You’ll have had your tea” had been exported to my noble friend Lady Stowell’s soirees. My fears were groundless, although without wishing to appear churlish, I did think the canapes were a tad on the small side.
However, whatever the reason for my presence in this role, it is a great pleasure to second my noble friend Lord King’s Motion for an humble Address, which in itself induces two reflections. I am still grappling with the traditions, practices, customs and conventions of this venerable place. For example, anyone on these Benches is “my noble friend”, despite my perhaps knowing little or nothing about the individual and perhaps having scarcely clapped eyes on him or her. For all I know, my noble friend could be an unmitigated self-promoting opportunist and chancer, but this charming, quaint and discerning courtesy presumes otherwise. Just for the avoidance of doubt, I have always regarded my noble friend Lord King as being a regular, 24-carat-gold sort of chap. Anyone born in Glasgow, with a voice like vintage claret, whose profile could give Michael Douglas a run for his money, is absolutely fine in my book.
My other reflection is on the phrase “an humble Address”, which is what I was informed I was seconding. I have to say that, having attended a Scottish primary school, many an absorbing day was passed reflecting on the esoteric delights of the indefinite article “a” and “an”. At this happy time, of course, the SNP had not got its mitts on Scottish education. We were also very strong on the aspirate “h”: horses, heaven and haggis. So we were not, if I may quote from “My Fair Lady”,
“down in Soho Square, dropping ‘h’s’ everywhere”.
We were up in Renfrewshire, aspirating our “h’s” with such gusto we were nearly blowing the roof off the primary school. We were also preceding the aspirate “h” with “a” and the silent vowel-sound “h” with “an”. So I am, with respect to your Lordships, and in deference to my former teachers, seconding the Motion for “a” humble Address.
I would not wish in any way to appear a didactic and lecturing Scot—that I leave to the First Minister of Scotland—but I might observe to your Lordships that when it comes to fighting successful elections, perhaps Ruth Davidson and her Scottish Conservatives can provide some useful lessons. They have a proud story to tell and I am very proud of her, and I thank my noble friend Lord King for his generous comments. Ruth Davidson led our campaign with passion, dynamism, energy and aplomb, and with a clear, positive message to stand up for the union, respect the referendum result, provide the opposition that the Scottish Parliament so desperately needs, and get on with the business of using that now very powerful parliament to grow the economy, create jobs and provide quality public services. I hope she too will find having 30 Conservative colleagues dizzyingly exciting. Ruth Davidson has repositioned the Scottish Conservatives and Scotland is in a better place.
The Queen’s Speech outlined substantial measures to continue the Government’s progress in making the United Kingdom a better place. Some perspective is timely. A challenging and difficult journey was embarked upon in 2010; since then, significant progress has been made. That journey to a better place is underpinned by the measures announced today: continued responsible stewardship of our public finances; the creation of jobs and apprenticeships; speeding up broadband; important changes to prison regimes and to the criminal justice system in relation to those who are afflicted by mental health issues; a massive housebuilding programme; and maintenance of our national security. These are just some of the important proposals to create that better place.
There is a cloud hanging over all of this: the European referendum, to which my noble friend Lord King so astutely alluded. I speak with some experience when I say that referendum campaigns have three certainties: division, distraction and a result. In Scotland, the independence referendum campaign lasted about 18 months. It was divisive, at times corrosively so. It split families, it split communities, it split workplaces, and many of these wounds are as yet unhealed. The referendum significantly distracted the SNP Government from the business of their domestic housekeeping. Then we had the result: independence was rejected decisively. The SNP has not respected that result. According to Nicola Sturgeon, one thing after another can be a trigger for another referendum, from a UK Brexit decision to presumably a bad hair day or a heel falling off one of her stilettos.
Mercifully, the EU referendum is a much shorter campaign. It is divisive; inevitably, it is distracting; sadly, at times, it is odiously unprepossessing. But there will be a result. After that result, whatever it is, there will need to be a healing of wounds, a closing of divisions and a reconciliation of views. Whatever else is going on, hospitals must continue to care for patients, courts must continue to administer justice, and schools, colleges and universities must continue to educate our young. The economy must continue to be vigilantly monitored. The peoples of the United Kingdom will look to their politicians not to eat lumps out of one another, but to regroup, refocus and, with amity, get on with the important business of running the country and delivering the excellent proposals contained in this Queen’s Speech. In that spirit, and with great pleasure, I second the Motion for “a” humble Address.
My Lords, in moving that the debate be adjourned until tomorrow, it is not, I hope, because of anything that I have said already. Before I reflect on those two excellent speeches, I think that it is appropriate in the year of Her Majesty’s 90th birthday, and given that she is the longest-serving monarch in our history, to recognise that she has delivered more than 60 Speeches to Parliament since 1952. If in all those years she has ever sensed any repetition or contradiction, she has never let it show.
It is my pleasure warmly to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, and the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, on their excellent and entertaining contributions. I confess that, as they spoke, I had that uncomfortable feeling that one has when hearing first-rate speeches and when one’s inner voice shouts, “Now follow that”.
Today’s proposer and seconder of the Motion for an humble Address have followed the tradition of such speeches in a way that they, their colleagues and this House can be proud of. The noble Lord, Lord King, is well known for his distinguished and impressive political career in the other place before joining your Lordships’ House in 2001. Having served as an officer in the Army, he was elected to Parliament at a by-election in 1970 and has served as Secretary of State variously for Defence, for Northern Ireland, for Employment, for Transport and for the Environment. Despite such demanding positions, one biographical note reflected:
“King never had a strong public profile compared to other members of the Cabinet”.
But the explanation for that does him great credit, because it reasons that he did not,
“draw attention to himself by elementary errors or public gaffes”.
That reputation for competence and attention to detail have followed him into your Lordships’ House.
The noble Lord may not recall the first time that we met. Indeed, it was not until I was moving house recently and sorting out boxes of political papers that I was reminded of a Conservative Party conference in the 1980s—I was there for work, not pleasure, I hasten to add—when I found the distinctive blue diary for that year, signed by the noble Lord, Lord King. I confess that he was so nice to me that I did not have the heart to tell him that I was a member of the Labour Party.
Perhaps I may say also how much we appreciated the noble Lord’s generous comments about the new London mayor, Sadiq Khan. We are very proud of Sadiq as Mayor of London and are grateful for the noble Lord’s comments.
The noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, is a newcomer to your Lordships’ House, having joined us in 2013 following a distinguished six years as leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Clearly, her party’s recent successes in Scotland have their roots in her time as leader. I commend the approach to opposition that she took when she wrote:
“Opposition is not about talking a good game, it is about taking the attack to government, challenging, calling to account, exposing flaws and weakness”.
Although fiercely loyal to her party, she is also prepared to extend the hand of friendship across the political divide. I love the story that, after a particularly bruising political meeting, she was happy to provide a lift home to Douglas Alexander, the Labour Minister who was speaking. They are clearly perfect qualities and skills for your Lordships’ House. The noble Baroness is also known for her sharp-edged, self-deprecating wit, of which we had a sense today. Now that she has stood down from the Scottish Parliament, we look forward to many more contributions from her.
Our proposer and seconder today would have seen the Queen’s Speech in advance and sworn to secrecy. Those who have served as Ministers will know that it is a closely guarded secret, and information is provided only on a need-to-know basis. On the night before the State Opening, Ministers and a few special guests are invited to Downing Street, where in the delightful surroundings of the Pillared State Drawing Room, they can hear the Prime Minister brief them on the content, again in secret, and no one must breathe a word. On the last occasion—so far—that I joined other Ministers at this event, I was surprised that a former Conservative MP had joined us for the evening. Being very curious, and knowing him reasonably well, I asked what he was doing there. “Sarah invited me”, he said, referring to the Prime Minister’s wife. “Well, it’s lovely to see you,” I said. “It’s great to have you here”. As the evening wore on, a number of my colleagues, having seen me speaking to him, asked me why he was there. I gave them my best knowing look, as if I was in on it, and said, “Well, Sarah’s invited him”. So we all had a very pleasant evening and heard all about the Queen’s Speech and he happily chatted and mingled—and, I have to say, many assumed that he might have a surprise announcement to make. As the evening drew to a close, we spoke again. He said that it had been a great evening but then added, “But I really don’t know why Sarah invited me”. He drew out his invitation. We gasped. It was for the Association of Former Members of Parliament, for the following week. To his great credit, he never said a word.
This is the sixth Queen’s Speech for the current Prime Minister, but only the second as the head of a wholly Conservative Government. Just in case we might have forgotten, the Queen’s Speech reminds us that there will be a referendum on membership of the European Union. Perhaps many, including I suspect most of the Cabinet and even the Prime Minister himself, had expected this Speech to be after the referendum. Clearly, he had to address that sense that the Government were becoming paralysed by the focus on the referendum and the consequential divisions in the Conservative Party. That led to the best-laid plans of the Chief Whip being thrown to one side, as new timetables and schedules had to be set to complete the business of the past Session. To complete our deliberations on the Housing and Planning Bill, we had long, late sittings, crammed together. I hope that we never again see a significant, non-emergency Bill being scheduled for four consecutive sitting days, with plans to regularly sit until midnight. If the country votes to leave the EU, there will be enormous and probably immediate consequences that will have to be dealt with. It would be helpful to understand if there is a plan B, or is this Queen’s Speech the “Carry on Regardless” version?
We know that the longer he is in office, the Prime Minister becomes more conscious of his legacy. This speech has been labelled the Prime Minister’s life chances strategy. But what is new? We heard today that the Government would bring public finances under control. Similar promises were made in the Queen’s Speeches of 2014 and 2015, yet with each successive Budget, the Chancellor has had to recognise his failure and readjust the deficit fighting plans as debt has increased from around 60% of GDP in 2010 to over 80% today. We are told that the Government want to increase living standards and tackle poverty, as we were in the two previous years. What was the Government’s big idea last year?—to redefine how child poverty is measured.
In this Queen’s speech, it appears that that attempt at redefining continues. The commitment to tackling poverty and deprivation is now to be through addressing family instability, addiction and debt. Yes, of course those issues must be tackled, but they are as often a consequence of poverty as much as they are the cause. We warmly welcome commitments to improving the life chances of children in care, supporting the hardest-to-reach families, and educational excellence, but just saying so does not make it happen. If we are seriously to improve life chances for all, those commitments have to be supported and resourced. The Government’s cuts to tax credits and universal credit, the devastating cuts in support for those with disabilities, closing down Sure Start centres and ending the educational maintenance allowance make that commitment to life chances much more difficult.
As in the previous years, the Government again commit to providing for more people to own their own homes, yet we have the lowest level of home ownership in this country for almost 30 years. The number of 25 to 35 year-olds owning their own home has fallen from 59% to 34%, and it is getting harder and more expensive to rent. There is no point in promising broadband for all homes if so many people do not have one.
The Prime Minister has spoken of a relentless focus and an all-out assault to tackle disadvantage and extend opportunity. He is right to do so and his commitment is the test that we will apply to the Bills announced today. Over the next few days, we will debate these measures and over the coming Session consider the detail. In those Bills where we share the Government’s objectives, our scrutiny role will be to deploy the expertise in your Lordships’ House and play our role in ensuring effective legislation that will work in practice. When we see the new prisons Bill, it may well fall into that category, especially given the recent reports of violence and quite shocking conditions. But merely passing responsibility to prison governors, without adequate staff, resources, support and back-up, will not do the job.
I am fascinated by the announcement reported in the press that the Government’s commitment to technology heralds the building of a space station or a port for commercial space travel. As the noble Lord, Lord King, pointed out, we have not been able to extract a decision from this Government on a new runway for Heathrow or Gatwick over the past six years. Is it taking so long that we are now bypassing air travel and heading straight for outer space? Seriously, I suspect that those people, particularly in rural areas, who cannot get a bus to the nearest shops or the hospital just might think that their quality of life will be improved by more buses than more rocket ships. Perhaps we can pursue that in the buses Bill.
Some measures previously announced have already fallen by the wayside. Despite the best efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Nash, to persuade your Lordships’ House, and perhaps also his ministerial colleagues, the Government have wisely dropped plans to force all schools to become academies. I suspect, though, that the detail of that policy might not have survived the forensic scrutiny of your Lordships’ House. The Education Secretary, in promoting and defending the policy, said she had “no reverse gear”. Perhaps not. But a U-turn does not require a reverse gear, although the speed of this made it more of a handbrake turn that any boy racer would have been proud of. Let us be clear: I am not opposed to U-turns, which show that the Government have had to listen and take other views into account and that they do not have a closed mind.
We will also have legislation that goes to the heart of national security. We must at all times seek to ensure that we get the balance right between the protection of citizens from fear and harm and protection from unwanted intrusion into private lives and individual freedom. These are complex issues. Our input will be constructive and in the national interest. The work and the report of the Joint Committee on these issues will be vital in our deliberations, and I thank all noble Lords who contributed to that report, and my noble friend Lord Murphy of Torfaen for chairing the committee. We will want to work with the Government to seek changes and improvements where needed to ensure effective, balanced legislation that is fit for purpose.
We also make a plea to the Government not to bring forward framework Bills but to provide as much detail as possible in well-drafted Bills. In the previous Session, three Bills that started in your Lordships’ House—on childcare, energy and devolution—were introduced despite being deficient in detail and financial information. In some ways, poor drafting provides an opportunity to show your Lordships’ House at its best, although it is not usually recognised as being extremely helpful to government. It is not just this side of the House that complains. It was the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, in the Trade Union Bill—I promise never to quote him again—who said that,
“I wonder whether the Bill was stitched together by some special adviser who was being paid too much; some teenage scribbler who should, perhaps, have been given greater and wiser direction”.—[
In choosing to examine the most controversial part of the Trade Union Bill by Select Committee, this House fulfilled with honour its duty of scrutiny. In a cross-party way, it forensically examined the detail and made recommendations which, while recognising what was a somewhat confused manifesto commitment, provided for a sensible, practical and fair way forward. Again, the whole House should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Burns, who chaired that Select Committee, and his colleagues across the House, who showed this House at its very best.
We welcome the commitment in the Queen’s Speech to uphold the sovereignty of Parliament and the primacy of the House of Commons. Following the tax credits vote, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, produced his report, Secondary Legislation and the Primacy of the House of Commons. However, as recognised by our Lords committees, the content instead reflected the Government’s concerns about ensuring the primacy of the Executive over Parliament. The dispute between us and the Government over whether or not the Motion on tax credits was fatal is not productive; we will never agree. Where we can agree is that the Government clearly resented that challenge and, before any Motions were tabled, we heard threats to create 150 more government Peers or even to suspend your Lordships’ House. In spite of that provocation, the tax credits debate showed your Lordships’ House, put in an unsatisfactory position with proposals that would have been better in primary legislation, seeking a way forward to provide the Government with the time and space to reconsider—which they did and for which we are grateful.
I have always been quite an admirer of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, as a Leader of the Opposition. He is known in this House for being a wise and courteous man, and a wily political operator. He led the challenge to the Labour Government. His voting record against the Labour Government is admired by many. In fact, he is the ideal role model for any Opposition Leader. I have said this before, but I think there are two Lord Strathclydes. There is the traditional model from Opposition, standing up for the rights of Parliament in the interests of scrutiny and good governance. So many of us were surprised when the new, modern noble Lord produced his report. I hope he will not be offended, but I prefer and agree with the traditional model, who said:
“I hope that no stones will be cast at this House for doing its job”.—[Official Report, 18/11/09; col. 13.]
Wise words indeed.
We endorse the recognition that it is Parliament and not the Executive that is sovereign and, of course, endorse the primacy of the other place. But, if we all reflect on the past year, perhaps as a House we are all adjusting to new circumstances. This is the first ever Conservative Government that has not had an automatic majority in your Lordships’ House. No Labour Government ever had a majority in this House, so we understand that at times it is frustrating and it can be challenging. I want to place on record my thanks and appreciation to those Ministers who have been willing to engage, to listen and, where necessary, to seek compromise and bring forward amendments.
For your Lordships’ House to do its job well requires noble Lords to use their expertise, knowledge and skills to work effectively and co-operatively to scrutinise legislation, which often takes much time and a lot of stamina. I thank all noble Lords who engage in many of hours of debate on Bills, propose amendments, seek clarifications and seek to improve legislation in a process that Governments should, for the most part, find valuable and helpful. We respect, and will continue to respect, those well-established conventions that have served this House well. I pledge that we will continue to be a good, effective and responsible Opposition. I beg to move.
My Lords, I echo the proposer and seconder of the humble Address, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, in paying tribute to Her Majesty. As she came to Parliament today to deliver her gracious Speech she did so with dignity and showed yet again the service that has been the hallmark of her reign.
I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord King, and the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, on their excellent speeches in proposing and seconding, and I defer to the noble Baroness in saying “a” humble Address—I was a Scottish primary pupil as well. The noble Lord, Lord King, and I overlapped in the House of Commons. He has dedicated his life to public service, in the military and in politics. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, listed all the Secretary of State roles that he held, which is probably more than I have had Liberal Democrat spokesmanships. He has been a genuine public servant in so many different ways.
The noble Lord found fame at the hands—or perhaps the fingers—of his noble friend the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. It was also perhaps ironic that the noble Lord, who in a debate readily confessed to not knowing what WhatsApp was, became an internet sensation by making such a confession.
He also told us about jiggery-pokery in Bridgwater in the 1870s, which proves that parties exceeding their expenses limits in West Country constituencies is nothing new. He recently spoke in the House on investigatory powers with his experience as a former Northern Ireland Secretary and a former Defence Secretary. I am sure that there will be many more exchanges when the Investigatory Powers Bill comes to your Lordships’ House. I can confidently predict that this House will give that Bill the most fulsome scrutiny.
The noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, and I have known each other for many years. We entered the new Scottish Parliament together at the very beginning, in May 1999. I would call her a noble friend across the political divide. She was right, as, indeed, were others, in congratulating Ruth Davidson on the remarkable result she achieved in the recent Scottish elections. It has perhaps not always been the case that the Conservative Party in Scotland has taken such a hard-line attitude against the SNP, as the noble Baroness herself revealed. In the run-up to the referendum in 2014, reflecting on the period of minority SNP government between 2007 and 2011, she said:
“The bottom line is that when Alex Salmond needed the Tories he couldn’t get enough of our help”.
Some things change. I also remember that when the noble Baroness was elected leader of the Scottish Conservative Party she promised to crack down on disloyalty and disobedience. It may be that she will be invited to soirées at No. 10 to give some helpful advice to the Prime Minister.
The noble Baroness, being a Scot like myself and others, will be familiar with the old Scottish saying, “Cauld kale het up”—which means cold kale warmed up again. Perhaps she was reflecting on that when she listened to the words of the gracious Speech today, because much of what we heard today had already been announced. Only one year into a Conservative majority Government, there is a sense that perhaps they are starting to run out of steam. Or it may be, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, suggested, that having this Queen’s Speech ahead of the referendum means that they cannot really reveal as much as they were wishing to reveal. It may be that, like an iceberg, there is still quite a lot that we cannot see and that the phrase:
“Other measures will be laid before you”, has more potential than it usually has when those words are spoken.
I believe that the measures we have heard today demonstrate a lack of ambition. I find it deeply disappointing, because we on these Benches are ambitious for our country and we will shortly be facing the biggest decision that the United Kingdom has faced in generations. In case we had not heard it on Radio 4’s “Today” programme, the gracious Speech reminded us that the Government will hold a referendum on membership of the European Union. Whether to remain in or to leave the European Union is a fundamental decision that we have to make. There has rightly been much focus—including from the noble Lord, Lord King—on the economic arguments for and against, but for me and many of my colleagues on these Benches there is a more fundamental question to be answered as to what kind of country we want the United Kingdom to be. What sort of country do we want our children and grandchildren to live in? What is the international legacy that we want to leave for future generations?
Make no mistake, the decision on
Just over 70 years ago we were at war with our European neighbours. Today we sit at the same table with them, working together for a better future for us all. The European Union is, indeed, the world’s most successful peace project. Our generation has enjoyed that peace; surely we must bequeath that to future generations. I want our children and grandchildren to grow up in a society that shares security, shares political values and shares social standards with our European neighbours, rather than running the risk of returning to mutual hostility. I want future generations to grow up in a confident Britain that pursues prosperity and peace in co-operation with our European neighbours.
It is not just in our relationship with our European colleagues that we on these Benches want to see an optimistic and confident United Kingdom, but also within our nation. Liberal Democrats have always been optimistic—we have often had cause to be—and we are eager to improve the lives of our children and grandchildren, and for everyone to have their opportunity to succeed. That is why we believe that we should be looking to the future. Yet so often in the last 12 months the Conservatives have allowed short-term political interest to triumph over the longer-term interests of the country and the opportunities of the next generation. Today we see that the country’s challenges on education, housing, investment, skills and the environment are either ignored or offered nothing more than empty rhetoric.
A responsible Government should be fighting to address the challenges yet to come, not fixating on tomorrow’s headlines or reliving the battles of the past. The future is full of exciting opportunities as technology changes the way we work and live. We believe that education is the key to equipping future generations with what they need to embrace the challenges of the future. It is the key to freedom and opportunity. That is why we must create an education system that enables the next generation to reach its full potential.
We note the promises in the gracious Speech on education, but in their first year in office the Conservatives have set back progress on education. Teachers are demoralised and school budgets are stretched to breaking point. Children are missing out rather than being given the confidence, creativity and practical skills to meet the challenges of a future economy. So warm words alone will not be enough. That is why we call for an education charter to enshrine the importance of giving every child a decent education. Every child surely deserves a great start in life and we are determined to make sure that the education system finds and nurtures the best in everyone. This is essential in order to break down the unfair divisions in our society and to ensure a productive, competitive economy.
In recent days, we have seen organisations such as the CBI and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales express concerns that the Government are taking their eye off the ball, thinking about the short-term rather than the long-term future of this country. That is why we need a plan for a changing 21st-century economy. The Government promise a right to access high-speed broadband, but we want to see a future economy Bill to support ambitious investment in new fibre-optic broadband, housing and rail infrastructure, setting out a long-term industrial strategy and giving real support for new technology so that United Kingdom businesses are at the forefront of new ways of working.
I welcome the emphasis placed on education in prison. Education should indeed be at the heart of the prison system, giving prisoners the skills to lead a productive life on release. However, prisoners also need help with mental health issues and drug and alcohol abuse, and meaningful support in preparing them for release. This can be achieved only if we increase staffing and cut overcrowding. Our prison system is in crisis, so just making some structural changes will be no more effective than rearranging the proverbial deckchairs on the “Titanic”. We need extra resources and a commitment to make sure that prisons work as places of rehabilitation.
I am perhaps most disappointed by the Government’s failure to recognise that education can also be fundamental in tackling fear and division in society. That is why we believe that the counter-extremism Bill is at best ill-judged. I rather suspect that defining “extremism” will take up at least a day in Committee in your Lordships’ House, then no doubt many days in court as lawyers debate what we actually meant by the definition at which we ultimately arrived. At worst, the Bill could serve to create more division, alienation and stigmatisation. By educating children together, we break down divisions within society, promote community relations and counter prejudice. Alongside this, Liberal Democrats believe that a global responsibilities Bill would have ensured that the United Kingdom played its part in tackling the challenges of an ever-shrinking world. As part of this, we would strengthen our commitment to human rights rather than make the dangerous move this Government are making in scrapping everything and starting from scratch.
The gracious Speech talks about “proposals”. That is not quite a Bill; we are not quite sure where they are. Perhaps we will get some clarification in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, or in the days ahead. However, we again see the Prime Minister putting what he believes to be his party’s interests before the interests of the country, trying to placate a hostile Cabinet rather than protecting or standing up for our Human Rights Act—legislation which has ensured justice for the victims of domestic violence, and that disabled people are protected and children are guarded against abuse.
If there has been a delay and we are getting only proposals, it may be because there is some doubt or uncertainty around the Cabinet table. As my right honourable friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland observed last month in another place:
“The Home Secretary tells us that she wants to remain in the European Union but leave the convention; the Under-Secretary of State for Justice wants to leave the European Union but remain in the convention; and the Lord Chancellor wants to leave the European Union, stay in the convention, but ignore the jurisprudence of the Court. Thank goodness we do not have the instability of a coalition Government any more”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/4/16; col. 1291.]
I leave the noble Baroness the Leader of the House with a small piece of advice, if I may. We note the reference in the gracious Speech to the primacy of the Commons. That is of course right, but let us not confuse the primacy of the Commons over the Lords with the important issue of the legislature standing up to the Executive and holding it to account.
Last year at this time, I suggested that we would do well to reflect on the strength of the mandate of a Government who secured less than 37% of the popular vote on a turnout of 66%, should they seek to drive through ill-thought-through legislation without robust scrutiny and the proper checks and balances this House provides. On more than one occasion in the previous Session, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee produced a report excoriating the shortcomings of Bills. I echo the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, in expressing thanks and appreciation to noble Lords—Ministers—who have been willing to engage, to listen and compromise, and to try to find a way forward.
However, it was also notable that, in the latter stages of the previous Session, notwithstanding deep concerns in your Lordships’ House and after hours of detailed scrutiny, Ministers often steadfastly refused to budge on a host of issues. These were not matters that challenged manifesto commitments; rather, they were amendments to ensure that those commitments were delivered in a fair and proportionate manner. I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, and her colleagues will reflect on this and that she will indicate what the Government’s response will be to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, which has not exactly been welcomed by three of your Lordships’ committees that have now reported on it. It would serve Ministers well to listen to their colleagues in both Houses when concerns are expressed about the legislative programme, to show a willingness to negotiate in order to reach sensible compromises and, indeed, to heed the warning this week from a report by the Institute for Government that:
“The Government must be smarter about how it manages its business in Parliament”.
My Lords, first, it is a real pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, in supporting the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. Indeed, I am sure I speak for the whole House in congratulating her on her first State Opening as Leader of the Opposition. Before I go any further, and on behalf of all noble Lords, I join my noble friend Lord King in extending our thanks to Black Rod and all the staff of your Lordships’ House. They have, once again, made this State Opening—the 61st by Her Majesty, in her 90th birthday year—a resounding success.
That might also be the verdict on last week’s lesser-known ceremony of Prorogation, with its Norman French about-turns by the clerks, and synchronised doffing from a crack team of noble Lords. Synchronised doffing is not as easy as it sounds. While I would not like to cast aspersions on the efforts of previous teams, I cannot overlook the glowing reviews from last Thursday: “The best doffing we’ve seen for years”, said one TV commentator; “Superb doffing”, said another; and, my favourite, “We’ve never seen doffing like this before”. Though I thought that it was a bit uncharitable when one media correspondent described it as:
“All the camp incomprehensibility of Eurovision with none of the songs”.
More seriously, the Lord Speaker, the other party leaders, the Convenor and I regularly work together in the best interests of your Lordships’ House. I should of course add the noble Lord, Lord Laming, to that group. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for accepting the Lord Chairman of Committees’ responsibilities in rather unexpected circumstances last summer and for discharging them with such good grace.
My noble friend Lord King is quite right: I did not know what he was going to say in his speech, but I knew that I could rely on him to inform and entertain. It is a great pleasure to congratulate him on his speech, but I just say two things to him: I wish that I were 101 pounds and I would like to put on record that I am not 60 inches, I am 61 inches.
My noble friend and I have crossed paths on several occasions over the years, first at the Ministry of Defence, when he was Secretary of State and I was a civil servant, and later when I became a Whip in your Lordships’ House and he was a member of my flock. My noble friend has always been known for his wisdom and courtesy but it is, perhaps, fair to say that his reputation with the ladies took a hit after his infamous encounter with my other noble friend Lady Trumpington. I have to say that I noted that my noble friend Lady Goldie referred admiringly to his profile, although I do not know whether other noble Lords noticed that. What was most striking when watching the footage of his encounter with my noble friend Lady Trumpington again is not the two-fingered salute itself, but the fact that my noble friend, having had such a response from my noble friend Lady Trumpington, simply ploughed on obliviously.
Fortunately there is another Lady T whose attention he caught for all the right reasons earlier in his career. When Baroness Thatcher made him Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, she was clear as to why he was the right person for the job. “Tom”, she said, “Ulster needs a dose of your manly good sense”. What marks my noble friend out above all is his inner steel. In addition to his time in Northern Ireland he was our Defence Secretary during the first Gulf War and the first chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. He has seen and lived through many of the great threats this nation has faced, even surviving a terrorist attempt on his own life. That makes his central call today for vigilance in the face of the many threats before us all the more authoritative and it is exactly why the Government have placed our national security at the heart of our programme. Indeed, with the perspective and experience my noble friend brings to his contributions, he really does showcase this House at its best.
We also heard a wonderful speech from my noble friend Lady Goldie. As she said, in the past couple of weeks there has been a remarkable turnaround north of the border; an incredible achievement for Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Conservatives. Ruth won her own Edinburgh Central seat all the way from fourth place, something the Liberal Democrat Members of this House I believe may have noted and taken heart from, especially as the noble and learned Lord describes them as optimistic. But any great project needs solid foundations, and recent Tory successes in Scotland are very much built upon the hard work of my noble friend Lady Goldie as Ruth’s immediate predecessor. My noble friend has now stood down from her seat in Holyrood and will be able to devote more time to her work here. Their loss is our gain, and it means that noble Lords can get to know my noble friend Lady Goldie and the quick wit behind her formidable demeanour rather better.
I am sure that sketch writers everywhere were a bit dismayed today that she did not encounter Prince Philip while he was in the building because legend has it that Prince Philip got short shrift one time when he asked my noble friend if she was wearing tartan knickers. But to be fair, I think that the reporting at the time of that encounter was unfair to His Royal Highness because, having learned of my noble friend’s fondness for what has been described to me as wild swimming off the west coast of Scotland, it seems that His Royal Highness had got the measure of my noble friend Lady Goldie. She is well known for her one-liners and I would not even want to try to share with noble Lords today what she said when she was sat astride a Harley-Davidson. But like my noble friend Lord King, she allies good humour with keen good sense, and today she spoke powerfully on the union, bringing real authority to the subject as a pivotal figure on the Smith commission. As she says, the referendum showed a settled will for us to remain united, but it was the start and not the end of the job at hand. To secure our United Kingdom, we must and we will continue to bring growth, jobs and success to all our nations and regions.
I will come on shortly to the programme that Her Majesty laid out this morning, but before doing so I want to look back on the Session just gone. Last May, there were those who asked what this Government could achieve with a small majority of 12 in the other place and no majority in this House. The answer, and contrary to what has been suggested this afternoon, is a lot. In the course of the past 12 months we have passed 23 Acts into law, delivering on a wide range of the commitments on which we stood at the last general election. We cut tax for 31 million working people, established a national living wage, doubled free childcare for working parents and made it possible for housing association tenants to own their own homes. What is more, we legislated for a referendum on our membership of the European Union, meaning that next month, for the first time in a generation, the people of this country will get to have their say. I hope, as a member of this Government, that they will vote for us to remain part of a reformed EU.
The last Session was an important milestone for this House as well, because even though we are an unelected House, general elections have an impact here too. The Liberal Democrats returned to the opposition Benches, the Labour Party elected new leaders in both Houses—although they are very different from each other—and a majority Conservative Government were outnumbered by the two opposition parties in the Lords for the first time.
For many of the Bills this Government brought forward, such as the EU referendum, welfare reform and trade union Bills, there was apprehension about how this House would approach its scrutiny role. Yet in each of those cases, we made changes through dialogue not endless rounds of ping-pong with the other place. That approach is when this House is at its most effective, because this House improves legislation. Every Minister will agree that their Bill is better for the scrutiny it receives here. Our scrutiny serves an important purpose: to hold the Government to account and to help give the public confidence in the laws Parliament makes.
Upholding our role as a revising Chamber is hugely important to me. But if we want to be legitimate as an unelected House, we have to be mindful of the limits of that role. I believe it must always be for the elected House to have the final say. Our conventions are important because they help to protect that balance. Yes, the Government rely on those conventions to secure their business, but the House and Parliament as a whole also rely on them in order to protect our scrutiny function and our purpose.
There are three very clear themes at the heart of this Session’s programme: delivering security for working people, strengthening our national defences and increasing opportunities for the most disadvantaged. Our first task must always be to ensure that the British economy and British families are secure. To bring the public finances under control, to spread prosperity across our country and to give our police, security and intelligence agencies the powers they need to keep us safe—that is what our programme will do.
However, just as we must keep the people of this country safe and secure, so we must give them a chance to get on in life, because our society cannot be strong and cohesive as long as there are millions of people who feel that doing their best is not respected or not worth the effort. People’s opportunities are still too often shaped by where they started in life and the environment they grew up in. As a society, we have too often put people from certain backgrounds on the track only to certain kinds of jobs.
We have too many talented people unaware of how much they are capable of or what they can achieve. We want that to change. We are determined to give people, whatever their background, the tools—the character, the knowledge and the confidence—to unlock their potential. As someone who has travelled an unconventional path, and as a champion of those who might be starting from a similar place, I could not be prouder to serve in a Government who have made this a priority.
Looking at specific Bills, I am delighted that one of the three starting its passage in this House, the children and social work Bill, is linked to that life chances agenda, helping more young people to get a better start in life. Other Bills shortly to start in your Lordships’ House are the bus services Bill and the cultural property Bill. In addition, we are due to receive two Bills that will carry over from the previous Session: the Investigatory Powers Bill and the Policing and Crime Bill.
I am proud to lead this House into the Session ahead. The work we do is important and we have a vital part to play. Above all, our scrutiny is about helping to give people confidence in the laws Parliament makes. It is that purpose we must all defend and promote.
I look forward to the rest of our debate on the Address and I am delighted to say I support the Motion to Adjourn.