My Lords, it is a privilege to speak after that illuminating and inspiring speech from the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie and the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, on their maiden speeches.
Before I go any further, I want to comment on the fact that a number of noble Lords—mostly on the Opposition Benches—have today accused the Prime Minister of repeatedly making remarks of an English nationalist character. I offer this House to pay from my own pocket £1 for every postcard I receive of an authenticated remark by the Prime Minister that could be characterised as English nationalist. I was delighted to read the gracious Speech, not only because of the admiration and affection we all bear towards Her Majesty the Queen and the monarchy she embodies at the pinnacle of our constitution, but because there were particular items of legislation that I was very pleased to see. One, for example, seeks to bring within bounds the astonishing growth in judicial review over my adult lifetime. Where has this come from? Who has ever voted for it? Is it not time that we had a statute and a debate about its extent and scope? The Government must be held to account in cases of alleged law-breaking, but a great deal of judicial review consists of challenging procedural failings by public bodies of no great moment, often in pursuit of a political objective such as the prevention of infrastructure investment, the principle of which has been approved by this Parliament. This is an abuse and I hope that the legislation will curb it.
The Government’s commitment to strengthening the union is heartening, but it requires careful thought. As the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, indicated, there is a draft Bill doing the rounds—happily not one promoted by this Government—that would form the basis for a federal United Kingdom. Its proponents invariably describe this as “saving the union”. The union of which we speak is not just any old collaborative arrangement; it is a very specific thing, 300 years old and tested by history and usage. It is a union of Parliaments, producing a single overarching Government. That is why a commitment to the union is also necessarily a commitment to this Parliament. I will fight to defend this union and its Parliament, but to replace it with an ahistorical and, in my view, unworkable federation between one large member and three small ones is not to save the union but to scrap it and start again. In any referendum that might arise to support such a proposal, there is a material risk that England would not vote for it.
There are better ways to strengthen the union. In my view, Parliament has a right and duty to ensure that the quality of the NHS is of uniformly high standard across the United Kingdom. That is not true today in Wales or Scotland. An independent UK-wide audit of health outcomes would be a valuable inclusion in the health and care Bill.
When we turn to Northern Ireland, we have a case where a majority wish to continue as part of the UK. Yet without any democratic assent or accountability, the Northern Ireland protocol places the Province under the laws and jurisdictions of a foreign power—a power that, as my noble friend Lord Lilley points out, proclaims peace but is increasingly revealed as happy to impose disruption on Northern Ireland as leverage over a UK that has expressed a clear and democratic wish to escape its orbit. For how long can this continue?
I do not doubt the ferocity of this Government’s commitment to the union and I applaud it, but I look forward to seeing it given practical effect in all parts of the United Kingdom.