Moved by Lord McInnes of Kilwinning
That an humble Address be presented to His 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 was addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, it is of course a great honour and privilege to have been asked to propose the humble Address to His Majesty this afternoon. It was with a sense of trepidation that my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott and I approached the Chief Whips’ Office, having been asked to come and see the Chief Whip for what had euphemistically been described as “a chat”. We left knowing we had been given today’s important task—and no relaxation over Prorogation for us. The Chief Whip did have the good sense to ask this dour, Presbyterian Scot to be the proposer—traditionally, the less gag-filled part of the proceedings. “Not many jokes there”, I guess was the assessment. It does, of course, allow for my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott to pick up any missteps I should make, and to ensure we all laugh so much as to forget them. I am reminded of the feeling when proposing the toast to the lassies at a Burns supper, and realising that the razor wit that is my noble friend Lady Goldie was being given the right of reply.
Today is of course an historic day, as we have received from His Majesty the first King’s Speech of the new reign. His Majesty spoke movingly this morning of the great loss we all suffered in the passing of Her late Majesty. I am sure that, like me, all noble Lords marvelled at the stoic determination Their Majesties and the wider Royal Family demonstrated in continuing to serve our nation in their time of intense grief. Their Majesties’ continued public service is the very best of legacies from Her late Majesty.
Constitutional monarchy provides this country with the stability that so many others crave, and that was why we witnessed the continuity of centuries of tradition this morning. The national pride and excitement around Their Majesties’ Coronation in May provided evidence, if any was needed, of the enormous affection in which they are held. It is also very appropriate to thank Black Rod and all her staff, including our excellent doorkeepers, for once again ensuring that this great occasion passed as magnificently as it always does.
The occasion of the King’s first Speech as monarch gave me cause to investigate the first Speech from the Throne to noble Lords of some of his predecessors. It seemed appropriate to begin with George III, not only because we now have the addition to your Lordships’ House of his excellent biographer, my noble friend Lord Roberts, but because it would be remiss of me, as a unionist from Scotland, not to repeat his declaration in his first King’s Speech that, as the first Hanoverian monarch born in Britain, he gloried in the name of Britain.
However, it was the continuity of policy problems that face our politicians that struck me as I read these first Speeches from the Throne; reshuffles or no shuffles, the issues facing our country remain largely the same. The Chancellor could perhaps take note of the strict economy called for, rather surprisingly, by the non-penny-pinching, former Prince Regent George IV, as well as the need to curb inflation in Her late Majesty’s first Queen’s Speech in 1952.
For the Home Secretary: William IV looked forward to improving municipal policing—perhaps there are some good tips for the Met there—while wishing that nothing interferes with people making known their grievances. That is now too late for the Online Safety Act, but I am sure that noble Lords will take a deep interest in the media, digital and artificial intelligence Bills that will come before us.
For Michael Gove: leasehold reform was announced in 1952—and, I guess, many, many times since. It is never an easy topic, not least in your Lordships’ House. For Kemi Badenoch: Queen Victoria was looking forward to trade deals with Peru and Bolivia—although there was nothing on CPTPP.
Of particular interest to noble Lords in 1911 was the intention of George V’s Government to bring forward the Parliament Act. One suspects that House of Lords reform may make the occasional appearance in future Speeches from the Throne—but nothing too drastic.
On social issues, my noble friend Lady Shackleton and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, will find divorce reform in George VI’s first King’s Speech. Another social issue, in Edward VII’s first King’s Speech, reducing drunkenness in public houses, is perhaps a more difficult topic to deal with—I am not sure which lucky Cabinet member would look after that—but there was nothing on smoking and vaping bans in any previous Speeches.
We take great pride in our ability to add long-range perspective to our scrutiny. Perhaps we shall require regular fillips from historic Speeches from the Throne in future. Perhaps, to take it a step forward, in this year before a general election, we should encourage those lucky people—the authors of those much-vaunted documents, the manifestos—merely to crib things from previous Speeches from the Throne on the basis that policy imperatives never really change.
It would be negligent of me not to mention that, for a party close to my heart—the toiling and disintegrating Scottish National Party, which is sadly not yet represented in your Lordships’ House—there was no Scottish independence Bill in this morning’s gracious Speech. Perhaps the party’s ever-changing policy position on the subject has something to do with that. We can look forward to its next contortion—a proposed electoral franchise based on ownership of camper-vans, perhaps.
The King’s Speech debate, which will follow, will properly scrutinise a programme for government that will affect every citizen of our great country. The purpose of many of the Bills will command the support of this House, but we may all have a very occasional disagreement on the detail. As noble Lords consider and scrutinise the Bills contained, I am positive that we will, as Queen Victoria implored of the upper House in her first Queen’s Speech, treat all Bills with true impartiality. How could anyone ever think that we would do anything differently? It gives me great pleasure to beg to move the Motion for an humble Address to His Majesty.
It gives me great pleasure to second my noble friend’s Motion for an humble Address. When he first learned of his nomination for a life peerage, the soon-to-be Baron McInnes of Kilwinning said:
“I will do my very best to represent Scotland and Edinburgh to scrutinise legislation and bring what knowledge I have from a Scottish perspective and also with experience of working in local government to the House of Lords”.
I am sure all noble Lords will agree that my noble friend has honoured this pledge and will continue to do so.
At this point, I should like to congratulate my noble friend on his eloquent and articulate contribution while moving the Motion for an humble Address. In preparing for this speech, I came across some interesting information about my noble friend, which I feel I must share. I discovered that a member of my noble friend’s flock refers to him as “my darling Whip”. A Whip’s job is not easy at times, and you have to be very firm. All Whips across the House work hard to support us but I doubt that there has ever been a Government Whip who has been paid such a tribute.
My noble friend and I, in the utmost secrecy, shared some thoughts on our contributions. The advice we were given was not to be controversial or political and to be light-hearted. I am confident of one of the three. I hope that, so far, we have lived up to the advice. Up until now, all our communications in the House have happened in the Division Lobby, where my noble friend has made his instructions quite clear to us: “Thank you for voting”; “Please stay—there’ll be another vote soon”; “Watch your messages”; “Thank you, the Whip is now off”.
Today is an historic occasion. It is His Majesty’s first King’s Speech and, not surprisingly, His Majesty the King started by paying tribute to Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who, in contrast to His Majesty the King, delivered no less than 67 Queen’s Speeches. It is a delight for all of us to see that her legacy of commitment to duty and devotion to service is being carried on seamlessly by His Majesty the King.
Thinking about the first King’s Speech in the new reign has led me to reflect on occasions that have been a first for me. When appointed as a Whip and Baroness in Waiting, I and others had an audience with the Queen. Our conversation moved very quickly to the condition of the fabric of Parliament. I advised Her Majesty that we had our own firefighters, who regularly patrolled the estate and put out fires. Her Majesty advised me then that the room we were sat in had been rewired and that when they pulled up the floorboards they found that the mice had eaten all the plastic and it was now copper and wood. With typical spontaneity, Her Majesty said, “Well, neither of us need Guy Fawkes now”.
This King’s Speech prompts me to relate another first for me, as His Majesty referred early in his Speech to the war in Ukraine and the significant long-term challenges for the United Kingdom. This brings me to my second first experience. In September 2022, as Minister for Women, I had the honour to lead the United Kingdom delegation to the United Nations in New York for the Commission on the Status of Women. While there, I was asked to represent the Government at the Metropolitan Opera House, which was giving a concert for Ukraine. The Ukrainian bass singer sang the Ukrainian national anthem and, after he had finished, he fell into the arms of the conductor. The angst and distress of the Ukrainian people was absolutely awful. It was, and still is, one of the most moving experiences of my life.
His Majesty’s Speech started by paying tribute to Her Majesty the late Queen, followed by the war in Ukraine and the impact of Covid. The impact of Covid on our economy has been immense, and it is right that our Government focus their efforts on bringing down inflation and thus easing the cost of living for families.
Some noble Lords will know that the principal focus of my career has been helping people of all ages who are trying to enter or re-enter the labour market. I was, as you would expect, pleased to hear in the King’s Speech that the Government would
“help businesses fund new jobs and investment”.
Third sector organisations, of which many of us have been part, have a real role to play in this quest. They understand and are close to the people they are trying to help, and they are able to comprehend the real challenges that they face. The King’s Speech highlights some of the areas that will help to create jobs and support people into employment. When I ran a third sector organisation which was helping unemployed people, we used to go out on a Saturday as a management team and speak to unemployed people. We would ask them, “What are we doing that is no good to you, what are we doing that is good and what are we not doing that we should?” I learned from that that getting a job is one thing, but keeping it, with numerous obstacles to overcome, is another.
At this point, I am sure I can share something with our ecclesiastical colleagues. I was rather hoping that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop would be here today, but the right reverend Prelates will understand the analogy that getting saved is one thing and staying saved another. I am sure that the third sector, faith groups, Jobcentre Plus and employers will work together to ensure that people can get and keep a job.
Your Lordships will be relieved to know that I do not see it as my role today to comment on every part of the King’s Speech. We will have the opportunity to debate it over the next few days. However, I will mention a few parts of it which will allow us to help people to enter the labour market and improve their lives. There is the investment in renewable energy, strengthening education, upskilling people, bringing together technical and academic routes, increasing the number of young people doing high-quality apprenticeships, continuing to negotiate trade agreements —although I doubt in Peru and Bolivia—supporting the creative industries, and reforming welfare.
The last point in this King’s Speech which I am keen to highlight is the expansion of transforming mental health issues and services. For people who are vulnerable and out of the labour market, mental health is a massive issue. I am glad that more support will be given. I look forward to the National Health Service and DWP working together on this. However, rather than providing those people with these services as a quick fix, those people must be supported as they go on. Getting a job is one thing; keeping it is another.
The King’s Speech has driven home the message that we live in challenging times. However, I firmly believe that the combined expertise of the Members of this House will play its part in helping the country to rise to those challenges. I look forward to working with all noble Lords to do our utmost to ensure that the world becomes a safer place and that our country can overcome the challenges that we face, for the people whom we are here to serve.