Debate (1st Day)
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
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”.
It is a special privilege, my Lords, to be invited to move this Motion for the humble Address in Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee year. Her Majesty’s attendance here today in person illustrates her exemplary attention to duty, which is, I think, her greatest gift to our nation. Queen Victoria also lived to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee, but she opened Parliament only seven times in person in the 40 years after the death of Prince Albert. Her Majesty comes in person every time.
Her Majesty has, of course, the wonderful support of His Royal Highness Prince Philip—and it is his Diamond Jubilee, too, as consort. They have also set a fine example of how to move gradually with the times without losing the essential magic of the monarchy. Your Lordships’ House needs the same skill.
The nation is also looking forward to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, on which so many hopes are pinned and on which two of our gold-medallist colleagues —my noble friends Lord Coe and Lord Moynihan—are working so hard.
Mid-term often brings problems to Governments, and Her Majesty’s Government are in choppy waters, just as others have been before. Coalition brings inevitable strains too, but my experience of 25 years on the Front Bench, in both Houses and on both sides, suggests that they are similar to the strains within parties and within Governments. In this House as in the other place, the relationships at the top remain good within the coalition. My ever-buoyant noble friend Lord Strathclyde remains resilient and full of energy. Our gallant allies, without whom of course life would be much more difficult for us, are led my noble friend Lord McNally, who seems comfortable in coalition with almost the only party he has not belonged to, and who continues to amuse us with his wit and humour. Our Chief Whip is always smart in every sense, if not quite as resplendent as her male predecessors as Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms on days like this.
Perhaps I may also pay a tribute to my noble friend Lord Shutt of Greetland, until now the Deputy Chief Whip. I can confirm from experience that he has long been a reliable member of the usual channels, the smooth functioning of which is so important to your Lordships’ House. At the same time, however, I cannot fault his retirement from the Front Bench at the age of 70, as I did the same thing at the same age five years ago. His genial Yorkshire approach will be missed.
Opposite us, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, leads for the Opposition with all her charm and cool authority. We on this side are divided from her by politics but we know that she always has the interests of the House and its proper functioning high in her priorities. Blaisdon and Berkeley are divided by the mighty River Severn, which is a mile wide in drought or flood—or both, as now—but they are both in Gloucestershire.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, when he was a departmental Minister, sorted out the football hooligans most effectively. Whether that experience is useful to him in his present job, I have absolutely no idea.
The gracious Speech made clear that we can look forward to a full legislative programme, and the central themes of growth and jobs are right. I was glad to hear the repeated commitment to reducing the burdens on business. Some of that, of course, will be employment legislation, which may seem unexciting to some, and threatening to others, but the creation of new jobs has to be a priority.
The Government finances remain stretched—and I speak as an accountant, although admittedly a rusty one. We are in difficult economic times. Looking across to the eurozone, I am delighted whenever I hear that farsighted companies are looking to China, India, America—north and south—and the Commonwealth. We have long had trading relationships all round the globe and we need to build on them now, as Ministers remind us. We are promised necessary legislation on banking following the Vickers report and on the green investment bank, which is also welcome.
As usual, the Home Office has a batch of Bills—it is a serial legislator, a recidivist, one might say. The creation of the new National Crime Agency and the other measures go to the heart of people’s concerns, but nothing is more important than the protection of our citizens from terrorism. The security and intelligence services are crucial to that. The new legislation is intended again to strike the balance which allows them to be effective while not trespassing on the liberty of the subject. There is great experience of those matters around your Lordships’ House.
A notable feature of the legislative programme is the number and importance of Bills carried over from the previous Session. In particular, the new timetable for the Session overlaps awkwardly with the annual financial cycle. This year’s Finance Bill has been carried over, but that is for the Commons. Also carried over are the Civil Aviation Bill, the Financial Services Bill and the Local Government Finance Bill. The number of Bills which Parliament has seen in draft is also an interesting feature. Pre-legislative scrutiny is welcome all round. It enables Parliament to focus on the practical effect of proposals and to appreciate and draw attention to the unintended consequences rather than just the headline reasons for legislating.
Among the draft Bills which have been considered is one on individual electoral registration. That is of high importance given the very low turnout in recent elections. It concerns all of us that politics and politicians are held in such low esteem. The turnout at the local elections last week of below one-third should concern us all, even if some find other aspects of the results pleasing.
Your Lordships will have noted the slightly opaque reference in the gracious Speech to the future of your Lordships’ House, in which we all have an interest. No doubt the exact words were carefully dissected and weighed in advance. They fall short of a commitment to press forward with the draft Bill of the last Session. That is no surprise given the report of the Joint Committee, the alternative report and our debate on them both last week. No doubt my noble friend the Leader of the House will expand in the course of our debate in subsequent days on the meaning of that passage of the gracious Speech.
In any case, we in this House need to remember that we will not have the last word. If the Commons takes the advice of the Joint Committee, there will be a referendum. The electorate will be asked whether the problem with the governance of Britain is a shortage of politicians, or whether it is a surfeit of expertise. Our approach to Lords reform and to other measures in the gracious Speech in the coming year will affect the way that the argument about the House’s future goes. We will strengthen or damage our reputation for civilised, erudite, principled and practical debate.
Clearly, the House needs some reform. My noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood and others have shown the way, and the House has already accepted some of the propositions which affect composition. However, the bigger questions remain. Should we have a largely elected Senate in the interests of democratic accountability, and will a fixed 15-year term give sufficient accountability? I speak as one who has been in this House for 14 and three-quarter years. Will the Commons accept the dilution of their authority, and have the Executive realised the effect on their ability to govern?
Others may, as I say, have the last word, but I have no doubt that noble Lords will explain in the debate the pros and cons of those proposals—probably mainly the cons—and some may even say something novel on the subject. My party’s election manifesto promised to seek a consensus on these matters. I have to say that, at present, I do not think that there is even a consensus about how to measure a consensus. This House constantly changes in smaller ways, but not always easily. Some of us remember the painful atmosphere in 1999—or, at the other end of the scale, the debate about the Lord Chancellor’s trousers. Interestingly, we have now become completely used to the Lord Speaker’s skirt without even debating it.
Finally, I must return to the Motion itself. The debate will range widely on the contents of the gracious Speech and the Government’s legislative programme, which is inevitably controversial. However, the Motion in its literal sense will, I think, have universal acceptance in your Lordships’ House as an expression of gratitude to Her Majesty for her part in today’s ceremonial and for all that she does and has done for the last 60 years —leading the country with her example of duty, self-restraint and honour. 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. I thank my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley for all his help, support and advice, most timely, in making this speech. I am told that this is a great honour bestowed on me by my Chief Whip and my leader, and I am minded of the great privilege and responsibility that it is to second the Motion for an humble Address. Invariably, it is asked of someone new to the House. New, gullible and always willing to please, I said yes. The advice given was to aim for something like a maiden speech and to make it amusing, with topical political content—but please, no jokes. I confess that I did not know what I was letting myself in for, but on doing some research I discovered that I was not alone. Research into recent seconders suggest that many said, “Yes, fine”, to their Chief Whips, too, but that they had no clear understanding either of the import of the occasion. With the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, and the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, professional communicators both, as previous seconders, I am in rarefied company indeed—no pressure there, then.
In the gracious Speech, there was a reaffirmation of the commitment to keep aid spending at 0.7% of gross national income from 2013. Times are tough, but we should not balance our budget on the back of the world’s poorest. That is quite timely, as this week I am joining several Members of your Lordships’ House, led by the formidable duo, the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin of Kennington, and the Lord Speaker, in living on £1 a day to highlight the fact that there are 1.4 billion people around the world living on just that amount or less. So, at parties yesterday and today, the Lord Speaker and I have both been there with our glass of water and saying, “Thank you very much” to the nice nibbles that have been offered to us.
I know that on this matter the Economic Affairs Select Committee suggests that the effectiveness of the programme is more important than ensuring that the target is met. I suggest that we never take our eye off ensuring that aid programmes are effective, but neither should we lower our sights on offering structured support to the poorest in the world.
Rural Cornwall is my home, tucked under Bodmin Moor. The economy is poor—75% of the European average. We do a lovely line in holidays and splendid food: fish, baby new potatoes, cauliflowers, strawberries and dairy products, clotted cream, cheese and of course the pasty. My honourable friends in the other House have spent a lot of time telling the media what their view is on the pasty; I shall just say that I enjoy one every third Saturday.
Supermarkets want fine produce on their shelves, but they drive hard bargains and sometimes cut rough. They try to pass risk and costs from themselves to providers. Farmers’ margins are squeezed, keeping wages low, which reflects in our economy. I welcome the legislation announced today, the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill—a catchy title—which gives an arbitrator the role of making binding decisions in such cases where there are disputes between retailers and direct suppliers.
Your Lordships’ House spent many hours in the previous Session on the Health and Social Care Bill, now an Act. Throughout the Bill were woven duties about the integration of health and social care, but it was silent on key issues around social care. I welcome the promise of a White Paper on adult social care later this month, and today’s announcement of a draft Bill on adult care and support.
It seems strange to say this in this Chamber, but we all know that ageing is not easy. We must start involving people early in the planning for their old age, and that includes pensions. If you need care in London, your care needs will not change if you move to Leeds or Launceston. We need to see a national system of eligibility, with information and advice available to help navigate it. The Dilnot commission reported last summer that funding for care is a fraught subject, so built into the next spending review should be a decision about a mechanism to be used and the timescale for its implementation. These issues attract all-party support. They are difficult and not without cost, but the problem will not go away. The demographics are clear, and something has to be done.
I was introduced into the House eight months into the coalition, in the week that the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill began. I remember a discussion about the Pannick amendment in the Bishops’ Bar—I note that the noble Lord is not in his place—and I wondered exactly what level of desperation could drive a Peer to table an amendment in panic. How did one lay such an amendment? Such was the level of my ignorance. I learnt very quickly that it was not that sort of panic, and that the noble Lord in question would never let anything get to a state of desperation.
To me, the coalition was quite normal. It was an agreement entered into that met the needs of the time. It was all that I knew. There were bits that I was unhappy about and that our partners in coalition were unhappy about, but a deal had been done and we honoured it. There were days when I—and, I suspect, many others—supported some elements of, say, LASPO and welfare reform with a heavy heart, but it was an agreement and tough decisions had to be made. That is what a partnership is about.
I need to make a second confession: I knew very little of my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley. A quick glance in Dod’s told me about his illustrious career in the other place and then latterly as Chief Whip in your Lordships’ House—nearly 40 years of service to Parliament and a fine record—but what was really telling was that my noble friend lists his recreation as a Derby Bentley motor car, not rare stamps or the 20th century novel, or even just a Bentley, but a Derby Bentley made only between 1933 and 1939 and which is now nearly as rare as hens’ teeth. That is what I call style. I am mindful of the unwritten brief for this speech, borne out by research, that I am expected to develop the Chief Whip’s style, so is style a prerequisite for a Chief Whip? Here, I know I walk on eggshells. The Chief Whip of Her Majesty’s Opposition must get into this category. Anyone wearing crushed raspberry suede pixie shoes into the Chamber shows style, if not taste. My noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns—nothing out of place, always stylish and taste personified—is one who can communicate volumes with the lift of an eyebrow.
Now I turn to my own Bench. My noble friend Lord Shutt of Greetland has a style of his own. He served as Lib Dem Chief Whip for seven years, the last two as government Deputy Chief Whip. He had the difficult task of exhorting a group of Lib Dem Peers to support the Government in coalition when previously they were given to guerrilla tactics to make a point. That cannot have been easy. If you believe the tweets of the Chief Whip of Her Majesty’s Opposition, he has done it with Stalinist authority. Contrary to popular belief, he is willing to poke fun at himself and tells stories of fitting his less than slender body into the uniform of the Captain of the Queen’s Bodyguard of the Yeoman of the Guard. He was the 100th person to hold that office and the first Liberal to do so in 80 years. We are proud of him and will miss his direct Yorkshire ways in our group meetings and on the Front Bench. On behalf of us all, I wish him well as he joins us on the Back Benches.
The baton—or perhaps it should be sword and spurs—has now passed to my noble friend Lord Newby. I had not realised what a green process it is as far as the uniform is concerned. Not a penny of taxpayers’ money is wasted. I understand that, thanks to excellent tailoring, it is very much a case of reduce, reuse and recycle. My noble friend Lord Newby, another Yorkshireman, is well known to your Lordships as Lib Dem Treasury spokesman and a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee, but he also has form with tricky political situations. He was chief executive of the SDP for its final five years, press officer to my noble friend Lord Ashdown and chief of staff to Charles Kennedy throughout his leadership, right to the end, which were all jobs that brought their challenges. I am sure this Session will bring him testing times, too. We welcome his appointment and will try not to cause more than a modicum of bother. I am also sure that we will determine his style.
I have never watched the State Opening of Parliament on television or been part of such a rich pageant as today, and it has been truly remarkable. The Queen, with her 60 years of experience and duty, calm and poised delivering the gracious Speech outlining our work for this Session, makes even this Liberal Democrat feel a warm glow of pride in the occasion. When we meet again after the debate on the Queen’s Speech, we will bring to this Chamber our differing backgrounds and political convictions—or none—to scrutinise what the elected Chamber and our elected leaders have proposed. We will live in interesting times, and I look forward to it.
Motion to Adjourn
My Lords, it is a pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, on their first-rate speeches this afternoon. There is a tradition of excellence in these speeches on the occasion of the State Opening of Parliament, and it is a tradition that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness have upheld in an exemplary manner. I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, about the Diamond Jubilee and the exemplary example of Her Majesty the Queen. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Shutt of Greetland, and hope that he will enjoy his life on the Back Benches. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Newby, to his post. I have to say that I always thought that he was such a nice chap.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for his generous comments. As noble Lords will be aware, the noble Lord was a Member of Parliament for South Gloucestershire until his seat was abolished, and was then returned for the Northavon constituency, a victim of boundary changes under the last Conservative Government, and subsequently lost his seat to a Liberal Democrat, Mr Steve Webb. However, I wonder what will happen in this and other seats at the next election when members of the coalition stand against each other, especially after the bloodbath which will follow the boundary changes. As a Gloucestershire girl, albeit from the other side of the mighty river Severn—we are desperately in need of a water Bill, and not just a draft water Bill—and also as a former Chief Whip, my heart warms to the noble Lord, someone with whom I have enjoyed racing days at Chepstow. I have to say that, following last week’s elections, it does look, in parliamentary terms, as though he may not be backing the right horse. As a chartered accountant, he should be more cautious about how best to place his political bets.
If the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, is a deeply experienced politician, the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, is a relatively new girl on the Liberal Democrat Benches, but I would not call her gullible. I was delighted to read that she is an engineer who subsequently taught mathematics and that she, too, has spent much of her time in the south-west. Her work in the community, in the not-for-profit sector, on the rather different issues of rural poverty and Oman and, of course, her work in the National Health Service are all sterling tributes to her energy, commitment and sense of service. The noble Baroness is also clearly a woman of some fortitude and resilience, in that she served as the election agent for the then Mr Paul Tyler in the 1997 election. To serve as the election agent of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and subsequently to arrive on the same Benches as him in the House of Lords must of course be a pleasure, but must also offer an unrivalled chance to hear the noble Lord’s views on further reform of your Lordships’ House.
For a considerable number of Members of your Lordships’ House, today’s events will be the first time they have experienced in person, in their roles now, the State Opening of Parliament and the gracious Speech, setting out the legislative programme of this Government; the first time, because of the unprecedented length of the last Session. It is now two years since this coalition Government set out their first legislative programme at the start of what was to become a marathon—I would say monster—Session. Think back to that time. Think back to the flurries of excitement and urgency in which the coalition was formed in the wake of no single political party winning the general election. Think back to the days of seeing Liberals in office for the first time, other than in wartime, since 1906. Think back to the sun-dappled days of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister in the Downing Street garden. Think back to when it all seemed, for them, bright and sparkling and new.
Then look at the reality. The reality of a Tory-led Government doing what all Tory-led Governments have done since 1948: attacking the National Health Service. The reality of Liberal Democrats rejecting their signed, explicit pre-election promises not to increase university tuition fees, blighting the life chances of a generation of young people, and bringing charges of political treason which made themselves manifest, I suspect, in last week’s local elections and which will hit them even harder in the next general election. The reality of the loss of more than 16,000 police officers through cutting too far and too fast; cuts so unacceptable to the police that they are marching against them tomorrow, under the banner of “20% cuts are criminal”. My own local and principled chief constable in Gloucestershire has resigned rather than implement them; indeed, I believe that he will be marching tomorrow. The reality of the coalition’s unstinting attacks, across a range of policies, on hard-working families, on women and on young people; the reality of the Government’s botched and partisan attempts at constitutional reform; the shambles of the AV referendum; gerrymandering parliamentary constituencies; and rigging the length of Parliaments. That is the record of this Government in their first two years since the first Queen’s Speech. It is not the sun-dappled achievement that the Prime Minister and the increasingly desperate-sounding Deputy Prime Minister like to try to promote. It is the record of failure and people being hit hard by Tory policies and Tory cuts, which are supported every step of the way, to their party’s permanent shame, by the Liberal Democrats. It is not liberal or democratic, just Tory.
The real record is of businesses and shops closing; of people being put out of work; of young people never getting into work; of the already disadvantaged being forced to move hundreds of miles to get a roof over their heads; of communities being blighted by cuts; of trying to sell off our forests; of tax cuts to the rich of Britain; of once again being isolated in Europe; and, worst of all, of an economy now back in recession in the first double-dip recession since the pre-Thatcher era. It is the record of an economy which should now be about jobs and growth, and not about cuts which are going too far and too fast. That is the record of this coalition Government and that is the reality.
It is no wonder that Conservative councillors lost their seats all across the country in last week’s local elections. I agree with the noble Lord that we should all be ashamed that the turnout was so low. The party’s dismal showing was beaten only by its coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, who saw their number of local councillors fall below the 3,000 level for the first time in the party’s entire history.
This is a Government whom we can now all see are unfair, incompetent and out of touch. Does the Government’s legislative programme show that the coalition has listened to the electors who so soundly and so clearly rejected their policies last week? What is most noticeable about the legislative programme is what is not in it rather than what is. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said, there is nothing on jobs or growth, and nothing to get this recession-mired economy moving. There is nothing to ease people’s worries about their jobs, their mortgages, their children’s opportunities, the cost of their weekly shop and filling the car, the NHS and schools, crime, the present and what will happen when they get old, and their worries about the future.
Amid newspaper reports of the Queen’s Speech being ripped up at the last minute to make way for today’s offering—and the inclusion of a Bill on donors to charities, trying to right the wrong of the Budget, which is clearly nothing more than a panic measure—we heard the legislative equivalent of cars crashing gearboxes as the Government went into reverse on a whole range of issues. That is in the wake of not only last week’s election results but the interpretation immediately put on them by Tory Back-Benchers who straight away were hoisting warning cones about the need to see a return to Conservative values and the end of the Liberal Democrat tail wagging the coalition dog. There is no legislation on gay marriage and, suddenly, a very different tone on further reform of your Lordships’ House.
On television over the weekend, no less a person than the Chancellor of the Exchequer was kind enough to insist that House of Lords reform would not be allowed to be a distraction. He said:
“Look, when it comes to the House of Lords, Parliament will debate this—and Parliament’s perfectly capable of debating many things, that’s what Parliaments do—but it is not going to be the over-riding priority of this Government, absolutely not. The over-riding priority is fixing the economy.”
He went on to say that Lords reform,
“is not where the efforts of the Government and the executive are going to be directed”.
Even the ever buoyant Leader of the House pitched in, revealing his view that plans for Lords reform could be killed in the Commons—not, in his view, by the Opposition but by his own side. It could be killed by Conservative Back-Benchers opposed to an 80 per cent elected second Chamber.
Last week, this House debated two reports on further Lords reform; namely, the reports of the all-party Joint Committee on the House of Lords reform Bill and the alternative report proposed by a very large minority group on the Joint Committee. Both argued for a referendum on further reform of your Lordships’ House, a policy for which my party, and only my party, has been arguing and a policy for which the coalition has been arguing that there is no need. Suddenly, we have “a source very close to Mr Cameron”, as the papers put it, saying that the Prime Minister is now “very likely” to approve a referendum on Lords’ reform, which, naturally, I would welcome. But that is in direct contradiction of the insistence of his deputy, Mr Nick Clegg, although I noted the views of the noble Lords, Lord Ashdown and Lord Tyler, among others, last week.
Further reform of your Lordships’ House is indeed indicated in the legislative programme set out in the gracious Speech but it is set out in a way which seems to damage the Government both ways at once. First, it could barely be given a less propitious birth. All it says in the Queen’s Speech is:
“A Bill will be brought forward to reform the composition of the House of Lords”.
I am sure that all noble Lords will wonder exactly what that might mean. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I, too, look forward to further expansion in the speech of the Leader of the House. Put that together with the briefing which has gone on around it, from the Chancellor on the weekend media to the guidance that seems to be emanating from the centre of government today, that there is nothing set in stone, nothing definite which will happen, nothing which will upset the applecart, nothing which will displease Tory Back-Benchers and nothing which will proceed without consensus. But whatever else last week’s reports from the Joint Committee and the minority group of the Joint Committee showed, they showed with absolute clarity that there is no consensus at all on Lords reform—no consensus about what is a consensus, as has been said; no consensus within each of the two Houses; no consensus across each of the two Houses; and no consensus between the two Houses. Crucially, the briefing battle around today’s Queen’s Speech shows us clearly that there is no consensus on Lords reform within the coalition, either.
What noble Lords see before them is the prospect of a Bill which looks as though it can barely muster enough energy to be a Bill. And yet, at precisely the same time, it is still distorting this legislative programme. So much has been shovelled aside to make way for it. The media were full of stories last week listing what has already gone. So there will be no Bill on enshrining in law the target for international aid of 0.7% of national income—just a promise, rather than the promised Bill; no Bill getting high-speed rail going, despite the warm words about infrastructure investment in yesterday’s damp squib of a relaunch; no Bills on a register of lobbyists, despite the scandals in government; no Bills on bailiff reform or forced marriage; and just draft Bills on social care and water. There is also no mention of executive pay, despite what we heard Mr Cable saying at lunchtime. All promised, none delivered.
We will look carefully at the Bills that the Government are proposing to bring forward on adult care; on family-friendly work flexibility; on arrangements for children with special educational needs; on pensions; on a green investment bank; on a groceries code adjudicator; on public sector pensions; and others. We will support them where possible. Indeed, many of the ideas have a resonance of some of the things that we were proposing, and I welcome that. But the devil will be in the detail, and we have seen in this last, long, two-year Session how wretched that detail can be—on the NHS, welfare, legal aid and forests.
Even after what we are led to believe has been major surgery to this Queen’s Speech, even after the reverses, about-turns and changes of position, this is still a legislative programme which not only lacks a narrative but clearly shows that the Government lack the vision, hope and optimism that we as a country need. What the country wants, what the country made plain last week that it requires, is clear. The people of this country want to see this Government take action—not action to help this coalition, but action to help this country. People want to see action on jobs, growth and the economy. Where in the Queen’s Speech is that action, the strategy for growth and jobs? Where is the legislation for helping this country out of recession and the programme for the people of this country? Not in the legislative programme that we have seen today.
What we have seen today is a programme for no change—a programme where nothing is changing because this Tory-led Government are putting the wrong people first. The Government are trying to build a narrative that the Queen’s Speech is family friendly, yet in the Budget they are asking millions of families to pay more, while giving tax cuts to millionaires. They are laying off thousands of nurses in the NHS while spending billions on a wasteful and destructive NHS reorganisation, and they are cutting spending and raising taxes too far and too fast, leading to low growth and high unemployment.
What should have been in today’s Queen’s Speech are measures to help boost growth and jobs, to help living standards and to help unemployed young people. There should have been a fair deal on tax, reversing the tax cuts for the rich; a fair deal on energy, breaking the dominance of the big six power companies; a fair deal on transport; a fair deal for consumers; and a fair deal on jobs. That is the kind of Queen’s Speech which this country wants to see and that is the kind of Queen’s Speech which this country needs to see. That is why we on these Benches will be putting down an amendment to the Motion before the House, as the noble Lord the Leader has done in past years, calling on this coalition Government to address properly the economic recovery which this country needs, to bring in measures to boost growth and jobs, and to improve living standards and the opportunities for young people who are out of work. That is what these Benches will be pressing for and that is what we urge Members on all sides of your Lordships’ House to support.
With that amendment before us, this is a Queen’s Speech which we look forward to debating over the rest of this week and next. It contains a legislative programme that we look forward to scrutinising and to supporting, where possible, and, where we oppose it, to doing so as vigorously as we can, over the rest of the new Session. This is a Government who we look forward to seeing defeated at the next election.
I beg to move that this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
My Lords, I cannot say that I agree with every single word that the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition has said this afternoon. However, it is a great pleasure to support her in moving her Motion. She moved it in a spirit of unity and can be assured of creating a warm consensus across all sides of the House this afternoon. I hope this is not the last time this Session that we have such an outbreak of consensus on a Motion to adjourn the House.
The noble Baroness is my predecessor as Leader of the House. It is rare that both of us leading from the Dispatch Box should have a similar experience as Leaders of this House. She is well remembered as having fulfilled that role with dignity and energy. However, she knows as well as I do that this House works only because the Opposition co-operate with the Government to deliver the business, although, looking back at an historically long Session—probably rather too long—we sometimes came perilously close to stretching that co-operation almost to breaking point. We managed to step back from the brink, and it is a testament to her leadership of the Benches opposite and the service she has given to the House as a whole that the affection and respect in which she is held by noble Lords around the House have remained constant.
On behalf of all your Lordships, I thank and congratulate Black Rod, his staff and the doorkeepers for the magnificent job which they did today. As I came into the House this morning and saw the tightly squeezed rows of Peers before me, I could not help but think that the doorkeepers could show sardine packers a trick or two.
We have today been reminded anew of the very special role played by monarchy in our society and democracy, as Her Majesty the Queen opened a new Session of her Parliament in her Diamond Jubilee year. We remain deeply indebted to her for all that she does for Parliament and the nation and look forward to her Jubilee celebrations, which will take place in only a few weeks’ time. Coupled with the Olympics and the Paralympic Games, they will make for a summer of celebration, whatever the weather.
I join the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition in paying tribute to my noble friends Lord Cope of Berkeley and Lady Jolly for moving and seconding the Motion for an humble Address. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Cope chose to accept the invitation to propose the humble Address. He is possessed of the shrewdness that comes from vast experience. As his lucid intervention today served to remind us, the House does not hear enough from Peers such as him. In opposition, he was a remarkable and successful Chief Whip and his parliamentary record speaks for itself, but what is less well known is his long-term championing of small firms and their role in providing growth and jobs in this country. All those sentiments find ready echoes in the gracious Speech.
As my noble friend Lady Jolly pointed out, my noble friend Lord Cope is also an expert in vintage cars and is the proud owner of an ancient Bentley. Like her, I did not know that it was a Derby Bentley but no matter, because upon retirement from the Front Bench we presented him with an extra large, bumper tin of high-quality automotive wax polish. I hope that the whole House agrees that seeing how fit and energetic my noble friend is, he has clearly been putting his chamois leather to good use at weekends.
My noble friend Lady Jolly is fresh blood by comparison, having joined the House in 2010, but she was already battle-hardened for anything that this House could throw at her. She is a legend among Liberal Democrats in the south-west of England, and many Liberal Democrat MPs owe their seats to her hard work. We have just heard that in a previous life she ran election campaigns for none other than my noble friend Lord Tyler. If she managed to get him elected, just imagine what she could do for the rest of us. My noble friend may find that her popularity soars as Peers, keen to be elected, listen to her pearls of wisdom. In her short spell on these Benches, she has lost no time in making an impressive contribution to the legislative work of this House and to the effective operation of the coalition. I congratulate her on her eloquent speech today.
It was my noble friend Lord Ferrers who, two years ago and on this same occasion, reminded us that the whole point of a coalition is that no one gets their way. I said then that my noble friend is far wiser than he likes to let on and I fear that that particular slip will have done incalculable damage to his reputation. I am sure that the whole House was thrilled to see him back in his place in the House today and I hope that he will be back again soon.
In this House we have made the coalition work effectively, and I pay special tribute to my noble friend Lord McNally, the Deputy Leader. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Shutt of Greetland, who has spent the past two years at the coal-face of the coalition. We are greatly indebted to him. I join my noble friend Lady Jolly in warmly welcoming his successor, my noble friend Lord Newby, to the Front Bench as Deputy Chief Whip and Captain of the Yeoman of the Guard.
On one level it is no surprise that our two parties have taken to coalition more quickly and more naturally than one might have expected. After all, we had a head start. No one party has a majority in this House, so we all came into government with considerable experience of what it is like to have to build a coalition for each and every vote while in opposition. However, I have noticed that on occasion some of my new colleagues would still like to create alliances that lead to the defeat of, rather than support for, the Government.
I think it is well understood that the business of this House has never been to throw out legislation but to improve it. Over the course of the past Session, the Government were forced to think again on a wide range of issues. Indeed, we were defeated in almost one in five votes. There were moments of high drama and tension, but in the end the House performed the role it has carved out for itself and performed it well. There can be no question that each Bill reaching the statute book last Session benefited from its passage through this House. Whatever our tussles with the other place, we must have an established pattern of work here, rules to play by and conventions to respect and stick to. There must be a level playing field both in challenging the Government and in securing their business.
Of course, other factors have been at work, too. We have seen an influx of new Peers, many of them attending a State Opening for the first time today. The number of Peers attending the House regularly has risen, as has the number of Members wishing to take part in our proceedings. I am very pleased that early in this coming Session we will be appointing three new Select Committees, including one to conduct post-legislative scrutiny, and setting aside additional resource for pre-legislative scrutiny, thereby creating many more opportunities for many more Peers to participate in the committee work of the House.
There will, of course, be important legislative work to do, as your Lordships will have gleaned from the gracious Speech. There is no belittling the scale of the challenge faced by this coalition Government on taking office. The cornerstone of our shared programme for government was, and remains, to reduce the deficit, restore economic growth, promote investment and create jobs. The country was crying out for a change of values, craving more opportunity and fairness in our economy and more responsibility in our society. The Government are on the side of hard-working people, ending the something-for-nothing culture by reforming welfare and making work pay. We are reforming education to give all children the best start in life. We have capped immigration and we are protecting the NHS, increasing spending every single year. Over the next few years, our task is to ensure that these policies are implemented properly.
The early business of this House will include three Bills carried over in the House of Commons from the previous Session to this. They are the Civil Aviation Bill, the Local Government Finance Bill and the Financial Services Bill. A number of new Bills will also begin their passage in this House, including a Bill to establish a groceries code adjudicator. Each of those four measures received pre-legislative scrutiny last Session. In addition, I expect a Bill to ratify the treaty establishing the European stability mechanism; a crime and courts Bill to establish a National Crime Agency, a single county court system and a single Family Court in England and Wales; and a justice and security Bill to strengthen oversight of the security and intelligence services and other related matters. They will all start their passage in this House. The other place will first be dealing with voter registration, defamation, the enterprise Bill and public service pensions.
No doubt to the disappointment of many noble Lords, plans for reform of the composition of this House have been included in the gracious Speech. As the House knows, proposals were put before a Joint Committee at a formative stage for pre-legislative scrutiny, and the Government are now in the process of adapting their proposals in light of the committee’s report and the advice offered by noble Lords in the debate that ensued. I could not glean much from what the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition said about support for this package of reform, and I very much hope that we will hear more tomorrow afternoon when we debate it in detail. We will be coming forward with legislation in due course, and I will say more on that when we resume the debate tomorrow.
For now, let me reiterate what I said a fortnight ago. For some time now, the outline of a consensus on the second phase of reform of this House has begun to seem possible. There is only one way to test whether that consensus really exists or can be secured, which is to introduce a Bill and then allow Parliament to take a view. This House is rightly regarded as the more mature of the two Houses of Parliament, not least in wear and tear, but I am glad to say, also in conduct. For that reason I have been among those stoking the expectation that when the Government submit their Bills for scrutiny and revision by this House, noble Lords will discharge their duty with their customary diligence and rigour, seizing the opportunity to showcase the House at its best, while we bask in the rare glow of attention. For my own part, as Leader of the House, I will continue to do all that is in my power to ensure that your Lordships’ voice is listened to, as well as recorded over the coming Session. I am confident that this House, steeped in experience as well as tradition, will not fail to rise to the task before us.
This Session will be much shorter than the last, but I can assure your Lordships that we will still have much to do. I am delighted to support the Motion of the noble Baroness to adjourn the debate.
Debate adjourned until tomorrow.